BBC News – Why was Mother Teresa’s uniform trademarked?

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi, 12 July 2017. For nearly half a century, Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun who worked with the poor in the Indian city of Kolkata (Calcutta) wore a simple white sari with three blue stripes on the borders, one thicker than the rest.

Senior nuns who work for Missionaries of Charity, a 67-year-old sisterhood which has more than 3,000 nuns worldwide, continue to wear what has now become the religious uniform of this global order.

On Monday, news washed up that this “famous” sari of the Nobel laureate nun, who died in 1997, has been trademarked to prevent “unfair” use by people for commercial purposes.

India’s government quietly recognised the sari as the intellectual property of the Missionaries of Charity in September last year, when the nun was declared a saint by the Vatican, but the order had decided not to make it public.

Biswajit Sarkar, a Kolkata-based lawyer who works pro-bono for the order, says he had applied for the trademark in 2013.

“It just came to my mind that the colour-identified blue border of the sari had to be protected to prevent any future misuse for commercial purposes,” he told me. “If you want to wear or use the colour pattern in any form, you can write to us and if we are convinced that there is no commercial motive, we will allow it.”

The austere blue-trimmed white sari has long been identified with the nun and her order. The story goes that in 1948, the Albanian nun, with permission from Rome, began wearing it and a small cross across her shoulder.

According to some accounts, the nun chose the blue border as it was associated with purity. For more than three decades, the saris have been woven by leprosy patients living in a home run by the order on the outskirts of Kolkata.

Accordingly, Mr Sarkar helped the order to trademark her name two decades back. Still, nuns of the order have complained that Mother Teresa’s name was being exploited for commercial gain: a school being run in her name in Nepal where teachers complained of not receiving salaries; a priest raising funds in Romania using the order’s name; shops near the order’s headquarters in Kolkata telling customers that proceeds from memorabilia sales were donated to the order; and a cooperative bank in India curiously named after the nun.

“So we decided to do something about it,” says Mr Sarkar. “Through this we are trying to tell the world that her name and reputation should not be misused.”

Owning a trademark on a colour can be a tricky business. In 2013 Nestle won a court battle against confectionery rival Cadbury, over the latter’s attempt to trademark the purple colour, known as Pantone 2865c, of its Dairy Milk bars.

It is also not clear how this trademark on the famous blue striped sari will be enforced. Many online shopping sites already sell variations of “unisex Mother Teresa dress”, blue bordered sari, and a long sleeved blouse.

Also, the move is bound to raise the hackles of the nun’s critics, and she has her fair share of them, who have accused her of glorifying poverty, hobnobbing with dictators, running shambolic care facilities and proselytising.

“How can anybody appropriate a sari, which has been a traditional Indian dress,” one of them asked me, preferring to remain unnamed.

Designers like Anand Bhushan differ. “Some designs of the traditional Indian towel called gamcha, for example, have been trademarked. There’s nothing wrong in trademarking a distinctive and iconic design or pattern like Mother Teresa’s sari. It’s not like anybody is beginning to own the sari.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40566352

BBC News – The stigma stopping Sikh women getting help with alcohol addiction

Gurvinder Gill, BBC Asian Network

15 July 2017. Punjabi Sikh women with drinking problems are less likely to come forward for help because of the fear of stigma and shame, a West Midlands alcohol support group says.

Drinking alcohol is often associated with the Punjabi culture, but is prohibited in Sikhism. Baptised Sikhs are forbidden from drinking but some non-baptised Sikhs do consume alcohol.

Whilst the vast majority of those who do drink have no problem, a small number of Punjabi Sikh women are affected.

Data collected by Birmingham-based charity Aquarius showed 16% of service users who received help for alcohol misuse in 2011-2012 identified as Asian or Asian British.

A small survey carried out by the charity found 57% of people from this community, the majority of whom were Sikh, said shame was a reason for not getting help.

Professor Sarah Galvani from Bedfordshire University, who carried out the research, said younger women’s drinking was seen to be increasing.

“The reason for that was primarily that these women were growing up in much more westernised communities, where women’s drinking was acceptable,” she said.

“They were adopting some of those behaviours of the community they were growing up, but still living within a community that had quite traditional views about women’s drinking.”

Jennifer Shergill from the Shanti project, which encourages people to get help with their addictions and offers services in Punjabi, says the issue seems to be religion versus culture.

“Culture is kind of the thing that we need to focus on when we’re talking about Punjabi alcohol misuse, the kind of culture that’s prevalent in media, when people get together, in weddings and birthday parties, that kind of drinking in social groups,” she said.

Pardip Samra, from Edgbaston, Birmingham, is setting up a women-only support group, helping Asian women who may be addicted to alcohol.

She said she also had an issue with drinking.

“I became dependent on it almost every day. I blamed it on work, I blamed it on family but it was never the drink, it was always something else,” she said.

Ms Samra believes alcohol dependency-related issues need to be spoken about more and wants other women to know there is help available.

Mandeep’s story

Mandeep, not her real name, is a Punjabi Sikh in her 30s. She started drinking alcohol with her friends when in college and 10 years ago realised she had a drinking problem.

“I subconsciously knew my drinking wasn’t normal because I could easily consume more than those around me. It’s like just drinking to shut off your head and make yourself numb again,” she said.

When she told her family she was an alcoholic, some of her relatives were in denial.

“They were like, ‘No you haven’t, no you haven’t’. They didn’t really react because they didn’t really believe in the fact that it’s a problem.”

In the past, Mandeep has relapsed but this time, with the help of the Shanti project, she is hopeful about her recovery and wants to help other Punjabi Sikh women like herself in the future.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-40613289

BBC News – Why stopping India’s vigilante killings will not be easy

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi, 10 July 2017. Last month Prime Minister Narendra Modi said murder in the name of cow protection is “not acceptable”. Hours after his comments, a Muslim man was reportedly killed by a mob who accused him of transporting beef in his car.

Under Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP, the cow has become a polarising animal and religious divisions are widening. Restrictions on the sale and slaughter of cows are fanning confusion and vigilantism.

The recent spate of lynchings in India have disturbed many. Muslim men have been murdered by Hindu mobs, mostly in BJP-ruled states, for allegedly storing beef and, in one case for helping a mixed-faith couple elope.

Using data gleaned from news reports, some have argued that such hate crimes have increased since Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power. Party chief Amit Shah has rejected such assertions, saying there were more incidents of lynchings when the previous Congress government was in power.

When a prominent journalist said India was becoming a “lynchocracy”, critics immediately took to social media to say that India had a long history of mob and religious violence and liberals were exaggerating the import of the recent murders.

Vigilante justice

A BJP MP and columnist wrote that there was a “streak of underlying violence in India’s public culture”, and since Independence, “political violence has been supplemented by flashes of mob violence aimed at either settling scores or securing justice”.

I spoke to Sanjay Subrahmanyam, one of India’s most distinguished and provocative historians, on the cultural history of violence in India. He told me it would be useful to distinguish between three acts of violence: pogroms (violent riots aimed at the massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group), mob violence and killings to defend social norms.

During a pogrom, he said, “a majority community targets a minority, and the violence takes place on a sizeable scale, in an orgiastic mode”.

“These are also usually repeated incidents. They often are based on systematic mobilisation, as well as systematic targeting. We all know the prominent instances in India. (The anti-Sikh riots in 1984, or the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, for example.) Often, the forces of law and order have a part, either active or passive.”

Mob violence, Dr Subrahmanyam says, usually comprise acts on a small scale, which claim to deliver vigilante justice, because the forces of law are feeble and undependable.

“These are your thieves and robbers, or even sometimes when a car accident happens, a crowd gathers, and lynches the driver. Essentially, this is because of the perceived weakness of the law to deliver what it promises.”

“I suspect, but cannot prove, that the kind of people who lead these acts are pathological, and enjoy the sense of power it gives them. I don’t believe a psychologically normal person can lead such a mob, though they can be caught up in it willy-nilly.”

The third kind of violent crime is what is worrying many in India today.

“The third kind is where a group believes that certain conservative social norms must be defended, even though they are in contradiction with the law. That is, these are people who know that what they are doing is illegal, but still feel it is righteous,” says Dr Subrahmanyam, who teaches in the US and France.

“This was the case with the lynching of young black people in the US, killings of young couples who transgress caste boundaries in India, the killing of women branded as ‘witches’, and now the killing of those who are on the wrong side of the beef question.”

“Essentially, these killings are on a small scale compared to pogroms. They have a strong symbolic and even ritual content, and are meant to create fear and thus reinforce the conservative norms.”

“What is happening in India is that the federal government and some state governments are turning a blind eye to these, or enabling them. Of course, this directly undermines the rule of law.”

Sporadic and unsystematic

Dr Subrahmanyam believes such violence is happening, in part, because there is a political party, and a set of militant Hindu groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad “who are operating in society to defend these kinds of norms.

The same kinds of entities exist in many Muslim societies, and also act in this way”.

Dr Subrahmanyam says it is very difficult to end this violence, “because it is sporadic and unsystematic. It can only be done by increasing social confidence in the law and due process”.

The violence, he adds, can be tackled “essentially by enforcing the law, and delivering exemplary punishments to perpetrators because these are systematic forms of violence, and one can identify and keep an eye on the types of organisations that produce them”.

“But the question remains: who shall guard the guardians?”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40505719

BBC News – What’s behind the India-China border stand-off?

For four weeks, India and China have been involved in a stand-off along part of their 3,500km (2,174-mile) shared border.

New Delhi, 5 July 2017. The two nations fought a war over the border in 1962 and disputes remain unresolved in several areas, causing tensions to rise from time to time.

Since this confrontation began last month, each side has reinforced its troops and called on the other to back down.

How did the row begin?

It erupted when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China.

The plateau, which lies at a junction between China, the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and Bhutan, is currently disputed between Beijing and Thimphu. India supports Bhutan’s claim over it.

India is concerned that if the road is completed, it will give China greater access to India’s strategically vulnerable “chicken’s neck”, a 20km (12-mile) wide corridor that links the seven north-eastern states to the Indian mainland.

Indian military officials told regional analyst Subir Bhaumik that they protested and stopped the road-building group, which led Chinese troops to rush Indian positions and smash two bunkers at the nearby Lalten outpost.

“We did not open fire, our boys just created a human wall and stopped the Chinese from any further incursion,” a brigadier said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

Chinese officials say that in opposing the road construction, Indian border guards obstructed “normal activities” on the Chinese side, and called on India to immediately withdraw.

What is the situation now?

Both India and China have rushed more troops to the border region, and media reports say the two sides are in an “eyeball to eyeball” stand-off.

China also retaliated by stopping 57 Indian pilgrims who were on their way to the Manas Sarovar Lake in Tibet via the Nathu La pass in Sikkim. The lake is a holy Hindu site and there is a formal agreement between the neighbours to allow devotees to visit.

Bhutan, meanwhile, has asked China to stop building the road, saying it is in violation of an agreement between the two countries.

What does India say?

Indian military experts say Sikkim is the only area through which India could make an offensive response to a Chinese incursion, and the only stretch of the Himalayan frontier where Indian troops have a terrain and tactical advantage.

They have higher ground, and the Chinese positions there are squeezed between India and Bhutan.

“The Chinese know this and so they are always trying to undo our advantage there,” retired Major-General Gaganjit Singh, who commanded troops on the border, told the BBC.

Last week, the foreign ministry said that the construction “would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India”.

Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley also warned that the India of 2017 was not the India of 1962, and the country was well within its rights to defend its territorial integrity.

What does China say?

China has reiterated its sovereignty over the area, saying that the road is in its territory and accusing Indian troops of “trespassing”.

It said India would do well to remember its defeat in the 1962 war, warning Delhi that China was also more powerful than it was then.

On Monday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that the border in Sikkim had been settled in an 1890 agreement with the British, and that India’s violation of this was “very serious”.

The Global Times newspaper, meanwhile, accused India of undermining Bhutan’s sovereignty by interfering in the road project, although Bhutan has since asked China to stop construction.

What’s Bhutan’s role in this?

Bhutan’s Ambassador to Delhi Vetsop Namgyel says China’s road construction is “in violation of an agreement between the two countries”.

Bhutan and China do not have formal relations but maintain contact through their missions in Delhi.

Security analyst Jaideep Saikia told the BBC that Beijing had for a while now been trying to deal directly with Thimphu, which is Delhi’s closest ally in South Asia.

“By raising the issue of Bhutan’s sovereignty, they are trying to force Thimphu to turn to Beijing the way Nepal has,” he said.

What next?

The region saw clashes between China and India in 1967, and tensions still flare occasionally. Commentators say the latest development appears to be one of the most serious escalations in recent years.

The fact that Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama resides in India has also been a sticking point between the two countries.

This stand-off in fact, comes within weeks of China’s furious protests against the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state that China claims and describes as its own.

Relations between the Asian giants, however, may not slide further as China has allowed 56 Hindu pilgrims, who entered through the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, to visit the Manas Sarovar site.

“They are heading for the lake and they are safe,” senior tourism official Dheeraj Garbiyal said last week.

This, experts say, shows that the Chinese are not raising tensions on the whole border but specifically on the Sikkim-Bhutan stretch.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-40478813

BBC News – Why are Indian women wearing cow masks?

Geeta Pandey

New Delhi, 28 June 2017. A photography project which shows women wearing a cow mask and asks the politically explosive question, whether women are less important than cattle in India, has gone viral in the country and earned its 23-year-old photographer the ire of Hindu nationalist trolls.

“I am perturbed by the fact that in my country, cows are considered more important than a woman, that it takes much longer for a woman who is raped or assaulted to get justice than for a cow which many Hindus consider a sacred animal,” Delhi-based photographer Sujatro Ghosh told the BBC.

India is often in the news for crimes against women and, according to government statistics, a rape is reported every 15 minutes.

“These cases go on for years in the courts before the guilty are punished, whereas when a cow is slaughtered, Hindu extremist groups immediately go and kill or beat up whoever they suspect of slaughter.”

The project, he says, is “his way of protesting” against the growing influence of the vigilante cow protection groups that have become emboldened since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came to power in the summer of 2014.

“I’ve been concerned over the Dadri lynching [when a Muslim man was killed by a Hindu mob over rumours that he consumed and stored beef] and other similar religious attacks on Muslims by cow vigilantes,” Ghosh said.

In recent months, the humble cow has become India’s most polarising animal.

The BJP insists that the animal is holy and should be protected. Cow slaughter is banned in several states, stringent punishment has been introduced for offenders and parliament is considering a bill to bring in the death penalty for the crime.

But beef is a staple for Muslims, Christians and millions of low-caste Dalits (formerly untouchables) who have been at the receiving end of the violence perpetrated by the cow vigilante groups.

Nearly a dozen people have been killed in the past two years in the name of the cow. Targets are often picked based on unsubstantiated rumours and Muslims have been attacked for even transporting cows for milk.

Ghosh, who is from the eastern city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), says he became aware of “this dangerous mix of religion and politics” only after he moved to Delhi a few years ago and that “this project is a silent form of protest that I think can make an impact”.

So earlier this month, during a visit to New York, he bought the cow mask from a party shop and, on his return, began shooting for the series, taking pictures of women in front of tourist hotspots and government buildings, on the streets and in the privacy of their homes, on a boat and in a train, because “women are vulnerable everywhere”.

“I photographed women from every part of society. I started the project from Delhi since the capital city is the hub of everything – politics, religion, even most debates start here.

“I took the first photo in front of the iconic India Gate, one of the most visited tourist places in India. Then I photographed a model in front of the presidential palace, another on a boat in the Hooghly river in Kolkata with the Howrah bridge as the backdrop.”

His models have so far been friends and acquaintances because, he says, “it’s such a sensitive topic, it would have been difficult to approach strangers”.

Two weeks ago when he launched the project on Instagram, the response was “all positive. It went viral within the first week, my well wishers and even people I didn’t know appreciated it.”

But after the Indian press covered it and put out their stories on Facebook and Twitter, the backlash began.

“Some wrote comments threatening me. On Twitter people started trolling me, some said I, along with my models, should be taken to Delhi’s Jama Masjid [mosque] and slaughtered, and that our meat should be fed to a woman journalist and a woman writer the nationalists despise. They said they wanted to see my mother weep over my body.”

Some people also contacted the Delhi police, “accusing me of trying to instigate riots and asking them to arrest me”.

Ghosh is not surprised by the vitriol and admits that his work is an “indirect comment” on the BJP.

“I’m making a political statement because it’s a political topic, but if we go deeper into the things, then we see that Hindu supremacy was always there, it has just come out in the open with this government in the past two years.”

The threats, however, have failed to scare him. “I’m not afraid because I’m working for the greater good,” he says.

A positive fallout of the project going viral has been that he’s got loads of messages from women from across the globe saying they too want to be a part of this campaign.

So the cow, he says, will keep travelling.

To see the pictures :

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40404102

BBC News – India arrests 15 for cheering Pakistan in Champions Trophy

Madhya Pradesh, 20 June 2017. Fifteen Muslim men have been arrested in India for allegedly shouting “anti-India and pro-Pakistan” slogans during the Champions Trophy cricket final.

The men were denied bail in Madhya Pradesh state after appearing in court where they were charged with sedition.

They were arrested after their Hindu neighbours complained that they had burst firecrackers and shouted “pro-Pakistan” slogans during the game.

Pakistan won the final, defeating India by 180 runs.

Sedition is one of the most serious charges under the Indian penal code.

People charged with sedition have to surrender their passports, are not eligible for government jobs, must appear in court as and when required, and spend money on legal fees.

The India Today website quoted police as saying that the men were charged because of the anti-India slogans and not because they were cheering for Pakistan.

Why India needs to get rid of its sedition law

This is not the first time Indian Muslims have got into trouble for cheering for the Pakistan cricket team.

In 2014, 66 Muslim students from Indian-administered Kashmir were kicked out of their university in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and charged with disturbing communal harmony.

And in 2016, police were sent into a university in Indian-administered Kashmir after clashes between students from the state and other parts of the country.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40341891

BBC News – Sikh community urged to face ‘taboo’ issue of addiction

Derby-Derbyshire-East Midlands-UK, 17 June 2017. Sikhs needs to start talking openly about addiction to tackle the problems of “shame” and “stigma”, a recovering alcoholic has said.

Jaz Rai, who runs the Sikh Recovery Network, said there was a growing problem with all kinds of addiction within his community and people were not getting the help they needed.

He said addiction was “condemned” in their faith.

Mr Rai is holding several events at Derby Gurdwara to help rid the “taboo”.

He said he wanted to help people “get out of the misery” he had suffered.

A study found alcohol-related hospital admissions in the Punjabi community had risen and it noted a loss of status was feared more than health issues.

Lakhwinder Chahal, who attends the same Gurdwara, said: “When I was growing up we had some family members who were alcoholic.

“It was so hard at times, when they didn’t know what they were doing… the whole family suffered because there was some violence as well.

“I know of so many people who have suffered because of alcohol, with domestic violence. The people get hurt, the children are scared.”

At one point Mr Rai was drinking a litre of vodka a day, which put his job at risk and saw him convicted of drink driving.

‘Ostracised’

He quit when given an ultimatum by his wife to choose their family or alcohol.

Mr Rai said: “Drug and alcohol addiction is a problem in every community, but in the Sikh community it is taboo.

“There is a lot of stigma attached to it and addicts are quickly labelled and ostracised by our community.

“It’s condemned in our faith and in our holy scriptures.”

He added: “I am willing to do anything to get people out of that misery and give them the chance of having what I have.”

The weekend Derby programme will consist of talks, workshops and open sessions where people of any background or faith can discuss their issues.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-derbyshire-40292645

BBC News – Why a problem of plenty is hurting India’s farmers

Farmers are on the boil again in India

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi, 8 June 2017. In western Maharashtra state, they have been on strike for a week in some seven districts now, spilling milk on the streets, shutting down markets, protesting on the roads and attacking vegetable trucks.

In neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, curfew has been imposed after five farmers were killed in clashes with police on Tuesday. Last month, farmers in southern Telangana and Andhra Pradesh staged protests and burnt their red chilli crop.

The farmers are demanding waivers on farm loans and higher prices for their crops. For decades now, farming in India has been blighted by drought, small plot sizes, a depleting water table, declining productivity and lack of modernisation.

Half of its people work in farms, but farming contributes only 15% to India’s GDP. Put simply, farms employ a lot of people but produce too little. Crop failures trigger farm suicides with alarming frequency.

The present unrest is, however, rooted in a problem of plenty.

In Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the farmers are on the streets because a bumper harvest fuelled by a robust monsoon has led to a crop glut. Prices of onions, grapes, soya-bean, fenugreek and red chilli, for example, have nosedived.

In most places, the governments have been less than swift in paying the farmer more for the crops, the government sets prices for farming in India and procures crops from farmers to incentivise production and ensure income support.

So why has a bumper crop led to a crisis in farming ?

Some believe that the price crash is the result of India’s controversial withdrawal of high value banknotes, popularly called demonetisation, late last year.

The ban, surprisingly, did not hurt planting as farmers “begged and borrowed” from their kin and social networks to pay for fertilisers, pesticides and labour, Harish Damodaran, rural affairs and agriculture editor at The Indian Express newspaper told me.

So more land was actually cropped, and bountiful rains led to a bumper crop. But traders, Mr Damodaran believes, possibly did not have enough cash to pick up the surplus crop.

“Although the chronic cash shortage has passed, there is still a liquidity problem. I have been talking to traders who say there’s not enough cash, which remains the main medium of credit in villages. I suspect the price crash has been caused by a lack of cash.”

Exaggerated fears

A prominent trader in Lasangaon, Asia’s biggest onion market in Maharashtra, a state which accounts for a third of India’s annual production, told me that concerns over shortage of cash leading to crop price crashes were “exaggerated”.

“There has been a good crop for sure, but a lot of traders have picked up crop, paying cash, issuing cheques and using net banking. Some of the glut and wastage has been due to the ongoing strike, when trucks of vegetables have been attacked on the highways,” Manoj Kumar Jain said.

Still others believe the main reason for the ongoing crises actually rooted in India’s chronic failure of coping with surplus harvests because of lack of adequate food storage and processing capacity.

“If the rains are good, you end up with a glut of crops and prices crash. The glut only highlights the inefficiencies of the farming value chain and hits farmers,” Ashok Gulati, an agriculture specialist at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, told me.

Take onions, for example. The vegetable is 85% water and loses weight quickly.

In Lasangaon, traders buy the crop from farmers and store the onions on concrete in tarpaulin-covered sheds. If the weather stays right, 3-5% of the stored crop is wasted in storage. But if the mercury soars, more onions dry up, lose weight and 25-30% of the stored crop could be wasted.

In a modern cold storage, however, onions can be stored in wooden boxes at 4C. Crop wastage is less than 5%. Storage costs about a rupee (less than a US cent) for every kilogram of onion a month.

So the government needs to make sure, or even subsidise, to keep the vegetable affordable to consumers once it reaches the retail market.

“We need to make the supply storage chain so efficient that the customer, farmer and the storage owner are happy. Unfortunately India hasn’t been able to make that happen,” Dr Gulati said.

Poor storage

For one, India just doesn’t have enough cold storages.

There are some 7,000 of them, mostly stocking potatoes in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Resultantly, fruits and vegetables perish very quickly. Unless India hoards food effectively, a bumper crop can easily spell doom for farmers.

Secondly, there’s not enough processing of food happening to ensure that crops don’t perish or go waste.

Take onions, again.

One way to dampen volatility in onion prices is to dehydrate the bulb and make these processed onions more widely available. Currently, less than 5% of India’s fruit and vegetables is processed.

Thirdly, farmers in India plant for new harvest looking back at crop prices in the previous year.

If the crop prices were healthy, they sow more of the same, hoping for still better prices.

If the rains are good, a crop glut can happen easily, and lead to extraordinary fall in prices. Farmers hold on to the crops for a while, and then begin distress sales.

“You need to allow future prices through contract farming, not cropping based on last year’s prices,” says Dr Gulati.

Radical measures

Clearly, farming policies in India need a radical overhaul.

Punjab, India’s “granary”, is a perfect example.

At a time when India does not suffer food shortages, water-guzzling wheat and rice comprise 80% of its cropped area and deplete groundwater.

Rising production of cereals has meant that government has been giving paltry rises to the farmers while buying paddy and wheat, eroding their profitability.

“They [the policies] are distorting the choices that farmers make, those who should be finding ways to grow vegetables, which grow more expensive every year, are instead growing wheat we no longer need,” says Mihir Sharma, author of Restart: The Last Chance for the Indian Economy.

But the best that the governments here do is to quickly raise crop buying prices and alleviate the farmers’ suffering.

Faced with a crop glut at home, the newly appointed BJP government in Uttar Pradesh was smart enough to promptly raise the procurement price of potatoes, and announce a controversial farm loan waiver, and quell a simmering farmers’ revolt .

The government in Madhya Pradesh, ruled by the same party, failed to act in time. Now it says it will pay more to buy off the surplus onions. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40184788

BBC News – Is India’s ban on cattle slaughter ‘food fascism’?

A lawmaker from India’s southern state of Kerala has announced that he is returning to eating meat, fish and eggs after practising vegetarianism for nearly two decades.

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi, 2 June 2017. There’s nothing unusual about a lapsed vegetarian but V T Balram said his decision was prompted by the federal Hindu nationalist BJP government’s attempt to seize the people’s right to eat what they wanted.

“I have been living without eating meat, fish or eggs since 1998. But now the time has come break it and uphold the right politics of food assertively,” Mr Balram said, while posting a video of him eating beef with friends and fellow party workers.

The BJP believes that cows should be protected, because they are considered holy by India’s majority Hindu population. Some 18 Indian states have already banned slaughter of cattle.

But millions of Indians, including Dalits (formerly untouchables), Muslims and Christians, consume beef.

And it’s another matter, say many, that there’s no outrage against the routine selling of male calves by Hindu farmers and pastoralists to middlemen for slaughter as the animals are of little use, bullocks have been phased out by tractors in much of rural India, and villagers need to rear only the occasional bull.

Ironically, the cow has become a polarising animal. Two years ago, a mob attacked a man and killed him over “rumours” that his family ate beef. Vigilante cow protection groups, operating with impunity, have killed people for transporting cattle.

More recently, the chief of BJP’s powerful ideological fountainhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers’ Organisation) has called for a countrywide ban on the slaughter of cows. And this week, a senior judge said the cow should be declared a national animal and people who slaughter cows should be sentenced to life in prison.

Many say this is all contributing to effectively killing India’s thriving buffalo meat trade.

Earlier this week, several Indian states opposed the federal government’s decision to ban the sale of cattle for slaughter at livestock markets. The government said the order was aimed at preventing uncontrolled and unregulated animal trade.

But the ban, say many, could end up hurting some $4bn (£3.11bn) in annual beef exports and millions of jobs. There are some 190 million cattle in India, and tens of millions “go out of the system”, die or need to be slaughtered – every year. How will poor farmers sell their animals?

So, as lawyer Gautam Bhatia says, the new rules are “perceived as imposing an indirect beef ban”. He believes the government will find it difficult to defend them if they are challenged in the court, one state court, responding to a petition that they violate the right of a person to chose what he eats, has already put the ban on hold.

The badly-drafted rules, Mr Bhatia says, are “an opportunity for citizens and courts to think once again whether the prescription of food choices is consistent with a Constitution that promises economic and social liberty to all”.

‘Dietary profiling’

Critics have been calling the beef ban an example of “dietary profiling” and “food fascism”. Others say it smacks of cultural imperialism, and is a brazen attack on India’s secularism and constitutional values. Don’t laugh, but there could be a conspiracy to turn India vegetarian, screamed a recent headline.

Many believe that the BJP, under Narendra Modi, appears to be completely out of depth with India’s widely diverse food practices which have always been distinguished by religion, region, caste, class, age and gender.

Indians now eat more meat, including beef, cow and buffalo meat, than ever. Consumption of beef grew up 14% in cities, and 35% in villages, according to government data analysed by IndiaSpend, a non-profit data journalism initiative.

Beef is the preferred meat in north-eastern states like Nagaland and Meghalaya. According to National Sample Survey data, 42% Indians describe themselves as vegetarians who don’t eat eggs, fish or meat; another baseline government survey showed 71% of Indians over the age of 15 are non-vegetarian.

Governments have tried to impose food bans and choices around the world, mostly using health and environment concerns and hygiene concerns.

In the US, for example, groups have rallied against subsidised vegetables, outlawing large sodas, promotion of organic food and taxing fat. Bangkok is banning street food to clean up streets and enforce hygiene standards.

India has done the same in the past. Crops like BT brinjal have been stalled by the government and industrially manufactured food like Maggi noodles banned temporarily amid claims they contained dangerously high levels of lead.
Scarcity has also led to bans, a ban of milk sweets in the 1970s in Delhi was justified because milk used to be in short supply.

‘Unfit animals’

“To the extent that this ban on cattle slaughter justifies itself by speaking of ‘unfit and infected cattle’, it seems to invoke public health, but then stops short by not banning the sale of goats, sheep and chicken as well,” sociologist Amita Baviskar told me.

“In fact, the public health argument leads logically to a move towards better regulation like stricter checking of animals for disease, more hygienic slaughter and storage of meat rather than a flat-out ban.”

Clearly, the ban appears to be working already.

“Selling red meat, even goat meat, in a BJP-ruled state is now injurious to one’s health. Who would want to risk the wrath of the vigilantes?,” says Dr Baviskar.

As it is, she says, meat-eating habits of Indians have been changing rapidly in the last couple of decades and the chicken, once regarded as a “dirty bird”, is now the most popular meat.

“I see a greater polarisation taking place between red states (meat-eating) and white states (chicken eating) Within the white states, meat-eaters will have to skulk about, looking over their shoulder as they bite into a beef kebab”.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40116811

BBC News – Indian states oppose cow slaughter ban

Several Indian states have opposed the federal government’s decision to ban the sale of cattle for slaughter.

New Delhi, 30 May 2017. West Bengal in eastern India and Kerala in the south said they would not follow the “arbitrary” order which bans the sale of cattle at livestock markets.

The federal government said the order was aimed at “preventing uncontrolled and unregulated animal trade”.

But critics say the move is aimed at protecting cows, considered holy by India’s majority Hindu population.

West Bengal and Kerala are among several Indian states where beef is part of local cuisine.

Correspondents say the order will hurt farmers, and industries like food processing and leather.

Many states have actively started enforcing bans on cow slaughter after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party formed India’s federal government in 2014.

The western state of Gujarat passed a law in March making the slaughter of cows punishable with life imprisonment. In addition to government bans, several vigilante groups who portray themselves as protectors of cows have also been active in several states.

Such groups have even killed Muslim men over suspicion of cow slaughter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year criticised the vigilantes, saying such people made him “angry”.

However, this has not stopped attacks against cattle traders.

Mr Modi’s critics say the new order is aimed at appeasing India’s Hindu community.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the centre was “encroaching upon state matters” with such orders.

“Prevention, protection and improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases come under the state list. So do markets and fairs and also trade and commerce,” she said.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written to all non-BJP ruled states to unite against the order.

He said it violated India’s federal constitution and also violated “the basic right of a person to freedom of choice regarding his food”.

The union territory of Pondicherry has also decided to formally oppose the ban.

The southern states of Karnataka and Telengana as well as Meghalaya in the north-east have also protested the order.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40089689