Times when journalism was useful for the academia

When I was actively reporting, I overlooked the academic papers that referred to my reports. As a journalist, I wrote on diverse themes – from culture to politics to economy. I remember how my academic sources would direct me to my reports referred to in research papers but I wouldn’t bookmark them. Only recently, I have wanted to and been bookmarking them here.

Check out the CASI Penn links below:



I am watching this old video of myself and feeling yuck.

I have always wondered what is it about the past that makes us nostalgic. Is it the overnight obsession with all things lost to time, or just an emotional journey we must undergo so that we can make peace with the present? None of these make sense to me so when I look back at my old pictures or videos, I feel a sense of embarrassment that I sucked so much. The only thing I totally dig is what I scribbled in my notes – those poems, those tiny little sentences packing a world of wisdom or angst or pain or passion that could never make me disown them.

This video is from a busy afternoon in sweltering summer years ago when I was at the IIT-Delhi with a colleague to discuss the budgetary allocation announced in the Union Budget. I felt weird having to put on makeup for the shoot so I requested the in-house makeup person to dab just the minimum she could. I am always fond of kohl so that’s the only abundant accessory here, I guess. But let’s talk about what I am talking. I am telling this to this younger self: “Girl, you could be very critical, very very critical of the government, right?”

Anyway. That was then. Bookmarking the video here just for memory sake:

ok, kid, this is pretty average.

EconHistorienne collaborates with Newslaundry

Folks, if you are reading my newsletter EconHistorienne, you also know that I released issue 2 on May 18. Some of my favorite publications expressed interest in publishing the piece. I wasn’t expecting this because the piece was written exclusively for the newsletter. A week after it was originally published, EconHistorienne today collaborated with Newslaundry to let issue 2 reach a wider audience. A story is bigger than the one who writes it, that we shall never forget. A story must be read and acquire a life of its own.

A story also doesn’t need to make a point. A story can sometimes meander because in life, we aren’t always making a point except that there are people whose journeys must be documented and their lives could sometimes be confusing, their thoughts scattered, and the chaos might just swallow everything good they may have to offer. Yet, as a writer and purveyor of the moments spent with the doctor at his workplace, I thought it was best to record it as he saw it. The story, in the end, has just one quest: what does a doctor see, feel and think when he goes to work in the middle of a pandemic? This story profiles one doctor but we get the drift. We learn to respect, be moved and feel empathy for him and how he sees his work. I hope this story will tell you much more and I hope you will find this important. This story requires your time and patience. It’s a long read and I need this from you.

It’s now on two platforms and I am thankful for the life it has got. Here is where you read it on Newslaundry and here it is on my newsletter. You could also download the PDF (below).

7 Things Govt Could Have Done To Stop the Delhi Riots

The law, judgments and precedents are unanimous: the police are empowered, can and must take urgent action to curb rioting. As former police chiefs tell us, the Delhi riots could have been stopped at many levels and stages. They were not. First published in Article-14.


New Delhi: The toll in the deadliest communal riots—doctors reported gunshot wounds, crushed skulls and torn genitals—in India’s capital since Independence is now up to 46 with hundreds injured, the majority of those Muslims.

Over three days from 24 February 2020, violent mobs shot, bludgeoned and stabbed people and burnt houses, shops, marketplaces and mosques. Journalists covering the riot were heckled, threatened and beaten.

Many Muslim and Hindu residents agreed on one characteristic: even as truckloads of unidentified masked men poured in, the Delhi police either stood by or went missing. One account said Hindus praised the police for saving lives, while Muslims said their calls for help went unanswered.

Did the Delhi police and the home ministry, which controls the city police, do enough? Could they have stopped the riots from escalating in northeast Delhi, one of India’s most densely populated districts, amongst the poorest of the capital’s districts and one with the largest Muslim population?

Yes, they could and should have, former police officers told Article-14. The result, according to Ashutosh Varhsney, professor of Political Science at Brown University, who studied communal violence in India during the 1990s, was a “pogrom”.

A number of guidelines and statutes governing police action during communal riots, including specific sections under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), various Supreme Court judgements and observations (here, here and here), the Delhi Police Manual and government guidelines (here, here and here) on communal violence, are unanimous: the police must take urgent and immediate action to prevent and curb the riots and minimise damage.

Here is what the police and government could and should have done.

1) Act On Intelligence, Deploy Forces

The manner in which clashes began on 24 February 2020 had all the makings of a riot: urban, evidence of being stoked by “outsiders”, and engineered. Experts said conditions for a riot were taking shape, and the Delhi Police were best placed to track the contours.

“The month-long anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests in northeast Delhi, however peaceful, were the reason why the police should have been extra vigilant,” said Yashovardhan Azad, former Central Information Commissioner and Indian Police Service (IPS) officer. “Sudden eruptions do occur but all communal disturbances, by and large, develop over a period of time. So, solid steps must be taken right in the beginning.”

Local police stations have demographic profiles, records of past violence and disputes, helping them identify riot-prone areas and foresee potential conflicts, according to the Delhi Police Manual. Regular patrolling, deployment of personnel, contingency plans and regular and independent intelligence gathering from sources cultivated within local communities are other commonly followed measures.

Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) guidelines to district administrations on managing communal riots are clear about what the police must do with “prior knowledge”.

“With reference to the sensitive/hyper-sensitive areas as mentioned above, the district administration should anticipate possible development that can happen on certain occasions…so that escalated situation/riots etc. could be preempted/prevented,” say MHA guidelines.

2) Act Against Hate Speeches, Make Arrests

On the day Kapil Mishra of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) delivered an incendiary speech, threatening to clear out anti-CAA protestors, once US President Donald Trump left on the night of 25 February after his two-day visit to India, the intelligence wing and special branch of the Delhi police sent six warnings to deploy security forces.

“Northeast Delhi has a history of communal tension,” Maxwell Pereira, former joint commissioner of Delhi Police and retired IPS officer, told Article-14. “The police needed to act at the first sign of provocation…The first sign of provocation in the area came from Kapil Mishra. The police had ample time till this provocation erupted into a riot on the third day thereafter.”

The police could have immediately identified and detained people accused of provocative speeches, such as Mishra, or before him Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur, who urged people at an election rally in January 2020 to “shoot the traitors”. Neither the local police, the commissioner of police, the Lieutenant General or the Home Minister “took cognizance because the hate speech was against a minority community”, said Pereira.

“Police should have acted when these speeches were being made,” Ajay Raj Sharma, Delhi Police Commissioner from 1999 to 2002 told The Wire. “A person should have recorded these speeches and action should have been taken after the speech is completed.”

Under the law, Delhi Police are required to also act against hate speech under provisions 153C and 505A of the CrPC, which call for prohibition of incitement to hatred and fear, alarm, or provocation of violence in certain cases. More provisions under the IPC such as section 153A, 295A and 298 penalise “promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony” and “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”.

“The hate speech was recorded which makes it an admissible evidence in a court,” said Prakash Singh, retired IPS officer, who in 2006 Prakash Singh versus Union of India case in the Supreme Court (SC), pioneered a set of rules—most were never implemented—for police reform. “Hate speeches prepared the ground for the Delhi riot and they shouldn’t have been ignored by the police.”

The Delhi High Court slammed the police inaction and directed it to file FIRs against people for making hate speeches but the government counsel representing the police sought more time from the court saying the time was not “conducive to file FIRs”.

“Basic principle of criminal law is, any delay in filing of FIR is suspect, questionable and that much more vulnerable in its efficacy,” Pereira says. “The solicitor only bought time for the partisan government to evolve a strategy to save the individuals (their own party leaders) concerned.”

3) Detain Local Goons, Stop Unlawful Assembly

“Preventing a riot is far more important than containing it,” read MHA guidelines on communal violence.

When violence appears imminent, the police usually detain “history-sheeters”, commonly listed in police surveillance records and databases. History-sheeters are repeat offenders, put on a list by police stations for regular monitoring.

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention Act) 1967 or UAPA, gives police additional powers to act against communal activities of organisations or individuals by declaring them “unlawful”, where “unlawful” refers to any action, spoken or written words, which support or incite violence, or disrupt public safety and law and order.

The police were too slow to respond, accused of either inaction or complicity. In images emerging out of Northeast Delhi, police watched as rioters gathered iron rods and bricks, drove into residential areas, and attacked places of work and worship. Emboldened by police inaction, mobs ran riot.

In New Delhi’s Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, a 19-year-old man nearly lost his life because one of the rioters had pierced his skull with a drill. Nearly 21 died of gunshot injuries. A 26-year-old Intelligence Bureau officer was stabbed to death. In a video shot by a journalist, a group of agitated young men unleashed violence with sticks and bricks.

Each of these deaths and violent acts involved the use of harmful objects. These could have been prohibited by the police under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), CrPC, the UAPA and, specifically, section 30 of the Delhi Police Act, 1978, to prevent disorder and physical violence.

But, the rioters’ grip over Northeast Delhi’s public places of work, worship and community appeared tighter than that of the police, sparking criticism that the police were acting under political influence.

If implemented in time, the prohibition on arms and other dangerous objects could have minimised the death toll and the damage to public property.

Before the mobs arrived in riot-affected areas, various Police Acts and section 129 of the CrPC say that the police “may command any unlawful assembly, or any assembly of five or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace, to disperse” or “may proceed to disperse such assembly by force” to maintain public order.

Instead, policemen in riot gear stood next to political leaders and watched them speak. “Not only were they (Delhi Police) mere bystanders, they acted partisanly when they did,” Pereira said.

4) File FIRs Against Mobs Destroying Public And Private Property

When violent mobs unleashed destruction, a man in Jafrabad fired shots at policemen, while masked men armed themselves with bricks and stones in the background. In the ensuing fury, a scrap market in neighboring Gokulpuri was charred to ashes; numerous shops, cars and residential buildings met similar fates.

This loss or destruction of public or private property is punishable under different sections of the IPC, more importantly, Sections 141 to 153, which specifically relate to communal violence and breach of communal peace, and under the Right of Private Defence (IPC sections 96 to 106).

“Most of the violent acts have been captured on camera. A video is a good enough start for the police to register FIRs,” said Singh, referring to visual evidence of a mosque being burnedverified by the fact checking website Alt News as genuine—a saffron flag hoisted atop another.

This was one of the offences relating to disturbance created towards the practice of any religious worship or assembly under IPC sections 295 to 298. Till the evening of 27 February, no more than 18 FIRs 18 had been filed and 108 people detained.

5) Act Tough, Impose Curfew On Day 1

No curfews were imposed until the third day of the Delhi riots. “If the situation is spinning out of control, violence should be nipped in the bud instead of letting it fester. Timing is critical here,” said Singh.

Experts also referred to the image problem of the police: they needed to be seen to be tough and unsparing of any curfew violations, dressed “ideally” in riot gear and look like they mean business.

“The police must not just act but also look like a determined, swift and effective force right in the beginning,” said Azad. “Delay in tough measures often gives the mobs the impression that the police are either weak or indecisive, and that emboldens them and demoralises the police.”

Over 6,000 police men and women were on duty during the riots, an inadequate number to control the streets of one of Delhi’s largest constituencies, Azad said. One eyewitness accounts found some police terrified of a rioting mob.

6) Act Against Police Who Support Rioters (Which Is Not Easy)

Many policemen were seen taking sides during the Delhi riots, according to many accounts, joining the chorus of Jai Shri Ram, pelted stones with mobs, and where they did not, watched rioters, as they screened people by religion. In one video recorded by a journalist, policemen beat a group of inured Muslim men (one later died), asking them to sing the national anthem. To some reporters covering the riots, rioters said the police were “on our side”.

“The police must remain absolutely impartial in the handling of communal disturbances. …. Competent and selected officers should be posted to sensitive areas having a history of communal disturbances,” says the Delhi Police Manual Chapter 13.

Siding with rioters or standing by amounts to dereliction of duty, subjecting them to administrative measures, such as suspension or dismissal from service and criminal charges under the IPC for engaging in violent acts.

“Section 197 of CrPC, in fact, says on the prosecution of public servants that they are protected against offences only when they commit them during the discharge of their official duties,” said Suroor Mandar, a Delhi High Court lawyer and member of the legal collective, Lawyers for Detainees. The law requires prior sanction from the government for prosecution of such public servants.

“When any person who is or was a Judge or Magistrate or a public servant not removable from his office save by or with the sanction of the Government is accused of any offence alleged to have been committed by him while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty, no Court shall take cognizance of such offence except with the previous sanction,” says Section 197 of the CrPC.

Mandar added that the liability of the police for failing to ensure peace and security must also be established.

7) Encourage Dialogue Between Communities Through Their Leaders Religious polarization was at the core of the Delhi riots: it showed in hate speeches, sloganeering rioters and actions of mobs. In communal-charged situations where neighbors turn against each other in the name of religion, the Delhi Police Manual prescribes involvement of peace committees to defuse tense situations through dialogue and mediation.

“Such provisions involve the local communities and the state government, which doesn’t govern the police machinery in Delhi but is entrusted with initiating peacekeeping measures, as part of its civil administration duties,” said Mandar.

Yet, representatives of the state government, run by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), were accused of staying away from the scene of rioting. Represented by seven members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) and one member of Parliament, Northeast Delhi saw only one visit by an MLA on the fourth day of the riots: BJP MLA Ajay Mahawar met the family of the slain IB officer.

No peace committees were involved and none met during or after the riots.

(Pallavi Singh is a journalist and researcher in international political economy.)

My report as academic reference

This is just a delightful discovery. I have stumbled upon another book in which one of my reports on the RSS has been referenced. This was a 2018 release titled ‘Messengers of Hindu Nationalism: How the RSS Reshaped India’ by academics Walter Andersen, and Shridhar D. Damle.

Sec 144, CrPC: Is the law being misused? I find out

Here is a piece I wrote for Article 14 on Section 144 of the CrPC:

This is the law that has been used by the police only too frequently to put restrictions on anti-CAA protests across India. But is such frequent use an abuse of the law? Read to find out.

Highly curable if reported in time

Four diseases claim more than 24,000 lives in New Delhi . On top of the ‘killer list’ lies respiratory diseases. Heart diseases, tuberculosis (TB), and cancer come pretty close. Those who suffer, pay a big price — both physically and financially. Together, the four diseases affect more than 30 per cent of Delhi’s population. Such is the scenario that in government hospitals, there are more patients than doctors and beds; in many cases, science has not offered easy answers. This last story of a four-part series was first published in the Indian Express. Read here >>

Woe of the working class

Four diseases claim more than 24,000 lives in New Delhi . On top of the ‘killer list’ lies respiratory diseases. Heart diseases, tuberculosis (TB), and cancer come pretty close. Those who suffer, pay a big price — both physically and financially. Together, the four diseases affect more than 30 per cent of Delhi’s population. Such is the scenario that in government hospitals, there are more patients than doctors and beds; in many cases, science has not offered easy answers. This third story of a four-part series was first published in the Indian Express. Read here >>

Heat On Young Heart

Four diseases claim more than 24,000 lives in New Delhi . On top of the ‘killer list’ lies respiratory diseases. Heart diseases, tuberculosis (TB), and cancer come pretty close. Those who suffer, pay a big price — both physically and financially. Together, the four diseases affect more than 30 per cent of Delhi’s population. Such is the scenario that in government hospitals, there are more patients than doctors and beds; in many cases, science has not offered easy answers. This second story of a four-part series, first published in the Indian Express. Read here >>

Smoking Life Out of Delhi

Four diseases claim more than 24,000 lives in New Delhi. On top of the ‘killer list’ lies respiratory diseases, followed by heart diseases, tuberculosis (TB), and cancer. Those who suffer, pay a big price — both physically and financially. Together, the four diseases affect more than 30 per cent of Delhi’s population. Such is the scenario that in government hospitals, there are more patients than doctors and beds; in many cases, science has not offered easy answers. Beginning with COPD, a four-part series looks at these diseases, and how they affect Delhi.

Smoking Life Out of Delhi was first published in the Indian Express.


First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/lf1FezLBsjto8VKxCp79ZM/Vaak-a-newspaper-that-helps-brush-up-8216practical8217.html

Sanskrit: reviving the language in today’s India

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/RF9fH5Q1wNOBdI0R46SlkL/Sanskrit-reviving-the-language-in-today8217s-India.html

Will English become India’s weakness?

First published here: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/0L6cHNcnZ9nw7WlPU66PdO/Will-English-become-India8217s-weakness.html

Dalits look upon English as the language of emancipation

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/ItCo2HSpKjf98VvW8X4yAO/Dalits-look-upon-English-as-the-language-of-emancipation.html

The pitfalls of Linguistic Jingoism

First published here: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/0txPDNXphHIOmb2htIJ1UK/The-pitfalls-of-linguistic-jingoism.html

In a Paharganj lane, Sangh coaches IAS aspirants, a third of this year’s batch trained there

First published here: http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/in-a-paharganj-lane-sangh-coaches-ias-aspirants-a-third-of-this-year-s-batch-trained-there/311504/0

Wife, 3 kids hadn’t seen him for a year until police showed him on TV as HuJI arrest

First published here: http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/wife-3-kids-hadn-t-seen-him-for-a-year-until-police-showed-him-on-tv-as-huji-arrest/314187/0

Disquiet in Bharatpur over three ‘Jaipur’ arrests: cleric, teacher and a 15-year-old boy

First published in Indian Express: http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/disquiet-in-bharatpur-over-three–jaipur–arrests-cleric-teacher-and-a-15yearold-boy/315505/0

In this book of history, you are the hero

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/m0grFAuh6qGn4O09ieI5VI/In-this-book-of-history-you-are-the-hero.html

From Bhopal to London, quest for justice travels in a bottle

First published here: https://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/ld6IKPkZXNNR8k7hnYVp9L/From-Bhopal-to-London-quest-for-justice-travels-in-a-bottle.html

Neighbourhood B-schools: can they deliver?

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/QbtpPYTVCckhsFz9mNEGPJ/Neighbourhood-BSchools–High-on-promise-but-can-they-deli.html

Seeking interns in new political culture

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/jwEQuxKpEyAgKDTy0oxN8H/Seeking-interns-in-new-political-culture.html

25 years on, what’s next for Mayawati?

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/BfUgIQbCr0xrgTr6cdHfjK/25-years-on-what8217s-next-for-Mayawati.html

A woman sarpanch finds her place under the sun

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/MNfpZSM9Wlm8jzKFtUC4yJ/A-woman-8216sarpanch8217-finds-her-place-in-the-sun.html

Reading Hindustan in Bihar

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/Z1r7HfBhwKSstRvClBJ0cJ/Reading-8216Hindustan8217-in-Bihar.html

Bharti’s cellular theory of growth

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/trjewrH7xTTOmOj9tHSPcN/Bharti8217s-cellular-theory-of-growth.html

High on education

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/qYVv2AMqgAi6pW7WS6joeO/High-on-education.html

Hullabaloo in the Hinterland

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/p5VNtDHKPA1WbpxCKirCyO/Theatre–Hullabaloo-in-the-hinterland.html

Kamla Balan Bridge in Bihar – it’s a disaster waiting to happen

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/hXg4cJufdI5JSr5YbU0DoK/Kamla-Balan-bridge-it8217s-a-disaster-waiting-to-happen.html

The business of caste in India

Priyanka P. Narain and Pallavi SIngh

Mumbai/New Delhi: Images of adventure reside in their collective memory—journeys into the cobbled streets of Antwerp to compete with powerful Hasidic Jew merchants for grubby stones, which, when polished and cut, would sparkle and dazzle. The journey that transformed the Palanpuri Jains from cloth and perfume traders into moguls of the diamond empire was challenging: The language of Antwerp was strange to their ears and its exotic meats forbidden to their vegetarian palates. But during those days of mercantile entrepreneurship, this community coped with challenges together and forged ties of kinship that “have survived till today and have provided the basis on which we have built this industry in India,” says Rajiv Mehta, chief executive officer of Dimexon Diamonds Ltd.

But to the Bunts of Karnataka—former warriors and landowners who created the famous Udipi restaurant chains, established restaurants, hotels and resorts—globalization has not been so kind. Raghu Shetty, who set up the first catering business in Mumbai in the late 1970s, says the community is unable to keep up with new Indian tastes. “The culture of five-star weddings, glamorous family and business events…and our job is not very rewarding. The children don’t want to run restaurants at street corners…you see all our old Udipis shutting down. No one needs them any more.”

These stories reflect the fact that there is no clear answer to the question: How have community businesses adapted to India’s growth in a globalized world? There is little data to go by and anecdotal evidence meanders in all directions.

Business legacy: Diamond merchant Pankaj Shah (wearing a garland) leaving for his first trip to Antwerp in 1972. He had relatives in Antwerp who ran brokerage firms through which he could buy the rough diamonds he would select. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Claiming that economic cooperation was the basis of defining caste, Roy says that “these (caste-based) groups are protecting access of outsiders to assets—be it skills, people, capital…sometimes successfully, sometimes not. They are guilds, rooted in blood, rather than rules. The ties run so deep that if anyone breaks a business rule, they can be excommunicated from the community.”

And because of the efficiency of this economic model, many communities have drawn inspiration from this idea over the ages, “and that is unlikely to change. I see no reason why world markets would not help caste-based community business to expand their business and strengthen their ties. Of course, some communities will prosper, others may not. For instance, the Marwaris—who had prospered in the last century as the manufacturing community—did not do so well after. But I believe the idea will endure,” said Roy.

Also Read previous stories in the series

Diamonds are forever

Among the Palanpuris, diamonds have created a mutual dependence that has not only endured but also thrived in a globalized world.

“Thirty years ago, when I was growing up, we were trained to think that one day, we will also play with these shiny stones,” says Mehta, splaying imaginary diamonds on the table as he speaks. “You cannot underestimate how much power that knowledge gives—you become a risk taker, you are willing to put yourself out on a limb if it will expand the business for your sons who are there with you. That kind of quick, risky, urgent decision making can never happen in a corporate setup,” explains Mehta.

Over the last 50 years, they have trained their sons in the art of identifying diamonds among stones in the diamond bazaars of Antwerp. Pankaj Shah, a diamond merchant, remembers his Antwerp trip of 1972—the time he began to choose rough diamonds that held most promise of dazzling when polished.

“I was 20. My family thought it was time for me to learn. At that time, relatives used to live in Antwerp and run brokerage firms. We could select diamonds ourselves, but we could buy diamonds only through a brokerage firm. So we stayed in homes of relatives. Since we were Jains—there were no vegetarian restaurants in Antwerp at that time—we ate in their homes. We simply selected the rough diamonds we wanted to buy and the brokerage firm would complete the formalities and export them to us.” Those with no family lived in cheap, hovel-like hotels, ate at common Jain kitchens and practised their trade.

In an open world economy, Palanpuris have taken their business to far-flung countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas and while “it’s hard to give exact figures in this industry, the Palanpuris have retained 60-70% of the market…as long as the world needs diamonds and succession remains intact, I think we will stay in the game,” says Mehta.

New opportunities

For the Oriyas, the last two decades have meant opportunity—to get a job, to live in a city, to educate their children, to give them a better life. Opportunities that they grabbed together, helping each other along the way, each man pulling a few kinsmen out of a bleak hole.

Like Niranjan Parida did.

On a January morning of 1993, a?teenaged Parida boarded a Delhi-bound train with a thousand rupees, without informing his family. He says he ran away from his home to escape the purposelessness that had seeped into his village, Ratnapur in Kendrapada district in Orissa, where the only opportunity available was for daily wages. “That is not (what) I wanted to do,” says Parida.

His impulsive journey to the national Capital is not a lone migrant story, but a chain of migrations of scheduled caste Oriyas who have escaped the bleakness of Orissa’s villages, curiously enough, for plumbing jobs.

When Parida arrived, he knew no one and spoke little Hindi. He pounded the streets for a job, slept on footpaths—till he happened to meet a woman from his village. “Her husband was a contractor for plumbing jobs in Delhi. She took me home and he trained me in plumbing,” he says.

Within months, he began to land contracts. Seventeen years later, thin and blackened from working in the unforgiving Delhi sun, he makes Rs10,000-12,000 per month. He also does what he insists people of his community have traditionally done—bring people from the village for plumbing jobs. “I brought almost a dozen people from my village here. I train them and get them employed,” he says.

But plumbing is not the only job that the community does. Chandrakant Sahu, who speaks better Hindi than Parida, explains how the community also helps Oriya kinsmen become electricians. When Sahu migrated to Delhi from Orissa’s Betali village, a relative got him a job at an electrical shop. Now, “Parida suggests my name for electrical fittings in the house where he is working. His good at his work, his recommendation matters,” he says, referring to a system where they try to secure contracts for kinsmen. “We have a human network (that) helps each other since we are emotional about our roots,” he says.

Changing with the times

And yet, for the Bunts—who created the chain of Udipi restaurants, took over the Irani tea houses, bought hotels, established catering businesses, highway eateries and dhabas in the city to escape the bleak poverty of their villages—the changing world has not heralded similar good news, but nor has it broken the spirit of collaboration among kinsmen.

For many reasons, the Shettys are finding it hard to stay afloat. Jairam Shetty explains, “First, so many other communities—Gujaratis, Marwaris and Punjabis—have come in and taken away our market. We could not cater to all those tastes nor compete with the money they brought in. Secondly, in the last few years, international hotels have come to India. They serve international cuisines and tastes have changed. Also, marriages have become very fancy. Finally, succession is a problem since business isn’t glamorous and the children do not want to take over. We are just waiting until they are settled.”

For those who built the business from the ground up, the change is bitter-sweet. “We are happy that our children have more opportunity than we did. That is what we wanted when we came to Mumbai. Our community is still very strongly interconnected, only now we are focusing on education and social issues. This business has brought us so far—now it might be time to slowly move to better things as a community together, supporting each other,” says Raghu Shetty, owner of Santosh Catering, and the uncrowned grandfather of the Bunts in Mumbai.

Like many others, Shetty was a teenager when he left his ancestral village near Mangalore for a better life in Mumbai. For 20 long years, he worked in a little restaurant in Worli— washing dishes, cleaning tables, then waiting at them and gradually, becoming a manager. “All the while, I watched the chef. I learnt cooking, everything about it, and when the time came, I started my own catering business in the city,” he says. Jairam Shetty, owner of Ajanta Caterers in Mumbai, says: “This business is not very capital-intensive. We just needed a supportive human network, and that we had.”

That collaboration still exists, says 67-year-old Raghu Shetty. “We want families of the community to do better with every generation. If the catering work will not take us further, then it is time for us to leave it behind and find another opportunity that will give our children a better life,” he smiles. “As long as the community supports each other and stands as one, it will all be okay…”

This is the second of a five-part series on the changing role of caste in a globalized India.

This story was first published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/fyUT0NGkceCnI4yHxWiwxM/The-business-of-caste-in-India.html

Bihar’s IIT dream

Patna: Along the busy Rajendra Nagar flyover in Patna, the skyline is dotted with huge, irregularly placed hoardings. More than a hundred in number, they congregate with a purpose: to help every child in the city enter the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), the country’s premier technical institutes.

This dream caught Navneet Rajan’s fancy when he was struggling to balance his aspirations and limited means at the Patna Muslim High School. He enjoyed chemistry and mathematics; and the slogan in the neighbourhood only helped concretize an idea: “Do not be a chemist; become an IITian.”

To make things easier, he, like thousands in previous years, did not have to set out for Kota, the city in Rajasthan which has become synonymous with the IITs for the sheer number of coaching institutes. All of them train students for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), conducted for admission to the IITs.

Rajan signed up with JEE Classes, a newly launched coaching institute that caters to Patna’s IIT aspirants. The coaching institute says it delivers on Kota’s promise—but with cheaper fees that can range from Rs25,000 to Rs60,000 a year. Coaching in Kota can cost a student on an average Rs15,000-20,000 more, excluding travel and accommodation expenses.

Rajan is one of 700 in his batch, where several batches add up to a student strength of 1,500. In a class resembling a downtown garage, the students make several rows of intent listeners as their teacher writes equations on the blackboard and addresses the class through a microphone. In a peculiar gender divide, girls occupy the front benches; boys sit in the back rows. Yet, as ambitions go, they all think equal. Everyone here hopes to get into the IITs; an average one of 5,000 aspirants qualifies for the JEE every year.

Elsewhere, too, this dream has triggered a deluge. The city of the working class and small-time traders is now waking to a smart new set of coaching institutes that promise a seat in the IITs. Coaching class owners recall that about a decade ago, there were around 300 such institutes, that helped students get admission to both medical and engineering colleges. Today, an estimated 1,000 such coaching institutes are run here, positioning IITs as tickets to a dream job and promising to make Patna “the next Kota”.

More than a hundred new classes have been set up in the last couple of years, thanks to several coaching institutes from Delhi and Kota setting up branches.

Here, success stories from the big cities are seeping into the psyche of the middle class and fuelling ambitions. Just last year, Shitikanth, who uses his first name only, from a school in Patna secured the top spot in the JEE. That was 27 years after another student from the state hit the merit list with a second position in 1981.

In recent years, at least a thousand students from the state have made it to the IITs, with more than half the number coached at the home-grown training institutes. Super 30, a tent house coaching institute for the state’s underprivileged, is now the best fable in town.

As local tales go, one doesn’t just need to make way through littered alleys and roughshod roads to reach the institute, also known as the Ramanujan Mathematical Academy. There is a stringent entrance test to qualify for admission and for 30 seats, about 5,000 apply every year.

For the deserving, boarding and food are provided at two small student lodges in the midst of the cacophonous town, at a meagre Rs6,000 a year.

Poring over a thick book in one of the barely furnished lodges, Kumod Ranjan, 18, is unconcerned about the lack of a ceiling fan in his room. “Sweat keeps us burning. What if we sleep during study hours?’’ he says.

In less than three months, he along with 29 other promising mathematicians, picked from economically weaker sections, will appear for the JEE.

According to house tradition, each one of them has to qualify because they are what make the Super 30, an initiative launched by founder Anand Kumar along with top cop Abhyanand.

Six years ago, 18 of the Super 30 students cracked the IIT entrance. The number rose to 22 in 2004 and 26 in 2005. Last year, it recorded 100% success.

Then, for the lesser equals, there are various options: Genius Forty, Fantastic Fifty and Stupendous Sixty, styled after Anand’s Super 30.

Bhupesh Kumar, founder of Genius Forty, says it’s not about aping anyone, however. “We are into welfare initiatives. We are doing some good work,” he says, adding that his institute picks up 40 students to coach for the IITs every year at heavily subsidized fees.

At Vision Classes, however, ex-IITian and founder K. Singh’s slogan for the institute—“Let’s make Patna the next hub for IIT coaching”—also makes profound business sense. After 11 years at a coaching institute in Kota, Singh returned to his hometown last year to arrest the flow of students to the Rajasthan town.

“Our dream is to set up a system which stops the brain drain from here. Bihar loses approximately 30,000-40,000 students to coaching centres in Delhi and Kota every year,” he says.

Singh’s vision is already seeing results. Sujata Kumari, 18, who coached for a year at Kota’s famed Bansal classes, along with two others, joined his institute as soon as it was set up. “My parents didn’t have enough money to pay for another year. Here, teachers have experience from Kota and the classes match that quality,” she says.

But competition for the likes of Vision Classes has grown tougher. While institutes such as Delhi-based FIIT-JEE and Kota-based Daswani Classes and Resonance have already made deep inroads in the flourishing business, several others like Sahil Study Circle and Vidhyamandir Classes have also stepped in with glossy brochures and air-conditioned classrooms over the last couple of years and are offering attractive discounts. “We have kept our fees 30% lower than the fees being charged at our Delhi centres. This offer is open only to students from Bihar,” says Amit Singh, administrator at Sahil Study Centre in Patna, which is headquartered in Delhi.

Many of the locally set up institutes, therefore, including Singh’s, have aggressive marketing strategies in place to meet the competition including launch of websites to attract outstation students also, free T-shirts with the institute’s slogans and coffee mugs and tie-ups with local schools to tap the IITs aspirants at a young age.

At JEE Classes, administration head Balaji, 30, with an engineering degree from IIT Bombay and a management course from Xavier Labour Relations Institute in Jamshedpur, is using his four-year stint in the corporate sector to hard sell JEE as the city’s premier coaching institute. “The education sector in Patna is booming and this is the time to erect good infrastructure and teaching facilities for students here,” he points out, adding that in the last one year, JEE Classes has grown to four centres in the city. “We hope to enrol 4,000 students this year.”

But as with any thriving business in Bihar, there are challenges too. Kumar, whose Super 30 now holds a near-iconic status and has featured in international media regularly, has survived two fatal attacks in the last five years. He blames it on bitter professional rivalry. “There are coaching institutes who do not want us to grow,” he says.

Today, most prominent coaching centres in the city have hired private security guards, from Vision Classes to JEE Classes, though few admit that deepening rivalry is now posing grave dangers.

In Kumar’s case, this perhaps means living life dangerously. He has a posse of security guards provided by the state police to accompany him each time he steps out of home.

This story was first published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/v830E5UueFnlzqhG8Ln34N/Bihar8217s-IIT-dream.html

Patna’s Brave New Nights

Pallavi Singh

That hot June afternoon in 1992 left an indelible imprint on Shanker Dutt’s memory. “June 5, in fact, let me tell you,” he says matter-of-factly.

The professor of English was at Patna University’s Darbhanga House, the heritage precinct where postgraduate classes for literature students are held, attending a farewell function for one of his colleagues. “Some of the students wanted to gatecrash. They were prevented from doing so but one of the students broke the glass of one of the doors and fired a shot,” he recalls.

The bullet hit Dutt, who was on the dais, in the wrist, “shattering all the bones”. Yet, when they took him to the doctor, he was reluctant to disclose how he had been injured. “A bullet wound meant a medico-legal case. One of my colleagues told the doctor I had tripped but the doctor, of course, figured it out,” he says.

It was Dutt’s first experience of fear in the city of his birth. By the 1990s, the historical capital was a hub of notoriety and lawlessness, a classic case of cow-belt indiscipline, perversity and despair.

Party zone: (Top to bottom) Dak Bungalow Road, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, is lined with new hotels and restaurants; and a group of teenagers celebrate Nishant Kumar’s (in black) 13th birthday at Yo! China in Bandar Bagicha; Kapil’s Eleven restaurant does brisk business on weekday evenings; the Saturday night show at Mona cinema is sold out; Maurya Lok complex is crowded despite the late hour; and the renovated precincts of Chhaju Bagh police station
In the four years since chief minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar took over, 317 criminal cases have been reported, against 1,393 such cases in 2000-04. Speedy trials ensured a total of 38,824 convictions—in mostly theft, murder, extortion and kidnapping cases—between 2006 and 2009. Most of Bihar’s infamous dons are in jail, including Shahabuddin, the former Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) politician who once went live on television, daring the state police to arrest him.

As evening approaches, police vehicles zip down the streets; dozens of policemen are stationed at corners. At newly renovated police stations (the state’s recent move to improve these battered posts has added to police confidence), officials actively attend to routine complaints.

Emboldened by the improvement in law and order, people in Patna have now embarked on a nightlife that assiduously chronicles middle-class ambitions, its appetite for change and hunger for recreational options.

Prabhat Kaushal, a garment shop owner, didn’t think it was risky to allow his 13-year-old son Riddiman a night out with friends—unlike earlier, when businessmen were hesitant to venture out late at night for fear of extortion and kidnapping. Kaushal dropped his son at casual dining restaurant Yo! China where bright lights from the wood-crafted ceiling illuminated the faces of 10 teenagers.

Outside, the evening is just getting started. Mobile vans and food stalls at the Maurya Lok Complex, Patna’s answer to Connaught Place, are busy rustling up freshly cooked Chinese and south Indian food, as people saunter in.

Yet, for Riddiman and his friend Nishant Kumar, Yo! China in Bandar Bagicha was just the right place for Kumar’s birthday bash. His voice brims with excitement as he explains: “Here, it’s air conditioned and we can order till midnight.” It was the 13-year-old’s first birthday celebration outside his home—but then this year is different, he remarks. “Now, all my friends hang out till late in the restaurants and so my father eventually agreed for me to treat my friends at a hotel,” the class VIII student at the city’s DAV Public School says. The online call registry Just Dial now has more than 150 restaurants on its Patna list, most of them less than five years old.

At Mona, one of the city’s oldest cinema halls and now converted into a multiplex, all weekend shows for the 9pm to midnight slots are “house full”, says manager Ajay Kumar Kataruka. “There was a time when we had to cancel late-night shows. Now, we don’t have tickets for people coming in late,” he says.

Different service sector players have reached the state, almost a decade after most metros saw the first wave, and consumers have lots of options. Yo! China’s many competitors include local entrepreneurs and national restaurant chains such as Kapil’s Eleven, owned by cricketer Kapil Dev; for leisurely evenings, there’s the Patna Golf Club or the Country Club International.

At the Bankipore Club, Kavindra, a businessman who uses only his first name, has been a member for more than 40 years. He recalls, “People would try to get out early and move together in groups to any specified destination so that numbers give them a sense of strength.” Now, of course, the club—like several others—has been revamped and is packed to capacity till midnight. The world where RJD’s Lalu Prasad threatened to cancel the lease of the Patna Golf Club seems very distant.

While Patna welcomes the new, significant attention is being paid to the old, neglected cultural centres. Kalidas Rangalaya, one of Patna’s oldest theatres, rescued from decay, stages plays round the week; BSNA, a state-run organization for the promotion of art and culture, hosts regular cultural programmes at the Bhartiya Nritya Kala Mandir auditorium. This is where weekend cultural events—Shukr Gulzar (Friday Bloom) and Shani Bahaar (Saturday Spring)— have also come up in the last two years.

“Art and culture follow only in a secure environment,” says Kavindra.

At the Cine Society, often fabled to be “as ancient as Patna”, its 50-odd members try to revive “the old days” twice a month—harking back to the time when they would screen rare classics. In the 1960s, the club used to import cinema reels from Europe for film screenings.

Bereft of an auditorium, society members now convert the patients’ waiting room at the Sen Laboratory diagnostic centre into an auditorium for screening movies—the Laboratory owner is a Cine Society member.

“In the 1970s, there were more than 300 members and films would be screened at the very spacious hall of the Indian Medical Academy. There are never too many people now since more entertainment avenues have opened in the city, but we haven’t stopped,” says Dutt, who is a member of the Cine Society.

At the historic bridge over the Ganga on the outskirts of the city, the youth have found their new pulse. Mahatma Gandhi Setu, one of the longest river bridges in Asia, weighed down by years of decay and traffic, now gets a fresh set of visitors after dusk—restless, and often in love.

This story was first published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/joE8FeeEqPi7zoMOih00RK/Patna8217s-brave-new-nights.html