TIME India

In Unpredictable India, Security Services Embrace the Drone Revolution

Members of Sikh community stage a protest demonstration in Jammu against Uttar Pradesh government
Members of the Sikh community shout slogans as they burn tires during a protest in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on July 27, 2014. Jaipal Singh—EPA

South Asia's diverse topography, chaotic overpopulation and vast, unplanned cities make drones especially useful

Late last month, a land dispute in Saharanpur, in north India’s Uttar Pradesh state, snowballed into a riot between the local Sikh and Muslim communities, leaving three people dead and injuring over a dozen. Sadly, such clashes are nothing new in this highly polarized state of 200 million. Just last year, communal violence in nearby Muzaffarnagar district claimed 62 lives.

Nevertheless, there was something novel about how this latest bout of violence was addressed. The state’s police called upon a young entrepreneur to help monitor and advise security operations using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more popularly known as drones.

Within hours, drone cameras were up and running in Saharanpur town, keeping close tabs on the volatile and unfolding situation, even in areas security personnel couldn’t reach by car or foot. This helped direct resources to where they were needed most.

“Some of the roads and streets in Saharanpur — and this is pretty typical of most Indian towns — are so narrow that the forces cannot enter there,” says Ankit Mehta, co-founder and CEO of IdeaForge, which manufactures UAVs in India. “But a drone-assisted camera can easily fly in and monitor the situation for the cops.”

In India, drone entrepreneurs like Mehta have been quick to realize that the nation’s diverse topography, chaotic overpopulation and vast, unplanned cities severely hobble traditional security operations, making airborne technology particularly advantageous.

Drones are now being used for monitoring large public gatherings — such as Ramadan processions in Lucknow, also in Uttar Pradesh, where sectarian clashes last year claimed three lives — which frequently spiral out of control due to large, unwieldy crowds. (India regularly suffers stampede-related tragedies.)

More conventionally, drones have also been used in disaster management. Last year, they played a low-key but invaluable role in relief operations in Uttarakhand, a hilly and inhospitable terrain where flash floods killed thousands and displaced many more.

Another Mumbai-based drone company called Airpix partnered with NGOs to carry out aerial surveillance of the flood-hit areas for rebuilding purposes, better planning and enhanced communications. Airpix also helps the Mumbai police monitor major gatherings including Ganesh Chaturthi, an Indian festival that culminates with hundreds of thousands of devotees ferrying idols to be immersed in the sea, creating traffic gridlock all over the city.

But despite a bevy of humanitarian and public-safety work, the image of drones as instruments of war remains hard to shake off. “The misconception that drones are meant more for destructive purposes seems to still linger around,” says Shinil Shekar, head of sales and marketing at Airpix. “And it is important that people be more educated about their potential civilian applications.”

Even so, India is tipped to be “booming” for micro and mini-unmanned aerial vehicles for both civilian and military use by the U.S.-based Advanced Defense Technologies Inc., which calls the market a “multimillion-dollar business that will grow steadily.”

Certainly, Mehta is confident about the future; IdeaForge currently boasts an annual turnover in excess of $1 million, and Mehta expects this to increase by five or six times this year. “It is a scalable opportunity for indigenous entrepreneurs,” he says.

TIME India

India Is Home to More Poor People Than Anywhere Else on Earth

Poverty of slums at New Delhi
Slum dwellers lead their life in poverty and unhealthy conditions in New Delhi, India on March 10, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

"We don't have to be proud of what we've done," one minister says

One third of the world’s 1.2 billion poorest people live in India, according to the latest Millennium Development Goals report by the U.N.

India only managed to reduce its poverty rate (the ratio of the number of people who fall below the poverty line and a country’s total population) from 49.4% in 1994 to 42% in 2005 and 32.7% in 2010. By contrast, regional rival China brought it down from 60% in 1990 to an impressive 16% in 2005 and just 12% in 2010.

India also accounted for the highest number of under-five deaths in the world in 2012, with 1.4 million children not reaching their fifth birthday.

“We don’t have to be proud of what we’ve done,” admitted minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla to the Times Of India on Wednesday. “Poverty is the biggest challenge.”

TIME India

India Sees Red Over $33 Million Statue in PM Modi’s First Budget

India Budget
An Indian worker carries a sack containing copies of the 2014-15 union budget at the Indian parliament in New Delhi, Thursday, July 10, 2014. Manish Swarup—AP Photo

Opponents accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi of putting the reverence of long-dead founding fathers over the safety of India's women

India’s new budget is courting controversy after $33 million was earmarked for a statue of national icon Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, but only $25 million for women’s safety and $16.5 million for the education of young girls.

The iron-and-bronze structure, to be erected in new Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, will stand at 182 m tall — twice New York’s Statue of Liberty — and so become the new tallest statue in the world.

However, the project would appear an odd priority for a nation battling rising inflation, a sluggish economy and quickly gaining a reputation as the rape capital of the world. “It is surprising,” says Mumbai-based author Chandrima Pal. “Especially since one of Modi’s key poll pegs was security for women and he ran a massive campaign around that.”

The total cost of immortalizing Patel, who was Home Minister in the government of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is estimated at some $338 million, the rest to be filled by donations and private-sector investment.

But public opposition to the statue is growing — the project was rated “most disliked” on the website of NDTV news channel, and the Times of India newspaper started a social-media survey asking the loaded question of whether the project was “wasteful expenditure.” Mayank Jain, a youth activist and a finance student in the capital, New Delhi, decried a “complete failure of prioritization.”

The Modi government, though, would appear unmoved. Despite the uproar, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said during a postbudget chitchat with NDTV that he had “absolutely no regrets.”

TIME India

More Children Are Going to School in India, but They’re Learning Less

INDIA-EDUCATION-TUITION
An Indian teacher assists underprivileged children during their lessons at Palodia village of Gandhinagar district, some 25 kms from Ahmedabad on November 21, 2013. Sam Panthaky—AFP/Getty Images

India's woeful state schools are in stark contrast to the country's lofty goals of becoming a nation of call centers and technology parks

The fifth-grade boys and girls at school in Sultanpur — a village about 40 km from the Indian capital, New Delhi — are laboring over their lessons on a Friday morning. Eleven-year-old Kiran alternates between chewing her pencil and copying the English text that was the morning’s task. She writes down the sentences, arduously capitalizing the first letter of every word. The children have not yet grasped the basics of English grammar, the teacher explains. But they should have – at least three grades earlier.

“I cannot read English very well,” Kiran mumbles, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on the ground. She adds as an afterthought, “I know my tables till 20 in Hindi though.”

As a new World Bank study has found, there’s a literacy problem in Indian schools, and not just in English. A third of all grade-three students can’t read at all in their native language. Roughly half of all grade-five students cannot manage a grade-two text, which is also too difficult for a quarter of all seventh-grade pupils.

This decline in standards, experts say, is paradoxically because of the rush to build schools and bring back children to the education fold. India managed to bring down the number of out-of-school children from 32 million in 2001 to 1.4 million in 2011 as part of a program to make elementary education universal. The landmark Right to Education Act of 2009 guarantees every child in India between the ages of 6 and 14 free education at a neighborhood school.

And yet, amid this headlong drive, little attention has been paid to what children are learning in classrooms or how well. Absenteeism (the World Bank study pegs average attendance to be at least 15% to 30% lower than enrollment rates) and misconduct (recently, about 20,000 teachers were found to have forged their degrees in the eastern Indian state of Bihar) are big contributors to poor standards of education. “India will have to invest more, starting with pre-service teacher education and professional development of teachers,” says Poonam Batra, a professor in the education department at the University of Delhi and a member of the Justice Verma commission, which has suggested sweeping reforms in the education sector.

All this is in stark contrast to India’s lofty goals of becoming a nation of call centers and technology parks, and to the image it enjoys overseas as a powerhouse of learning, turning out English-speaking engineering and science graduates by the tens of thousands. Despite the fact that private schools, promising world-class education in English, have been mushrooming in the country over the past few years, standards of English are also on the wane. “The average Indian adult cannot yet write business letters in English or speak spontaneously at a business meeting in English,” Minh N. Tran, director of research and academic partnerships at Education First, tells TIME.

Enrollment in private schools in rural India increased from 19% in 2006 to 29% in 2013. In urban India it was about 58% in 2005 and likely to be much higher now. But it is in the state sector that the real battle must be fought. “Countries that have done well economically have had robust state schools and teacher-education systems,” says Batra.

New Delhi has raised government spending on education from 3.3% of GDP in 2004–05 to 4% in 2011–12 (China spends about the same, but Brazil and Russia are well ahead). But facilities remain woeful. In Indian state schools, children have to sit on the floor until they reach grade six. “My feet goes off to sleep sometimes, and I lose track of the class,” says Kiran. “A desk and a chair would be very nice.” For most Indian children, the battles are that basic.

TIME India

Are Indians As Nonchalant About Rape as This Video Suggests?

A social experiment in New Delhi shows people walking away from a staged rape. A film of a parked van in New Delhi, from which harrowing female screams were emanating, shows many people walking past nonchalantly, ignoring cries for help.

+ READ ARTICLE

Two weeks ago, India woke up to the gruesome image of two teenage girls who had been raped and left hanging from a mango tree in rural Uttar Pradesh. This shocking act was just the latest in a series of outrages, since the Dec. 16, 2012, murder and gang rape of a student in New Delhi, that have sparked nationwide angst and given India worldwide notoriety for sexual violence.

But with rape and assault taking center stage once again, how many Indians would actually try to help a woman being attacked? A group called YesNoMaybe staged a social experiment to find out, filming a van in the Indian capital from which harrowing female screams were emanating.

The video, which has already garnered more than 850,000 hits on YouTube, showed many people walking past nonchalantly, ignoring desperate pleas for help. One or two, it must be noted, were determined to intervene — including a 78-year-old security guard who tried to bash the vehicle’s doors with his stick. There is hope.

TIME Pakistan

After Sunday’s Siege of Karachi Airport, Pakistani Militants Strike Again

No deaths were reported and flights have now resumed

+ READ ARTICLE

Militants ambushed the campus of a training academy belonging to Pakistan’s Airport Security Force (ASF) on Tuesday afternoon and exchanged fire with security forces.

No one is believed to have died in the attack, although local media is reporting several wounded.

Pakistan’s Geo TV says the situation is now under control and security forces are conducting a door-to-door search of the area to apprehend the assailants.

The academy lies near Karachi’s international airport, which was under siege by Pakistani Taliban militants on Sunday night. Some 36 people died in that attack, including 10 Taliban gunmen

The Associated Press quoted Ghulam Abbas Memon, a spokesman for the ASF, saying Tuesday’s assault involved gunmen trying to enter the campus from two different entrances but who were repelled by security forces.

An AFP report had earlier quoted an ASF official spokesman as saying gunmen exchanged fire with security personnel at a checkpoint half a kilometer from the airport.

The assault is believed to be in retaliation for Pakistani military air strikes on a tribal district earlier Tuesday that killed 15 militants. Those strikes were, in turn, apparently in response to Monday’s airport attack.

All flights from Karachi’s international airport were briefly suspended but have now apparently resumed.

TIME Pakistan

Karachi Airport Witness Describes ‘Pure Chaos’ of Attacks

PAKISTAN-UNREST-KARACHI-AIRPORT
Smoke rises after militants launched an early morning assault at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan on June 9, 2014. Rizwan Tabassum—AFP/Getty Images

Kamal Faridi, a 29-year-old entrepreneur from Karachi, told TIME what it was like to be caught up in the Taliban assault that left at least 23 dead

Taliban gunmen besieged Karachi airport on Sunday, killing at least 23 people. Kamal Faridi, a 29-year-old Information Technology entrepreneur based in Karachi, was traveling to Germany via Dubai on Sunday night and got caught in the melee.

Faridi had checked in for his Emirates flight around 11pm on Sunday, and was waiting in the lounge for the boarding announcement. “Suddenly we heard some gun shots, which we thought were fireworks,” Faridi told TIME. “Then we saw the security forces taking position outside the lounge.”

“They asked us to lie down on the ground and hide ourselves against the furniture as the lounge was covered in glass. In another 10-15 minutes more security personnel had arrived and huddled us to another room.”

“Initially there was pure chaos as we didn’t know what was happening and everyone thought they were going to die. Within ten minutes we were told of the terrorist attack.”

The commandos told Faridi and his fellow travelers that some unidentified gunmen had taken control of the old terminal – which is more like an administrative wing and only caters to VIP and Hajj flights – which lies 2-3 kilometers away from where Faridi was waiting to board his flight. The old terminal had no passenger flights, fortunately.

Faridi said a “resigned, even fearful calm” fell upon the room where they were waiting. “Apart from the whimpers of children, it was quiet, only to be broken by a loud cheer of ‘Allahu Akbar’ when we heard on the security force wireless that a few of the terrorists had been shot down.”

“We were instructed not to receive calls or take pictures,” he said. “We lay crouching on the ground for almost 4-5 hours, by which time the security forces had announced thrice that they would evacuate us, but weren’t able to.”

“Crouching on the ground, shutting my ears and sometimes eyes tightly, I could still see the flashes of gun shots. They would stop for a second and it would all be a deathly quiet before it would start again in an interminable shower.”

Around 3.30am one of the officers came to evacuate Faridi and his co-travelers. Shaken, Faridi went straight home.

“In Pakistan it’s almost a war situation. Everyone knows anything can happen any moment and we are prepared for any eventuality,” he said. “But it’s different when you find yourself in the middle of a terror attack. The five-hour ordeal was a trauma for me. If I close my eyes I can still hear the shots ringing out and I jump in my mind.”

TIME India

Close on the Heels of a New Government, India Gets a New State

K. Chandrashekar Rao
Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party President K. Chandrashekar Rao speaks to the media at his party headquarters in Hyderabad, India, Friday, May 16, 2014. Mahesh Kumar A.—AP

But critics warn that the decision may fan several other separatist campaigns across India

After a five-decade-long campaign, India’s newest state of Telangana finally came into being on Sunday.

“India gets a new state! We welcome Telangana as our 29th state. Telangana will add strength to our development journey in the coming years,” India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, adding the new state will get full support from New Delhi.

Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao, of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi party, which had spearheaded the call for separate statehood from Andhra Pradesh for almost 14 years, was sworn in as its first chief minister on Monday morning.

The Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance pushed through the move in February this year, hoping to curry favor with the region’s voters ahead of general elections that ended last month. Nevertheless, the drubbing Congress received nationally was echoed in Telangana, where it won just two seats.

Telangana, with a population of 35 million, is one of India’s most underdeveloped regions. Separatists argued that the move will boost prosperity; however, critics have warned that the decision would likely fan several other separatist campaigns across India.

The flourishing tech hub of Hyderabad will remain the capital of both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh for the next 10 years.

TIME

Five Things You Need To Know About India’s Next Prime Minister

Narendra Modi, the charismatic and controversial politician set to become India's next leader, has been widely credited with the sweeping victory that his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured on Friday, according to partial results from the recently concluded general elections. Here are a five things you should know about the man who will shortly be running the show in the world's largest democracy

 

Humble Beginnings

Modi, 63, began his life in Gujarat as the son of a tea-seller. He started working at an early age, hawking chai—tea—at the Ahmedabad railway station and a bus terminus with his brother. It was as a tribute to these humble beginnings that the BJP came up with the innovative “Chai Pe Charcha” campaign (A Chat Over Tea), where Modi interacted with potential voters at tea stalls around the country using video, internet and mobile links. Modi’s campaign also made extensive use of social media to whip up support. In another eye-catching move, Modi held simultaneous campaign rallies using technology that beamed his holographic image to gatherings across India.

Veteran Politician

Dubbed one of India’s most eligible bachelors for years, it was only recently that Modi publicly acknowledged he was married to a retired school teacher, Jashodaben Chimanlal, who still lives in Gujarat. They were wed at 17, but Modi soon left her to pursue a life devoted to religion and politics. (The two are still legally married.) Shortly after, he became a pracharak, or activist, for the right wing Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). At 36, he was assigned to the BJP, which has close links to the RSS, and rose through the party’s state ranks to become his home state’s chief minister in 2001. In 2012, he won his fourth term, becoming the state’s longest serving leader.

No Stranger to Controversy

Not so long ago, the prospect of a Modi-led government would have seemed a remote possibility to many, especially in the then-Congress bastion of New Delhi. Shortly after he took office as chief minister, bloody sectarian riots broke out in Gujarat in 2002, in which more than 1000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. Modi’s critics blamed his administration for not doing enough to stop the anti-Muslim wave of violence as it unfolded; some alleged that he had a role in inciting it. Modi has always strongly denied any wrongdoing or involvement in the tragedy, and Indian courts have cleared him of the same. But the controversy has followed him. The BJP heralded today’s results as a victory over caste- and religion-centric politics, but many Muslims both in and outside Gujarat continue to harbor deep apprehensions about Modi’s leadership.

India Inc Has High Hopes for Him

One of the central themes of Modi’s successful campaign was his pledge to get India’s flagging economy back on the high-growth path of yesteryear. In Gujarat, Modi has successfully attracted major companies like Ford, Nestle and Colgate by setting up a suite of business-friendly practices, including streamlining India’s notorious bureaucracy and giving businesses easy access to officials and land. Those policies — and Modi’s famously decisive leadership style — have earned him the support of some of India’s biggest companies who are counting on him to restore the shine to India. (Voters, too, are hoping he can tackle other pressing issues like rising food prices.) As soon as early results began to trickle in on Friday morning, the BSE Sensex shot up and the Indian Rupee strengthened, though analysts cautioned that the tangible economic impact of a Modi government will take time to materialize.

A Relative Newcomer to Delhi

Another refrain among early doubters of Modi’s meteoric rise to the PM’s seat was the fact that India’s leaders have typically cut their teeth in the political circles of the country’s capital, New Delhi, not in state-level politics. Observers say this election may signal a major change in the way the Indians are voting, away from the dynastic politics of the Congress Party and toward a populist figure who has not spent his career in India’s capital. It also raises questions of how Modi will build political foundations in India’s schmoozey capital city. Will the same commanding leadership style that makes him a hit amongst businessmen fly amongst his parliamentary colleagues?

TIME India

Varanasi Sends Narendra Modi Laughing All The Way to Delhi

BJP leader Narendra Modi greets supporters as he is surrounded by bodyguards while driving through the streets on May 8, 2014 in Varanasi.
BJP leader Narendra Modi greets supporters as he is surrounded by bodyguards while driving through the streets on May 8, 2014 in Varanasi. Kevin Frayer—Getty Images

India’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party has won a landslide victory in the world's largest election, and its leader Narendra Modi is set to become India’s next prime minister. Modi is expected to be in Varanasi on Saturday evening to celebrate his and his party’s win

In one fell swoop, Varanasi belonged to Narendra Modi, the right-wing leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and soon-to-be India’s prime minister.

Varanasi, a Hindu temple town but a BJP stronghold for decades, went out of its way this time to vote for Modi, who secured a whopping 5,165,93 votes, defeating his nearest rival, Arvind Kejriwal—chief of the fairly new but fast-rising, anti-graft Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)—by more than 300,000 votes.

In 2009, BJP candidate and senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi—a sitting Member of Parliament from Varanasi who Modi had sidestepped to contest the prestigious seat himself creating a short lived flutter of dissent within the party—had won by what now appears to be a meager 17,000 votes.

Even as votes from the world’s largest election were being counted on Friday morning, Varanasi was full of posters congratulating Modi of a “historic win.” BJP workers were seen milling around in small clusters, decked up in saffron t-shirts and stoles, at the Paharia Sabzi Mandi on the outskirts of the city, where counting of votes was in progress.

Anticipation hung heavy in the air, broken momentarily by shouts of “Har Har Modi” (a take on “Har Har Mahadev” a popular Hindu slogan praising Lord Shiva that had earlier angered the people of Varanasi) slogans at the beat of drums.

The ubiquitous young supporters in dark glasses and saffron clothes zoomed around in motorbikes. LED screens blared out televised coverage of the counting of results at important intersections in the city.

Although the Indian media started reporting in the afternoon that Modi had won (possibly looking at the margin of votes with which he was leading), the final results came in only in the evening, when BJP supporters erupted in euphoric chants and slogans that later spilled over into fireworks and colors.

They smeared each other with saffron and green colors, distributed sweets and took out small victory processions. But in general, celebrations were muffled, as election Commission officials had banned victory processions in Varanasi (and throughout Uttar Pradesh, which has seen major communal riots in the recent past) after results were announced.

AAP’s Kejriwal, who reached Varanasi on Friday morning, was stoic about his defeat.

“It’s the people’s verdict,” he told TIME. “We have to accept it.”

For a new party and with much less financial clout than the BJP, the Kejriwal-led AAP had undoubtedly put up a laudable fight against the indomitable Modi wave that had engulfed most of India in elections 2014. Kejriwal had walked away with 1,79,739 of the votes, relegating the Congress party’s Ajay Rai, local strongman, to the third position.

“Tough luck for AAP. We keep talking about change but when it comes to bringing it in, we shy away,” says Aloke Thakur, a small trader, looking disappointed as the results were announced.

Modi is expected to be in Varanasi on Saturday evening to celebrate his and his party’s win with a Ganga Aaarti—an invocation of the river Ganges—a grand evening ritual that attracts people from all over the world to the shores of the river Ganges in Varanasi.

“We are happy Modi won, he has said he will transform Varanasi in one year,” says Dipu Majhi, a first time voter, who voted for the BJP. “Let’s see what he does.”

Golu Sahni, another first time voter says, “If not, then we can always change our mind after five years.”

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