A teacher in central Delhi accused of prostituting her own students

August 31st, 2007 Tina

Riots erupted yesterday afternoon in central Delhi after news broke that a local teacher was peddling her underage female students in a homegrown prostitution ring. Uma Khurana, who teaches math at Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, a government-run school in the Daryaganj area, allegedly drugged her students, took nude pictures of the girls, and then blackmailed them with the photos. Khurana reportedly forced the girls, aged 15 to 18, to make pornographic films and engage in prostitution.

Early Thursday morning, the private Hindu news channel Live India aired footage of a sting operation featuring Khurana. A reporter for the channel posed as a potential customer and struck a deal with the teacher for time with one of her students. Khurana was filmed accepting money during this transaction. The report also included an interview with one of the girls, who explained how Khurana had blackmailed and threatened her and her fellow classmates.

Following this broadcast, hundreds of enraged parents and protesters stormed the school in hopes of finding Khurana. At the time of the initial riot, 600 students and 25 teachers were inside of the school. Police arrived in time to escort the students and the teachers to safety, but only after the crowd had managed to find Khurana and thrash her repeatedly. Officers eventually separated the teacher from the mob and brought her to a nearby hospital to have her injuries treated.

With Khurana gone, the protesters directed their attention towards motorists and shopkeepers in the area. The riots lasted over five hours, and police were forced to set off teargas shells to calm the angered citizens. Over 30 vehicles were damaged during the riots, including a police gypsy that was set on fire in front of the Delhi Stock Exchange building. A Blueline bus was also stoned after its passengers were first removed and beaten. Reports now claim that 22 people were injured in these attacks.

This is not the only recent case of an Indian mob taking the law into their own hands. The police have searched Khurana’s home and school officials are currently looking into the serious allegations against the teacher.

Tata Motors Leads the Way for Low-Priced Cars

August 7th, 2007 Tina

In the next few years, you can expect to see automobile prices plummet, particularly in the subcompact classes. Thank Tata Motors for inspiring this rapid race to build cheaper cars, which could cause the cost of certain types of vehicles to drop as much as 40 percent in the next few years.

As the creator of India’s first indigenously designed and manufactured cars, Tata announced in 2003 that it planned to launch a safe and modern automobile with a price tag of $2,500. As of now, it looks as though Tata will release the car by the end of 2008.

Industry executives dismissed the proposal from India’s largest automobile manufacturer at first, calling the inexpensive model nothing more than a “four-wheel bicycle.” But Tata’s car houses a 33-horsepower engine, reaches speeds of around 80 mph, and supposedly can pass various crash safety tests. These qualities will no doubt satisfy the majority of consumers in the market for a basic, economical automobile, especially if they reside in emerging areas like China, India, Brazil, and Russia.

Global companies that were weary of Tata’s strategy at first are now striving to meet the challenge that the Indian car maker has set forth. In the next four years, the demand for automobiles priced under $10,000 is expected to increase by 50 percent and reach 18 million cars. Automobile conglomerates such as Toyota, Volkswagen, Fiat, GM, Chrysler, and Hyundai have all recently announced plans to develop models that will fall within this price range. The French corporation Renault-Nissan hopes to compete against Tata directly with a car of its own priced under $3,000.

Countries like India are generating serious opposition in the small car market because of affordable engineers and lower manufacturing costs. Companies such as Tata also have practice targeting customers on a budget, so executives know how and where to cut costs and decrease their spending.

This trend may also spread to more expensive models in the future. Methods and technology that companies are using to reduce the cost of manufacturing smaller cars out of necessity can be used in automobiles of a higher standard as well. With many corporations transferring to lost-cost factories and seeking out cheaper materials for their vehicles, the prices in all car classes have the potential to drop.

Despite some initial skepticism, and to the delight of car buyers everywhere, India and Tata Motors seem to be priming the automobile market for cheap cars, big competition, and lower prices for everyone.

Mirza Watches Helplessly as the 2007 Wimbledon Championships (and Three Devastating Losses) Pass Her By

July 5th, 2007 Tina

This past week at Wimbledon left fans of Sania Mirza frustrated and defeated, much like the Indian tennis star herself.

In her first loss on June 28, Mirza fell to Russian player Nadia Petrova in a singles match-up. Mirza believes that the strength of Petrova’s serves was the biggest obstacle that she faced in the match, commenting in a press conference afterwards that, “I felt on the whole I didn’t attack. I felt like I was on the defensive all the time. I was always three feet behind the baseline and I should have been on the baseline.”

In her interactive blog, the 20-year old wrote that: “The Russian has one of the biggest serves in the game and when it is functioning well, she is a very dangerous player to handle…I reckon Petrova has a chance of going the distance if she continues to serve like this.”

Undeterred by this initial disappointment, fans were still hopeful for Mirza’s doubles pairings. In the women’s event, Mirza was paired with Israeli Shahar Peer for the first time in two years. Religious issues tore the girls apart previously, with radicals enraged that Mirza, a Muslim, was paired with a Jewish player.

The girls insisted that their reunion at Wimbledon was not politically motivated, with Mirza stating that: “We are playing doubles together, period. I have a good forehand, she has a good backhand. That’s all we care about at this point.” Despite their athletic compatibility, Mirza and Peer lost to top seeds Lisa Raymond of the U.S. and Samantha Stosur of Australia in the second round.

In her final possibility for Wimbledon victory this year, Mirza’s partnership with mentor Mahesh Bhupathi in mixed doubles showed promise. The couple beat David Skoch and Janette Husarova easily in two sets (6-3, 6-4), but eventually fell to Marcin Matkowski of Poland and Cara Black of Zimbabwe.

The games continue on in London throughout the week, with India’s chances for a title now resting solely on the shoulders of Leander Paes.

Offshoring & Immigration Broadening the Job Market for India

May 24th, 2007 Tina

In a recent article by Barrie McKenna for globeandmail.com, the columnist describes the popular Indian novel One Night @ the Call Center and its plot revolving around the “obnoxious American customer who makes the lives of the Delhi phone operators miserable.”

McKenna goes on to say, “it’s a refreshing flip side to the Western caricature of the Indian call center worker as a job-stealer with a fake English name and tenuous grasp of the language.” The columnist poses the question of who the true victims in this situation are, and states his conclusion that, “Bollywood’s portrait may not be far off the mark.”

Despite his Canadian descent, McKenna’s opinion represents a possible shift in the original hostility of North Americans towards offshoring and the increased presence of foreign workers in their nation’s job market. This should come as good news to Indian citizens, who may encounter less interference when looking to take advantage of employment opportunities abroad.

Additionally, a new report from the technology firm Forrester suggests that China’s plan to oppose India as a major competitor in the offshore industry hasn’t panned out. The country’s presence in the offshoring market has remained somewhat stagnant, with experts verifying that China has a long way to go before it is considered a “key challenger to India for offshore supremacy.”

So it looks as though India remains dominant in the offshoring business, with some conceding that the practice may not be hurting the U.S. workforce as much as it was originally thought.

For those Indians uninterested in the prospect of the offshoring market and the reduced compensation that foreign workers receive, some U.S. states are looking to increase immigration to supplement projected job vacancies in the future. California predicts a steady increase in skilled jobs that require college-educated employees, and is hoping that an influx of international workers will help to fill the positions.

Educated foreign workers have gravitated towards California in the past, with one article on the California Progress Report site stating that: “the population of immigrants with college degrees has grown almost thirty-fold since 1960, and foreign-born residents now make up 31 percent of all California’s college graduates ages 25 to 64. Recent immigrants are also among the best educated ever to arrive in California: One-third of those who came between 2000 and 2005 had college degrees.”

Thus, for citizens of India interested in U.S.-related jobs, opportunities appear to exist both inside and outside of their home country.

Cable Dispute Keeping Fans From Cricket

May 23rd, 2007 Tina

With this year’s World Cup a painful memory, a dispute between cable providers is standing between outraged cricket fans and the Test match between India and rival Bangladesh.

The three culprits involved in the disagreement include Neo Sports (the channel that owns the telecast rights for the series), DTH operators, and cable operators. Those who bought into the “Direct To Home” craze, bypassing the need for cable operators, cannot even tune into Neo Sports. Furthermore, fans cannot watch the match on the national broadcaster Doordarshan because the channel refused to buy rights for the Test match under the assumption that it wouldn’t sell as much.

This forces many DTH users to watch the match at friends’ houses, and even more cricket fans to tune into the telecast through the Chennai-based, free-to-air network Raj TV, complete with Tamil commentary. This has millions of cricket fans throughout the country livid, and it looks to stay this way for the rest of the Test matches that Neo Sports is set to cover.

As for the broadcasts that many people were unable to access in their homes, which were hindered by rain, the two-match series is currently tied 0-0, with the last match set for Friday.

Istanbul Serves Up Another Devastating Loss for Mirza

May 22nd, 2007 Tina

Although tennis star Sania Mirza enjoyed her first doubles victory of the season at the Morocco Open earlier this week, she exited the Istanbul Cup today in the first round in a singles match-up against American Meghann Shaughnessy.

Seeded eighth in the competition, Mirza fell to Shaughnessy in two sets (4-6, 3-6) that lasted under ninety minutes. This upset comes after another disappointing first-round singles loss for the Indian athlete in the Morocco Open to Maria Emilia Salerni of Argentina. Coming off of a highly-publicized knee injury that lasted nearly three months, Mirza commented after the loss to Salerni that “it was frustrating to be there knowing what I wanted to do, but not being able to execute like before the injury. But that’s what lack of match play will do. I knew I’d be quite rusty and wouldn’t be anywhere close to what I wanted.”

Despite her stunning loss in Fes, Mirza quickly offset the defeat when she attained the doubles crown alongside American Vania King in the same tournament, a victory that represents her fourth WTA title and her first career title outside of India.

With Mirza’s loss to Shaughnessy in the Istanbul Cup coming just seven days after her individual upset to Salerni and three days after her explosive win with King, it appears that Mirza’s doubles success will not–for the time being–translate into success in her singles pairings.

Mirza and her fans continue to remain hopeful about future competitions, with the tennis celebrity’s candid blog offering avid supporters additional information about matches and the opportunity to hear from the star herself.

Government aims for tighter control of Internet services

May 15th, 2007 Rog

Asia Times reports that Telecom Regulatory Authority of India wants to implement stricter control over certain foreign Internet companies that serve Indian customers.

The agency wants providers of Voice over Internet phone services (VoIP) to register, pay a licensing fee, set up servers in India, and in other ways submit to the demands of the Indian government and its various agencies.

It is hard to believe that the proposed regulations will not have adverse impact on Indian consumers, in particular by driving up the cost of making VoIP calls to friends and family members overseas.

In other news, Business Standard reports on the telecom industry’s take on the legacy of former Communications Minister Dayanadhi Maran, who resigned yesterday.

Writes the Business Standard:

While GSM operators have supported Maran’s achievements, some CDMA operators say he failed to deliver. Meanwhile, the stock of Sun TV, owned by Maran’s brother Kalanidhi Maran, fell 4.3 per cent on the news of the resignation.

“He was the first minister who was not pro-CDMA. He set growth targets that looked ridiculous initially but he pushed us and achieved it,” said a member of the Cellular Operators’ Association of India, the body representing GSM operators.

“He was a GSM favourite, did everything to protect state owned telecom companies and instead of taking decisions on many crucial issues, he just leveraged those made by his predecessors,” said a member of the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India, which represents GSM players.

The rapid growth in the number of cell phone subscribers is overwhelming the assigned spectrum. With six million new cell phone subscribers every month, the government may need to cap the number of cellphone service providers to prevent signal quality and access from deteriorating further, according to Financial Express.

Beyond cricket: Nike sponsors soccer programming in India

May 7th, 2007 Rog

India Times reports that American sportswear company Nike has signed a three-year, $3.5 million deal with ESPN-Star Sports for Nike-branded soccer programming. Much like America is heavily focused on baseball and football, Indians are heavily vested in cricket, while soccer is the big game in most of the world. Even if Nike fails to grow soccer as a sport in India, it could still profit greatly from incresed sales of soccer-themed apparel in India.

The importance of establishing a wide footprint on the sub-continent is underscored by a report from McKinsey Global Institute that projects India’s consumer spending to top Germany’s by 2025.

Call for Advancement in India’s Technical Education

November 7th, 2006 Gladys

Only 9.3 percent of Indian youth ages 17 to 23 are currently receiving technical education, a figure sagging far below the average in countries like China and the United States. If the Indian workforce is going to continue to attract the attention of global IT companies, the country will need to accelerate its technical universities and nationwide technical education plans.

This is precisely the point made by the All India Council Technical Education (AICTE), convening at Chennai for the Indian Society for Technical Education’s (ISTE) state-level annual convention. The Council’s Vice Chairman, R.A. Yadav, spoke on the subject, encouraging technical institutions across the nation to band together in order to combat the ubiquitous deficiencies. In a field such as technology, it is particularly important that education programs are updated in order to match today’s constantly evolving field.

We are going to step into the future, which will be fully IT driven, globally integrated and vibrant. The need of the hour is to get updated, change faster and have a competitive edge,” Yadav urged. His sentiments were matched by those of N.R. Shetty, the President of ISTE, who pointed out that the enormous youth population of India will only remain in demand if technical institutions can offer quality education.

At the same time, in Chunkankadai, the former chairman of AICTE, S. Rame Gowda, offered advice for those who have been able to receive a technical education. Inaugurating the National Technical Symposium ‘Vision 2006′ at Vins Engineering College, Gowda praised the work ethic of students from rural areas, noting that those who come from poor economic background are often inspired to ahcieve more via their technical education. He wants Indian youth to aim higher than the many positions available at burgeoning call centers, explaining that these jobs are a waste of valuable skills. The potential in the Indian youth population is clearly present, but it is prevented from fulfillment by a currently inadequate network of technical education programs.

On the other hand, the situation, as it stands, doesn’t look terribly rosy. In his address at the National Technical Symposium, A.K. Patabi Raman of Tata Consultancy Services noted that only a fraction of engineering graduates were judged employable by major companies and receiving placements. Tata Group, for example, only hired 15 percent of those students graduating from India’s most prestigious educational institutions, such as Anna University.

In order to combat this problem, the Chancellor of Sathyabhama Deemed University suggested that Anna University should implement dual degree courses for technical students in all of its affiliated institutions. This might be one solution, but until the country can obtain more qualified teachers, talk of expanding current programs can be little more than just that: talk. It might be time for India’s education establishment to reexamine the possibility of foreign direct investment universities, so that the brightest potential educators—as well as engineers—stop leaving the country.

Happy Birthday, ShahRukh Khan!

November 2nd, 2006 Gladys

That’s right, the Badshaah (’King’) of Bollywood turns an unbelievable 41 today! ShahRukh Khan, who has been ruling hearts (and the box office) since Deewana was released in 1992, has earned his title through fifteen years of hard work. He has appeared in over 50 films, including hits such as Kabhi Khushi, Kabhi Gham, Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Na, Dar, Baazigar, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai and Devdas, among many others. His Hindi-language film Paheli (’Riddle’) was India’s entry for the Oscar foreign film category last year.

In some ways, however, Khan does not resemble a typical Bollywood star, as many of them living in the Mumbai area are famous for their wild birthday celebrations. “I am a reticent person,” Kahn confessed. “So there will be no party.”

Instead, he has planned to begin his birthday with an ultra-glamorous swing by his children’s school to drop them off! Other birthday activities include catching up on movies, working out, “fixing things at home,” and reading. This day of relaxation is a self-conscious choice for the star, who delayed a trip to Australia in order to spend his birthday at home with family and friends.

The one thing we can assume he won’t be doing is working on his personal story, because he purportedly finished writing his autobiography recently! Don’t look for it on the shelves anytime soon, though; with other third-person books about Khan on the market, he has explained that he’s in no rush to publish the manuscript. “My book is ready…I have it in my computer,” he explained, before adding: “Other people have beaten me to it.”

And the future? Khan is not concerned with where he will be in another decade. “I only see one hour ahead. I don’t think about the future. For me, the magic lies in the moment,” he said.

Our guess, of course, is that he will continue to charm audiences throughout his life. To take a cast an eye over the past fifteen years of King Khan’s work, check out the IndiaTimes Movies section, which has compiled favourite lines along with lesser-known facts in commemoration of his birthday.