Newswallah: Long Reads Edition

September 30, 2012, 6:11 am

By NEHA THIRANI

In Tehelka, Sai Manish writes about the mismanagement of natural disasters in the northeastern state of Sikkim. One year after an earthquake wreaked havoc in the state, a deluge has caused landslides, landing yet another blow of devastation. The author argues that the lack of timely government intervention has intensified the effect of such disasters. He writes:

Even after three days of floods and landslides due to incessant rains, the chief minister had no clue that people were holding on to dear life waiting for a response from their government. Finally, on 24 September, Chief Secretary Karma Gyatso flew over destroyed hamlets and severed towns. When asked about the CM, Gyatso shot off: “ Why should the CM come? What is his need when I am here?”

Mr. Manish notes that the haphazard distribution of funds without properly maintained records means that those in trouble do not receive the aid they are entitled to, while the government bleeds money.  Public ire is quelled by a combination of coercion and bribery. The author writes: “The tragedy is not just about missing persons or the damage that has been caused. The bigger tragedy is the sheer apathy of the government towards its people who have been suffering since last year’s earthquake that jolted their world forever.”

In the latest issue of Open magazine, Hartosh Singh Bal analyzes the impetus behind the recent economic reforms introduced by the Congress Party-led coalition government. In the article titled “The Rebirth of a Prime Minister,” Mr. Bal contends that there were many political factors that played into the timing of the announcement of reforms. He writes that with Palaniappan Chidambaram holding the finance portfolio the task became easier, adding that with Mr. Chidambaram’s predecessor, Pranab Mukherjee, the “approach to the Finance Ministry virtually left no room for the Prime Minister.”

Mukherjee enjoyed the confidence of the party and he was seen as someone who brought political pragmatism to the Finance Ministry. But he seems not to have realised that the country had changed since the 1970s, when he was first appointed minister. Attempts at policymaking through bureaucratic tinkering during his tenure in the end yielded neither economic nor political benefits.

The author takes the example of opening up of multi-brand retail to foreign investors saying that it was unlikely to have any immediate impact on the economy. “It is at best a signal of the Government’s intent.” Mr. Bal argues that the government was anxious that the recent Coalgate scandal exacerbated the worry about corruption . By linking the reform to “pro-poor” programs, he says, the current government will be able to re-establish its popularity with the electorate.

In the article entitled “In Search of a Dream” the Economist postulates that stalwarts who laid the foundation of the Indian democracy failed to articulate a vision for the economy, which has cost the country dearly. The article argues that economists and analysts broadly agree on the measures required to solve India’s current economic problems, but the “political elite” resist them, because of the “risk of being tipped out of power.” The piece gives the example of countries such as Brazil, Sweden and Poland who have successfully pushed through difficult economic reforms despite being democracies.

If the country’s voters are not sold on the idea of reform, it is because its politicians have presented it to them as unpleasant medicine necessary to fend off economic illness rather than as a mean s of fulfilling a dream.

The piece draws a parallel between India and the late 19th century America, and says that it needs “its own version of America’s dream.”

It must commit itself not just to political and civic freedoms, but also to the economic liberalism that will allow it to build a productive, competitive and open economy, and give every Indian a greater chance of prosperity. That does not mean shrinking government everywhere, but it does mean that the state should pull out of sectors it has no business to be in. And where it is needed – to organise investment in infrastructure, for instance, and to regulate markets – it needs to become more open in its dealings.

Newswallah: Bharat Edition

September 29, 2012, 7:03 am

By THE NEW YORK TIMES

Jammu and Kashmir: Chief Minister Omar Abdullah dismissed reports of a brewing “battle” between himself and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party over the issue of providing security to sarpanches, the elected heads of village councils, Kashmir Live reported. A group of  sarpanches from Kashmir met with Mr. Gandhi in New Delhi on Thursday to discuss security concerns after the killing of two village council heads in the Kashmir valley earlier this week.

Arunachal Pradesh: The state government on Thursday introduced a legislation to enhance protection of tigers, according to a report on Firstpost’s Web site citing Press Trust of India.  The move came after a Royal Bengal tigress was killed in a zoo in Itanagar, the state capital.

West Bengal: The state legislature passed a resolution Thursday opposing the central  government’s recent decision to allow foreign direct investment in retail, India Today reported. The resolution was introduced by the governing Trinamool Congress party, which walked out of the central governing coalition, the United Progressive Alliance, over the issue.

Jharkhand: Government employees on Friday protested the state’s decision to privatize the distribution and maintenance of electricity in Ranchi, the state capital, and cities including Jamshedpur and Dhanbad, The Times of India reported.

Rajasthan: The state government has assigned an all-female task force to conduct sting operations in clinics suspected of conducting tests to determine the sex of a fetus, The Daily Bhaskar reported.  Such tests are illegal in India, where female fetuses are often aborted because of a widespread preferen ce for boys.   

Maharashtra: The state faced a week of political turmoil, with the deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar handing in his resignation on Tuesday, Firstpost reported. Nineteen state ministers said they would follow suit, “in what was widely seen as a show of strength,” according to the report.

Andhra Pradesh: Six activists supporting the formation of a separate state of Telangana were arrested Wednesday after chanting slogans against Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy outside his office, The New Indian Express reported. The activists were protesting Mr. Kumar’s statement that the fate of Telangana would be decided by the majority of people in Andhra Pradesh.

Vidya Balan and Jairam Ramesh Team Up For Toilets

September 29, 2012, 6:45 am

By SRUTHI GOTTIPATI

NEW DELHI— A traveling village fair is scheduled to kick off next week in India, but instead of cotton candy and tchotchkes, it will sell an important message: Use soap to wash your hands, and don’t defecate in the open.

India faces a severe sanitation crisis. More than half of all households have no toilet facilities, according to the latest census figures, a rate that has worsened in the last decade. Earlier this year, the government announced an ambitious goal to end open defecation in the country within 10 years. But it was only on Friday afternoon that the campaign got a bit of glamour: Vidya Balan, a popular actress, was introduced as something of a brand ambassador, to promote the distinctl y unglamorous issues of sanitation and hygiene.

“We have to inspire more and more people to make our country open-defecation-free,” she said, sparkling under the flash of cameras in the capital.

Starting next week, Ms. Balan will appear in radio and television advertisements in which she cajoles villagers to use toilets. In one ad, she notes that brides in India are too shy to lift their veils, much less to defecate in the open.

Ms. Balan said she was drawn to the cause after reading the statistics on sanitation. Advocacy groups say that open defecation has led to the deaths of more than 1,000 children from preventable diarrhea every day. It is also said to have caused a loss of 6.4 percent of G.D.P., due to higher health costs and lower productivity.

India has struggled with sanitation for decades. Critics of government policy contend that people decline to buy toilets not due to their price but because the government fails to supply running water.

Jairam Ramesh, the minister for sanitation and rural development, whose strategy has included raising awareness and pouring funds into village councils if they meet their toilet targets, acknowledged to India Ink on email that running water is a problem but said it wasn’t the primary one.

“In India people always like to externalise the reasons for inaction,” he said. ”Behavioral change is of paramount importance.”

At the news conference Friday where Ms. Balan appeared, Mr. Ramesh said that for the next five years, his ministry of clean water and sanitation would have a budget of about $20 billion. “There’s no shortage of funds,” he said. “If there’s a shortage, it’s of resolve.”

The traveling village fair — whose purpose, besides encouraging good hygiene, is to increase awareness and demand for sanitation facilities in rural areas — is being promoted and facilitated by Mr. Ramesh’s ministry , but its funding comes from a host of organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which together raised a little more than $2 million for it.

The concept for the fair was developed by Quicksand, an Indian consultancy, and WASH United, a nongovernment organization that often uses sports stars as ambassadors to promote hygiene.

Organizers said they would use two Indian passions, cricket and Bollywood, to generate excitement about the awareness drive, with stars from both fields to join the fair. They will also use more standard village fair diversions, like a game in which players knock down cans that look like germs.

Ms. Balan promised to make an appearance during the fair, which is scheduled to travel through five states over 51 days. Called the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, which loosely translates as “Clean India Journey,” the fair will stop at a couple of places associated with in India’s independence movement to make the point that India n ow needs to become free from poor sanitation.

The last stop will be Bettiah in the state of Bihar, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha, his tactic of nonviolent resistance. It’s a fitting end. Gandhi himself often stressed the importance of sanitation.

Government Can Decide How to Allocate Natural Resources, Supreme Court Rules

September 29, 2012, 2:53 am

By HARI KUMAR

NEW DELHI—India’s Supreme Court upheld the government’s right to sell natural resources as it sees fit, saying it wasn’t necessary for the administration to use auctions.

The ruling, which was issued Thursday, was prompted by the government’s petition to clarify the Supreme Court’s decision in February that canceled the government’s sale of 122 telecommunications licenses, which were sold at below-market prices in 2008. The court ordered the government to sell the licenses through an auction, but the Indian president’s office asked the court to rule on whether all sales of national assets had to be sold this way.

On Thursday, the court said that while the judges believed that it would be better if auctions were used, it was the government’s prerogative to allocate resources as a policy decision and that the order for an auction applied only to the wireless spectrum case.

The court said that if the maximization of revenue was not the goal of the sale of a national asset, then the government could use whatever methods it wanted. The judges also said that the government didn’t have to always seek the highest bid because “revenue maximization is not the only way in which the common good can be subserved.”

“This is what we were saying for last one and half years,” said Kapil Sibal, communications minister, who held a news conference in Delhi on Friday with Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and the law minister, Salman Khurshid.

Mr. Chidambaram said, “Revenue maximization may be the goal in one case, but may not be the goal in several other cases.”

Whether or not it resorts to auctions, Mr. Sibal said, the gove rnment was committed to transparency in its dealings and has never “defended irregularities and illegalities.” The auction of the wireless spectrum is scheduled to be held later this year.

“Now the government can start taking decisions without fearing that other constitutional authority will interfere,” said Mr. Sibal. “The judgment applies to all of us. It applies to us; it applies to courts; it applies to other constitutional authorities.”

The Congress-led government has been battling corruption scandals while it has been trying to shore up support for a ruling coalition. In August, the government was accused of losing nearly $40 billion by selling coal blocks through negotiated prices rather than through an auction.

Business associations in India called on the government to keep its transactions transparent. “Any method of allocating natural resources should be based on the principles of transparency and fairness,” Adi Godrej, president o f the Confederation of Indian Industry, said in a statement.

Iranian News Agency Plagiarizes The Onion

September 28, 2012, 1:30 pm

By ROBERT MACKEY

Apparently unaware of the unwritten rules of both ethical journalism and satire, an Iranian news agency published an edited copy of a report from The Onion on Friday, without crediting the original or acknowledging that it was fiction.

The Fars News Agency, which is close to Iran’s powerful Republican Guard Corps, posted its version of the report (now removed) on its English-language Web site under the same headline used by The Onion for the original four days earlier: “Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad To Obama.”

Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad to Obama http://t.co/snzZBomZ

- Fars News Agency (@FNA_Iran) 28 Sep 12

Although the dateline for the news brief says that the reporting was done in Tehran by Fars, the first sentence is identical to the earlier Onion parody: “According to the results of a Gallup poll released Monday, the overwhelming majority of rural white Americans said they would rather vote for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than U.S. president Barack Obama.”

The second sentence of the Fars report, however, changed the phrase “have a beer with Ahmadinejad,” to “have a drink with Ahmadinejad,” and entirely omitted The Onion’s description of the Iranian president as “a man who has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and has had numerous political prisoners executed.”

The final two sentences of the original Onion report, quoting a fictional voter in West Virginia who prefers Iran’s president, were published unchanged by Fars:

“He takes national defense seriously, and he’d never let some gay protesters tell him how to run his country like Obama does.” According to the same Gallup poll, 60 percent of rural whites said they at least respected that Ahmadinejad doesn’t try to hide the fact that he’s Muslim.

The only other difference between the two versions of the fake report is that The Onion used a more flattering photograph of Mr. Ahmadinejad, showing him with a broad smile.

For more than an hour after the error was noticed, and mocked, by bloggers including David Kenner, an editor for Foreign Policy in Cairo, the report remained on the home page of the Fars English-language site, where it was promoted as the day’s third most important story.

The news agency has in the past copied an entire blog post from The Lede without attribution.

While it is unclear how Fars came across the fictional report, Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, who blogs about the Iranian press, first noticed on Wednesday that the main, Persian-language version of Fars Web site had mistaken The Onion report for real news. Mr, Sadeghi-Boroujerdi notes that report has now been removed by Fars, but was picked up by at least two other Iranian news sites, Hayat and Mehr.

The incident might also reflect how increasingly easy it is to come across information online that has been intentionally or accidentally denatured through copying as it is passed along from one site to another, or one social media user to another.

The Onion’s has been criticized in the past for posting fake news updates on Twitter – where the text is divorced from contextual clues that make it easier to identify the reports as satire. As the Guardian editor Matt Wells wrote last year, when The Onion used Twitter to post fictional live updates on a hostage crisis that was also fictional, as information is passed from user to user on social networks, fiction can easily be mistaken for fact.

The viral way that information spreads online also makes it ea sy for errors to proliferate. To take a recent example, before a violent protest against an anti-Islam film took place in Cairo on Sept. 11, the United States Embassy released a statement condemning the makers of the film for abusing their right to free speech by promoting religious bigotry. After the protest turned violent, however, a version of that statement posted on Twitter was passed around by opponents of the Obama administration who mistakenly described it as an apology to the protesters, released after attack on the embassy. Within hours, Mitt Romney joined the chorus in repeating the false accusation that the statement was posted online after rather than before the protest.

Then too, Fars might have been more easily confused by The Onion’s satirical report because competition from satirists and Internet news sites seems to have encouraged traditional news organizations to allow their journalists to lace their reports with comic elements.

A remarkable ca se study of the dangers of the new laughter-based news economy can be found in the great difficulty Reuters has had in correcting a flawed video report produced in Iran in February, on the popularity of the martial art of ninjutsu among Iranian women.

As my colleague David Goodman reported in March, Iran’s government imposed a harsh sanction on Reuters journalists in Tehran, rescinding their press cards, in retaliation for errors in what was apparently intended to be a lighthearted video report distributed by the news agency under the headline, “Thousands of Female Ninjas Train as Iran’s Assassins.”

Although Reuters issued a correction once the government pointed out that the women featured in the report were not studying the martial art of ninjutsu in a dojo outside Tehran with the intention of killing anyone, but simply to keep in shape, the agency has no control over what news organizations do with the material it provides to them, so several versions of t he story remain on the Web sites and YouTube channels of its clients.

While the corrected item is no longer available on the Reuters Web site, video reports repeating the false premise – that Iranian women who practice the sport primarily for exercise are a squad of trained killers – produced by the American networks CBS and MSNBC, the Saudi channel Al Arabiya, Britain’s Channel 4 News, Japan’s state broadcaster NHK and The Telegraph in London, can all still be viewed online.

Similarly, there is no correction attached to a version of the report, headlined “Iran Trains 3,000 Female Ninja Assassins,” which has been viewed more than 160,000 times on the YouTube channel of Britain’s ITN since February.

A video report produced by Britain’s ITN that called Iranian female martial arts students “assassins.”

The narration for that version seems to retain the jokey tone of the original Reuters script, mockin g the women’s efforts to appear fierce even as the narrator makes the ominous-sounding claim that “these are Iran’s ninja assassins and they are deadly serious. Some 3,000 women are being trained to defend the Islamic Republic to the death, with hand-to-hand combat, and evasion skills.” Interestingly, the ITN journalist who voice that report, Sam Datta-Paulin, explains on his personal Web site that he is “also a performing comedian.”

As Max Fisher explained in a post on The Atlantic’s Web site in March, the Reuters report followed an initial report on the female ninjas broadcast on Jan. 29 by Press TV, an Iranian government satellite channel that exists to put Tehran’s spin on the news. Four days after that broadcast, the Press TV report was posted on YouTube, where it quickly went viral. Thanks in large part to attention from Internet news outlets like The Daily, which detected some inadvertent comedy in the notion of Iranian female ninjas, the Press TV report has been viewed nearly a million times on YouTube.

Beyond the mocking tone of the Reuters report, Iranian officials seem to have been most angered by the fact that the initial script cast the efforts of the women to learn the martial art in terms of a potential conflict with Israel, despite the fact that the dojo has been in operation for more than two decades.

First on Twitter and then in a careful reconstruction of how the Press TV story spread and was then picked up by Reuters, Shiva Balaghi, an Iranian-American cultural historian who has lived in both countries, argued that journalists working in the era of The Daily Show had perhaps lost focus on what mattered about the story.

Suspension of Reuters from Iran is no laughing matter. Shame on all who’ve chuckled over it on blogs, twitter, & FB. (1of3)

- Shiva Balaghi (@SBalaghi) 30 Mar 12

Story mocked the gendere d politics that restrain Iranian women’s bodies & what the practice of martial arts means in this context. (2of3)

- Shiva Balaghi (@SBalaghi) 30 Mar 12

The Iranian govt’s reaction is another attack on press freedoms. Where’s the humor in this situation? (3of3) #Reuters

- Shiva Balaghi (@SBalaghi) 30 Mar 12

Ms. Balaghi suggested that something about the images of the young Iranian women wielding swords and running up walls struck journalists used to thinking of ninja moves as the stuff of action movies and video games as inherently funny. The drive to maximize that comedy then seemed to overwhelm more sober journalistic instincts, like factual accuracy and the need to place the images in context.

“Academics are often rightly accused of being too insular,” Ms. Balaghi wrote in the online journal Jadaliyya. “The same could be said of some journalists, especially those who work for so cial media sites. One wonders if there isn’t too much pressure to get more ‘likes,’ retweets, mentions, and followers. Brevity and witticism have become valued tools of the trade.”

At the end of her essay, she observed that a far more serious issue, the restrictions placed on women in Iran, was ignored in reports that sought to hype the comedic potential of the story:

Iran’s women athletes remain caught in a web of government control within Iran while their modest Islamic attire makes them subject to prohibition by international sporting bodies.

And now some careless or unethical journalists made the women athletes in the Karaj dojo the butt of jokes or props in their jingoistic drum beating for war on Iran. More power to them for speaking out for themselves. Unfortunately, the whole sordid affair provided the Islamic Republic a handy excuse to withdraw Reuters’ credentials, making it even harder for us to get accurate reporting from Iran at a critical time. Above all else, the story of Iranian women martial artists turns out to be a cautionary tale.

When the Reuters bureau in Tehran was first shut down, after the women featured in the report took the news agency to court, The National in Abu Dhabi explained that part of the context for the story was that state-owned Press TV has an axe to grind with Britain:

Press TV, which has spearheaded the blowback against Reuters, is viewed as Iran’s propaganda mouthpiece in the West. Ofcom, Britain’s independent media watchdog, revoked the channel’s license in January for failing to pay a record £100,000 fine for broadcasting an interview with a prisoner obtained under duress.

Unlike Press TV, Reuters enjoys an excellent reputation for accuracy and impartiality. It had managed to maintain its bureau in Tehran after Iran’s disputed presidential elections in June 2009 which was followed by a crackdown on Iranian journalists . Visas for western reporters have since been very hard to come by. The activities of those allowed in on rare visits are strictly monitored and curtailed.

In late July, Iran’s official news agency reported comments from an Iranian offiical who said that after the lawsuit against Reuters in Iranian courts takes its course, the wire service’s office in Tehran “is likely to be shut down for good.”

A Dangerous Gateway to Mount Everest

September 28, 2012, 7:59 am

By MALAVIKA VYAWAHARE

An aircraft full of trekkers headed to Mount Everest crashed in Nepal’s capital, Katmandu, on Friday morning, killing all the 19 people on board. This accident is just the latest in a string of recent fatal airline accidents in Nepal, and has once-again raised questions about the safety of air travel to one of the most iconic tourist destinations in Asia.

Recent aircraft accidents in Nepal include:

  • Date: May 14, 2012

    “An Agni Air plane carrying Indian and Danish tourists crashed into a hill near a mountain airport in Nepal on Monday, killing 15 people, including the two pilots, ” a New York Times report said.

    • Sept. 25, 201 1
      “Nineteen people, including three Americans, died in a plane crash in Nepal on Sunday as they headed back to the capital, Katmandu, after a sightseeing tour of the mountains, including Mount Everest, officials said, ” The New York Times reported.
      “The 3-member crew died in the crash of the Buddha Air flight, as did 10 Indian citizens, 2 Nepalis and a Japanese citizen, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal at the Tribhuvan International Airport, which is not far from the crash site.”
    • 15, Dec. 2010
      A Twin Otter flying with 19 pilgrims “crashed in a forest in eastern Nepal, killing all on board, including the three crew members as well,” The Times of India reported.
    • Aug. 24, 2010
      “Fourteen people, including four Americans, died Tuesday in Nepal when their plane crashed in inclement weather, after a failed attempt to reach a popular destination for touring hikers near Mount Everest, according to Nepali officials,† The New York Times reported.
    • Oct. 8, 2008
      “A small airplane crashed and caught fire Wednesday as it tried to land in foggy weather at a tiny mountain airport near Mount Everest, killing 18 people, including 16 tourists from Germany, Australia and Nepal, officials said,” The Associated Press reported. “Only the pilot survived.”
    • March 3, 2008
      “A United Nations helicopter has crashed in stormy weather in Nepal, killing all 10 people on board, ” The Associated Press reported.
    • Sept. 23, 2006
      “Nepal ordered an investigation Tuesday into a helicopter crash that killed 24 people, including a cabinet minister and several top international conservationists,” a New York Times report said.
    • Aug. 22, 2002
      “A small plane carrying foreign tourists slammed into a mountain about 90 miles northwest of the capital, Kathmandu, killing all 18 people on board including 15 foreign tourists,† The New York Times reported.

Starbucks Makes Long-Awaited India Entry in South Mumbai

September 28, 2012, 4:00 am

By NEHA THIRANI

MUMBAI—Starbucks will open its debut store in India by the end of October, the company said Friday.

The American chain’s first shop here will be located in Mumbai’s iconic Horniman Circle neighborhood, in South Mumbai’s Fort district. The area is home to expensive shops, including a Hermes store, and numerous offices and bank headquarters as well as the Horniman Circle Gardens park, which hosts music and culture festivals.

“We’re extremely excited about the opportunity that this location presents to establish the Starbucks brand here in the Indian market,” John Culver, president of Starbucks China and Asia Pacific, said during a press conference in Mumbai on Friday. “The plans to open in th e Indian market are right on track.”

The store will be located in the Elphinstone building, a heritage property owned by Tata Sons, part of the Tata Group conglomerate. Starbucks is partnering in India with Tata’s Global Beverages, which describes itself as “Asia’s largest coffee plantation company.”

In a first for the coffee chain, all the coffee sold in Starbucks stores across India will be locally sourced and roasted at a facility in India, executives said Friday.

Starbucks joins international fast food chains such as McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Dunkin Donuts, who have entered India because of a large demographic of young people with rising in income levels and international exposure. India has seen a rise in the coffee shop culture over the past few years as chains like Costa Coffee, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf have opened stores. The announcement comes at a time when the Indian government is pushing for more foreign i nvestment in the country.

Starbucks had initially planned to open its first stores in India in mid-2011, but there was a delay in acquiring real estate, executives said. In January, the company announced a 50-50 partnership with Tata Global Beverages, and said it would invest $80 million in India and open 50 stores by the end of the year. Mr. Culver did not provide more detail about the company’s planned investment in India, but said that the business was “very well funded” and that the company was looking at the India market as long-term investment.

Avani Saglani Davda, 33, a Tata Group executive, will head the joint venture, the companies said Friday.

Like other international food chains entering India, Starbucks will alter its menu to suit Indian tastes. There will also be one unique dish available in each of the Starbucks stores in each city where it opens in India, executives said. “We are going to make a huge difference in the way that coffee ho uses are perceived in India,” said Ms. Davda.

Mr. Culver said the first store in New Delhi was planned for early next year, and that the company has hired and is currently training 60 people. “We’re going to be very thoughtful on how we grow, but at the same time we’re going to look at accelerating growth and capturing the opportunity that exists for us here in India,” he said.

India is the latest overseas market for the Seattle, Washington-based coffee chain. Starbucks has operated outside North America since 1996, when it opened in Tokyo, Japan, and today has more than 17,000 stores in 57 countries around the world. The company has been in mainland China for more than a decade, and now has more than 500 outlets there, but has courted controversy in some cases. A Starbucks outlet that opened in 2000 in Beijing’s nearly 600-year-old Forbidden City was shuttered seven years later, after protestors said it was denigrating the historical site. Still, Starbucks said in April that it expects China will be its second-largest market by 2014, and that it plans to have 1,500 stores across China by 2015.

In Europe, Starbucks has struggled in some countries, particularly France. The chain started a multimillion dollar makeover this year in Europe to lure patrons raised on café culture into its stores, adding edgy architecture, stages for poetry readings and chandeliers, as well as changing its coffee roast.

India, Home of the Nonviolent Protest, Embraces More Extreme Dissent

September 28, 2012, 4:10 am

By NEHA THIRANI

Gone are the days when picketing, candlelight vigils, marches or hunger strikes were enough to guarantee your cause a spot on prime-time television in India. No matter how grave or frivolous the cause, modern protesters employ far more creative tactics to draw attention.

On Wednesday, 1,500 villagers, including several children, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu buried themselves in the sand to their waists for six hours in the latest demonstration against the building of the Kudankulam nuclear plant. The protesters, who are from fishing families from the surrounding districts, are worried that once the plant is active it will contaminate the fish, ruining their livelihoods.

Extreme protests have been the mainstay of activists around the world for years, but in India, which popularized and perfected the nonviolent protest and the quietly powerful hunger strike, there has been a recent rush to embrace increasingly unusual forms of agitation. Some attribute their rise to the prevalence of new television channels and social media in India, other to deeper causes.

In South Asia today, “ordinary people are under serious stress,” said Ranjan Chakrabarti, vice chancellor of West Bengal’s Vidyasagar University and a professor who specializes in the history of crime and protest in India. “They are under pressure and they have decided to register their protest in these novel forms,” he said.

Similar protests happened “during the first phase of industrialization in Europe and during the initial decades of British colonization in India,” he said.

In the case of the Tamil Nadu fishermen, they earlier tried more conventi onal tactics to gain the government’s attention: picketing the central government offices in Kudankulam, occupying village cemeteries to symbolically solicit the guidance of their ancestors and using their fishing boats to block entry to the nearby harbor.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court warned  that it will suspend work at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant if safety concerns were not addressed. The court said this while hearing an appeal challenging the judgment of the Madras High Court to allow fuel loading in the plant.

On Sept. 10, the police used violence against the protestors at a rally at the plant, beating them with sticks, firing tear gas and arresting the protestors.  On Thursday, a fact-finding team berated the police for its abusive behavior.

The anti-nuclear activists have continued their protests, according to news reports.

The more recent attention-getting protests aren’t always so physically demanding. On Sunday, a group of incense d teachers waved their slippers at the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar at a rally in the state, in a symbolic gesture of disdain. The teachers, who were on contract, demanded that their salaries be equal to those of regular teachers. However, the chief minister accused the opposition party of instigating the protests.

In Ghogalgaon village in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, 51 villagers stood neck deep in water for 17 days, demanding that the government lower the water level in the nearby Omkareshwar dam on the Narmada River. The “jal satyagraha” or “peaceful water protest,” began on Aug. 25 when the water level in the dam was raised by two meters (6.5 feet). The villagers say that raising the level of the dam will further submerge their lands.

The images of the villagers standing in the water, their bodies shriveled and their skin peeling, was widely circulated on social networking sites. On Sept. 10, the chief minister of the state, Shivra j Singh Chouhan, gave into their demands and agreed to lower the water level and compensate the farmers for their land.

A similar protest in the water was carried out by 245 villagers near the Indira Sagar dam, in Madhya Pradesh, but without the positive outcome – police arrested the protesters. Villagers protesting against the Kudankulam power plant tried the same tactic, with hundreds of people forming a human chain in the water on Sept. 13, but they, too, were disbanded by police.

Unusual “funeral” marches have become another common theme for protests in India. As the government’s announcement of a rise in the price of diesel and a cap on subsidized gas cylinders earlier this month unleashed protests throughout the nation, members of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party held a mock funeral procession of gas cylinders in Bhopal.

And earlier this month in Allahabad, activists opposed to an increase in a house tax staged a parody of a funeral processio n of the members of the municipal corporation administration.

Meanwhile, in a forest in Maharashtra, the Greenpeace activist Brikesh Singh is living in a tree for a month to protest coal mining’s devastation of biodiversity and the displacement of forest communities. The protest, which includes gathering petitions from citizens to submit to the prime minister, attracted the attention of a Parliament member, Hansraj Ahir, who visited the activist.

“I wanted people in the city to wake up in the morning and when they are watching the news of television with a cup of a coffee, wonder why has this guy climbed a tree – and that would prompt them to find out about the issue,” said Mr. Singh, 32, who heads public engagement campaigns at Greenpeace India. “To draw people’s attention, someone ordinary needs to go out and do something extraordinary.”

Plane Going to Everest Region Crashes, Killing 19

Associated Press

People gathered at the site of a plane crash near Kathmandu, Nepal, early Friday. The plane crashed just after takeoff, killing the 19 people on board, officials said.

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) – A plane carrying trekkers to the Everest region crashed and burned just after takeoff Friday morning in Nepal’s capital, killing the 19 Nepali, British and Chinese people on board, authorities said.

The pilot of the domestic Sita Air flight reported trouble two minutes after takeoff, and Katmandu airport official Ratish Chandra Suman said the pilot appeared to have been trying to turn back. The crash site is only 500 meters (547 yards) from the airport, and the wrecked plane was pointing toward the airport area.

Investigators were trying to determine the cause of the crash and identify the bodies, and Suman said he could not confirm if the plane was already on fire before it crashed. Cellphone video shot by locals showed the front section of the plane was on fire when it first hit the ground and appeared the pilot had attempted to land the plane on open ground beside a river.

The fire quickly spread to the rear, but the tail was still in one piece at the scene near the Manohara River on the southwest edge of Katmandu. Villagers were unable to approach the plane because of the fire and it took some time for firefighters to reach the area and bring the fire under control.

Soldiers and police shifted through the crash wreckage looking for bodies and documents to help identify the victims. Seven passengers were British and five were Chinese; the other four passengers and the three crew members were from Nepal, authorities said.

Large number of local people and security forces gathered at the crash site. The charred bodies were taken by vans to the hospital morgue.

The weather in Katmandu and surrounding areas was clear on Friday morning, and it was one of the first flights to take off from Katmandu’s Tribhuwan International Airport. Other flights reported no problems, and the airport operated normally.

The plane was heading for Lukla, the gateway to Mount Everest. Thousands of Westerners make treks in the region around the world’s highest peak each year. Autumn is considered the best time to trek the foothills of the Himalayan peaks.

The crash follows an avalanche on another Nepal peak Sunday that killed seven foreign climbers and a Nepali guide.