The White Tiger: An Incisive Social Commentary on Religion, Caste, Class and Democracy in India

Few films about India offer the kind of incisive social commentary that the recently released "The White Tiger" does. Based on a novel of the same name by Aravind Adiga, it tells  the story of a poor but ambitious young man from a village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The film touches on religion, caste, class and democracy in India. It is directed by Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani and now available on Netflix. 

The White Tiger: Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra and Rajkummar Rao

The movie opens with a scene showing Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) looking back at his life. It follows up with a series of long flashbacks to tell his story. Along the way, Balram sarcastically compares India's democracy with China's sanitation system. “If I were in charge of India, I’d get the sewage pipes first, then the democracy.” Numerous scenes in the film illustrate poor sanitation in India by showing Balram and others squatting and defecating in the open

Raised in an Indian village, Balram is determined to rise above his "halwai" (confectioner) caste in India's rigidly defined caste system which makes any such escape extremely difficult. He persuades a corrupt landlord known as the Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar) and his son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) to give him a job as a back-up driver.  Ashok is married to Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), a chiropractor who grew up in the United States.   

Balram soon replaces the primary driver (Girish Pal) by revealing his Muslim identity which he was hiding to work for the Islamophobic Stork. Balram spends most of his time working for Ashok.  Ashok’s older brother, referred to as Mukesh Sir or the Mongoose (Vijay Maurya), doesn't  particularly like Balram. Unlike Ashok who has studied abroad, the Mongoose character accepts India’s culture of corruption and participates in it willingly. The Mongoose visits Delhi regularly to help Ashok distribute bags full of cash to politicians and bureaucrats. He also helps Ashok deal with his sadness when Pinky suddenly leaves him to return to the United States.  

The White Tiger is a well-made film. I recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the real life in India

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Comment by Riaz Haq on February 15, 2021 at 11:53am

Hate factory: Inside #BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s ‘Hindu Ecosystem’. Mishra is leading a network of over 20,000 people who are working in an organized fashion to create and spread hatred against #Muslims. #Hindu #Modi #Hindutva #Islamophobia #India

All the ecosystem members need to do is hit “Tweet” and, boom, Twitter spammed! If enough people spam it at the right time, the hashtag starts trending. Just scroll down this trend and you can spot the pattern easily.


If the ever-growing reality of Hindu Rashtra were one big Christmas, Kapil Mishra would be Santa Claus, and the members of his “Hindu Ecosystem” hardworking elves delivering the gift of religious hatred and bigotry, packaged in the seductive wrapping of Hindutva, to the masses, secretly but methodically.

On November 16 last year, Mishra, a former Aam Aadmi Party minister who is now with the BJP and has been accused of inciting the February 2020 Delhi carnage by the victims and activists, posted a tweet asking whoever was interested to fill in a form and join what he described as the “Hindu Ecosystem” team.

The form is straightforward – seeking such details as name, cellphone number, state and country of residence – but for one standout question. It asks the prospective footsoldier of the Hindu Ecosystem to state their “special area of interest” and, lest it wasn’t clear what that meant, gives a set of examples.

It also asks them to make a “declaration” about joining the group online and/or on the ground. Our curiosity was heightened and, of course, we had to join. We filled in the form and became members of the Telegram group. We were later added to other associated groups.

Thus we came to have a fly-on-the-wall view of how this ecosystem operates, how it creates propaganda material, how it comes up with toxic narratives, and how it manufactures trends across social media platforms to whip up communal hatred and bigotry, and, of course, support for Hindutva. Oh, they also share toolkits, like the one put out by the climate advocate Greta Thunberg to support the farmer protests over which the Delhi police have lodged an FIR, and arrested a young activist named Disha Ravi.

This is the sum of what we found: Kapil Mishra is leading a network of over 20,000 people who are working in an organised fashion to create and spread communal hatred.

Welcome to hate factory

On November 27, Misra posted a video for members of his network announcing that their first campaign would begin at 10 am that day, using the hashtag #JoinHinduEcosystem.

He said about 27,000 people had filled in the form and nearly 15,000 people had joined the Telegram group. Additionally, 5,000 people had signed up with the Hindu Ecosystem’s “Twitter team”. No points for guessing what social and gender groups the members came from: going by the usernames they were mostly upper caste Hindu men.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 15, 2021 at 11:54am

Hate factory: Inside #BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s ‘Hindu Ecosystem’. Mishra is leading a network of over 20,000 people who are working in an organized fashion to create and spread hatred against #Muslims. #Hindu #Modi #Hindutva #Islamophobia #India

As of publishing this story, we have exited all the groups as our journalistic fly-on-the-wall purpose has been achieved.

If you don’t yet fully grasp the gravity of what’s being done through groups such as the Hindu Ecosystem, allow us to spell it out: they are fountains of misinformation, propaganda, directed hatred. They create and spread, in an organised way, Hindu supremacist and anti-minority bile, and incite communal hatred.

We joined Kapil Mishra’s group without expectation, only to witness a factory of hate and propaganda operating in real time. Over 20,000 people are working in a coordinated way to incite communal hatred; it doesn’t matter what event pops up on their radar they quickly give it a hateful spin and turn it into a conspiracy theory, complete with readily shareable images, videos, and forwards to tap into the hate-network effect.

As we were about to exit the group, we saw the hate factory begin circulating a video that purportedly shows a mob attacking a house as the Delhi police stand by.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 16, 2021 at 4:26pm

In spite of all its problems Pakistan still offers better upward mobility than India, according to data from multiple independent sources.

Please read this:

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 17, 2021 at 4:22pm

#India's "Untouchable" #Dalits Face Discrimination by upper #caste #Indians in #US: “I was slowly pushed out of the Indian social circle among my colleagues, and then my errors were magnified by a Brahmin boss who made it difficult to keep working there"

When Nitesh (name changed on request) immigrated to Michigan to work for a Fortune 500 company, he was unaware that caste prejudices would follow him from his hometown in southern India.

The 44-year-old ended up working as a tech specialist at a company employing many high-caste Indians. Nitesh is a Dalit, a member of India’s lowest caste, once referred to as “Untouchables.” He enjoyed his job and got along well with his colleagues until one of them found out about his background.

“I was slowly pushed out of the Indian social circle among my colleagues, and then my errors were magnified by a Brahmin boss who made it difficult to keep working there,” he said. I hung on long enough to get a green card and moved to the Silicon Valley, but many companies there were headed by casteist Indians, who had a problem with working with a Dalit: I stopped hiding my caste.”

Most senior executives in the U.S. of Indian origin come from privileged high-caste backgrounds, with less than 2 percent of Indian immigrants belonging to lower castes. Nitesh and others interviewed by The Vertical say caste-based discrimination is rampant around the country.

According to study conducted by U.S. non-profit Equity Labs, two out of three Dalits reported unfair treatment in the workplace, and 60 percent of Dalits reported caste-based derogatory jokes or comments.

Last July, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a suit in a federal court against Cisco Systems for allegedly failing to prevent discrimination and harassment against a Dalit engineer.

“I walked out on this kind of behavior, but with the queue for green cards getting longer each year, those on H-1B visas deal with discrimination,” Nitesh says. “I started a marketing technology company in North Carolina and there’s been no looking back for me.”

Nitesh employs 30 people from several backgrounds. “Getting away from the Indian community was a blessing for me,” he adds. “Americans do not ask you your last name to deduce your caste and place you in a hierarchy.”

Nitesh says he hasn’t faced discrimination from white Americans or any minority group in the U.S.

Entrepreneurship as a tool of empowerment
Maya (name changed) came to the U.S. in 2008 on a T visa, which allows some human trafficking victims to remain in the country for up to 4 years, provided they help law enforcement investigate and prosecute their traffickers. She has since managed to acquire permanent resident status and now runs an Indian food catering business in New York City.

“We have a wide range of clients and I provide traditional food from Gujarat, but the dishes are modified for non-Indian clients to suit their palate,” she said. “Although the pandemic affected my business, we have managed to stay afloat.” Maya learned English after moving to the U.S. and employs 10 people.

“I find having my own business both liberating and empowering,” Maya adds. “Being a woman and a Dalit made it far worse for me in India, but here it is easier to blend into a wider multicultural society.”

In India, women from the lowest caste are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and sexual violence. On average, ten Dalit women are raped in the country every day by higher-caste men. Most of the offenders get away with their crimes.

Not all the Dalits that this publication spoke to wanted to hide their identities. Vijay Shanker, who is originally from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, moved to the U.S. as a professional in 2000 and became an entrepreneur six years later. He founded h3 Technologies, an information technology solutions company that focuses on consulting, product development, and staffing.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 27, 2021 at 4:18pm

Rooster kills owner at cockfight in #India. The bird had a knife attached to its leg ready to take on an opponent when it inflicted serious injuries to the man’s groin as it tried to escape. Cockfights are common around the #Hindu festival of Sankranti.

A rooster fitted with a knife for an illegal cockfight in southern India has killed its owner, sparking a manhunt for the organisers of the event, police said.

The bird had a knife attached to its leg ready to take on an opponent when it inflicted serious injuries to the man’s groin as it tried to escape, officers said. The man died from loss of blood before he could reach a hospital in the Karimnagar district of Telangana state earlier this week, local police officer B Jeevan told AFP.

The man was among 16 people organising the cockfight in the village of Lothunur when the freak accident took place, Jeevan said. The rooster was briefly held at the local police station before it was sent to a poultry farm.

“We are searching for the other 15 people involved in organising the illegal fight,” Jeevan said. They could face charges of manslaughter, illegal betting and hosting a cockfight.

Cockfights are banned but still common in rural areas of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Odisha states – particularly around the Hindu festival of Sankranti. Specially bred roosters have 7.5cm (3in) knives or blades tethered to their legs and punters bet on who will win the gruesome fight. Thousands of roosters die each year in the battles which, despite the efforts of animal rights groups, attract large crowds.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 27, 2021 at 4:21pm

Only 7% of urban #Indian #women have paid jobs.....the share of Indian women who actually find a perch in the workforce is lower than in #SaudiArabia, where 22% do. 53% of #Indonesian women have jobs.

But the dearth of working women in India is not simply a reflection of cultural preferences. Many women on the sidelines of the economy are not there by choice. They say they would like to work if they could. Were they all to get their wish, it would add over 100m women to the workforce, by one calculation. That is more than the total number of workers, male and female, in France, Germany and Italy combined.

Moreover, Indians are not as hostile to women in work as the employment numbers suggest. Their answers to questions like “Should men have more right to a job than women?” are more egalitarian than poll responses in Indonesia, where fully 53% of women pursue work outside the home. Despite that, the share of Indian women who actually find a perch in the workforce is a shade lower than in Saudi Arabia, where 22% do. And in so far as social attitudes do hold women back, they are not immutable. Indeed, employing women is often a catalyst for social enlightenment, rather than a consequence of it.


India will soon end China’s long run as the world’s most populous country. But by some projections its workforce will not exceed China’s until mid-century, even though Indians are much younger. One reason is that so few women in India are in paid work (see article). The International Labour Organisation says that only a fifth of adult women had a job or sought one in 2019, compared with three-fifths in China. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, a local research firm, put the share of urban women in or looking for work at just 7% in November.During the pandemic, women have typically been the first in India to lose their jobs and the last to regain them. School shutdowns have forced some to drop out of the labour force to look after children who would normally be in class. Young women who have been unable to study, train or work during the pandemic are being married off instead. That is a worrying development. Whereas women in other countries often withdraw from the workforce when burdened with a child, women in India drop out when burdened with a husband.Some would say that nothing should, or can, be done about this. If Indian women choose not to work outside the home, the argument runs, that is their business. Dropping out of the labour force is a status symbol for upwardly mobile households, showing they are able to get by on the husband’s earnings alone.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 28, 2021 at 6:37pm

According to the 2015 report of the Electoral Integrity Project, UK scored worst in Western Europe and most of its former colonies too were found at the bottom of the index. Interestingly like the oldest democracy, the largest ‘democracy’ of the world (India) too scored fewer points than the electoral systems of Bhutan, Brazil, Estonia, Mongolia and Chile. Pakistan’s scores were also shamelessly low. Overall, the EIP report concludes that in global comparison the Proportional Representative (PR) system generally performs better than the English (Westminster) system. In short, the largest and oldest ‘democracies’ appear to be losing relevance of their electoral system.

The comparisons highlight that Scandinavia and Western Europe are rated most highly in overall levels of electoral integrity, not surprisingly given the long history of democracy in the region. The rankings in PEI worldwide are led by Scandinavian states -- Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden –which also do well in most standard indices of the quality of democratic governance. At the same time, however, contrasts are observed in PEI-4.0 scores even among similar European Union member states and post-industrial societies; Mediterranean Europe usually performs less well than Northern Europe. The UK also scores exceptionally poorly compared with other European societies, with a PEI Index around 20 points less than the top ranking Scandinavian states.

In the Americas, even wider disparities can be seen, contrasting the cases of Costa Rica, Uruguay and Canada, all well rated by experts, compared with the low ratings for Guatemala, Venezuela, Honduras and particularly Haiti. Overall the United States ranks 47 worldwide out of all 139 nations under comparison, based on the 2012 presidential and 2014 Congressional elections, even before the bitterly divided 2016 campaign, the lowest score for any long-established democracy.

In post-Communist Europe, the power-sharing democracies, smaller welfare states, and mid-level income economies in the Baltics and Central Europe often do well in the quality of their elections today, including Estonia, Lithuania, and Slovenia, all scoring higher in the PEI Index than long-established majoritarian democracies such as India, the US, and UK. At the same time, Central Eurasia remains the home of several unreconstructed authoritarian states, which hold multi-party elections to legitimate ruling parties but with limited human rights, exemplified by the poor PEI scores observed in Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Belarus.

Asia-Pacific sees similar wide disparities, with the affluent post-industrial societies of Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and Japan heading the ratings, as well as Mongolia, which has made rapid progress in abandoning its Soviet past. Yet other countries in the region perform far worse in the PEI Index, notably Cambodia, Malaysia and Bangladesh.

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 1, 2021 at 1:05pm

It should also be obvious that civilian supremacy in and of itself does not mean such a state will also be a ‘democracy’. One can take a look at the Russian Federation and President Vladimir Putin to realise that; or one could take a flight to Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines or if one isn’t much for long-haul flights, perhaps land in New Delhi to realise that civilian supremacy does not automatically result in inclusive democracy. There are other examples, including in Europe, but I think the point should be obvious.

by Ejaz Haider

Years ago, I had coopted Dr Ilhan Niaz for a report on civil-military relations. After we had finalised the report, he sent me an email with some very interesting points. Here’s a gist: There are three types of states. The first are civilian states. The military is either no longer or never was integral to the political order of the state in the domestic sphere. Ilhan’s point was that many of the theorists I had cited in the report belonged to such states and regarded “their exceptional circumstances as normal and desirable.” His second type was civilian-led states. In such states “the military remains an integral component of the political order of the state, a major aspect of the ability of such states to maintain their coherence, and a guarantor of the ultimate state writ and sovereignty.” He cited the example of the French Fifth Republic, Russia, constitutional-democratic India, and market-socialist China as politically-diverse examples of this second type. One can say that many of the Latin American and South East Asian states would also fall into this category.


The prompt for these thoughts is the news I read a few days ago about Quaid-i-Azam University’s land issue. I first became aware of it in 2013. But after the Supreme Court of Pakistan took sou motu notice of the situation in 2017, I lost track of the issue thinking, it now seems naively, that after the SC intervention the issue must have been resolved. Until now, that is.

Back in 2017, the SC became seized of the matter after the QAU Vice Chancellor Dr Javed Ashraf sent a letter to the SC Registrar. In the letter the QAU VC alleged that the university’s land was “facing liquidation at the hands of land-grabbers, some of whom are so politically influential that the ICT administration and the Capital Development Authority (CDA) are unable to move effectively to even demarcate the university’s boundaries”

As one QAU source said to me, a slow process of re-demarcation did unfold after the SC took notice of it. Regrettably, by the time the process was completed CJP Saqib Nisar had retired and VC Javed Ashraf’s tenure had ended. Result: after a desultory anti-encroachment campaign in January 2019, the matter went into deep freeze.

But this is not all. The issue has been agitated by the university at all fora, including taking the matter to the offices of the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan. Nothing has moved. The only person whom the QAU has not appealed to is the Chief of Army Staff which, as the democracy argument goes, has no business arbitrating a civilian matter. It would be perfect if the government(s) could actually govern.

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 12, 2021 at 7:12pm

Coming out as #Dalit: how #Indian author Yashica Dutt hid her #caste to escape #discrimination in #India but finally embraced her identity after coming to #America | Global development. #Hindu #apartheid | The Guardian

Pretending not to be a Dalit took a heavy toll on the young Yashica Dutt.

Her mother, Shashi, was so determined to protect her three children from the discrimination of the Hindu caste system that relegates Dalits to the periphery of society that she pretended the family were Brahmin.

Shashi worked hard to find the money throw birthday parties, have curtains on the windows, and to follow traditional rituals correctly. But for the children it meant that one wrong word or gesture while playing with friends or buying sweets from a shopkeeper could expose the lie.

It was only after she had grown up, that Dutt, a writer and journalist, began to understand the trauma of her childhood. When she began therapy in Delhi six years ago, she simply asked her analyst: “Help me to live.”

“I was always second-guessing myself, wondering if I had said the right thing, asking myself ‘would upper caste people with happier childhoods have said it better or done it differently?’ I had so much doubt from feeling like an imposter,” she says.

Dutt recounts the story in her book, Coming Out as Dalit. It tells of her mother’s ambition to overcome poverty and give her children an education, without support and with an alcoholic husband. Dutt went to boarding school and then studied at St Stephen’s, perhaps the most prestigious university in India. She worked as a journalist in Delhi and pursued a master’s at Columbia University in New York, where she now lives and works for an advertising agency.

In the US Dutt, 34, discovered a parallel with her own experience. She heard some lighter-skinned African Americans talk of how they used to “pass” as white, assuming certain habits, tastes, language and mannerisms, just as her mother had mimicked those of upper caste Hindus.

As part of her book tour, Dutt was back in India appearing at the Jaipur Literature Festival last month; when the Guardian met her in a Delhi cafe, she cut a striking figure with her wav

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 13, 2021 at 4:15pm

Silk #slaves: #India's bonded laborers are forced to work to pay off debts. A 2018 report estimated around 8 million people in India were unpaid workers or held in #debt bondage. Some campaigners believe the true figure is much higher. #Modi #Hindutva

The state of Karnataka, located in southwest India, is known for its silk. Mulberry trees grow in abundance, feeding silkworms and a centuries-old textile industry. But while silkworms prosper here, many people in the industry do not.

In India, the average silk worker is paid less than $3 a day -- small compensation for an industry estimated to be valued at over $14 billion globally. Part of the workforce is trapped in bonded labor, a form of modern-day slavery in which people work in often terrible conditions to pay off debt.
Bonded labor was made illegal in India in 1976, but it never went away. A 2018 report estimated around 8 million people in India were unpaid workers or held in debt bondage, though some campaigners believe the true figure is much higher. Exactly how many are involved in the silk industry is unknown.
In January 2020, the CNN Freedom Project visited Sidlaghatta, a silk hub some 65 kilometers northeast of Bangalore, Karnataka, and met Hadia and Naseeba. This mother and daughter were forced by their "master" to work 11 hours a day, for which they earned just 200 rupees (about $2.75) to repay a 100,000-rupee (about $1,370) loan that had since doubled in size.

Naseeba had been working for three years in a silk factory, her mother nine years, boiling silkworm cocoons and removing the threads from which silk is made. The steam was foul and their hands bled, she said.

"(The master) came and he said to my mother, if you will not repay the money then we'll have a rich man and you will have to go and sleep with that man," said Naseeba.
"I'm afraid of the owner, because he has given us (a) home to live in," she added. "Where should we go? We cannot go anywhere. We don't know what he will do with us after (sees) this video."

Hadia and Naseeba concealed their faces on camera and agreed to be identified by CNN only after they had received their release certificates.
In India, bonded laborers can approach authorities requesting a certificate of release. If an investigation finds their case to be genuine, they are issued the certificate, which proves their debt is cancelled and entitles them to government assistance. The process can be lengthy -- sometimes taking years -- and can require bonded laborers to come forward to authorities in the face of social pressures and intimidation.
"It is very difficult to convince the bonded laborers (to go to authorities), because they feel that they are beholden to the masters or to the landlords who have helped them in the hour of their need," said Kiran Kamal Prasad, founder of Jeevika, an organization working to eradicate bonded labor.
Authority figures often come from the same communities as the keepers of bonded laborers, or are the same dominant caste as the landlords, Prasad explained.
"Very often, authorities are not implementing the (Bonded Labor System) Act," he added. "It takes a tremendous effort from us to make the officials do what they are supposed to do."
Life after forced labor
Jeevika has allies in people like Shiva Kumar, a senior local government official in Sidlaghatta.
"I grew up as a son of a bonded laborer," he told CNN. "The (bonded laborers) in the village think that this is their (fate). If they come forward with any complaints, we will file a criminal case against the landlord."
For Prasad, freedom is only the first step for the victims. "We want to build up the agency of the bonded laborers to (help) them secure justice for themselves," he said.


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