Archive for June, 2010

Divorce in India Just Got Easier — For Some

Posted on June 27, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, women.

MUMBAI, India — Irrespective of class or caste, a fundamental aspect of Indian society remains: marriage is a must. Children are seen as giving women value, and uniting with a husband in order to produce those children is still often seen as the only option, say gender specialists.

And yet, as more women become better educated, financially secure and independently minded, their ideas and expectations as to what marriage should look like are changing.

While it is hard to make generalizations about a country as vast as India, “there is definitely a churning and a change that is taking place in the realm of marriage,” said journalist and columnist Kalpana Sharma who covers developmental issues and gender. “Women are not willing to put up with stuff that their mothers were willing to put up with.”

Women’s ideas and expectations are changing, often faster than Indian society can keep up, and an inevitable clash has arisen. As a result, more Indian couples are deciding to divorce.

The Indian government has responded to a rise in marital breakups and a backlog in court cases by proposing an amendment this month to make it easier to get divorced. In the past, couples have had to prove mutual consent, adultery or abuse. If, as expected, parliament approves this amendment to what is known as the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 and Special Marriage Act 1954, couples must only show “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage or “incompatibility.”

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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For a Thirsty India, Rains a Mixed Blessing

Posted on June 23, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, environment.

MUMBAI, India — Just a month back Mumbai had such a bad water shortage that some families went four or five days without a drop in their faucet. People broke open pipes to steal water. The local press covered fights between neighbors over access to a tap and water-related stress sending more people to psychologists’ offices.

The city was on edge, blistering hot and waiting for the skies to open. Finally, like it does every year, the monsoon arrived. Mumbaikars rejoiced in the streets last week as the city welcomed the First Rains, referred to in India like a proper noun.

But the monsoon is not all hot chai and onion bhajias. It also wreaks havoc, bringing with it the potential for floods, train disruptions, endless traffic, damaged buildings and an increase in diseases like malaria and dengue.

“I don’t know if I should be happy or sad when the monsoon comes,” said Nidhi Jamwal, a senior correspondent with “Down To Earth,” a magazine published by the New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment. “It’s something like a paradox for all Mumbaikars.”

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Life Beyond Birth, India (Audio, Photos)

Posted on June 22, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Health, India, International, women.

“If Sulekha Lohar had only had access to an ambulance instead of that handcart.

If the clinic just had a doctor, instead of just empty shelves.

If the hospital only had a bloodbank, as we hear from American journalist Hanna Ingber Win, Sulekha’s children might still have their mother.”

Listen to Hanna’s dispatch from a tea plantation in Assam plus an interview with her on maternal mortality in India. The story and interview aired on CBC Radio’s “Dispatches.”

Go to CBC Radio for Hanna’s slideshow from Assam.

This reporting was sponsored by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Learn more about this reporting project.

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The Bhojpuri Boom (Video)

Posted on June 20, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International.

MUMBAI, India – Twenty-year-old Darbanga Lalit Yadav left his village in the north Indian state Bihar two years ago and moved to Mumbai in search of a job. He works as a cook in a family’s home and earns 4,000 rupees ($87) a month. When he gets a day off about once a month, he said he spends it by wandering around the city and then going to the movies.

But Yadav does not waste his time watching Bollywood films that typically show wealthy, jet-setting Indians in modern outfits living around the world. He can’t relate to those movies. Instead, he goes to the latest Bhojpuri film. In these movies, the characters speak the Hindi dialect Bhojpuri, which is spoken in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and among many of Mumbai’s migrants.

“They’re from my Bihar,” Yadav said of Bhojpuri films as he stood in line to buy a 30-rupee ticket at a single-screen theater in Andheri, a northern suburb of Mumbai. Men repairing the cinema stood above Yadav on bamboo scaffolding. “Bhojpuri films are more interesting,” he said, “because they belong to my own village and language.”

Regional cinemas like Bhojpuri have seen a surge in growth in India over the past decade as a result of Bollywood films increasingly catering to more modern, wealthy and cosmopolitan Indians, according to Kathryn Hardy, a University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. candidate in South Asia studies who is working on a dissertation on Bhojpuri cinema.

Continue reading and watch the video at GlobalPost.

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Looking for Hope in Child Brides

Posted on June 9, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Health, India, International, women.

I had written about child marriage before. When I went to Ethiopia, I visited a program for girls who had fled early marriage in their villages and ended up in the capital Addis Ababa. I met a classroom full of such young girls. With their schoolbooks in hand, they looked like kids, not brides. I talked to some of the girls in depth about how their desire to continue their schooling had pushed them to leave their families and traditions behind and flee to what they hoped would be a better life. These girls had dreams, and the courage to pursue them.

This time, in a small village on a remote island on the Brahmaputra River in northeastern India, the story was still on child marriage, but everything was different.

This time, the girl, Hasina Khatun, did not want to continue her education. She had not been to school a day in her life. Hasina was 13 when her aunt had told her she would get married. Like the girls I met in Ethiopia, Hasina did not want to leave her family behind and start a new life with a husband. But unlike the others, she accepted her life. When I asked if she had goals or dreams, she couldn’t think of any.

Unlike the girls in Addis, Hasina hadn’t fled.

Whether in Ethiopia or India, girls who have a baby under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as women in their 20s, according to the UN Population Fund. Girls 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die.

Wherever the girl lives, child marriage increases the likelihood of domestic violence. It generally lowers the age of a first birth and ends a girl’s opportunity to get an education, thereby decreasing her chances of employment and earning potential. Sent away from her family and village, the girl is likely to loose her support network and face social isolation.

In Ethiopia, this information served as a backdrop for what the girls I met had escaped. In India, as I chatted with Hasina inside a bamboo shack on the island, her life felt like a checklist.

Domestic violence? Three days after getting married, her 19-year-old husband told her they would have sex. She said no. He forced himself on her. Check.

Low age of first birth? She’s now 15 and five months pregnant. Check.

Education? She works in her in-laws home, helping cook and clean. She lives on an island with no secondary schools and couldn’t get an education if she wanted one. Check.

Isolation? Her family and friends live 25 kilometers away on the mainland. It takes a boat two to three hours to get there. Check.

Physical health? Hasina’s hemoglobin level, which should be at least 11 grams per deciliter, is 6.4. She’s severely anemic. Check.

As I interviewed Hasina, I had a million things on my mind: getting this timid young girl to open up, jotting down details on the chickens wandering around us, convincing the male translators to ask my questions on sex, shooing away the neighbors and husband who kept crowding around the door.

It wasn’t until I left Hasina and her village of 886 people, got back on the boat and checked into my humble hotel on the mainland that I began to process the girl’s story. I connected my camera to my laptop and began downloading photographs of Hasina.  I sat alone in my room and stared into an image of her face. Hasina does not look like a woman or a wife or a mother. She looks like a sweet young thing.

The girls in Ethiopia will undoubtedly have difficult lives trying to survive as teen migrants in the capital. Many of them must work as domestic helpers while trying to continue their education. But those girls see potential in their lives, and they will strive to achieve it.

Hasina sees nothing.

She has decided that despite what the boat clinic nurses and doctors tell her, she will give birth at home. Her body might be too small and undeveloped to handle the burden of a pregnancy, her home might be hours away from medical help if there is a complication, but she says she does not care.

As a reporter, I kept trying to get Hasina to tell me something positive or uplifting about her life. I thought my story would be better if I could add a happy twist and show what gives Hasina – just like other teenage girls around the world – a sense of joy.

And yet, I couldn’t find anything. Perhaps I didn’t ask the right questions, perhaps I didn’t stay with her long enough. I am sure there must be something that makes this young girl roll over with laughter. But I didn’t find it.

At the time, I wanted that extra information for my story. It would be my ending. Now, as I look at the photographs of Hasina over and over, as I envision her holding her sari up to her face as she whispered one-word answers, I realize I was looking for a piece of joy for myself, too. Without it, I am left with the image of a young girl with a swollen belly and not a shimmer of hope.

Read more about Hasina here.

Follow Hanna on Twitter @Hanna_India.

This reporting was sponsored by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Learn more about this reporting project.

This originally appeared on True/Slant.

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India: Streetwise Kama Sutra?

Posted on June 4, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International.

MUMBAI, India — Every weekday morning 23-year-old Muskaan gets ready for work in an apartment she shares with her mother in Chembur, a suburb in Mumbai. Muskaan’s mom thinks her daughter will catch a bus to her office in Powai.

Instead, she meets her boyfriend, 24-year-old Dilip, and he gives her a ride to work on his motorcycle. Muskaan and Dilip have been together for a year, but their families do not know. The young couple fear their parents would disapprove of them dating before marriage.

They both still live at home and since they are not allowed to bring a member of the opposite sex over, they see each other in secret. Whenever they have free time, Muskaan and Dilip leave their own neighborhood and ride Dilip’s motorcycle to one of the few public spaces available in Mumbai.

On a recent Saturday, they sat shoulder-to-shoulder on a promenade, admiring the sunset over the Arabian Sea in Bandra, another suburb. “We normally sit here because this is a very beautiful place,” said Muskaan, who wears thick black eyeliner, black hoop earrings, silver sparkling sandals and a traditional Indian outfit called a salwar kameez.

Asked if they take their intimacy a step further and kiss or do other personal acts while sitting on Carter Road, Muskaan says in a matter-of-fact tone: “Obviously. Why would people come here?”

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

Follow Hanna on Twitter @Hanna_India

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India: Married as Children

Posted on June 3, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Health, India, International, women.

PITHAKHAITI, India — Growing up in a small village in northeastern India, Hasina Khatun spent her days helping her aunt around the house and playing with her siblings. She did not drop out of school; she never started. Hasina began menstruating at the age of 13 and soon after her aunt, who raised her after her mother died, told her it was time to get married. Hasina did not understand what her aunt meant, or that her life was about to change dramatically.

“I thought marriage was a game,” Hasina says as she sits in a bamboo home in her husband’s village. She fidgets with her orange, black and green sari that covers her head and falls over her breasts, unusually big for her tiny frame. Hasina is now 15 and five months pregnant.

Nearly half of girls in India are married before they turn 18, according to the International Center for Research on Women, making India home to a third of the world’s child brides. In India, there is often social pressure on women to give birth soon after marriage to prove their fertility. Child brides like Hasina — even though their bodies are often too small and undeveloped to handle the burden of a pregnancy — are no exception.

Child marriage increases the chances of a maternal death due to an increase in the likelihood of pregnancy complications combined with lack of knowledge about maternal health, lack of control over medical decisions and lack of access to timely and adequate health care. A girl who gives birth under the age of 15 is five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than a woman in her 20s, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Girls 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die.

Continue reading and view the slideshow at GlobalPost.

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India: The Challenge of Educating Muslim Girls

Posted on June 1, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Health, India, International, women.

VIHOOR, India — The air feels cool at this early hour in the village.

As roosters yap away, a small truck delivers a crate of plastic bags filled with fresh milk to a roadside shop. A man rides by on a bicycle with a girl in her school uniform sitting in front and two little girls behind him.

On both sides of the road, girls in matching blue and white outfits gather at the bus stops. A young one with braided pigtails and a backpack waits patiently. An older one wearing a white headscarf and matching pants soon joins her, and a mother dressed in a black burqa walks them to school.

In Vihoor village on the Konkan Coast about 100 miles south of Mumbai, the Muslim women almost all stay at home raising their children, and when they go out, they virtually all wear the burqa. In many ways, the village is conservative and deeply entrenched in tradition, yet family after family here said their community is undergoing a significant if gradual change: more girls are going to school, and for longer.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Health Food Booms in India

Posted on June 1, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Business, Health, India, International.

MUMBAI, India — As I devour a (delicious) frozen yogurt, store manager Ankush Chopra tells me that Indian celebrities frequently visit his Mumbai shop. He rattles off names of Bollywood stars and then pulls out his mobile phone to show me proof. He turns his phone to me so I can see the photograph he took of one such actor, Jackie Shroff, wearing sunglasses and sitting in his car in front of the store.

“He has taken the ‘berry blast’ flavor, one medium, one small,” Chopra tells me. “With all the berries [as toppings] – strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and blackberry.”

Bollywood actress Raveena Tandon prefers the original flavor, Chopra adds.

As we chat in the store’s outdoor seating in Mumbai’s relatively posh Pali Hill neighborhood, a deliveryman from the nearby market walks up to the shop, carrying a two-foot wide basket of fresh strawberries on his head.

Cocoberry, India’s first non-fat premium frozen yogurt, opened a year ago in an effort to capitalize on a rising demand for health food among India’s growing class of wealthy consumers. The health food market, measured at $92 million in the end of 2008, is expected to nearly triple in size by the end of 2013, according to Shushmul Maheshwari, the chief executive of market-research company RNCOS.

The beginning of an organized, formal market for health food began a few years ago when big retailers began offering health products in their stores, Maheshwari wrote in an email. This developed as a result of a rise in education level and the emergence of strong advertising channels by which retailers could reach consumers.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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My Maroon Velvet Cave to Goa

Posted on June 1, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, travel.

GOA, India — For 800 rupees ($17) I got a spot on a sleeper bus from Mumbai to Goa. I’ve taken an overnight train in India with sleeping compartments (see my story on unintentionally joining India’s masses and peeing on train tracks). But before this trip to Goa, I didn’t even know so-called sleeper buses existed. I could not imagine what they looked like or how one could create a bed on a bus.

Thanks to Google, I got some photos before my trip to help me visualize the dreaming while busing experience. And thanks to Twitter, I got some input before the journey. @dhempe confirmed these sleeper buses exist and wrote, “yup thr r sleeper buses which r very comfortable.”

But then @aparnaandhare chimed in: “except when the driver decides to speed around a corner and you are terrified of falling!”

Eek, maybe this was a bad idea.

@SudhaKanago added: “I had also heard about shady things that go on in the dark :-)

@AndrewBuncombe, the Independent’s Asia correspondent who was recently shot while reporting from Bangkok, wrote “That counts as brave. Will you be able to Tweet from the bunk?”

My transportation choice to the beach was not supposed to be “brave.”

But I needed a break for a couple days, and the pina coladas on the beach were calling.

The bus arrived at the Bandra long-distance bus station — which consists of a couple benches by the side of the road — and my brave mode of transport did not look particularly impressive. The windows were tinted black so I couldn’t actually see inside. I ran over to the man checking tickets, eager to be first on line, and then hopped onto the bus, peaking my head around the driver’s seat and into the vehicle of mystery.

Neither the Google pictures nor the friendly tweets had prepared me for the real thing. I don’t mean to be cheesy, but there’s no other way to describe it accurately — a sleeper bus is super cool.

Mine consisted of two layers of beds, like bunk beds, on each side of the aisle. Everything was maroon and velvet. Maroon velvet cushions, maroon velvet curtains on the windows, maroon velvet curtains blocking out the aisle, maroon velvet ceiling.

I climbed up a metal ladder on the side, awkwardly plunking myself, laptop, camera and beach towel into my compartment. I wrapped a metal chain around my camera and laptop (and, with no where to hook it, around me), spread my beach towel over my legs like a blanket and lied down.

To my surprise and delight, a sleeper bus is incredibly comfortable. Arguably more comfortable than my own bed. Resting my head on the built-in pillow, I glanced at the ceiling and curtains, ran my fingers along the bedding and felt like I was in a super soft maroon cave. As a lay in the bus horizontal, I pulled back the curtain and watched the Mumbai traffic as we headed out of town.

From this view, even the traffic seemed lovely.

Ten hours later, when the bus driver would only pause at the roadside for the men to pee and refuse to stop at a public restroom, and the little boys would repeatedly bounce up and down in the aisle, popping their heads into my compartment every six minutes, I saw the sleeper bus a little differently.

But those first 10 minutes were delightful.

This was originally published on True/Slant.

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