On the night of 23 April, over dinner at a friend’s place in Lucknow, I was invited by Anshuman Dwivedi, a teacher at a local coaching institute, to attend a gathering at Kudia Ghat in Old Lucknow. The aim, Dwivedi said, was to pledge to protect the Gomti, the river that bisects the city.
But Dwivedi, who was the event’s main organiser, soon admitted that the meeting had another, hidden motive. “We’ve invited Rajnath Singh,” he said. He paused, presumably to allow the words to sink in. “We can’t put it because of the Model Code of Conduct that it’s a gathering by caste. But it’s basically a gathering of Brahmins.”
The surging Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has had a lively social media presence during this year’s elections in India. Anyone who has ever combined a hashtag with “Modi,” “BJP,” “NaMo,” (a nickname of Narendra Modi here in India) or anything else related to Modi or the BJP has surely encountered Modi supporters either praising or defending their views. These “Moditards,” as some journalists have dubbed them, are generally passionate professionals who want nothing more than for Modi to lead the country, though some accounts are also suspected of being social media robots.
But an enterprising Indian who obviously has some programming skills did some investigating and found that most of these accounts are, in fact, fake Modi supporters.
The Supreme Court just granted legal recognition to transgender people, but India’s LGBTs won’t come out of the closet.
LUCKNOW, India — On April 15, India’s Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling allowing transgender people to identify as a third gender. The judgment directs the central and state governments to give them full legal recognition, including allotting them similar educational and job quotas as other minorities categorized as socially or economically disadvantaged. To date, transgender Indians — also known as hijras — were forced to select either “male” or “female” on all government forms and routinely faced ostracization due to their gender identity.
While gay rights activists and the LGBT community welcomed the decision, it flies in the face of a December 2013 Supreme Court ruling that recriminalized homosexuality. That ruling — which was criticized by two out of the three national parties contesting India’s general elections, currently underway — overturned a 2009 high court judgment that declared Section 377 of the Indian penal code unconstitutional. The British colonial law, dating back more than 150 years, criminalized sexual activities “against the order of nature” and had long been used to harass gay people.
The 2009 ruling was a watershed moment for gay rights in India. Openly gay-friendly bars and cafés opened across the country, Bollywood movies began featuring gay characters, and homosexuality began to be more accepted in the big cities. The following year, Delhi’s Queer Pride Parade attracted roughly 2,000 people — four times the number it did in 2008. The Supreme Court’s 2013 reversal drew criticism from HIV/AIDS groups, human rights campaigners, media icons and Indian politicians. Around the world, gay rights supporters organized a Global Day of Rage in more than 30 cities in protest.
Now there’s a strange tension between the two Supreme Court rulings: On one hand, transgender people have legal recognition; on the other, they may still be arrested for engaging in gay sex.
The cat’s out of the bag, officially: After years of speculation, Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s candidate for prime minister of India, has admitted he has a wife. The revelation came when he filled out his nomination form in an election registry on Wednesday. Where it stated “married to,” he wrote, “Jashodaben.” It’s the first time Modi has ever publicly recognized his spouse’s existence.
One-sixth of the world’s entire population will head to the polls this spring to cast their vote in India’s 16th parliamentary exercises. The hype surrounding the elections has been simmering for some time — India’s economy is in a huge slump, and ongoing domestic issues like unemployment, corruption and safety are plaguing the population from Kashmir in the north to Kanyakumari in the south.
Then last fall, Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujurat, announced his candidacy for prime minister. A new political party that grew out of an anticorruption movement, the Aam Aadmi Party, emerged from seemingly nowhere as a potential game changer in determining the outcome of the elections. And Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that has been at the helm of Indian politics since independence from the British in 1947, is also running for prime minister — without a whole lot of experience behind him.
What this all means is that the elections this year are some of the most important and highly contested in India’s history. Below, a crash course on the fundamentals you need to know to understand what’s at stake.
Mukulika Banerjee.Credit Courtesy of Sonia Paul“Voting in elections is considered sacrosanct by a large majority of Indians,” Mukulika Banerjee writes in the introduction to her new book, “Why India Votes.” That observation forms the backbone of the anthropology professor’s work, an ethnographic study of 12 sites in India during the 2009 general elections, which explores the motivations and opinions of Indian voters on a range of issues related to the electoral process.
As part of the Jaipur Literature Festival’s theme “Democracy Dialogues,” Dr. Banerjee, who is the associate professor of social anthropology at the London School of Economics, participated in several discussions on India’s social and political evolution. While conversations and questions during the panels often zeroed in on this year’s political players like Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and the Aam Aadmi Party, India Ink spoke with Dr. Banerjee about the other factors motivating voter turnout, and why the act of voting is so meaningful for the majority of Indians.
Why India votes is a huge political question, but your book is actually an anthropological book and an ethnography. What is it about ethnography that lends itself useful to the study of politics?
The raised sign for Avadh Point on Victoria Road in Old Lucknow is missing two letters, the “O” and the “I.” The “D” in Avadh also hangs precariously, as if it is ready to become the third. The three-story building was constructed in 2005, but it stands dilapidated, walls thinning and paint peeling, as if it is as old as the Awadh culture it’s named after.
Since Nov. 6, the start of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic calendar and the period of mourning observed mostly by Shia Muslims, several figures are making their presence known at Avadh Point and other areas deemed sensitive in Lucknow for the next two and a half months: police officers.
“All the mess starts from here,” said Zeeshan Ansari, 21, a Sunni Muslim and recent college graduate who lives in the neighborhood. He was sitting on the patio of Avadh Point, gazing at the fruit vendors, shared auto-rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and throngs of people sharing the road in front of him.
Haunted by insecurity, relief camps for victims of communal riots in Uttar Pradesh witness spate of mass weddings.
The setting was unusual for marital bliss, but it was no deterrent for the dozen-odd couples who tied the knot last week in a mass wedding at a relief camp for riot victims in Muzaffarnagar.
Having fled communal violence that recently swept parts of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and left scores dead and thousands homeless, the newly married couples of Malakpur relief camp held hands together and vowed to make a fresh beginning.
Mass weddings are not uncommon in India, where community and religious leaders sometimes host them for poorer communities to help ease their financial burden.
But a spurt of mass weddings at relief camps sheltering thousands displaced by the riots is evoking contrasting emotions. Some hail them as efforts to rebuild lives. Local authorities, however, see them as unnecessary distractions.