Archive for November, 2010

India: Train Etiquette No Laughing Matter

Posted on November 21, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, travel.

MUMBAI, India — There are rules to Mumbai’s trains, and rule No. 1 is don’t take a Virar Fast train if you’re not going to Virar.

The women on Virar trains have long commutes and they hate it when other people try to invade their space. If you do manage to cram yourself in, and then get off at an earlier stop, the Virar women might block the door and not let you off. Or so I heard. They are tough, these women.

But when a Virar Fast train pulled into the station on a recent afternoon, I told myself it wouldn’t be so bad. It had been a really long day, and I was soaking wet from the rain. All I wanted to do was get home quickly and put on some dry socks. The platform looked relatively empty and, well, I went for it.

On board, it wasn’t so bad. I had to secure standing room, but the car wasn’t packed — by Mumbai standards at least. There was some pushing and shoving, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Heading north, though, out of South Mumbai, the train filled quickly. As we got closer to my stop, Andheri, I realized there were about 20 women between me and the door, squished together bosom to back.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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With Release of Burmese Dissident, A Little Hope

Posted on November 16, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Burma, International, Politics.

MUMBAI, India — I moved to Burma to work at the Myanmar Times newspaper for a year in 2003. I was 22 and new to Asia, let alone a military dictatorship. At that time, Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, and I quickly learned to not mention her name in public. She was simply, “The Lady.”

I worked at a major newspaper in Burma, and yet we had to act like The Lady did not exist. (A friend still working there says the Myanmar Times covered Suu Kyi’s recent release, a major feat. Though it ran on page three.)

We sent every story we wrote to the military junta’s censors to be approved. The censors did not just block stories on the detained democracy leader — a subject they deemed too “sensitive.” They rejected anything that might make Burma look bad. They cut out the word “dirt” before “dirt road,” lest we imply that the nation was too poor to have paved roads.

I remember being furious with the censors after they rejected another one of my columns. I stormed into the office bathroom in rage. As I stood in front of the sink, cursing the regime and vowing to never write for the paper again, a young Burmese reporter wearing a graceful longyi and the traditional thanaka painted on her cheeks walked in.

The reporter, Wai Phyo Myint, told me the censors reject one story of hers a week. And yet, she keeps writing them.

“I don’t choose stories by what is ‘sensitive’ and what is not,” Wai Phyo said. “I write what I think is the story.”

Wai Phyo, now studying abroad, is one person who has worked tirelessly to make her country better despite set back after set back. There are thousands more like her.

Now, after years of struggle and hard work, Wai Phyo and the Burmese like her have a reason to celebrate.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Mumbai Proud to Host Obama

Posted on November 7, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, Politics.

MUMBAI, India — A group of children sit on the hood of a police car, eagerly waiting for U.S. President Barack Obama’s motorcade to drive by.

“Ala, ala, ala,” (He’s coming, he’s coming, he’s coming) a little boy shouts in Marathi, the local language spoken in Mumbai.

At another barricade, hundreds push and shove and jump up and down, trying to catch a glimpse of the president as he leaves Mani Bhavan, the museum where Mahatma Gandhi stayed when he visited Mumbai during India’s independence movement. Old men lean over their balcony railing; boys climb into trees; girls sit on top of shoulders — all holding their mobile phones out, ready to snap a photograph of Obama. When the president steps outside, the crowd goes wild, chanting, cheering and hooting away.

Obama and his Democratic Party have taken a beating this week at home, facing big losses in the mid-term elections. But a long flight and nine and a half time zones later, the president has received a warm welcome in Mumbai, where he begins his three-day trip to India and four-country tour of Asia.

“It’s a great honor for our country that a president of the United States is coming,” said 12-year-old Minal Chudasama, as she waited among the crowd outside the Gandhi museum. The young girl, speaking fast and with assertion, said she wants to one day study in the United States and return to India to help her country grow. “I want to be a big person like him,” she said.

Continue reading and view slideshow by Kainaz Amaria at GlobalPost.

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India: Mum’s the Word on Burma

Posted on November 5, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Burma, India, International, Politics.

MUMBAI, India — While human rights groups and much of the international community has criticized Burma (renamed Myanmar by its ruling junta) over its upcoming election, its neighbor to the west — the world’s largest democracy — has remained noticeably silent.

India will not comment publicly on what others call a sham election because it is in the process of courting the Burmese junta and trying to lure it away from China’s influence, according to foreign policy specialists. It may privately try to persuade the Burmese government to make political reforms like the release of its national democracy icon, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest, but publicly India’s lips are sealed.

“One of the goals of India is to wean Burma away from China. You don’t wean a neighboring country from the influence of a potential enemy by keeping on criticizing the country for this reason or that reason,” said Delhi-based journalist and strategic analyst Rajeev Sharma.

India views China as a regional rival and considers its efforts to build closer ties with India’s neighbors such as Burma and Pakistan a threat to the democracy’s sovereignty and security.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Obama in India: Counterterrorism Cooperation

Posted on November 3, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, Politics.

MUMBAI, India — U.S. President Barack Obama will kick off his three-day trip to India with a speech in Mumbai, where Pakistani gunmen held the city under siege for 60 hours and killed 166 people in November 2008.

He will speak at the Taj Palace hotel, one of the main sites attacked two years ago, a move that highlights the “exponential growth” in counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries over the past year, as a senior U.S. government official put it at a recent press briefing in India.

And yet, despite the glowing rhetoric, the U.S. commitment to forging closer counterterrorism ties generates a sense of suspicion and even distrust in India. Security analysts point to the U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan and question how America can maintain close ties with Islamabad while developing stronger counterterrorism operations with Pakistan’s main rival, India.

“The United States policy toward India is held hostage by the U.S. policy toward Pakistan,” said Thomas Mathew, the former deputy director general of the Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

Follow Hanna on Twitter @Hanna_India.

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