A week in India: Soulmate day, the gender pay gap and gold smuggling

Bangalore Letter: The stories informing national debate in The Times of India

A newspaper salesman in India organises his stock.  Photograph: Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

A newspaper salesman in India organises his stock. Photograph: Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Times of India has been in existence since 1838, and remains India’s most high-profile and influential newspaper. Earlier this month, I spent a week in Bangalore, and each morning, a copy of the newspaper arrived at my hotel door. Here’s a snapshot of what I learned about India in a week from reading it.

Sunday

A congress campaigner known as Vijayashanti commented publicly that India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, “looks like a terrorist because of his acts”.

This is the paper’s “Soulmate” day, when potential brides and grooms place small ads, seeking their life partners. One reads: “Son of industrialist family, very fair, very handsome, 5’9”, aged 30. Ivy League educated, highly qualified, working in top US multi-national corporation, earning in eight figures. Seeks very beautiful, very fair girl of cultured background.”

Another: “Groom wanted for beautiful, slim girl, 27, working in reputed IT company. God-fearing Christian. Send cv and pic.”

And a third: “Match sought for handsome fair boy, 30, on anti-epileptic drug (no health issues) seeks girl below 29. Religion or caste no bar.”

Monday

A businessman in Mumbai who had undergone a hair transplant the previous week involving 9,500 grafts, died two days later for reasons still unknown.

“It’s 2019, why are women still getting paid less than men?” was the headline on a page of contributions from women in the public eye writing about the gender pay gap. “The 25-40 per cent pay gap between men and women’s earnings in corporate India is among the highest in the world,” reports Soniya Yadwadkar, managing director of a consulting company.

Tuesday

The government is making a “final push for women safety before elections”. This story reports that eight cities across the country have been selected to participate in a number of new initiatives intended to protect women from potential sexual abuse. These include “transit dormitories for working women” at metro stations; dedicated phone lines for women “in distress”; and “on-board video feed sharing”, which could enable women police officers in Delhi to “view live feed on their vehicle dashboards of women in distress sending out an SOS.”

Wednesday

Last year, there were a staggering 1.49 lakh road fatalities throughout India. (A lakh is a hundred thousand.) “It’s one of the consequences of driving behaviour not keeping pace with improvement in quality of roads,” was the consensus of the piece. It also noted that road users needed to “follow traffic rules to make roads safer for all”.

Two smugglers had been apprehended the previous day at Bangalore’s international airport. Both had been smuggling gold in from the Middle East. One had brought gold melted down and remade in the form of padlocks and door fittings. The other was “wearing an underwear filled with gold paste”. Airport officials were reported as suspecting that the gold was “scheduled to be delivered to members of a gold-smuggling ring waiting outside the airport”.

Thursday

Buried on page five was a story about a newly wed 24-year-old woman who took her own life after being allegedly harassed for more dowry payment by her new husband. Although dowry payments to a bridegroom, in the form of either money or goods, is illegal, the practice continues in many parts of India. In this case, a substantial sum of money had been paid to her husband before their marriage. The story reported that he then pressurised her for yet more money, once they were married.

Friday

“Why doesn’t India have more sheroes?” was the title of a story about an online petition challenging stereotypical gender roles in Indian cartoons. “When children see girls as weak and meek, and boys as strong, the stereotyping builds a patriarchal mindset which lasts well into adulthood,” stated Almas Virani, who started the petition to make a female character in the popular cartoon, Chhota Bheem, stronger and more assertive.

Saturday

“Did you know that the best-quality eggs always settle down at the bottom of a bowl of water?” This is the curious opening line of a full-page ad for plots of land at a place called the County Address. The homes that will be built there, among 24 acres of greenery, are “plotted to make your future safe, secure and boundless”. Judging by the number of ads every day for apartments in brand-new developments, the property industry for the middle classes is booming across India. The County Address sites will include the amenities of a 6,000-tree forest, a “lavish” clubhouse and CCTV throughout. It’s “eggcellent quality you can count on”, the ad assures potential buyers.

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