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Monthly Archives: January 2015

#Priorities: Progress in India encouraging but Modi needs to do much more – HRW

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi should bring public officials, police, and military personnel who commit serious rights abuses to justice, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today in the release of its World Report 2015.

The government should act to fulfill its campaign commitments to implement laws promoting women’s rights, improve access to health and sanitation, end discrimination, and ensure development benefits for the poor and marginalized, the New York-based group said.

The report highlights some encouraging progressing on accountability for abuses in 2014 including the sentencing of three soldiers and two officers to life imprisonment for the 2010 extra-judicial killings of three villagers in Kashmir.

However, HRW said this rare success was overshadowed by the government’s failure to repeal or amend India's draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which many activists claim provides immunity from prosecution to military personnel for serious rights abuses.

HRW cites the case of Manorama Devi, a suspected left-wing activist who was raped and murdered by an Indian paramilitary force in July 2004.  A judicial investigation in Ms Devi's killing revealed that the soldiers who murdered her were protected from prosecution by the AFSPA.

“India’s law that protects soldiers from being prosecuted for even the most egregious abuses has no place in a democracy,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The Modi government should seek to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and ensure justice for security force members who commit serious violations.”

In the 25th edition of the World Report, HRW reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries.

In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges.

The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price, he writes.

In 2014, authorities in India tightened restrictions on nongovernmental organizations critical of big development projects that activists say will harm the health and livelihoods of affected populations as well as the environment.

The awarding of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize to Indian children rights activist Kailash Satyarthi put a spotlight on the millions of children in India still engaged in the worst forms of labour while caste-based discrimination and neglect of tribal communities remained a problem.

Despite legal  reforms to better address violence against women and children, there is still no monitoring to ensure proper implementation.

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#RecipeOfTheWeek: Baingan Palita

Baingan palita is a simple and delicious Gujarat dish made from aubergines – or egg plants for those of us from the sub-continent. Served as a side dish or a main course, Baingan Palita – or Ringan Palita in Gujarati – takes a minimum amount of preparation and cooking time. …

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#UKAsianReview: ‘Dara’ at the National Theatre – Sweeping, Powerful

Ambition has long been a trait of productions at the National Theatre on London's Southbank. 

In recent months the National has been ramping up the ambition quotient with two epic productions inspired by topics that are uniquely sub-continental - first with 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' and now, 'Dara'.

'Dara' is a dramatization of the life of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the man who built the Taj Mahal, and the conflict between his two sons.

The play focuses on the insecurity of Shah Jahan and the power struggle between his sons, the religious conformist Aurangzeb and the reformist Dara.

Shah Jahan's northern Indian empire was defined by its opulence, decadence and grandeur as well as the political intrigues, greed and religious dogma. 

Directed by Nadia Fall from an Tanya Ronder adaptation of a play by Pakistani journalist and playwright Shahid Nadeem, 'Dara' replicates all of those characteristics to wonderful effect among the austere grey concrete blocks of the Southbank.

The interplay of emotions between the father and sons as well as elder sister Jahanara will keep you hanging on to the edge of your seat, savouring every moment, every dialogue and every emotion.

The sets are a sight to behold.

From the marble-effect flooring to the intricate details on the sliding doors, the attention to detail is magnificent and transports you centuries into the past. 

The performances are outstanding, in particular Zubin Varla and Sargon Yelda who play Dara and Aurangzed respectively.  Dara's anguished screams seem to reach out and tug at your heart.

The sub plot of the near-fanatical Aurangzeb and his mistress Hira Bai helps brings out the more humane side of Aurangzeb, a man widely considered a murderous tyrant. 

Aurangzeb would do anything for her, even indulge in the occasional tipple despite his religious conservatism.  She brought out his softer side, one which many thought he didn't possess.

'Dara' is resplendent in powerful scenes but one in particular stands out for me.  It takes place inside a Sharia Court where Dara is being tried for the 'crime' of polytheism.

The raging debate between the opposition lawyer and Dara really brings to light not only what it must have been like to be a reformer in a court such as that of Shah Jahan but also to be human. 

The play poses questions that are relevant in today's world and the role of hardliners in the rise of religious extremism - not least in how Dara was willing to explore the relevance and goodness inherent in all religions.

Nadia Fall's direction is excellent, never allowing the visual spectacle to distract from her primary role of providing clarity to a complex historical affair that has resonance in the present day.

Dara is not without flaws. 

Jahanara is portrayed by the servants and workers in the palace as a powerful and strong woman capable of bringing peace between her two warring brothers and yet here, she is presented as someone who is meek and submissive. 

Her character is too one-dimensional - I would have wanted to see more shades to her character.  In a bid to keep the plot alive, Fall also resorts to frequent flashbacks that can be a bit disorienting. 

These are small quibbles.  Perfection, after all, is an utopia. 

Overall, 'Dara' is a powerful, moving and illuminating work and well worth the trek in the sleet to the Southbank.

'Dara' is at the National Theatre until 4 April.

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#CleanEnergy: Make in India but Make it Green.

  Whilst their ‘bromance’ may have hogged the headlines, beyond the front pages, the recent talks between Barack Obama and Narendra Modi were underpinned by the issue of climate change. President Obama urged India – the world’s third-biggest carbon polluter – to overlook the perceived double standard of First World …

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