Interesting NYT piece by Somini Sengupta on gated communities in Gurgaon, a business-process-outsourcing just outside Delhi. Although they lack the overtly racial tones these enclaves suggest for many Americans, Sengupta does a pretty good job at teasing out the two vastly different worlds that coexist.

Also noteworthy (though woefully underreported) is a quick report on women and alcoholism in India via the Hindustan Times.

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The Times of India reports that activists in Tamil Nadu are trying to press charges against Bollywood sex bomb Mallika Sherawat for showing up to a red-carpet event in skimpy attire.

A glimpse of the crazy:

[A] splinter group … lodged a complaint with the police on Thursday, saying that Mallika’s attire at the function to release audio-CDs of Kamal Hassan’s new film Dasavatharam in which Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, Jackie Chan and Amitabh Bachchan were present had “hurt the sentiments of Hindus.” The actress was accused of wearing transparent and skimpy clothes … activist Kanirajan, in his complaint, also said Mallika sat cross-legged on the dais where Karunanidhi was present.

Cross-legged! The horror, the horror! Imagine if she hadn’t been so circumspect and pulled a bit of the classic Britney magic

Joking aside, my thoughts, in no particular order: 1) damn, she looks good; she might as well capitalize on her looks while she has them; 2) is contemporary Hinduism really so fragile that a bit of leg could threaten the very core of its philosophy?; 3) if Jackie Chan hadn’t been present, would it still have been such a gaffe?; 4) is women’s sexuality so threatening that men must try and outlaw it and/or shame those bold enough to revel in their fecundity?; and 5) seriously, don’t these fellas have better things to do?

And, for your entertainment, the trailer for Dasavatharam:

The Indian Express reports that the Indian Railways will pilot voice and data connectivity in trains between Ahmedabad and Mumbai; liveblogging about the difficulty of managing one’s bodily functions on a squat toilet with a malfunctioning lock soon to follow.

I kid, but it isn’t funny: women in India face significant challenges, and too often, it seems, issues like gender parity fall by the wayside as the country focuses on its spectacular economic growth, etc.

It’s probably just lip service, but it is heartening to hear the country’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, thrusting the issue into the public eye. In a speech Monday, Singh said, “We are an ancient civilisation and we call ourselves a modern nation. And yet, we live with the ignominy of an adverse gender balance due to social discrimination against women built into our societal structures. … Our record in female literacy is far from satisfactory as the last Census recorded only 54% female literacy in the country. The last Census again showed a declining child sex ratio. This is a national shame and we must face this challenge squarely here and now. It indicates that growing economic prosperity and education levels have not led to a corresponding mitigation of the problem.”

For a good primer on the social status of women in India, I’d suggest the Bridge “India Gender Profile” (PDF). The Wikipedia page on women in India, though of debatable quality, also surfaces a number of issues and provides a bit of historical context.

(Image: Painted advertisement for Jadugar Anand magic show in Kottayam, Kerala, in mid-2005.)

In Kerala, a small state in the south of India perhaps best known for being the first region in which a communist government was democratically elected, a storm is brewing. But not over political machinations: no, the latest kerfuffle has erupted over an actor’s plan to put on a “fire escape act.” Three hundred magicians from the state have signed a petition urging Mohanlal to reconsider performing the stunt, in which he would be “chained and lowered upside-down in a metal box using a crane into a big haystack, which would be set afire.”

According to the Indian Express, “The magicians who held a press conference [in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala] on Monday said the actor is just not trained enough to perform this act, and alleged that his trainer, Muthukad, was himself burnt when he had tried the act in Bahrain sometime back.”

(“Cozy Donkey,” Swati Kurana, 2007, via NY Arts.)

From NY Arts profile of Swati Kurana:

I see myself as very loose, disorganized, and cluttered with my artistic process. I’m a collector, so I have too much stuff, too much music, too many tear sheets, too many journals, too many plastic flowers, too many hard drives with too many images and movie files. But I keep it all, because I hold onto a piece of text, a source image, or song that I want to incorporate in a piece. It often gets shelved for a while, until another text or image or song comes up that complements the first one, and then I ferociously work to complete it.

Although I respect artists with a singular vision, artists that paint from life or doggedly pursue a discrete theme expressed in a wash of watercolors, variations on one idea, I’m much more an eclectic; I always love reading about other artists working across media, jumping from branch to branch as the wind blows through the trees …

Really interesting report, “Eviction Slip,” at Guernica Mag site. The author, Mark Dowie, touches on the human cost of conservation, explaining how adivasis are being displaced to preserve forest or other land for wildlife. A brief excerpt:

In early 2005, a national debate erupted in India over the future of its national animal, the Royal Bengal Tiger. Media reports of a “tiger crisis” led to the creation of several “Project Tiger” sanctuaries around the country. As one might expect, the sides taken on the status and protection of tigers were, on the one hand, wildlife conservationists intent upon saving a truly magnificent species from extinction, and on the other, anthropologists and tribal activists intent upon preserving the cultures of tribal people, 325,000 of whom still live inside the core and buffer zones of tiger reserves. …

Gujjars [a traditional grazing community] and tigers have coexisted in Sariska [a wildlife reserve] for thousands of years. The decline in tiger population is a consequence of development—large dams, iron mines and the shifting appetites of distant elites—not the lifeways of forest dwellers whose habitats have likewise been threatened by the same phenomena. “Why then punish one victim to save the other?” asks Indian historian Ramachandra Guha.

In almost every respect, the relocation of Gujjars was badly planned and executed, and evictees were compensated at unbearably low rates. Those relocated inside the forest still had access to firewood, water and livestock fodder. But for years they faced an uncertain future about the permanence of their new residence. Some evictees have returned to their original villages in search of better soil and water, forsaking schools, clinics and other amenities built in relocation communities. The outcome, in a word, has been chaos. However, relocation has continued despite the real threat of pushing another traditional community into utter destitution, while accomplishing next to nothing for endemic wildlife.