Murders in Mumbai
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- INDIA NEWS
- FEBRUARY 7, 2012
Claims of Faked Shootouts Tarnish Police Across India
By GEETA ANAND
MUMBAI—One of India’s most famous police officers is on trial—accused of being a killer-for-hire—in a case that embodies the difficulty of trying to clean up the nation’s notoriously corrupt crime-fighting forces.
Panos Pictures for The Wall Street JournalRamprasad Gupta, pictured, says Pradeep Sharma shot his brother in a ‘fake encounter.’
The officer, Senior Inspector Pradeep Sharma, was once so widely revered that two Bollywood movies have been inspired by his exploits. They include the 2004 hit “56 So Far,” a reference to the large number of gangsters killed by the big-screen hero.
Today Mr. Sharma is in jail, charged with killing a real-estate broker on behalf of a business rival in 2006, in what is known in India as a “fake encounter”—a murder that is falsely reported as a police shootout.
Faked police shootings are common in India, according to civil-rights groups, police officers and senior government ministers, who say they have taken steps to rein in the practice. While vigilante-style justice declined in Mumbai, it has spread to other parts of India, with cases being pursued in the capital city of New Delhi, and the western state of Gujarat, among other places. The Supreme Court, in a ruling last year to deny bail to Mr. Sharma and other officers, bemoaned ‘the growing lawlessness in the country.”
In an interview, one of Mr. Sharma’s close friends and police colleagues openly acknowledged that police shootouts have long been staged. Sachin Waze, who served on Mr. Sharma’s police team, said its mission was to kill suspected gangsters by any means and claim self-defense. “We just had to say that publicly because of the legal system,” Mr. Waze said.
India’s policing crisis exposes how the nation, despite modernizing its economy the past 20 years, hasn’t kept pace with improvements to its law enforcement and the judiciary. Police forces tend to be poorly trained, and officers nationwide often live in slums because of low pay. They must cover three times as many people per officer (1,037) as the global average, according to 2009 figures from Human Rights Watch. According to Transparency International, an anticorruption advocacy group, police are reported as the most-bribed public-sector individuals in countries like India, where corruption is considered widespread.
The case against Mr. Sharma is complicated by the fact that the prosecution’s most valuable witness—a friend of the alleged victim—was himself murdered last year. The badly burned corpse took months to identify.
Mr. Sharma, who is in jail, declined through his lawyer to comment. He denies the charges. His friend Mr. Waze said the allegations were concocted by colleagues jealous of Mr. Sharma’s fame.
Crisis in India’s Police
“Fake encounters” were popularized when gang warfare raged in Mumbai in the 1990s. Since then, these extrajudicial killings have spread across India, leading to what the presiding Supreme Court justice called “the growing lawlessness in the country.”
Several crime-fighting teams like Mr. Sharma’s existed between 1998 and 2003, when Mumbai police began to phase them out, Mr. Waze said. The teams were fiercely competitive, he said: If a rival team killed one gangster, “We’d go out and kill two or three.” Mr. Waze claims to have killed 63 gangsters himself. A police official couldn’t confirm the numbers but said they sounded like an exaggeration.
The phenomenon of the faked shootout grew in the 1990s, when gang warfare raged in Mumbai. The city recently has tried to rein it in by suspending or firing some cops, but the phenomenon has already spread to India’s far corners.
Last November, in Gujarat state, an investigator filed a court report alleging that police there faked a shootout to explain the deaths of a college girl and three friends. Also last year, a Delhi court ruled that local police staged a shootout in which they claimed to have captured four terrorists working for Pakistan. The National Human Rights Commission recently reported that, over the past two decades, it has received more than 20,000 cases of people allegedly dying in judicial custody, and more than 4,000 complaints of people dying in police custody.
The Journal is examining the threats to, and limits of, India’s economic ascent.
- For India’s Lowest Castes, Path Forward Is Backward (12/9/2011)
- Bribes, Bureaucracy Hobble India’s New Entrepreneurs 11/1/2011)
- The Ailing Health Of a Growing Nation (7/30/2011)
- Class Struggle: India’s Experiment In Schooling Tests Rich and Poor (6/4/2011)
- India’s Boom Bypasses Rural Poor (4/29/2011)
- In India, Doubts Gather Over Rising Giant’s Course (3/30/2011)
India’s Supreme Court has demanded reform. In 2006, the court ordered the introduction of civilian monitoring committees to investigate complaints against police. Less than half of India’s 28 states have passed the reform.
The Indian home minister, P. Chidambaram, who oversees law enforcement, acknowledged in an interview that police do sometimes fake shootouts to settle political or personal rivalries. But he also said that “many encounters are indeed genuine.”
Mr. Chidambaram blamed police abuse on poor living and working conditions, which “dehumanize” officers. He also blamed a severe shortage of officers and a lack of training.
“This is a huge country, and you can’t expect change overnight,” Mr. Chidambaram said, noting that law enforcement is a state subject. To improve policing, he said, the central government is offering the states sample policies on policing and hiring. It has added 90,000 central-government police officers and has funded the hiring of another 100,000 state police each of the past two years.
Mr. Sharma’s trial gets scant public attention, at least partly because people here widely believe police corruption is simply the status quo.
Referring to the use of fake shootouts, former Mumbai police commissioner Julio F. Ribeiro said: “The middle class was, and is, in favor of it.” While Mr. Ribeiro opposes vigilantism, he said, he understands its appeal among frustrated citizens. People “are convinced that the judicial system doesn’t work, so they support taking the shortcut and killing anyone suspected of wrongdoing,” he said.
India’s courts are indeed overstretched. Currently there is a backlog of 30 million civil and criminal cases combined, according to the National Bar Association.
Mr. Sharma, 49 years old and the son of a college professor, joined Mumbai’s police in 1983. Mr. Sharma excelled academically in school, earning a master’s degree in chemistry, but was bent on a more action-oriented life, friends and former colleagues say.
He quickly distinguished himself by his wit and daring, they say. Indian police traditionally rely on a lathi, a heavy stick, as an enforcement tool; Mr. Sharma earned notoriety for being quick to draw a gun. He killed an alleged Nigerian drug dealer and befriended a professor with links to a notorious Mumbai gang, friends and former colleagues say. The professor and others became his underworld informants.
When Mr. Sharma began nabbing gangsters, there were plenty to choose from. Gang violence escalated in the 1990s as criminals tried to get a piece of Mumbai’s wild real-estate boom by extorting builders. In 1995, nine people died in shootouts in Mumbai. Two years later the number jumped to 72.
Newspapers at the time brimmed with stories of people being held up while hosting lavish weddings or buying fancy cars. People who didn’t pay were often killed. Mumbai’s Bollywood movie-production sets became the scene of real-life shootouts as producers were held up for ransom.
The police set up four teams to break the violence, one headed by Mr. Sharma. His friend, Mr. Waze, joined his team in 2000. Mr. Waze said Mr. Sharma was considered “one of the best that the department had.”
Mr. Sharma and his team became household names nationwide. When Mr. Sharma’s deputy founded a new school, India’s biggest movie star, Amitabh Bachchan, showed up to inaugurate it.
The campaign worked: Gang violence waned. But at the same time, complaints mounted alleging that the city’s elite crime-fighters were becoming involved in financial transactions with the gangs themselves. Deven Bharti, additional commissioner of police in Mumbai, said investigators found evidence that suggested some officers, including Mr. Sharma, were colluding with the underworld for money.
Mr. Waze denies Mr. Sharma made money through deals with the underworld.
Mr. Waze himself faces criminal charges that, in 2003, he killed a man accused of terrorism while transporting him from one city to another. He denies the charges. “I have said, he ran from my custody,” Mr. Waze said when asked about the killing. He resigned from the police department and is currently running a small business while awaiting trial.
Mr. Sharma remains imprisoned awaiting a verdict on charges that he arranged the 2006 kidnapping and killing of a real-estate broker, Ramnarayan Gupta.
His alleged victim had a checkered past. Between 1989 and 1998, Mr. Gupta was charged with several murders and attempted murders, although police records indicate that the cases were never resolved one way or the other.
But by the late 1990s, Mr. Gupta had cleaned up his act, according to several friends and associates. Police records also show that, after 1998, he was accused of no more crimes.
AFP/Getty ImagesPoster for ’56 So Far,’ a movie inspired by Mr. Sharma several years ago.
According to court testimony by one of his friends, Anil Bheda, Mr. Gupta had rebuilt his life as a real-estate agent. At the time of his death, Mr. Gupta made a living buying and selling land for farmers and property developers, court documents show.
In November 2006—around the time of his death—Mr. Gupta got into a fight with a businessman over a land deal, according to Mr. Bheda’s testimony. Mr. Bheda said Mr. Gupta told him he “got drunk,” went to the businessman’s house and “threatened to kill his son.”
That businessman is accused of conspiring with Mr. Sharma to have Mr. Gupta killed, according to court documents. He denies the allegations.
A few days after the fight, around lunchtime, Mr. Bheda was standing on the street with Mr. Gupta when several men jumped out of a silver sport-utility vehicle and pushed the two men inside, Mr. Bheda said in his written testimony. They were taken to a police station and found themselves in a room with Mr. Sharma, according to the testimony.
Mr. Bheda said the police separated the two men, and it was the last time he saw his friend. That night, local television news reported that the police had killed a wanted criminal, Mr. Gupta, in a shootout around 8 p.m., court documents say.
A police document filed in court in 2006 gives the police’s version of the killing. It says officers received a tip that Mr. Gupta would be visiting a certain place that evening, and when he arrived in a rickshaw, they tried to arrest him—prompting him to shoot at the police, who fired back in self-defense.
For the next month or so, Mr. Bheda testified that he was held mostly incommunicado in police custody. But the dead Mr. Gupta had a champion: His younger brother, Ramprasad Gupta.
The moment his elder brother was shoved into the SUV, the younger Mr. Gupta received a phone call from a witness, he said in an interview. “I immediately thought it must be a fake encounter,” he said.
Starting at 4 p.m. that day, he said, he sent faxes and telegrams to the Mumbai police commissioner and to local politicians. “Ramnarayan Vishwanath Gupta and Anil Bheda picked by police,” one telegram reads. “Their life is in danger. Please help and save their life.”
Police say the telegrams and faxes didn’t reach the police commissioner that day because they weren’t properly addressed and it was a holiday.
In separate investigations, a magistrate and a deputy police commissioner determined that the alleged shootout that killed the elder Mr. Gupta never actually occurred, and that police had likely murdered him, according to court documents and interviews with senior police officers. Based largely on testimony from Mr. Bheda, several officers including Mr. Sharma were arrested in January 2010.
The younger Mr. Gupta takes pride in the fight for his brother. “Sometimes you find yourself in a position to do something important, to change history,” he said.
In March of last year, Mr. Bheda disappeared for good. The evening of his disappearance, a corpse turned up in a wooded area in Mumbai’s northern suburbs. It was his body, burned beyond recognition.
The trial of Mr. Sharma and the 21 other accused—mostly police officers—began in Mumbai Sessions Court in July and is expected to take several more months. Mr. Waze said neither he nor Mr. Sharma ordered the killing of Mr. Bheda or any other person.
Mr. Waze said he expects Mr. Sharma to be exonerated. “Pradeep Sharma loves nothing better than police work,” Mr. Waze said. “He hopes to be back on the job as soon as his name is cleared.”
—Diksha Sahni contributed to this article.
Write to Geeta Anand at email@example.com
- INDIA NEWS
- DECEMBER 9, 2011
For India’s Lowest Castes, Path Forward Is ‘Backward’
By GEETA ANAND and AMOL SHARMA
HASNABAD, India—Decades ago, Siraj Gazi’s grandfather changed his last name of Chowduli to the higher-caste Gazi. He hoped it would erase the social stigma of his low-caste roots.
Today, 23-year-old Mr. Gazi, a college graduate, is trying to prove that he is, in fact, a Chowduli—a surname so low, it is akin to a racial epithet here.
“My grandfather wanted to stop people from looking down on us as ignorant and backward,” says Mr. Gazi. “But to get a better job, I’m willing to go back.”
Photographer Sanjit Das visited low-caste communities in India. These are his impressions.
Sanjit Das/Panos for The Wall Street JournalChildren and adults who belong to the Chowduli community look for small fish in the muddy remains of a pond in Kuliadanga village.
Despite India’s expanding economy, the fruits of rising wealth—and opportunities for economic and social mobility—have largely bypassed many rural areas like Mr. Gazi’s fishing village near the Bangladesh border.
So India is trying to engineer advancement for its underclass through a vast and growing affirmative-action program. To decide who should benefit, officials are adapting a means of categorization long viewed by many as one of the great evils of Indian society: the Hindu caste system.
Since 1993, India has almost doubled, to 2,251, the number of groups on its official list of “backward classes” that are entitled to 27% of central-government jobs and university admissions, and a varying proportion of state jobs. Officials are in the process of classifying roughly 200 more groups as officially “backward” so that they benefit as well.
The Journal is examining the threats to, and limits of, India’s economic ascent.
- Bribes, Bureaucracy Hobble India’s New Entrepreneurs (11/1/11)
- The Ailing Health Of a Growing Nation (7/30/11)
- Class Struggle: India’s Experiment In Schooling Tests Rich and Poor (6/4/11)
- India’s Boom Bypasses Rural Poor (4/29/11)
- India Graduates Millions but Too Few are Fit To Hire (4/5/11)
- In India, Doubts Gather Over Rising Giant’s Course (3/30)11)
And for the first time in 80 years, the nation is conducting a “caste census,” tallying India’s thousands of sub-castes. A caste census has long been taboo, for fear it would reinforce discrimination. But this year, lower-caste groups forced the government’s hand. Their hope: The tally will show low-caste numbers are much higher than thought, justifying more government benefits and perhaps even job quotas in the private sector.
For centuries, caste determined not only peoples’ social status but their marriages and occupations as well. The hierarchy is based on four broad caste groups (topped by the priestly Brahmins), each divided into thousands of subgroups. An Agarwal from the Bania caste married within that group and grew up to become a businessman; a Yadav would herd cattle. Members of the Paraiyar group—from which the word “pariah” is derived—performed menial labor and because they were considered unclean, lived outside of villages.
Across India’s estimated 6,400 sub-castes, the system came to define a person’s socioeconomic status. It continues to serve fundamental economic needs: Absent strong market forces or public institutions, people use caste networks to obtain jobs, loans and housing.
But caste can be fiercely discriminatory. Communities developed incentives to maintain their rung on the caste ladder, lest those below pass them.
Even though the lowest social group, the Dalits—once known as “untouchables”—has produced some successful businesspeople, it still lags well behind higher classes who have twice the median household income, a recent survey shows.
Around the time India opened its economy 20 years ago, ending decades of Soviet-style central planning, it also set out to create a society of equal opportunity. It did so by more than doubling the quota of jobs and seats in government colleges reserved for disadvantaged castes. India’s lower castes—a huge voting bloc—have used their newfound influence to express frustration at their lack of economic mobility as the economy races ahead.
The danger in using caste as a development tool, critics say, is that the government is perpetuating ancient divisions that still run deep. Just this April, the Indian Supreme Court in a wide-ranging ruling blasted the caste system as “a curse on the nation,” saying “the sooner it is destroyed, the better.” That ruling outlawed India’s unofficial courts that sanction “honor killings,” in which families kill young lovers who are from different castes rather than suffer the stigma of a marriage across caste lines.
India’s Constitution guarantees equality to all. But it also enshrines caste-based affirmative action for Dalits, known in legal terms as “scheduled castes,” and for indigenous forest-dwellers, known as “scheduled tribes.” In time, the government created a third group, the “Other Backward Classes.”
There are limits: People earning more than $9,000 a year are considered part of a “creamy layer” that doesn’t get benefits. But overall, almost half of all government jobs and college seats are reserved for the disadvantaged.
Among the Hindu groups now petitioning the government to be considered “backward” are the Devangas in the state of West Bengal, traditional weavers whose name means “those who make clothes for God.”
“Granting the status of ‘backward’ isn’t necessary if everyone is allowed to shine in life—but in reality this opportunity is lacking,” said M. Kesava Rao, the acting administrator at a high school serving mostly Devangas. The group is already recognized as “backward” by the state; it wants national recognition to qualify for federal quotas as well.
The Devangas migrated generations ago from the south of India to work in West Bengal’s jute mills. But the jute business is declining. A lack of other industries leaves them with little hope for social or economic mobility.
In Serampore, a town an hour’s drive north of Kolkata, about 6,000 Devangas live in tiny, pastel homes. Sewage flows along open drains lining dirt footpaths. Inside, women sit at pedal-operated sewing machines, making sari blouses they sell for about four cents each. Only one in five of the women can read at a primary school level, government figures show.
Kondaka Kameshwar Rao, 42, who is married with two children, is among the better-paid Devangas. He earns $140 a month operating a winding machine at a surviving jute plant.
But he can’t afford private tutors for his children, 11 and 14 years old. In the overcrowded classrooms of India’s public schools, tutors are key to scoring high enough on college exams to gain admission.
The only avenue Mr. Rao sees to give his children the economic mobility he lacks is to get the family “backward” status. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he says. “Not everyone is Brahmin.”
India Real Time
India is unique in having such a complex social system to identify people in need. Yet critics say the affirmative-action program promotes inter-caste resentment as India’s 1.2 billion people compete for too few jobs.
China, which also struggles to lift its rural poor, has taken a different approach, investing more heavily in public health, education and infrastructure. While China had a head start—opening its economy roughly a decade earlier than India did—it outranks India in measures including poverty and maternal mortality. India is also pouring more money into schools and rural-employment programs.
Being categorized “backward” in India is no guarantee of benefits. Despite the job quotas, many people still can’t meet minimum requirements to get hired. Even most of the lowliest jobs in most state offices require an eighth-grade education, which many people lack.
In the Hasnabad area, where 750 Chowduli families live on the edge of ponds and canals, 40% of students don’t show up to elementary school for half the year, teachers say, when their parents travel to work in brick kilns several miles away.
The Chowdulis are Muslim, and therefore outside of the traditional Hindu caste system. But the word “caste” is routinely used by government experts to refer to social strata in underprivileged Muslim communities. West Bengal state, where the Chowdulis live, has nearly doubled its number of backward classes to 108 the past two years, largely by the inclusion of Muslim groups.
The Chowdulis already have state “backward” status. Now, like the Devangas, they are seeking federal recognition to benefit from more quotas.
Siraj Gazi, the young man who wants to change his name back to Chowduli, is the first member of the community whom anyone in the area can remember getting a college degree. He paid full tuition—all told, about $200 for a three-year degree at a state school.
Not even his degree has helped him land a decent job. He works part-time in a plant that filters arsenic out of drinking water. Thus he has been trying for two years to get an official government certificate identifying him as a Chowduli to gain the advantages of “backward” designation.
“I’m willing to go back and suffer people’s insults because the name is going to help me to get a job,” he says. “The truth is that even when we didn’t have the Chowduli name, people knew we were Chowdulis.”
His uncle, Mohammad Iman Gazi, lives down a mud path a five-minute walk away. He remembers the day several decades ago when he and Siraj’s grandfather decided to drop Chowduli as their last name. “We wanted to get some respect,” he says.
After the change, “We were still looked down upon, but we didn’t get looked down upon as much,” he says, standing in his two-room brick house, which he was able to build after winning $400 in the lottery a few years ago.
He says he will never change his name back to Chowduli. But if the younger generation sees something to gain, he says, he won’t stand in their way.
His own biggest regret, he says, is that he was so poor when his two sons were in school that he made them drop out at age 10 to work. Now they’re stuck in the tailoring industry, lacking the education to benefit from new opportunities.
One son, Mohammad Rafiq Gazi, 22, says he wanted to become a doctor, but his father couldn’t feed his family on the $15 a month he earned wading into a nearby canal and scooping fish into a net. Today, 12 years after quitting school, he earns $30 a month sewing women’s clothing.
“I don’t like the job, but there’s nothing else to do,” he says. “The job is always sitting, 16 hours a day sitting.”
He supports his community’s effort to attain “backward” status even though it might not help him personally. He wouldn’t qualify for most jobs reserved for “backward” groups because he lacks the required eighth-grade schooling.
The government would do better to invest in schools and teachers, especially in rural areas, rather than promise jobs to people who aren’t qualified, says Anirudh Krishna, a public-policy professor at Duke University who studies poverty in India. “The government is just taking a symbolic shortcut,” he says. “This is a crying scandal.”
Today Rafiq daydreams about setting up his own garment shop. His older brother did so about three years ago after selling some goats for about $300 to buy several sewing machines. On a recent afternoon at his brother’s one-room factory, six boys ages 11 to 16 sewed red frocks.
But Rafiq doesn’t have the goats, or the savings, to buy his own machines, he says, so he feels stymied. “What will be the end?” he says.
Nobody in the family of his college-educated cousin, Siraj, can explain exactly why they pushed him to keep studying toward his degree. He graduated this year with a bachelor of science, majoring in geography.
“We’re illiterate,” says Siraj’s stepmother, Murjina Bibi, “so we don’t really know what things he can do with an education.” But the family is “very proud” of his degree, she says. “We hope he can find a good job.”
Siraj’s part-time work in the arsenic-filtering plant pays him about $3.20 a day. His goal is to move up to “any kind of permanent job I can get that has job security,” he says.
Asked what job that would be, he pauses to think. The only employers he knows of in the area are a kiln and an ice factory, he says.
At length, Siraj says, “The best thing I can hope for is a government job” of the type he might get more easily with the “backward” status that the Chowduli surname will confer. “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
- ASIA BUSINESS
- NOVEMBER 1, 2011
Bribes, Bureaucracy Hobble India’s New Entrepreneurs
By AMOL SHARMA
They would “throw stones at the workers, beat up the supervisor,” says Mr. Alva, whose company makes X-ray machines. “We lost one and a half years.”
The Journal is examining the threats to, and limits of, India’s economic ascent. Read previous articles:
It’s tough to be an entrepreneur anywhere, but India presents special obstacles—byzantine bureaucracy, moldering roads and power grids, cultural pressures that penalize risk-taking, and corruption. Mr. Alva says the thugs demanded bribes to go away. He wouldn’t pay.
Entrepreneurship is vital to India as the nation of 1.2 billion tries to reduce poverty through economic growth. Small and medium businesses are the largest nonfarm employers and account for 45% of manufacturing output, according to government data and a study last month by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Confederation of Indian Industry. Those small firms are adding some 3.3 million jobs per year—not nearly enough to accommodate the roughly 13 million people entering India’s job market.
India ranks among the world’s worst countries at encouraging entrepreneurs. For ease of starting a business, India is 166th out of 183 countries, just ahead of Angola, according to World Bank figures released recently. Only one country, Timor-Leste, is worse at enforcing contracts.
Overall, Indian business remains concentrated among well-connected conglomerates that date back generations. A handful of Indians control 80% of stock-market capitalization, and big companies have privileged access to land and government contracts, according to a 2009 Asian Development Bank report.
Mr. Alva, the X-ray entrepreneur, says government officials sought bribes for everything from speeding up his business permit to resolving what he calls bogus child-labor claims.
India Real Time
It isn’t possible to verify his allegations. Mr. Alva says the extortion attempts happened verbally, so nothing is in writing.
His assertions nevertheless fit a pattern. Some 80% of Indian entrepreneurs say corruption is getting worse, according to a new survey by Legatum Institute, a London think tank. (Read the survey.)
Mr. Alva faced other challenges besides thugs. A bank approved a $1.3 million loan, but withheld most of it for months. Short on cash, Mr. Alva says he borrowed from loan sharks at annual interest rates up to 48%.
Veerappa Moily, India’s minister of corporate affairs, acknowledges Indian regulations are geared toward conglomerates. “There is a tendency that we address only the problem of the big people,” Mr. Moily says, adding that he intends to reduce red tape by making it easier to register new businesses.
Jarrard Cole for The Wall Street JournalSuresh Kumar Jain has fought to block Skanray’s factory with protests and a lawsuit.
Jarrard Cole for The Wall Street JournalSkanray’s founder, Vishwaprasad Alva, says Mr. Jain sought bribes, which Mr. Jain denies.
Currently it can take weeks simply to get a new company’s name approved, in part because authorities must certify that the name has something to do with the product. In one case this year, a mobile-gaming company wishing to call itself Kratos, after the Greek god of strength, was rejected because its product had nothing to do with ancient mythology, according to an executive at the firm. The next naming choice was Arkanea, a riff on a “Star Wars” planet. This time the government said yes. The ministry didn’t respond to a comment request.
Entrepreneurs face social obstacles as well in a society that tends to discourage risk-taking. Sidhartha Bhimania, a 28-year-old who founded EnNatura, a start-up outside New Delhi that makes environmentally friendly inks, has been searching for a bride for months via a traditional arranged marriage. He says prospective fathers-in-law are put off by his career.
“Can you guarantee this will be a success?” he says one father asked him recently of his business.
Survey on India
Some 80% of Indian entrepreneurs say corruption is getting worse, according to a new survey by Legatum Institute, a London think tank. Read the survey.
Mr. Bhimania can’t make that guarantee. “Failure is frowned upon and feared,” he says.
Start-ups can founder over many basic issues, as Mr. Alva, 44 years old, learned after deciding to start his X-ray company, Skanray Technologies.
A native of the state of Karnataka who studied engineering, Mr. Alva landed a job in 1999 heading a General Electric Co. X-ray unit in the city of Bangalore. After time with GE in Milwaukee, he quit and returned to India in 2007 to his hometown of Mangalore on the Western coast.
There he sketched out an idea for making affordable medical devices. The need is clear. Three-quarters of Indian medical gear is imported and too costly for clinics in smaller cities and rural areas, according to a report last year by consulting firm Deloitte.
Mr. Alva decided to set up shop in nearby Mysore, a city of 800,000. His goal was to open a factory by summer 2008. In March 2007, he submitted an application to a state agency that approves major investments.
Karnataka is considered above average for entrepreneurs. Yet four times the agency declined to accept the application on technicalities—once because Mr. Alva described his factory in square feet instead of meters. Approval took about a year.
An official at the agency, Karnataka Udyog Mitra, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Alva says he drove to the capital, Bangalore, several times to complain to the state’s industries minister, Katta Subramanya Naidu. On his third visit, Mr. Alva says, Mr. Naidu’s assistant indicated that paying a special fee would speed things up.
Mr. Alva says he saw it as a bribe. He says he shouted, “What game are you playing?”
Compared to other major emerging markets, India is a less hospitable place for entrepreneurs to launch new businesses, though the nation has improved in some areas in recent years.
Mr. Naidu is no longer Karnataka’s industries minister. He was arrested this year on charges of allocating land to firms in return for kickbacks in cases unrelated to Skanray. He is in judicial custody awaiting trial.
Mr. Naidu has denied wrongdoing. His lawyer declined to comment. A spokesman for the current Industries Minister declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Mr. Alva acquired land for a factory. In August 2007, the Karnataka government sold him two acres in an industrial area in Mysore near a lake.
Once construction began, two men demanded it stop, claiming the land belonged to farmers. One of the men was Made Gowda, a retired politician. The other was Suresh Kumar Jain, secretary of a local trade group.
Mr. Alva says Mr. Jain offered to fix the problem for about $20,000, which Mr. Alva viewed as extortion and rejected. The men deny asking for money.
Mr. Alva asked for a different plot of land. He got one a mile away in August 2008—his original date for finishing the factory.
Messrs. Gowda and Jain objected again, saying the factory was being erected on land technically outside the boundaries of Skanray’s plot and that it threatened the environment. The duo rounded up several dozen men to disrupt construction.
Messrs. Gowda and Jain admit pressuring Mr. Alva about the sites but deny roughing up workers or extorting him.
By November, the state arranged a third site for Mr. Alva, according to a government notice. Messrs. Gowda and Jain again showed up with protesters, arguing this plot shouldn’t go to Skanray because a local temple needed access. The protesters burned tires and threatened to tie Skanray employees to trees and burn them too, according to a police officer present and company officials.
In early 2009, Skanray abandoned this third site and returned to the second one, because paperwork for it was more complete. Mr. Jain’s association sued Skanray in Karnataka High Court, along with other local companies, alleging the land should have been blocked from development to protect the environment.
The court issued interim rulings siding with Mr. Alva and letting building proceed. The case is pending. According to state land records, Skanray’s plot is within an industrial zone that doesn’t pose environmental problems.
Protests continued. In an April 2009 rally, several dozen men tore down Skanray’s fence and threw stones at workers, according to a police officer present. Skanray’s facilities manager sustained head and neck injuries, according to hospital records.
Mr. Alva recounts the land battle with a mix of outrage and humor. “We told them, ‘We’ll not let you get away with this.’ We had already been beaten sufficiently and weren’t in a mood to give up.”
Mr. Gowda says “maybe” stones were thrown but says Mr. Alva has overblown the incident by making false allegations about extortion and violence. “It is a developing country,” Mr. Gowda says. “You must learn to move with the people. Every company can’t have freedom to do anything.”
The delays frayed tempers within Skanray. Biju Nathan, a GE veteran and one of Mr. Alva’s first hires, left in late 2009. Mr. Nathan says he quit because he felt Skanray should have stayed in “incubation mode” longer, tuning its business plan rather than so quickly opening a factory. “We brought the problems on ourselves,” Mr. Nathan says. Mr. Alva says Skanray needed to start generating revenue and didn’t have the luxury of delaying its manufacturing and sales plans.
Mr. Alva says Skanray likely would have failed but for one government official who took a strong interest in his problems, District Magistrate P. Manivannan, the region’s senior bureaucrat. When protesters arrived, Mr. Alva would alert Mr. Manivannan, and he would send police, both men say.
Mr. Alva had raised $1 million from friends in the U.S. and India, including an engineer at Apple Inc. who put in $30,000. But by mid-2009 he was almost out of cash. A branch of the government-run State Bank of Mysore had approved a $1.3 million loan, but stopped disbursing funds after several thousand dollars, Mr. Alva says, amid the land dispute.
Again, Mr. Manivannan intervened. “Your mandate is to support entrepreneurs and you’re not doing it,” Mr. Manivannan says he told the banker.
The bank agreed to release about $80,000, enough to pay Skanray vendors. It would take about a year for it to release more funds. Mr. Alva says he ultimately borrowed about $830,000 from the bank. A bank official declined to comment.
Meanwhile Mr. Alva says he borrowed about $60,000 from lenders charging annual interest up to 48%. He says he has paid back the loans and declined to elaborate on them.
He also found a local investor who pumped in $2.5 million. That deal came with strings: Mr. Alva agreed not to sell Skanray shares except at a very high valuation, making Skanray less attractive to future investors.
As his factory took shape, Mr. Alva butted heads with more officials. In March 2010 a labor inspector alleged Skanray was using child workers for construction. Mr. Alva says he visited the site several times a week and knew there were no underage workers.
Mr. Alva says the official told him the complaint would be dropped for 18,000 rupees, or about $400. Mr. Alva says he considered it a bribe and declined to pay. Government documents in the matter make no mention of the 18,000 rupees.
The labor office says it has no record of the allegations against Skanray, and doesn’t know how to contact the inspector in the case, who now works elsewhere.
Many Indian business owners consider bribes simply another cost of business. Mr. Alva acknowledges he could have built his factory faster if he had paid bribes, but doesn’t think Skanray would be better off for it. The company would carry the “baggage of poor values,” he says.
In July 2010, nearly two years later than planned, Skanray completed its factory. The office, a three-story, 80,000-square-foot glass building with a gym and cafeteria, has the feel of an urban American workplace, even as goatherds move their flocks across the lawns outside.
One recent afternoon, workers put final touches on an X-ray system, stringing wire through it. Upstairs, executives met in conference rooms named “Einstein” and “Charles Babbage.”
Mr. Alva feels he has turned the corner. He declined to comment on revenue but says he has about $3 million of orders in the pipeline. His $2,500 dental X-ray machines are about half the cost of imports. His goal is $30 million in sales in three years.
But he needs new financing, and that won’t be easy.
Last December, a venture capitalist from a firm backed by eBay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar approached Mr. Alva. The investor, Jasjit Mangat, says he was impressed by Skanray’s factory. But after doing his due diligence he learned of the costly land battle, the bad deals Mr. Alva had to cut with lenders and the constraints imposed by the local investor.
Over a lunch in Bangalore one afternoon, Mr. Mangat says he told Mr. Alva of his decision. “There are great reasons to do it,” he said. But given all of Skanray’s baggage, he said, “We just can’t go ahead.”
—Krishna Pokharel and Jarrard Cole contributed to this article.Write to Amol Sharma at firstname.lastname@example.org
- HEALTH INDUSTRY
- JULY 30, 2011
The Ailing Health of a Growing Nation
By AMOL SHARMA, GEETA ANAND and MEGHA BAHREE
JODHPUR, India—Mohammad Arif visited his wife, Ruksana, in the labor ward of Umaid Hospital here on Feb. 13. She was to have a cesarean-section the next day. It would be her first child.
“You’re going to deliver on Valentine’s Day,” Mr. Arif told his wife.
“Everything will be fine, with God’s will,” she said.
Hospital Needs Lifeline
Instead, the young family fell victim to the dysfunction plaguing India’s public-health system, an overstretched and underfunded patchwork on which the vast majority of India’s 1.2 billion people rely.
On Valentine’s Day, 20-year-old Ms. Ruksana gave birth to a baby girl. But the young mother’s bleeding couldn’t be stopped. Umaid Hospital was about to descend into crisis: Up and down the maternity ward, new mothers were mysteriously starting to die.
A few days later, Ms. Ruksana’s doctor, Ranjana Desai, pulled Mr. Arif aside and told him, “Along with medicines, she also needs your prayers.”
India supplies doctors to hospitals the world over. Within India itself, a thriving private health-care industry—serving a growing middle class and the wealthy—is a byproduct of the nation’s economic ascendancy. By some important measures, India’s health is improving: Over two decades, life expectancy has risen to 64 years in 2008 from 58 in 1991. Infant mortality has declined as well.
Yet maternal and infant health remains an area where India particularly lags behind. Last month in the state of Bihar, 49 children died from an unidentified viral infection over a few weeks in three districts. A month ago at a hospital in the city of Kolkata, 22 babies died in four days.
India’s infant-mortality rate—50 deaths per 1,000 births—is worse than Brazil’s and China’s. India’s poorer neighbor, Bangladesh, also does better.
Overall, the nation’s vast, government-run health system can be a dangerous place. Hospitals are decades out of date, short-staffed and filthy. Patients frequently sleep two to a bed. The Indian government invests only 1% of gross domestic product in health care, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Only seven countries spend less.
The nation faces a health crisis on two fronts, experts say. Not only has it failed to solve developing-world health problems such as high infant mortality and malaria, but now it also faces a sharp rise in rich-country health problems, such as diabetes. India has 50 million diabetics, the most of any country, as diets and lifestyles have changed amid rising prosperity.
Efforts to improve maternal health are having unintended consequences. In 2005 India started paying women $30 to have their babies in hospitals instead of at home. Partly as a result, last year hospitals performed 17 million deliveries, up from just 750,000 in 2006. Many hospitals simply can’t handle the traffic, government and hospital officials say.
Overall, India’s central government set a goal in 2005 of doubling national health-care expenditures to 2% of GDP. It has fallen far short of that, officials say, partly because of the need to improve other social programs, such as education.
“We have so many competing social priorities,” says Anuradha Gupta, a senior official at the health ministry who works on maternal and child issues.
Umaid Hospital, constructed in 1937 in an Art Deco style, stands in the heart of Jodhpur, a historic fortress-city of 1.4 million in the western state of Rajasthan, one of India’s poorest. Funded by the government, Umaid provides care to the poor and specializes in women and children.
The hospital performs 20,000 deliveries a year—about one every 30 minutes—a more-than-tripling since 2003, says Superintendent Narendra Chhangani. Most births occur in a labor room barely changed in some three-quarters of a century. The hospital’s 400 obstetrics beds are served by 15 gynecologists, Dr. Chhangani says, half the number needed.
The Wall Street JournalNurses and a cat at North 24 Parganas District Hospital, where one pediatrician sees about 500 kids a day.
Recruiting new doctors is tough, Dr. Chhangani says, because the pay is low and conditions are poor. Patients’ families sleep on floors and in a courtyard next to the labor wards. The smell of urine hangs in the corridors. Wobbly ceiling fans stir the air.
In February, a government survey of the hospital found that needles weren’t always disinfected and noted an incident of a rat bite in the nursery. Dr. Chhangani says the report exaggerated the hospital’s hygiene problems and didn’t reflect the practical realities of an urban Indian hospital.
Those realities can create an environment ripe for the kind of disaster that struck in February, just as Mr. Arif arrived with his pregnant wife, Ms. Ruksana. She checked in to Umaid on Feb. 4.
Ms. Ruksana, 5-foot-2-inches, was herself born in the countryside outside Jodhpur. She completed the fifth grade before her father pulled her out of school to help with chores.
When she was 15, she had an arranged marriage with Mr. Arif but didn’t move in with him for another two years because she was so young. The day Ms. Ruksana found out she was pregnant last year, she and Mr. Arif went to celebrate at a fair with folk singers and food stalls, enjoying a fast-food dish of buttered bread and thick vegetable curry.
It was probably a bit of a splurge. Their household of seven, including an extended family of relatives, earns a total of less than $100 a month dyeing and ironing scarves and bedsheets from a nearby factory.
At Umaid Hospital, doctors decided Ms. Ruksana, partly because of her size, should have a C-section. She delivered her baby girl on the afternoon of Feb. 14. Her name: Mehek, which means “fragrance.”
On Monday, Aug. 1, Amol Sharma, Geeta Anand, Megha Bahree and Krishna Pokharel — the reporters who worked on this story — will be answering your questions about India’s public health crisis. Tweet @wsjindia with the hashtag #FlawedMiracle or email your questions to email@example.com. They’ll blog the answers between 4 and 7pm IST, 6:30 and 9:30 am EST on blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime
Read more in on our series Flawed Miracle here.
Ms. Ruksana left the operating room in high spirits. But late that night, she noticed the dressing over the stitches was wet.
She was bleeding at the site of her wound. It got worse overnight. The doctors on duty couldn’t stop the blood.
The next morning, Dr. Desai, a senior gynecologist at Umaid, came to see Ms. Ruksana. Her blood was taking 10 times longer than normal to clot. Her arms showed green patches, indicating heavy internal bleeding.
Her husband, Mr. Arif, a shy 25-year-old who speaks just above a whisper, nervously asked Dr. Desai, “Why is this happening? What’s going on?”
Dr. Desai was already having a busy week, as usual. Her team of four gynecologists routinely sees 350 patients per week. Interrupting her examination of Ms. Ruksana, she raced to a nearby ward to tend to a woman stricken with jaundice whose dead fetus needed to be surgically removed.
Dr. Desai, who has two decades’ experience, couldn’t explain Ms. Ruksana’s condition. But the doctor says she had a sinking feeling. In the previous two days alone, four women at Umaid had died from uncontrollable postpartum bleeding. Typically, the hospital averaged five or six maternal deaths per month. Dr. Desai called in other gynecologists and the region’s top internal medicine specialist.
The hospital’s blood bank didn’t have enough blood on hand, so Mr. Arif says doctors told him he needed to come up with 10 vials for his wife’s transfusions. He raced to round up relatives and friends to give blood.
How India Stacks Up
Late that afternoon, Ms. Ruksana transferred to Mahatma Gandhi Hospital, another government institution in Jodhpur that handles critical cases. Dr. Desai searched online for clues to the problem. She phoned obstetricians as far away as Boston. “I was traumatized, I was losing confidence,” Dr. Desai says.
The next day, Feb. 16, more patients emerged with uncontrollable bleeding, and two died.
Dr. Chhangani, the hospital’s superintendent, says that up to that point his gynecologists had been telling him they believed the deaths were due to ordinary complications. But by Feb. 16, he says, he was anxious. He called his superior, Dr. R.K. Aseri, the principal of nearby Dr. S.N. Medical College, which oversees the local public hospitals.
“Something unnatural is going on,” said Dr. Chhangani. “We are worried.”
Dr. Aseri assembled a group of local specialists. After a 3½-hour meeting, they decided that all drugs used in deliveries should be swapped out in case they were infected.
That evening, Dr. Chhangani and Dr. Aseri visited Umaid’s operating room and labor room and made an impassioned plea to the staff for proper hygiene. “You should always put on your mask and change your shoes when you enter the operating theater,” Dr. Chhangani says he told hospital staff. “Don’t allow anyone in who shouldn’t be there.”
Some doctors suggested shutting down the operating rooms until the mystery was solved. Dr. Desai said in a recent interview that such a move simply wasn’t realistic. “There are so many poor patients here. They can’t afford to go anywhere else.”
The next few days, more patients died and still more fell ill. Ms. Ruksana was now one of three of Dr. Desai’s patients suffering from mysterious, severe postoperative complications. Dr. Desai gave Mr. Arif a grim update one afternoon. “Her condition is very critical. We’re failing to understand why we can’t stop the bleeding.”
The Wall Street JournalMoksuda Siddiki learns of the death of her baby—one of 22 to die at a Kolkata hospital in just four days.
The crisis depleted the hospital’s already low supplies of surgical caps, face masks and other basic gear. So hospital staffers told the relatives of critically ill patients to go buy their own.
Families were instructed to bring back gloves, syringes, catheters, an abdominal drain and other items, according to a survey by a human-rights group, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, and health-care activists. Some families said they spent anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars of their own money on the supplies, according to the report.
Dr. Chhangani calls it an “exaggeration” that families had to buy their own medical supplies.
As the crisis escalated, tempers flared. Family members roamed the corridors, shouting at doctors and demanding explanations for why their loved ones were dying and why they were being asked to provide their own blood and hospital supplies.
At the Mahatma Gandhi Hospital intensive-care unit, Ms. Ruksana suffered kidney failure and septic shock. But she was hanging on.
Dr. Chhangani, Umaid’s superintendent, increasingly focused on the possibility of contaminated medications. On Feb. 22—seven days after Ms. Ruksana first began bleeding uncontrollably—a lab technician reported finding contamination in bottles of saline solution administered intravenously after blood loss or surgery. The fluid was infected with bacteria that produce lethal endotoxins, chemicals that can cause multiple organ failure.
The finding was too late for Ms. Ruksana. That day, she died.
Over the course of a month, she and 15 other new mothers died at Umaid Hospital. Two gravely ill women survived.
Mr. Arif and his relatives pooled $10 to hire a car to take her body home. They held a funeral that afternoon, attended by about 100 family and friends.
Dr. Desai, who says she had been suffering nightmares about Ms. Ruksana and her other patients, spoke to Mr. Arif the day of the funeral. Mr. Arif tried to soothe her. “Whatever had to happen has happened. It was God’s will. Don’t cry,” he says he told the doctor.
For Mr. Arif, raising Mehek without her mother hasn’t been easy. He has been getting help from his sister and from Ms. Ruksana’s family. One afternoon in July, he made the 65-mile journey from Jodhpur to Ms. Ruksana’s hometown, where Mehek had been staying with the in-laws for a few days. Ms. Ruksana’s parents and their 10 children share a small house with two bedrooms and one bathroom with a coconut-size sink.
On a scorching afternoon, family gathered in the living room to play with Mehek, now five months old, sporting a small dot on her eyebrow to ward off evil spirits. Ms. Ruksana’s mother, Jareena Bano, looking down at Mehek in her lap, says simply, “She’s our Ruksana now.”
There was plenty of blame to go around in Umaid Hospital’s wave of deaths. India’s Central Drugs Laboratory, a government facility in the city of Kolkata, determined that the IV fluid, made by Parenteral Surgicals Ltd. of Indore, was contaminated with dangerous bacteria.
Authorities arrested a quality-control official at Parenteral, Sanjay Shah, on charges of conspiracy, poisoning and violations of India’s Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940. He is in jail pending trial. His lawyer, Mahendra Singhvi, declined to comment.
In a statement, Parenteral’s director, Manoj Khandelwal, blamed the hospital, saying poor storage of the IV bottles at Umaid Hospital was the likely cause of the contamination. He also said there was no concrete evidence that the IV fluids caused the deaths.
Dr. Chhangani denies the hospital erred in storage. He says a shipment of 4,000 IV bottles from Parenteral arrived in early February and the fluids were so badly needed that they weren’t stored before being distributed to labor wards.
A state government investigation into the Jodhpur deaths blamed the hospital staff for lax procurement of medicines. One issue identified by the investigators: Parenteral wasn’t on the hospital’s list of approved IV vendors, but when a supplier shipped Parenteral products, the hospital didn’t catch the error.
Umaid’s head of gynecology and the employees running the hospital’s drug store have been suspended indefinitely. A separate report by the central health ministry accused Umaid officials of “callousness” for moving too slowly to investigate the deaths.
In recent months, at least two hospitals in the same state, Rajasthan, said they found fungus contamination in bottles of IV fluids made by other manufacturers.
Officials in two other states also recently seized contaminated IV fluid from hospitals. In one case, patients themselves noticed a fungus growing in the IVs and alerted officials. There were no deaths; the problems were apparently caught early enough.
Dr. Chhangani is now spending more than $500,000 in state funds on renovations that will, among other things, double the Umaid labor ward’s capacity to 80 beds, create a proper waiting room and coat the walls with antibacterial paint.
One afternoon earlier this year, a government official paid a visit to Mr. Arif’s house. He had come to deliver the standard government payment to close the matter of the death of his wife, Ms. Ruksana: a check for 500,000 rupees, or about $11,000.
More in Health
- INDIA NEWS
- JUNE 4, 2011
Class Struggle: India’s Experiment in Schooling Tests Rich and Poor
By GEETA ANAND
NEW DELHI—Instead of playing cricket with the kids in the alleyway outside, 4-year-old Sumit Jha sweats in his family’s one-room apartment. A power cut has stilled the overhead fan. In the stifling heat, he traces and retraces the image of a goat.
In April, he enrolled in the nursery class of Shri Ram School, the most coveted private educational institution in India’s capital. Its students include the grandchildren of India’s most powerful figures—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress party President Sonia Gandhi.
Sumit, on the other hand, lives in a slum.
His admission to Shri Ram is part of a grand Indian experiment to narrow the gulf between rich and poor that is widening as India’s economy expands. The Right to Education Act, passed in 2009, mandates that private schools set aside 25% of admissions for low-income, underprivileged and disabled students. In Delhi, families earning less than 100,000 rupees (about $2,500 a year) qualify.
Shri Ram, a nontraditional school founded in 1988, would seem well-suited to the experiment. Rather than drill on rote learning, as many Indian schools do, Shri Ram encourages creativity by teaching through stories, songs and art. In a typical class, two teachers supervise 29 students; at public schools nearby, one teacher has more than 50. Three times a day, a gong sounds and teachers and students pause for a moment of contemplation. Above the entrance, a banner reads, “Peace.”
Yet the most notable results so far are frustration and disappointment as the separations that define Indian society—between rich and poor, employer and servant, English-speaker and Hindi-speaker—are upended. This has led even some supporters of the experiment to conclude that the chasm between the top and bottom of Indian society is too great to overcome.
Shri Ram itself is challenging the law in the Supreme Court, arguing in part that the government exceeded its authority in imposing the quotas.
“We have a social obligation to bridge the gap between rich and poor,” says Manju Bharat Ram, Shri Ram’s founder. “But sometimes the gap is just too wide.”
The government feels a “just and humane” society can be achieved only through inclusive education, says Anshu Vaish of India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, and private schools must do their part. Teachers will adapt, and the rich and poor will enrich each other’s learning, she says, adding that education is “an act of faith and social engineering—but not quick-fix social engineering.”
Manpreet Romana for The Wall Street JournalManika Sharma says she was jolted when the floor-sweeper from her home enrolled a child in the school where she is the principal.
Sumit is struggling at Shri Ram. Teachers have called in his father, Mithalesh Kumar Jha, who earns $150 a month as a driver for an apparel executive, to complain that his son hits other kids and isn’t concentrating. Desperate for Sumit to get a good English-language education, Mr. Jha has responded by spanking his son and imposing an “all-work-and-no-play” routine.
Which is why Sumit sat on his bed recently, his mother hovering as he copied and recopied the day’s lesson: the Hindi letter “b,” and a picture of a bakri, or goat.
Sumit doesn’t complain. “Did you see the goat I drew?” he asks excitedly the next day at school. “I drew five pictures of the goat. My dad wanted me to draw more goats but I was too tired.”
Sumit’s father and many of the poorer parents are troubled by the fact that their own limited literacy prevents them from helping. Some wealthy parents, meanwhile, chafe at the slowed pace of learning. They have suggested segregating the poor kids.
And Shri Ram’s teachers complain that the poor, even at age four, are far behind in the fundamentals of learning and social skills. “The teachers have come into my office and broken down” in tears, says Manika Sharma, Shri Ram’s principal. “They say, ‘Help us. There is no learning happening for the other children. What we achieved in one week with kids before is taking three weeks.’ ”
Some parents, having encouraged their household staff to enroll their children, are also grappling with a profound change in the nature of their relationship with their servants.
Ms. Sharma, the 51-year-old principal, felt this jolt herself two years ago when Chan Kumari, a floor-mopper in her home, enrolled her son, Vipin, at Shri Ram. That’s when the school first adopted a similar quota for underprivileged kids under a local Delhi law, increasing it to 25% this year, when the federal Right to Education Act took effect.
“I was horrified. A parent in my school, mopping my floors—I just couldn’t handle it,” says Ms. Sharma. “I can’t sit across the table from someone who sweeps my floors.”
Ms. Kumari recalls apologizing: “I’m so sorry. I’ve made you angry. I shouldn’t have told you.”
Ms. Sharma says she reassured Ms. Kumari that she had done nothing wrong. She resolved the matter by giving Ms. Kumari a year’s salary to stay home with Vipin and her newborn girl.
Manpreet Romana for The Wall Street JournalVipin Kumar, right, the son of a sweeper, is a top student and one of the most popular kids in his class.
India is not a country overflowing with Horatio Alger stories. More typical are jarring juxtapositions of wealth and poverty far beyond anything found in the West.
With hired help so cheap, even middle-class households can have a staff of four or five—cooks, babysitters, drivers, maids. As the economy has grown, the lives of servants has improved. Many can afford relative luxuries like cellphones, for instance, something inconceivable a few years ago. Still, poor families typically live in slum apartments or shacks.
India has tried to create opportunities for its poorest, who are often among the lowest castes. Quota systems reserve government jobs for the poor, and at some colleges almost half the seats are set aside for minorities. Affirmative-action policies like these have fueled resentment among some who feel quotas make it unfairly difficult for their own children to get ahead.
Nationwide, about 237 million children attend elementary or high school, according to government figures. It’s tough to get a precise breakdown of public- versus private-school attendance, but in first through eighth grades 130 million are enrolled in government schools and 57 million in private ones, according to India’s District Information System for Education.
India’s government-run school system is a shambles, undermined by teacher absences and a lack of investment. That drives families who can afford it to private schools.
This year, Shri Ram accepted 84 out of the 2,288 applications from its traditional, non-poor students—a 3.7% acceptance rate, even lower than Harvard College’s.
Shri Ram charges fee-paying students about $1,500 a year. For each poor child, the government pays $300 a year, the cost of educating a child in a public school.
Many of the world’s top private schools offer scholarships to smart poor kids. But India’s plan is more sweeping: It reserves a quarter of admissions for underprivileged kids. Rules prohibit admission-testing of students, rich or poor, although private schools can set some parameters, such as nearness to the school or gender.
On March 4, Mr. Jha, Sumit’s dad, showed up at Shri Ram for the lottery to see if his son would be picked. Sumit had already failed to win a spot at six other private schools.
“I was saying, ‘God has forgotten me,’ ” Mr. Jha says.
But this time, Sumit’s name was pulled from a hat. His tearful father applauded.
A few weeks later, parents of the 112 children admitted to the nursery class arrived for orientation at the four-story school, set among the gated homes of the wealthy Vasant Vihar neighborhood. Affluent parents stepped out of chauffeur-driven sedans and SUVs. Low-income parents arrived on foot or bicycles. Poor women covered their heads with their paloos, the free ends of their saris, in the conservative fashion of parts of rural north India.
The parents were ushered into classrooms and seated on a red carpet. Sitting in a circle with fellow parents from such vastly different backgrounds left Bhavna Singh, one of the well-to-do mothers, uncomfortable. “Everyone knew this was happening, but seeing them is a different kind of thing,” she says.
Soon after, Ms. Singh visited the principal, Ms. Sharma. “If they want to do it to improve the country, fine,” Ms. Singh recalls saying. “But they should segregate the poor kids until they get up to par.”
Many parents have similar complaints. “I don’t blame them,” Ms. Sharma says. “There’s no denying the reality that their kids’ learning will be slowed.”
One recent morning, teachers Sujata Gupta and Shilki Sawhney asked their class of 4-year-olds to name examples of purple things. The rich kids shouted out “blackberries,” “blackcurrant ice cream” and “potassium permanganate,” a chemical used to clean fruits and vegetables.
None of the seven low-income kids raised their hands. Unlike the wealthier children, they hadn’t learned their colors at home, spoke no English, and were further confused by examples of things they had never heard of.
The teachers, repeating everything in Hindi for the poor kids, then asked anyone wearing a purple T-shirt to stand. Nitin Raj, saucer-eyed and wearing green, rose.
“He’s not understanding at all,” Ms. Gupta said.
After nine days of studying the letter “a,” drawing objects beginning with the sound and writing the letter on work sheets, Nitin still doesn’t connect the sound with the letter, according to Ms. Gupta.
Ms. Sawhney pulled aside Nitin and seven other kids (five poor, two rich) having trouble with their vowels for a remedial session. Afterward, the teachers called in their parents.
“Nitin needs extra help,” Ms. Gupta recalls telling his mother, Manju Raj. The school would be giving him additional homework, she said, and urged Ms. Raj to sit down with her boy every day to help him. If she couldn’t, the teachers said, Ms. Raj should hire a tutor.
Meanwhile, the teachers said they had no choice but to move forward teaching the rest of the alphabet or risk missing their goal for the class: reading simple words, like “cat,” by year’s end.
Nitin, whose father earns about $150 a month driving for a shoe-factory owner, lives in a slum along an alley thick with flies. He shares a tidy one-room apartment with his parents and 12-year-old brother, Rohit.
Shri Ram is a world apart from his brother’s public school. Fifty-seven kids cram into Rohit’s eighth-grade classroom. Teachers are frequently absent. One recent morning, broken glass filled one side of the playground and pupils, lacking desks, sat on the classroom floor.
“All I want is for my boy to get an education so he doesn’t have to become a driver like his dad,” Ms. Raj says of Nitin. She’s been looking for a tutor, but can’t find one in her slum. She is worried because neither she nor her husband speak or write English well enough to help him.
Sumit’s dad, Mr. Jha, deals with similar constraints. He has a 10th-grade education, and he finds himself learning new things from his 4-year-old.
Sitting cross-legged on the family bed that occupies half of their one-room home recently, Mr. Jha pointed to the letter “a” his son had written, and then at a picture below of a man wearing a uniform.
“This is an aadmi,” Hindi for man, Mr. Jha says.
“No, daddy,” the boy replies. “That is an astronaut.”
“What is an astronaut?” asks Mr. Jha in Hindi.
“They fly high in the sky,” the boy says.
It was the first Mr. Jha had heard of space travel.
Sumit is lucky. The family that his father works for tutors him on weekends.
But some wealthy parents consider it counter-productive for the poor kids to attend at all. Radhika Bharat Ram, who has two children in the school, and is the daughter-in-law of its founder, says she discouraged her tailor from enrolling his child because the lives of the rich and poor are so different that the poor children suffer feelings of deprivation.
Despite that advice, Raj Kumar, 39, who earns about $130 a month and lives in a mud hut, says he couldn’t resist the opportunity for his son, Ritik.
“I saw their kids’ discipline and behavior,” he says of the Bharat Ram family. “I wished my kids could learn like them.”
His son and Ms. Bharat Ram’s son are now classmates.
During a recent book fair, Ritik begged his dad for money to buy three titles. That prompted Mr. Kumar to call Ms. Bharat Ram to ask for funds. Instead, he got a lecture.
“Right now it’s books he wants, but what are you going to do when he wants a car?” she recalls telling him. She found old copies of the same books at home to give to Ritik.
Shalini Tandon, a teacher at Shri Ram, knows well the obstacles poor kids face. Two years ago, she encouraged her driver to enroll his son, Rajesh Kumar, after Rajesh’s mother was burned to death by villagers in his hometown who thought she was a witch.
At school, Rajesh spent months sitting under a table. To help him, Ms. Tandon started paying for tutoring and began serving as an intermediary between the boy’s teachers and his father—a frustrating role.
“Often [the dad] sends Rajesh to school in the same dirty clothes for days. I tell him to wash his clothes,” Ms. Tandon says. “The boy comes to school covered with mosquito bites. No wonder he’s sleeping through class.”
The father, who earns about $130 a month, says he does the best he can as a single parent.
The school moved Rajesh down a grade after his disastrous first year. He’s 7 years old and in kindergarten with 5-year-olds—but doing much better. This might suggest a model for other kids, but the Right to Education Act forbids holding children back a grade.
Vipin, the son of the principal’s former floor-mopper, shows the potential of India’s experiment. He is now the top student in his second-grade class. Rich and poor kids vie to sit next to him. Vipin’s friends from wealthier families beg for him to attend their birthday parties.
Vipin’s mother, Ms. Kumari, was reluctant accept the party invitations. “I told the teacher that I feel so small in front of these rich families,” she says.
However, prodded by her son, his teachers and the mother of Vipin’s best friend, Arman, she relented.
Arman’s mother, Vandana Ghosh, says at first her son seemed uncomfortable around Vipin and other poor kids, saying they acted differently. But within weeks, Arman began telling her all the things he was learning from Vipin.
Arman says Vipin taught him how to make toy guns out of paper and construct secret hiding places for things in his desk. “I love playing football with Vipin,” Arman says.
This year when he was planning his 7th birthday party, Arman says, he told his mom to make sure Vipin came.
Ms. Ghosh says Vipin’s parents insisted to her that they couldn’t, saying they were from very different backgrounds. “I told them the kids like Vipin very much—they don’t think of him as being different,” Ms. Ghosh says.
Ms. Kumari gave in. Recently, she paid about $1 to hire a motorized rickshaw for the ride to the party. She gave Vipin $2 or so to choose a gift. He bought a pack of colored pencils.
Ms. Kumari struggles to explain why her son is such a star in school. She doesn’t speak English, so she can’t help with studies. But she does what she can: Every day, she clears their one-room home of family members so Vipin can do homework undisturbed.
She also took the school’s suggestion to pay a tutor to help Vipin for an hour each day, at $10 a month. The $180 or so her husband earns per month as a cook is about 20% more than the typical salaries of maids and drivers. Thus, tutoring is a sacrifice but not unrealistic.
Seven-year-olds don’t carry the burdens their parents might. Sitting with his mother, baby sister and two other relatives on the floor of his apartment, Vipin opens his eyes wide at the memory of the party. It was “a lot of fun,” he says, oblivious to his mother’s worries.
He also remembers a play date at Arman’s house. “It was the most beautiful house I have ever seen,” Vipin says. “It was like the Taj Mahal. There were many, many rooms and many, many floors.”
“If you study hard, you can get a good job and live in a house like that, too,” his mother tells him.
—Diksha Sahni contributed to this article.
- INDIA NEWS
- APRIL 29, 2011
India’s Boom Bypasses Rural Poor
By TOM WRIGHT And HARSH GUPTA
NAKRASAR, India—India has its own version of America’s Depression-era Works Progress Administration: a gigantic program designed to create jobs through building infrastructure in a developing nation’s most-backward rural areas.
India’s Flawed ‘New Deal’ Program
But unlike its American counterpart eight decades ago, the Indian program, its detractors assert, is keeping the poor down, rather than uplifting them.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, as the $9 billion program is known, is riddled with corruption, according to senior government officials. Less than half of the projects begun since 2006—including new roads and irrigation systems—have been completed. Workers say they’re frequently not paid in full or forced to pay bribes to get jobs, and aren’t learning any new skills that could improve their long-term prospects and break the cycle of poverty.
In Nakrasar, a collection of villages in the dusty western state of Rajasthan, 19 unfinished projects for catching rain and raising the water table are all there is to show for a year’s worth of work and $77,000 in program funds. No major roads have been built, no new homes, schools or hospitals or any infrastructure to speak of.
At one site on a recent afternoon, around 200 workers sat idly around a bone-dry pit. “What’s the big benefit?” said Gopal Ram Jat, a 40-year-old farmer in a white cotton head scarf. He says he has earned enough money through the program—about $200 in a year—to buy some extra food for his family, but not much else. “No public assets were made of any significance.”
Scenes like this stand in stark contrast to India’s image of a global capitalist powerhouse with surging growth and a liberalized economy. When it comes to combating rural poverty, the country looks more like a throwback to the India of old: a socialist-inspired state founded on Gandhian ideals of noble peasantry, self-sufficiency and a distaste for free enterprise.
Workers in the rural employment program aren’t allowed to use machines, for example, and have to dig instead with pick axes and shovels. The idea is to create as many jobs as possible for unskilled workers. But in practice, say critics, it means no one learns new skills, only basic projects get completed and the poor stay poor—dependent on government checks.
“It actually works against the long-term future of the poor because it doesn’t give them any long-term solutions to poverty,” says Gurcharan Das, an author who has written about India’s economic development. “It’s a Band-Aid solution.”
Indian officials acknowledge that the program is flawed, though they say it has provided an important safety net for the 50 million households, comprising more than 200 million people, that have participated in the past year alone. Proponents of the plan, including left-leaning economists and activists, say that because the pay is often better than other rural jobs, it has given workers a bargaining tool to demand higher wages. Echoing the Gandhian ideals for which the program is named, they say workers are also better off staying in their villages, close to their families, instead of moving to the cities in search of work and winding up in slums.
“The scheme has been a big success in creating employment for rural people,” Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress party, told a meeting in February of officials who administer the program. “However, there have been complaints of irregularities and corruption, too.”
Niten Chandra, a senior official at the federal rural affairs ministry, says the aim was never to build major highways or other large infrastructure, but to create work and raise wages. He says that state governments, whose job it is to monitor projects and ensure audits are carried out, are at fault for failing in many cases to guard against corruption and unfinished work.
Some villages have run out of ideas for new projects. In Churu, the district capital a few miles from Nakrasar, senior officials say villagers simply dig new irrigation pits every time one is washed away in the monsoons.
The repercussions go far beyond irrigation projects. India’s failure to uplift its poor and improve the economy in rural areas—where two thirds of the country’s 1.2 billion people live, mostly untouched by the boom—threatens the country’s growth, economists say. India has so far relied on its services industry in cities to fuel growth. But the country is running out of skilled workers and its agricultural dwellers are ill-suited to fill the gap. India’s success or failure in boosting the size of its middle class will determine the long-term attractiveness of the market to foreign investors.
Yet the number of people relying on the program is expected to rise after the government earlier this year decided to tie wages to the cost of living, automatically increasing the 100-rupee maximum for a day’s work to about 125 rupees in many states. That’s higher in some places than the daily wage for farm labor. The result is that many more millions will likely become dependent on the government for income despite a two-decade-old push to reduce the state’s role in the economy.
Sanjit Das for the Wall Street JournalIn a village in Rajasthan, workers say they’ve seen little benefit from the jobs program, with no major infrastructure built and only a few hundred extra dollars a year in their pockets.
The Journal is examining the threats to, and limits of, India’s economic ascent.
In Haryana, a state that borders New Delhi, workers are paid some of the highest wages anywhere under the program. But Gurdayal Singh, a 56-year-old former soldier who was recently supervising work at a water-irrigation pit, said the extra cash he earns isn’t enough to pay for the private English-language schooling his children need to compete for better jobs. “It’s not satisfactory,” Mr. Singh said. “How will I be able to get my children a good education?”
The ruling Congress party, which swept to power in 2004, has been keen to woo the rural poor because they are a potent voting bloc. In that election, the creation of the rural employment act was among Ms. Gandhi’s foremost campaign promises. When Congress was re-elected in 2009, its central platform was the lifting of the “aam aadmi,” or common man, out of poverty.
Rajasthan was one of the first places to receive funding when the program started. It is among India’s poorest states. Around 50% of women are illiterate. Farmers travel by camel-drawn carts between fields planted with grain. In the year ending March 31, the state received one fifth of all funds dedicated to the jobs program nationwide. And it typifies many of the program’s problems.
In Karauli district, a landscape of jagged hills and thorny bushes, locals say they have taken up work under the program as a last resort.
At one site in Kaladevi sub-district, some 40 workers were recently piling up rocks to build a dam to catch rain water. Some 20 other workers on an attendance list weren’t present, according to supervisors The site had no medical kit, resting area or child-care facilities, as mandated by law.
“We work because there’s high unemployment here and the land is less fertile,” said Abdul Jameel Khan, a farmer who was supervising the work. But he questioned the point. “There’s no meaning to it. Instead of this they should build proper roads.”
Others said the ban on mechanization limits the scope of projects to gravel roads and pits to capture water. Such programs last for only a couple of years and do little to improve village life. Balveer Singh Meena, a 31-year old farmer in the village of Mohanpura in northern Karauli, ekes out a living growing wheat and chickpeas. He eats a single Indian flat-bread known as roti and vegetables for every meal. By selling what little excess food they produce, Mr. Meena and his three brothers are able to make just over $400 per year, which must stretch to pay for an extended family of eight people.
Mr. Meena’s modest aim in joining the program, under which he worked 65 days in 2007, earning about $80, was to save cash to help rebuild his family’s mud-and-thatch house with bricks and mortar. With rising building material costs, in part due to high inflation in rural areas, Mr. Meena says he couldn’t make it happen.
He says the government should offer training in new skills which could help him get a better-paying job. And he’s angered at corruption in the program, which he claims has led to village elders giving jobs to family and friends, not to all those who demand work, including himself. “The common man is not getting work easily. There is too much corruption,” Mr. Meena said.
District officials confirm that graft in Karauli has been extreme. A 2009 crackdown found that a quarter of 200,000 job cards were fake, according to Niraj Kumar Pawan, a senior government bureaucrat who oversaw Karauli at the time.
A report in 2008 by the Institute of Development Studies in the state capital of Jaipur, one of a number of reports commissioned by the national government to measure the program’s efficacy, found that influential villagers in the district got enrolled to work and claimed pay without turning up. Some community leaders used mechanized diggers, which aren’t allowed, to finish work quickly and then claim payment for more hours than they actually worked.
These are the very problems the creators of the program sought to avoid. In the past, anti-poverty funds were routinely stolen by the bureaucrats in charge. Rajiv Gandhi, a former Indian prime minister and Ms. Gandhi’s husband, who was assassinated in 1991, had estimated only 15% of money spent historically on India’s poor had made it to the intended recipients.
The architects of the rural employment program tried to address this by putting village councils, headed by the local mayor, or “sarpanch”, in charge of paying workers and deciding what to build. The hope was that these leaders would have a greater incentive than mid-level bureaucrats to ensure funds were spent properly since the local electorate would hold them accountable for wrongdoing. The program guaranteed up to 100 days of work a year at up to 100 rupees ($2) per day for any household that wants it.
But shortly after the program started in February 2006, workers complained that local leaders were docking pay and asking for money in return for job cards. The central government responded in 2008 by sending money directly to workers’ bank accounts. But according to workers and auditors, the money takes so long to reach those accounts—up to 45 days—that workers are often forced to accept lesser cash payments from local leaders on the condition that they repay the money at the full amount.
Audits of the program in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh found that about $125 million, or about 5% of the $2.5 billion spent since 2006, has been misappropriated. Some 38,000 local officials were implicated, and almost 10,000 staff lost their jobs.
In one study of eastern Orissa state, only 60% of households said a member had done any of the work reported on their behalf. Earlier this month, the central government gave the green-light for the Central Bureau of Investigation, India’s top federal criminal investigation body, to launch a probe into alleged misuse of program funds in Orissa.
In other states, audits are nonexistent or have faced a backlash. Non-governmental groups that have tried to carry out audits in Rajasthan have complained that village leaders often refuse to hand over documents about the employment program. At times, auditors say, they have faced harassment and physical intimidation.
In Nakrasar’s one-room village council office, people continue to sign up for the program—many of them women whose husbands have gone to work in urban areas. Shilochandra Devi, a 37-year-old with her program work book in hand, said she could buy more spices because of the program. “And anyway, we’re not doing anything else. So why not?”
Write to Tom Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org
- INDIA NEWS
- MARCH 30, 2011
In India, Doubts Gather Over Rising Giant’s Course
By PAUL BECKETTGetty ImagesAn Indian woman working construction in New Delhi. Concerns are growing that the benefits of India’s rapid growth haven’t spread widely enough.
NEW DELHI—India’s economy is going great guns. Among the world’s major nations, its growth is second only to China’s.
Yet in recent months, the mood in the planet’s most-populous democracy has soured badly—to the point where even some of India’s richest people have begun to complain that things are seriously amiss.
No one is disputing that the boom has created huge wealth for the business elite and much better lives for hundreds of millions of people. But the benefits of growth still haven’t spread widely among India’s 1.2 billion residents. And a string of corruption scandals has exposed an embarrassing lack of effective governance.
India’s Growth Battle
In a recent television appearance, Azim Premji, chairman of software-services giant Wipro Ltd., described the situation as a “national calamity.”
Mr. Premji and 13 others—business leaders, retired Supreme Court justices and former governors of India’s central bank—laid out their complaints in January in an open letter to “our leaders.” “It is widely acknowledged that the benefits of growth are not reaching the poor and marginalized sections adequately due to impediments to economic development,” they wrote.
This wasn’t supposed to be the picture 20 years after India abandoned its Soviet-style, centrally planned economic model, embraced capitalism and jump-started economic growth. Historic reforms begun in 1991 held out the promise of transforming the country from an agrarian backwater into an industrial powerhouse, lifting almost everyone’s standard of living in the process. Other Asian nations, including China and South Korea, have traveled that path successfully.
India enjoyed years of heady growth, despite problems its East Asian peers didn’t share, such as its deep caste divisions. Now, though, a host of problems has stalled the transformation.
The public-education system is a shambles. No significant publicly owned businesses have been privatized in years. The promised modernization of the financial system has happened only in fits and starts. Land reform needed to stimulate industrialization has been a political nonstarter. And malnutrition remains widespread.
The Journal is examining the threats to, and limits of, India’s economic ascent.
Rajiv Kumar, director general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, says that because India has failed to follow through with many reforms, the nation “is in danger of losing its momentum.”
Even senior government officials acknowledge they need to hit the restart button on reform.
“We must quickly rediscover the old sense of boldness and take the bold decisions, which I’m sure we will,” Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, who played a key role in the 1991 reforms, said in a recent interview. The government, he said, has taken several steps recently to help the poor, setting up a midday meals program in schools and proposing a law to make access to food a fundamental right.
Ravi Venkatesan, until this week chairman of Microsoft Corp.’s India arm, says his nation is at a crossroads. “We could end up with a rather unstable society, as aspirations are increasing and those left behind are no longer content to live out their lives. You already see anger and expressions of it,” he says. “I strongly have a sense we’re at a tipping point: There is incredible opportunity but also dark forces. What we do as an elite and as a country in the next couple of years will be very decisive.”
India’s fate is vital to the U.S. and other Western powers, which view the nation as an important and growing export market, a stabilizing force in a dangerous region, and a counterweight to a surging China.
India’s economic liberalization was kicked off by a financial crisis in 1991, when the nation was on the verge of defaulting on its debt. Manmohan Singh, the nation’s current prime minister, was finance minister at the time. The initiatives he introduced staved off financial collapse.
By ditching the old system of industrial central planning, India unleashed entrepreneurial forces, stimulated trade and attracted foreign investment.
Economic growth, which had fallen to about 1% in 1991, quickly picked up.
“India is on the move again,” Mr. Singh declared to India’s parliament in February 1992. “We shall make the future happen.”
In many important respects, the changes turned this nation into a success story. Life expectancy rose to 64 years in 2008, from 58 in 1991. Literacy has risen. Hundreds of millions have seen their incomes improve. Per capita gross domestic product increased to $3,270 in 2009, from $925 in 1991, according to the World Bank.
Industries once dominated by the state, such as airlines and telecommunications, now are led by private-sector companies. India’s outsourcing industry is admired world-wide for its expertise and low costs. The southern city of Chennai is a fast-growing automotive manufacturing center.
These days, India often is held up as an example of how a democracy in Asia can mirror the spectacular growth of authoritarian China. In the year ending March 31, India’s economy is expected to expand by about 8.5%.
Other important gauges of national well-being paint a more troubling picture. “What has globalization and industrialization done for India?” asks Mr. Venkatesan, Microsoft’s former India chairman. “About 400 million people have seen benefits, and 800 million haven’t.”
Calorie consumption by the bottom 50% of the population has been declining since 1987, according to the 2009-10 economic survey conducted by India’s Ministry of Finance, even as those at the top of society struggle with rising obesity. Mainly because of malnutrition, around 46% of children younger than 3 years old are too small for their age, according to UNICEF.
Infrastructure in cities and the countryside remains woefully inadequate: In recent years, China has added, on average, more than 10 times as much power as India to its electricity grid each year.
Data from McKinsey & Co. show that the number of households in the highest-earning income bracket, making more than $34,000 a year, has risen to 2.5 million, from 1 million in 2005. But the ranks of those at the bottom, making less than $3,000 a year, also have grown, to 111 million, from 101 million in 2005.
Mr. Singh, in a speech to parliament in 1991 upon unveiling major reforms, said he wanted to avoid what he considered to be the ills of unabashed spending. “My purpose is not to give a fillip to mindless and heartless consumerism we have borrowed from the affluent societies of the West,” he said.
But among the most visible signs of India’s modernization is an entrenched consumerist creed. Sales of luxury goods are booming. Mansions are replacing one-story homes in middle-class neighborhoods. Upscale malls are sprouting up around the country.
Many of the urban poor, in contrast, are slipping backward because of rising prices—a persistent and destructive accompaniment to India’s high growth rate. Much of that inflation is in basic foods. Some economists say one cause is the government’s reluctance to allow the development of agribusiness or to break down barriers to interstate trade, which would increase productivity in the countryside.
Food inflation today is running at about 10%, and general inflation in excess of 8%.
“We are the most affected by the rise in prices, though it hardly affects the rich,” says Manohar Singh, 44, a rickshaw puller in Dehli. “I don’t have money to treat my tuberculosis, which was detected sometime back. We are not able to feed our children, leave aside medical aid and sending them to school.”
He says the owner of his rickshaw, which he rents, has increased the rent, but customers refuse to pay more.
Politics are partly to blame for stalling the liberalization drive. The Congress party, which has ruled the nation for most of the 64 years since India gained independence from Great Britain, depends on smaller regional parties to maintain its governing coalition in parliament. That makes policy formulation risk-averse, since small allies hold the power to break ranks and sink the coalition.
Prime Minister Singh, now 78, doesn’t have sole authority to push new policies. Though he is prime minister, the most powerful politician in India is Sonia Gandhi, widow of assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. She is president of the Congress party, which leads the governing United Progressive Alliance government. She effectively holds a veto over policy decisions.
The current government has been distracted by revelations about corruption. Reforms were supposed to reduce graft by ending the “License Raj,” a widely corrupt system of government permits and permissions that determined economic activity. In addition, the government reduced the tax burden on individuals and companies to encourage greater compliance.
But corruption is considered more prevalent now than ever before, because economic expansion has created more opportunities for graft—for example, in the granting and funding of infrastructure projects.
Revelations in the fall that a flawed and allegedly corrupt allocation of mobile-telephone spectrum in 2008 had deprived the government of billions of dollars in potential revenue disrupted the entire winter session of parliament, adding to the frustrations of business leaders who want to see new liberalization laws enacted.
The amount of business activity that evades direct taxes has soared, says Arun Kumar, chairman of the Center for Economic Studies and Planning at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and a specialist on the “black economy.”
A landmark study in the mid-1950s, he says, estimated that the black economy accounted for 4% to 5% of India’s gross domestic product. Rather than declining, he says, the black economy has become systemic. He estimates it reached 40% of GDP by 1996, and 50% by 2006.
“The reason it has grown is that illegality in society has become more and more tolerable,” he says.
At a February press conference, Mr. Singh said the government is determined to root out corruption. “I wish to assure you, and I wish to assure the country as a whole, that our government is dead serious in bringing to book all the wrongdoers, regardless of the position they may occupy,” he said.
India’s modernization was expected to prompt a mass movement of workers from farms to factory floors—a critical component in the transformation of China, South Korea and other Asian nations. But manufacturing as a share of India’s economy stood at 16% in 2009, the same as in 1991, according to the World Bank.
Services have increased dramatically as a proportion of gross domestic product, rising to 55% in 2009, from 45% in 1991, according to the World Bank, becoming the chief engine of India’s economic strength. But many of the fastest-growing areas, such as finance and technology, employ relatively few and rely heavily on skilled employees. The entire software and technology-services sector, including call centers and outsourcing, directly employs just 2.5 million workers, a tiny fraction of the overall work force.
Agriculture’s share of the economy, meanwhile, has declined to about 17% in 2009, from 30% in 1991. But the number of people working in agriculture hasn’t dropped commensurately, according to Arvind Panagariya, a professor of Indian political economy at Columbia University in New York. “The dependence on agriculture remains incredibly high when you compare India’s high-growth phase with others,” he says. “The potential of the country is to grow at 11% to 12%, and it’s growing only at 8% to 9%.”
Frustration over the economic miracle’s limited trickle-down is fueling political movements around the country. Most base their appeal, in part, on the idea that the poor are being ill-served in the new India.
A decades-old Maoist insurgency seeks the overthrow of the Indian state. The prime minister has called the insurgents’ brand of left-wing extremism the nation’s biggest internal security threat.
In India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Kumari Mayawati has positioned herself as a vocal critic of the Delhi government and champion of the downtrodden. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, currently railways minister in the central government, shot to prominence advocating farmers’ land rights against plans by the Tata Group to establish a car factory near Kolkata, the state capital. A long-simmering insurgency in Indian-run Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan area that straddles India and Pakistan, erupted last year in part over the lack of economic opportunity for the region’s youth.
In a speech last weekend to a group of businesspeople, Prime Minister Singh pledged government action. “I affirm our commitment to a new wave of reform,” he said. “I am aware of the fact that much more needs to be done to make our economy more competitive.”
—Vibhuti Agarwal and Krishna Pokharel contributed to this article.Write to Paul Beckett at email@example.com
Video exposes Indian police brutality
An Indian police office grabs two fists-full of a suspect’s hair; twists and then lifts until the suspect’s feet dangle off ground. The suspect: A 6-year-old girl accused of stealing 280 rupees or about 6 dollars. The incident resulted in one officer being fired, another suspended. Charges against the girl were dropped. It was all caught on tape in February of this year.
Two years earlier in another Indian state another caught on tape moment. A police officer watches as a crowd beats an accused thief. Then the policeman binds the suspect and ends up dragging him behind a motorcycle leaving large raw patches of skin on the suspect’s body. The accused survived the thrashing. Two officers were fired in the incident but were later reinstated by a panel that blamed the crowd.
Brutal police tactics are all too common in India according to the latest report by Human Rights Watch in India. Naureen Shah with Human Rights Watch says the report is based on interviews with 80 police, 60 alleged victims and other experts.
“The police are taking the law into their own hands.” Shah says. “They are acting as a vigilante force and they’re saying this is a bad guy instead of building a case against him we’re going to kill him, we’re going to take these harsh measure cause it has to get done.”
“Police administration are meant to protect, but they are becoming predators.” Harcharand Singh says. He is the father of a suspect he says died in police custody.
Singh and his wife are dirt poor and partially blind. They sit on a bed with tears in their eyes as they speak about losing their son Pradeep.
They say police hauled Pradeep away one night accusing him of being involved in a car theft and shooting. Days later they say he died in police custody. Police refused to comment on the case or the report.
“We are scared.” Mother Ram Vati Singh says through tears. “What else can we do? We have no money so that we can leave or put up a fight with the police.”
The case was one of dozens highlighted in the Human Rights Watch report used as yet another example of what they say is out of control police behavior.
But the report also revealed something else. The terrible conditions police work and live in. Many live in police stations for days even months at a time unable to go home to see their families because they are expected to be on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
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Human Rights Watch Report on Police Brutality and Abuse in India
by sacw.net Tuesday 4 August 2009
Human Rights Watch Press Release
India: Overhaul Abusive, Failing Police System
Disrepair of Police Forces and Lack of Accountability Contribute to Rights Violations
August 4, 2009
(Bangalore) – The Indian government should take major steps to overhaul a policing system that facilitates and even encourages human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. For decades, successive governments have failed to deliver on promises to hold the police accountable for abuses and to build professional, rights-respecting police forces.
The 118-page report, “Broken System: Dysfunction, Abuse and Impunity in the Indian Police,” documents a range of human rights violations committed by police, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and extrajudicial killings. The report is based on interviews with more than 80 police officers of varying ranks, 60 victims of police abuses, and numerous discussions with experts and civil society activists. It documents the failings of state police forces that operate outside the law, lack sufficient ethical and professional standards, are overstretched and outmatched by criminal elements, and unable to cope with increasing demands and public expectations. Field research was conducted in 19 police stations in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, and the capital, Delhi.
“India is modernizing rapidly, but the police continue to use their old methods: abuse and threats,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s time for the government to stop talking about reform and fix the system.”
A fruit vendor in Varanasi described how police tortured him to extract confessions to multiple, unrelated false charges:
“[M]y hands and legs were tied; a wooden stick was passed through my legs. They started beating me badly on the legs with lathis (batons) and kicking me. They were saying, ‘You must name all the members of the 13-person gang.’ They beat me until I was crying and shouting for help. When I was almost fainting, they stopped the beating. A constable said, ‘With this kind of a beating, a ghost would run away. Why won’t you tell me what I want to know?’ Then they turned me upside down… They poured water from a plastic jug into my mouth and nose, and I fainted.”
Read additional accounts from victims of police abuse.
Several police officers admitted to Human Rights Watch that they routinely committed abuses. One officer said that he had been ordered to commit an “encounter killing,” as the practice of taking into custody and extra-judicially executing an individual is commonly known. “I am looking for my target,” the officer said. “I will eliminate him. … I fear being put in jail, but if I don’t do it, I’ll lose my position.”
Almost every police officer interviewed by Human Rights Watch was aware of the boundaries of the law, but many believed that unlawful methods, including illegal detention and torture, were necessary tactics of crime investigation and law enforcement.
The Indian government elected in May has promised to pursue police reforms actively. Human Rights Watch said that a critical step is to ensure that police officers who commit human rights violations, regardless of rank, will face appropriate punishment.
“Police who commit or order torture and other abuses need to be treated as the criminals they are,” said Adams. “There shouldn’t be one standard for police who violate the law and another for average citizens.”
Human Rights Watch also said that while not excusing abuses, abysmal conditions for police officers contribute to violations. Low-ranking officers often work in difficult conditions. They are required to be on-call 24 hours a day, every day. Instead of shifts, many work long hours, sometimes living in tents or filthy barracks at the police station. Many are separated from their families for long stretches of time. They often lack necessary equipment, including vehicles, mobile phones, investigative tools and even paper on which to record complaints and make notes.
Police officers told Human Rights Watch that they used “short-cuts” to cope with overwhelming workloads and insufficient resources. For instance, they described how they or others cut caseloads by refusing to register crime complaints. Many officers described facing unrealistic pressure from their superiors to solve cases quickly. Receiving little or no encouragement to collect forensic evidence and witness statements, tactics considered time-consuming, they instead held suspects illegally and coerced them to confess, frequently using torture and ill-treatment.
“Conditions and incentives for police officers need to change,” Adams said. “Officers should not be put into a position where they think they have to turn to abuse to meet superiors’ demands, or obey orders to abuse. Instead they should be given the resources, training, equipment, and encouragement to act professionally and ethically.”
“Broken System” also documents the particular vulnerability to police abuse of traditionally marginalized groups in India. They include the poor, women, Dalits (so-called “untouchables”), and religious and sexual minorities. Police often fail to investigate crimes against them because of discrimination, the victims’ inability to pay bribes, or their lack of social status or political connections. Members of these groups are also more vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and torture, especially meted out by police as punishment for alleged crimes.
Colonial-era police laws enable state and local politicians to interfere routinely in police operations, sometimes directing police officers to drop investigations against people with political connections, including known criminals, and to harass or file false charges against political opponents. These practices corrode public confidence.
In 2006, a landmark Supreme Court judgment mandated reform of police laws. But the central government and most state governments have either significantly or completely failed to implement the court’s order, suggesting that officials have yet to accept the urgency of comprehensive police reform, including the need to hold police accountable for human rights violations.
“India’s status as the world’s largest democracy is undermined by a police force that thinks it is above the law,” said Adams. “It’s a vicious cycle. Indians avoid contact with the police out of fear. So crimes go unreported and unpunished, and the police can’t get the cooperation they need from the public to prevent and solve crimes.”
“Broken System” sets out detailed recommendations for police reform drawn from studies by government commissions, former Indian police, and Indian groups. Among the major recommendations are:
- Require the police to read suspects their rights upon arrest or any detention, which will increase institutional acceptance of these safeguards;
- Exclude from court any evidence police obtain by using torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in suspect interrogations;
- Bolster independent investigations into complaints of police abuse and misconduct through national and state human rights commissions and police complaints authorities; and
- Improve training and equipment, including strengthening the crime-investigation curriculum at police academies, training low-ranking officers to assist in crime investigations, and providing basic forensic equipment to every police officer.
Selected Accounts from ‘Broken System’
“She was kept in the police station all night. In the morning, when we went to meet her, they said she had killed herself. They showed us her body, where she was hanging from a tree inside the police station. The branch was so low, it is impossible that she hanged herself from it. Her feet were clean, although there was wet mud all around and she would have walked through it to reach the tree. It is obvious that the police killed her and then pretended she had committed suicide.”
— Brother-in-law of Gita Pasi, describing her death in police custody in Uttar Pradesh in August 2006
“We have no time to think, no time to sleep. I tell my men that a victim will only come to the police station because we can give him justice, so we should not beat him with a stick. But often the men are tired and irritable and mistakes take place.”
— Gangaram Azad, a sub-inspector who heads a rural police station in Uttar Pradesh state
“They say, ‘investigate within 24 hours,’ but they never care about how I will do [that]; what are the resources. … There is use of force in sensational cases because we are not equipped with scientific methods. What remains with us? A sense of panic surrounds our mind that if we don’t come to a conclusion we will be suspended or face punishment. We are bound to fulfill the case, we must cover the facts in any way.”
— Subinspector working near Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
“Often, it is our superiors who ask us to do wrong things. It is hard for us to resist. I remember, one time, my officer had asked me to beat up someone. I said that the man would be refused bail and would rot in jail and that was enough punishment. But that made my officer angry.”
— Constable in Uttar Pradesh
“With all the mental stress, the 24-hour law-and-order duty, the political pressure, a person may turn to violence. How much can a person take? … We have to keep watch on an accused person, their human rights, but what about us? Living like this 24 hours. We are not claiming that our power makes us born to work all the times. Sometimes we beat or detain illegally, because our working conditions, our facilities are bad. So we are contributing to creating criminals, militants.”
— Inspector in charge of a police station in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh
To Protect & Serve: Police Brutality in India
Uploaded by HumanRightsWatch on Aug 4, 2009
For decades, successive governments in India have failed to deliver on promises to hold the police accountable for human rights violations including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and extrajudicial killings.
The Indian government should take major steps to build professional, rights-respecting police forces and overhaul a policing system that facilitates and even encourages human rights abuse.
- 110 likes, 17 dislikes
Anyone who watched Slumdog Millionaire or read Suketu Mehta’s Bombay: Maximum City remembers the scenes of police torture, how harrowing they were for the victims, how casually banal they were for the perpetrators. Last week, American journalist Joel Elliott got to experience this first-hand. Stumbling upon a group of uniformed cops in the process of beating up a prone individual as he returned to his New Delhi home after a late night with friends, Elliott made what turned out to be a grievous mistake.
According to his signed statement, reproduced along with gruesome photos of his injuries by the Indian news magazine Outlook, he describes his fateful error: “Startled. I shouted. When I realized what was happening to the person on the ground, I shouted again.” Then, according to Elliot, the policemen turned their rage on him, striking him to the ground, continuing to strike him, pursuing him when he struggled free and ran off, handcuffing and throwing him into a police car when they caught him, taking him to what he says he only realized later was a hospital where they had a sedative administered to him apparently only to beat him the better as he was then dragged back into the car and to a police station where the beating continued. After what he estimates as six to seven hours of torture at the hands of the police, Elliott was dumped at a hospital where he spent the next few days.
At no time, despite his repeated pleas, was he allowed to make a phone call or was the American Embassy informed.
The Delhi police claim Elliott was drunk, that he — single-handed and unarmed — beat up a couple of the policemen, and that he tried to steal a car. Elliott claims he was trying to hide from the police in a taxi with darkened windows during the interlude when he’d managed to escape.
Let’s suppose for a moment that the version offered up by the Delhi police is the correct version. Why then did the police not administer a breath test? Why did they not have a blood sample taken at the hospital as long as they were ordering needles to be poked into him. And why, oh why, did they just keep beating him up? For hours?
The short answer is because that is simply what they routinely do. Even more ominous than the tale of Elliott’s own torture are the hapless Indian victims he meets in the course of his police nightmare: the unknown prone individual being beaten on the street; and a boy he describes as 17-years-old whom he sees at the station and who screams in agony as he has the soles of his feet beaten. Elliott is, after it all, a U.S. citizen and a journalist. He is now safely back in the United States. The other victims of police brutality he met have neither of these advantages. Slumdog Millionaire may have fictionalized the all too well known phenomenon of routine police brutality in India toward the poor and the unconnected but Maximum City‘s even more graphic scenes are nonfiction.
The city of Delhi is making a huge effort to make itself presentable to foreign tourists and guests during the Commonwealth Games it is proudly hosting a year from now. “From Walled City to World City” signboards trumpet. Slums have been cleared, fancy apartment blocks built, the Delhi Metro subway system expanded. Taxi drivers have been given lessons in basic English conversation.
In this light, not to mention the general marketing of India as a hospitable modern country where the rule of law is respected and foreigners can feel as comfortable as they would in any European or developed Asian country, someone needs to give the police in New Delhi a crash course in basic etiquette. Doesn’t look good to have American journalists turn up all black and blue with a lurid tale to tell.
Consternation over the incident in the upper reaches of India’s government is palpable. The Times of India has reported that Minister of Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni is upset. I have no doubt she is genuinely shocked and embarrassed. The fact of the matter is that the powerful, the rich and the white foreigner almost never experience what Joel Elliott did and what thousands of ordinary Indian citizens do every day at the hands of India’s police.
Police brutality is hardly a phenomenon restricted to India. Other thriving democracies regularly have trouble with their police caught going a bit overboard. One thinks of the tragic fate of Amadou Diallo in New York or the videotaped beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, or of the regular police abuses in France’s banlieues. As in India, these are merely the tips of larger icebergs of brutality. We are shocked, shocked, shocked until the scandal dies away. Then, as the victims tend most of the time to be poor and powerless, our business — and that of the police — continues as usual.
Suketu Mehta’s masterwork, Maximum City, did for Bombay what the immortals Dickens and Balzac did for London and Paris.
…andI am Sid Harth@sidharthspeaketh.com