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Stories

Goa tries to repair its reputation (12 February 2006)

A new urban lifestyle lures India's rural poor (7 December 2005)

Missing: 50 million Indian girls (25 November 2005)

At $21.7bn in '04, India tops global remittance lists (18 November 2005)


Goa tries to repair its reputation (12 February 2006)

Alongside the fish menus and water skiing leaflets pinned up in the wooden beach shacks along the Goa coast, tourists have been confronted this season with less palatable posters warning them of the presence of pedophiles roaming the seafront.

The poster campaign is part of a widening effort by local charities to help Goa shake off its emerging reputation as a center for child sex tourism.

Foreigners arriving by charter flights from Europe are given leaflets detailing the penalties for child sex abuse. "Welcome to Goa, land of lovely beaches and friendly people," the pamphlet begins, before declaring that pedophilia has become a "serious problem."
 
Charity workers have set up surveillance stations on four of the state's most popular northern beaches to help monitor suspicious behavior among foreigners; a team of workers is paid to patrol the beaches to keep an eye on visitors; and tourists are invited to call hotline numbers if they see any fellow vacationers engaging in troubling behavior.
 
Goa's State Legislative Assembly approved a law in 2003 intended to make the prosecution of pedophiles easier and introducing a maximum 10 years' sentence. But activists said no foreigners have been convicted under the act and expressed frustration at what they regarded as a lack of will on the part of the local authorities to tackle the problem.
 
Goa's director general of police, Neeraj Kumar, said that tackling child sex tourism was a priority, but he added that he felt the problem was on the decline. "Tourism police officers patrol the beaches to ensure that this does not happen," he said. "But we believe that Goa got a bad name because of a couple of bad cases here in the past, and that bad name has stuck."
 
In a report entitled "Trafficking in Women and Children in India," published in January, the National Human Rights Commission warned that the situation had reached a critical stage.
 
"In India the abuse of both male and female children by tourists has acquired serious dimensions," it said. "Unlike Sri Lanka and Thailand, this problem has not been seriously tackled."
 
Tourism in Goa has increased substantially over the past decade, with the number of visitors rising from 126,130 in 1996 to 2.4 million in 2004. With the increase in tourists, activists believe there has been a parallel rise in the incidence of pedophilia. The scale of the problem, however, is hard to quantify and remains a matter of dispute.
 
Venicia Cardoso, director of Children's Rights in Goa, a charity that is campaigning to prevent the growth of the problem, said staff members were now handling about four complaints a month, often from tourists calling the numbers advertised on their posters or visiting their beach monitoring centers.
 
This is double the number in 2000, when the organization began its work, although she said it was difficult to assess whether the rise represented a true increase or was the result of growing awareness of how to deal with the problem. "We get a lot of cases reported to us, so we know that the problem is prevalent," she said. "There is a fear that it will become institutionalized here, and that is what we are campaigning to stop."
 
"Thailand had this problem," she added, "but now the laws there are much stricter, so they are not going there any more. Foreign tourists find there are children easily available on the beaches here."
 
Among the beach vendors who sell bangles and peanuts to the tourists are numerous children from India's most impoverished states, drought-prone regions and areas affected by natural disasters, attracted by the high concentration of foreign money in Goa. Some of these children are unaccompanied by their families, making them particularly vulnerable to abuse.
 
"Because these are often children from other states, migrant workers, there is a sense among the local community that this is not their problem," Cardoso said.
 
There is no nationwide legislation in India that addresses pedophilia, but the state passed the Goa Children's Act in 2003 to tackle the issue. The legislation included penalties for trafficking in children and it required that the police, tourist officials and hotel owners be "sensitized" to the issue.
 
"The act is a very progressive act, but the problem in our country is implementation," said Arun Pandey, the director of Arz Goa, a charity made up of lawyers and social workers. "We have seen a lot of acquittals. Because the implementation is not good, pedophiles do find that Goa is a safe haven." International Herald Tribune
 

A new urban lifestyle lures India's rural poor (7 December 2005)

This western city has at least 300 slum pockets, with grimy industry, factory-fouled air and a spiraling crime rate. A 1994 epidemic - reported as pneumonic plague - that originated here caused national panic. It is the kind of place where a woman killed by a passing car lingers in the street because the surrounding crowd does not know her name.

The city hardly seems like a beacon, yet for young men across India it shines like one.
 
In his central Indian village, B.P. Pandey heard that Surat was a "big industrial town" and made his way here to work. Rinku Gupta, 18, one of Pandey's five roommates, came from the north. Hundreds of thousands more have traveled from Orissa, in the east, and from Maharashtra, to the south.
 
In the rural mind, Surat, in Gujarat State, looms with outsized allure, and its girth is growing to match. In less than 15 years, its population has more than doubled, to an estimated 3.5 million, making it India's ninth-largest city. The majority of Surat's residents are migrants drawn by its two main industries, diamonds and textiles.
 
Surat's growth spurt is being replicated across an urbanizing India. At least 28 percent of its population lives in cities and many more of its citizens move in and out of them for temporary work. In some southern states, nearly half the population is in cities. In 1991, India had 23 cities with one million or more people. A decade later it had 35.
 
As the people shift, so does the very nature of India. This is a country of 600,000 villages, each of them a unit that has ordered life for centuries, from the strata of castes to the cycles of harvest. In this century, cities' pull and influence - not just financial but psychic - are remaking society. Less visible than the heated consumerism or Western sexual habits changing India, this slow churning may be more profound and, for a country weaned on the virtues of village life, more wrenching.
 
Kanpur, Surat and 17 of the other biggest cities sit along the so-called Golden Quadrilateral - 5,800 kilometers, or about 3,625 miles, of national highways that circle the country and are being modernized in an epic infrastructure project.
 
The highway brings in and out almost everything cities need, including much of the cheap labor that men like Pandey supply. So with the road's improvement, Surat and other cities are surging anew, spreading toward the highway as if toward their life source.
 
The redone highway is also shrinking distances between villages and cities. In the countryside through which the route passes, the buzz is about places like Surat, and the sense of a country on the move.
 
Compared to China, whose rural population is also moving, India's urbanization has been a saunter, not a sprint - slower, looser and more haphazard. That is partly because some of India's policies have served to constrict what the cities can offer. Decisions made during and even after four decades of quasi-socialism crimped manufacturing, which has spurred China's urban growth.
 
Good jobs or not, India's migrants still come. Their presence is creating new challenges: battles for land, competition for jobs, strained resources and religious and political tensions. So diverse is Surat's population that the municipal corporation runs schools in eight languages.
 
And when the migrants return home, they bring new views and aspirations with them. Their perspectives are combining with the improved highways to open up the closed worlds of India's villages.
 
Waiting for a bus at the station in Jaipur, Surender Yadav offered his own village as an example. Bypassed by development, it sat down a wretched road off the highway between Jaipur and New Delhi. There was no medical dispensary, and perhaps more galling to Yadav, a 26-year-old doctoral candidate in Hindi, no newspaper delivery.
 
But the highway's widening and resurfacing meant villagers no longer were waiting for development to come to them. Every morning, Yadav said, 20 or so people rode their motorbikes to the highway, parked and hopped on a bus. They went to New Delhi, 2.5 hours away, or Gurgaon, even closer, and worked as police officers, low-level clerks, or customer care representatives in call centers. India, ever absorptive, had absorbed the highway, and turned out something new: the commuter village.
 
Brighter prospects
 
During religious holidays, 200 to 300 buses a day pull out of Surat and head 10 hours north on the highway. Their destination: the rural region of Saurashtra. Their cargo: diamond-polishers returning home to the drought-parched villages they left to work in the city.
 
By the hundreds of thousands, the young men of Saurashtra have found good living in Surat, even though most are not well educated.
 
They earn about $2,400 a year - nearly five times the average per capita income - in diamond polishing, and sometimes significantly more. After just three years, Rajesh Kumar Raghavji Santoki, 28, was earning more than $500 a month, and owned a house, motorcycle and van.
 
He had tried farming for a year at home, and given up in the face of a water shortage.
 
India has found its niche in the cutting and polishing of low-cost diamonds for the global middle class. Today eight of 10 diamonds in the world are polished in Surat. It has created close to 500,000 jobs in this city alone.
 
That is nearly half as many jobs as India's entire information technology industry. Bangalore, the symbol of India's knowledge economy, may be a global buzzword, but the fate of India's rural poor depends more on industrial cities like Surat.
 
Together, the cities' dominance means that India will never return to a farming-based economy. The urban portion of the gross domestic product is roughly double the urban population.
 
 
India's low exports and underdeveloped manufacturing sector - only 25 percent of its economy - means the demand for factory jobs in the city far outstrips the supply. Many migrants eke out work as street vendors or day laborers.
 
The expanded highway was already bolstering Surat's textile industry, cutting the time to move goods to ports, and to cities around the country. It also had cut the time to Mumbai, formerly Bombay: the 250 kilometers separating the two cities could be driven in just over three hours, and Mumbaikars were coming to Surat to invest.
 
But fixing the roads would not be enough to make India competitive.
 
Ports and airports also need work. Inflexible labor laws, excessive inspections, indifference to quality and snail-like custom procedures all have undermined India's race for a larger piece of the global economy.
 
But in the meanwhile, migrants were bringing home more than money. Urban work was creating new identities. And in a country where caste has determined fates from birth, it has also offered something subversive: freedom.
 
The power of labor
 
Given that they were sleeping at a highway crossroads in Udaipur, a city 500 kilometers north of Surat, Shankar Lal Rawat and his fellow pavement dwellers hardly looked like liberated men. They had come from a village to the north, and were living day and night on their patch of cement, waiting for contractors to hire them as porters or construction workers for less than $2 a day.
 
They were farmers, but the dynamics of their village had made farming unprofitable. As Adivasis, members of India's indigenous tribes, their status matched that of the lowest castes. The power in their village, much of the land, the money-lending monopoly and access to the water supply all belonged to a Rajput, or upper-caste, landlord named Jaswant Singh.
 
He paid just over a dollar a day for them to labor in his fields.
 
He charged prohibitive rates both for the water they needed to work their own land and for the money they had to borrow to pay him. In their village, as across so much of India, the millennia-old caste system had conflated ritual status and economic power.
 
So they chose to travel down the new highway to the city and its thriving construction industry. The men's migration had deprived Jaswant Singh of his labor supply - a problem facing upper-caste landlords across India, as lower castes leave for the city - and asserted their financial independence.
 
Mahatma Gandhi idealized villages as the way to return Indians to their precolonial state. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the Dalit, or untouchable, leader who helped write India's constitution, saw it differently: he called villages a cesspool, "a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism," and urged untouchables to flee for the cities, and the escape of urban anonymity.
 
In a modernizing India, Ambedkar's words are being heeded as never before for economic, not social reasons. But over time, the result may be the same.
 
Rawat and the other laborers had traded rural poverty for urban poverty, and left their families behind to boot. The city's daily wages amounted to only slightly more than they would have earned tilling Jaswant Singh's fields. But in choice - of where to struggle, or whom to owe - was power. It was hardly a revolution, but it was a start. International Herald Tribune

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Missing: 50 million Indian girls (25 November 2005)

In recent years, the world has been shocked by the Taliban's ruthless suppression of women in Afghanistan, the practice of female genital mutilation in parts of Africa and the abuse of female domestic labor in places like Saudi Arabia. Yet it is the world's largest democracy that is the undeclared winner in the contest of violence against women.

In India, female foeticide - the sex-selective abortion of girls - has led to an alarming "gender gap" in the country's population. In 1990, when the census showed that there were 25 million more males than females in India, the government reacted by introducing a law making it illegal to detect the sex of a foetus through ultrasound examination. Yet by 2001, the gender gap had risen to 35 million, and now experts estimate it as high as 50 million.
 
The practice of female infanticide has a long history in India: Because of the widespread cultural preference for sons, many baby girls used to be killed after birth. But modern technology, particularly the ultrasound machine, has made it easier for parents, and highly profitable for doctors, to practice female foeticide without great risk of detection and punitive legal action.
 
Assumed to be prevalent among Hindus, because of their custom requiring male progeny to perform cremation rites, female foeticide is in fact found today to be equally rampant among Sikhs, Muslims and Christians.
 
Likewise, the practice has usually been presumed to be most prevalent among the poor and illiterate, because of spiraling dowry demands made on brides by the groom's family, as well as other traditional prejudices. However, recent UN and Indian studies reveal that female foeticide is today most frequent among the rich and highly educated. One study maps the increased frequency of female foeticide with rising levels of education - lowest among women with a fifth-grade education and highest among women with university degrees.
 
The consequences of female foeticide and the resulting gender gap are already unfolding: Girls are being trafficked from impoverished neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal or from disadvantaged or tribal areas in India and sold into marriage for the equivalent of about $200 (in Haryana State, a bull costs $1,000). With 50 million girls already missing today, the result of this dangerous practice is ineluctable: A society without women, even if today it is the world's second-most populous, is doomed to eventual extinction.
 
Early this year, after Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss expressed despair at the government's inability to re- verse this calamitous situation despite legislation and other policies, religious leaders of all faiths convened an "Interfaith People's Yatra (or Journey) of Compassion," a kind of traveling protest march, on female foeticide. It was organized by the Arya Samaj, a reformist social-religious movement founded in 1875, with the support of the central and state governments, Unicef and Unifem.
 
Earlier this month, participants in the Yatra traversed India's worst-affected northern states in their motor convoy, generating a mounting wave of awareness and action among religious and political leaders, civic activists, women's groups, students and teachers. As we marched, we shouted in our thousands, "Sons and daughters are the same! Save our daughters to save our country!"
 
Our position is categorical: Ending female foeticide is not in itself enough. All forms of gender injustice must be stopped.
 
The treatment of women as second-class citizens is deeply embedded in the Indian mindset, whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain or Parsee. Despite legislation making dowry illegal, dowry demands are exorbitant and still result in an estimated 25,000 dowry deaths a year, at the hands of avaricious grooms and in-laws. Child widows are meted execrable treatment and are denied the right of remarriage.
 
Even when daughters are allowed to go to school, they are burdened with household chores, leading to high drop-out rates. Across all the religions, the birth of a son is celebrated while the birth of a daughter is mourned.
 
Until sons and daughters are treated equally, until life is made safe for the Indian woman, the country remains morally under siege. Our march demands not only an end to female foeticide, but to all forms of violence against women. It demands respect for women's rights and dignity from birth to death. International Herald Tribune

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At $21.7bn in '04, India tops global remittance lists (18 November 2005)


India is the biggest recipient of remittances in �04, receiving $21.7bn compared to China�s $21.3bn. Remittances into India have jumped sharply by about $18bn from �01, which are directly responsible for the global remittance revolution, according to a World Bank report on global economic prospects �06.

Other countries witnessing strong remittance receipts are Mexico, France, and Philippines. Indian neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh received $3.9bn and $3.4bn, respectively. Remittances are calculated as the sum of workers remittances, compensation of employees, and migrant transfers.

The last three years have seen a huge rise in the number of Indians leaving and migrating abroad. This excessive migration has resulted in a huge surge in remittances, with migrated Indians sending a portion of their incomes to families back home.

The first surge of Indian migration happened in the 70�s and 80�s. A number of low-skilled Indians left for the Gulf region during the oil boom.

Recently, a number of high-skilled and educated Indians have migrated abroad to the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia, resulting in a number of them sending income homewards, and boosting overall remittance inflow.

India has become one of the most attractive countries for investment in the world prompting more NRIs to invest strongly in deposit schemes and bonds floated by the Indian government. All this has added to the remittance inflows. Other measures prompting remittance inflows were an easing of the exchange rate, regulations, and a gradual opening up of the capital account.

Developed countries are the largest sources of remittance outflows worldwide, with the United States seeing $39-bn outflows in �04, according to the World Bank report. As a matter of fact, remittance outflows accounted for 0.7% of GDP, among the high-income or developed countries.

Remittances, currently, account for 3% of India�s GDP, and can play an important economic role in developing economies like India. Remittance inflows can help increase overall income levels in poor households.

In fact, the World Bank, in its report, sighted various examples where remittance inflows can help reduce poverty. The report found that a 10% increase in per capita official international remittances leads to a 3.5% decline in the share of people living in poverty.

Remittance inflows can help households� smooth consumption and can act as automatic stabilisers in a period of economic shocks. During emergency or recession, remittance inflows will help stabilise households� consumption and income levels. The Economic Times

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� 2004 APC Process.  Last updated Monday, February 13, 2006