Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ash to star in Bhopal fillum?

I just came across a Times of India headline that asks "Can you gas the truth?" How did I come across it? Well, I have a Google news search set to pick up any articles containing the keywords "Bhopal" and "gas" because I'm currently researching for a book I'm working on the history of activism that followed the 1984 gas leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal.

Whereas many readers were probably more interested in the article for what it might say about what Aishwarya Rai is doing on her honeymoon, I was attracted by the fact that a feature-length film will be made about the struggles individuals who survived the tragic disaster in 1984 have had to go through in the intervening years.

Apparently, according to IMDB, the film has been in the works since December 2004. I've never seen any of Ash's films, so now I am torn as to whether I should try to start watching them so I am caught up when the Bhopal film comes out, or wait and have my first exposure to her in a film about such a serious matter.

I'm genuinely hoping that Ash, as executive producer, and producer/director Zachary Coffin, will spend an extended amount of time with survivors in Bhopal. Though the story of the film will be based on a fictional character, it is important that they capture the depth of the struggle survivors have faced. There are many unique aspects to the disaster and the way it has impacted people in Bhopal. I don't imagine these would be easy to capture on film, especially if the filmmakers have not done their homework.

I'm also hoping that the film is done in a way that reflects the reality of the situation in Bhopal. There is a strong movement that is constantly innovating new tactics on the international scene. But it is a movement that is underwritten by the many Bhopalis who have struggled for nearly 23 years to get adequate compensation and force the government to disburse their claims and clean up the contamination left behind by Union Carbide.

There is still much suffering in Bhopal. The film should not shy away from depicting this. But it should also demonstrate the one shining success that has grown out of the disaster: the Sambhavna Trust Clinic. Where suffering has been alleviated in Bhopal, it is largely due to the community-based health care model employed by Sambhavna. But in conveying the success of Sambhavna, the film should not go down the "City of Joy" route in which viewers are ultimately left unmotivated to take personal responsibility to act because of the belief that those who are suffering are being taken care of by people like the the Stephen Kovalski character (or, in the case of Bhopal, Sambhavna).

Done well, the film could remind viewers around the world of the dark side of globalization and the failure of our legal systems and governments to deal with the inevitable harm done to people by faceless corporations. But it must do so in a way that respects the people of Bhopal, especially those from the bastis adjacent to the former Union Carbide plant. They are the ones, after all, whose voices must be heard.

So time will tell whether Ash can capture the strength and dignity of women like Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla. For the sake of Bhopal survivors and potential future victims of disasters caused by multinational corporation, I hope she does.

In the meantime, let's hope that the news media can refrain from the type of awful play on words ("Can you Gas the Truth?") that editors at the Times of India must have thought would be funny.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Indian adoptions in the U.S.

I just came across an interesting article in the Times of India about the number of Indian children being adopted by residents of the U.S. I specifically wrote "residents" of the U.S. because the article quotes Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury as saying that most of the adopting couples in the U.S. were "NRIs suffering from guilt for having left India and feeling a sense of responsibility towards their motherland."

If this is true--and I suspect there may be a bit of truth to it though most likely this is an anecdotal observation made by Ms. Chowdhury and not anything the Ministry has examined systematically--then it raises the question of why there aren't more children being adopted by couples in other places with significant NRI populations.

The article reports that after the 945 children adopted by couples in the U.S., the next highest countries were Italy (419), Spain (301), Denmark (194), Sweden (123), Switzerland (86), Germany (79), Belgium (72), Australia (68), UAE (63) and the UK (53).

I am guessing that the couples in the UAE who adopted Indian children fit Ms. Chowdhury's guilt theory of adoption. However, these are most likely not the (almost all male) exploited laborers from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and other parts of India who are recruited to work in the UAE's booming construction industry. More likely they are the engineers and other technical experts who leave India to work in the oil industry in the Gulf.

What I am getting at is that there must certainly be a class basis for the adoption patterns. Similar to their well-to-do compatriots in the Gulf, Indians in the U.S., many of whom do well in the IT industry, are in a position to adopt a child from the motherland. I don't have an explanation for the high numbers in Italy and Spain. I would be interested in seeing, for each country, what percentage of the couples adopting are made up of at least one NRI. My guess would be that the rate in the Scandinavian countries is less than for the U.S. and European countries.

But what of the African countries with large NRI populations? South Africa, in particular, ought to be in the list of Ms. Chowdhury's guilt theory of adoption holds. And what about Kenya? I'm not as familiar with the status of NRIs in South Africa or Kenya, but from what I understand the NRIs in these countries are rather successful in monetary terms.

Then there's the UK. If the guilt theory of adoption is mediated by class, as I am proposing, then might this explain the low number of children adopted by couples in the UK? As with South Africa and Kenya, I am not familiar with the status of NRIs in the UK. I'm assuming it is rather mixed (working class and white collar/upper class)?

Maybe there is another explanation that has to do with the cultural norms of the NRIs, regardless of where they reside. For example, might there be differences between Gujaratis and Bengalis when it comes to families supporting their children's interest in adoption? Or, maybe rather than the cultural traits they take with them upon leaving India, there are new cultural norms that are acquired in their adopted countries. In the U.S. there is definitely a recent and widespread acceptance of the practice of international adoption. Maybe this practice is less common in the UK?

I'm really raising a lot of questions, rather than making any claims I can't possibly support, in the hopes that readers might have some experience that can explain this interesting trend of adoptions.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Business Week's "The Trouble with India"

What is "The Trouble with India?"

The headline of the cover story of Business Week's March 19 issue appears to offer some skepticism about all the "India Rising" rhetoric that has come out of Time (see “India Inc.” cover story June 26, 2006), Newsweek (“The New India,” March 6, 2006 cover story), The Economist (“Can India Fly?” June 3, 2006) and other mainstream U.S. news magazines over the last year.

In the end, however, Business Week's "The Trouble with India" seems to suggest that amidst some of the obstacles to continued growth are more opportunities for innovation (and, in turn, growth).

The article's author, Steve Hamm, author of the Wipro-focused book Bangalore Tiger, even writes in his blog:

I spent nearly a month in India late last year reporting for the story, and, I must say, I became emotionally wound up in the efforts by hundreds of Indians I interviewed to create what some of them called a New India. They weren't just talking about the economy, either. The country's sometimes disfunctional politics and widespead corruption are a heavy burden on its economy. To me, the most powerful force in India is hope. I believe the Indian people can throw off the shackles of bad government and corruption the way they did colonial rule. But it won't be easy.

I think the article can be interpreted a number of ways. In fact, all of the recent articles touting India's growth and potential also acknowledge the infrastructure and corruption problems. But Hamm's article, despite its ultimate optimism that somehow the sheer force of India's economic momentum will resolve its infrastructure problems, seems to be one of the first to focus explicitly on these obstacles.

In the Indian blogosphere, Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind's Haseena Atimbum takes aim at Hamm's reporting here. Indra Drishtikona briefly mentions the article here. There's a brief mention of the article at a number of other blogs. At milieu Sreekumar raises the interesting question of how to balance investment in insfrastructure with social sector investment. Om Malik, at GigaOM, believes "the infrastructure and other issues are linked to the agricultural sector."

In both print media and the blogosphere, I'd like to see a more constructive discussion of India's infrastructure challenge. Are there positive models of infrastructure development that can be packaged and implemented in other parts of India? Is there any critical thinking about how to prioritize infrastructure needs? And, finally, has anyone really laid out with clarity the obstacles to infrastructure development, beyond merely pointing the finger at "corruption?"