Indian Sniper!


If Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” excited Americans this January, Indians were amazed with the courageous account of two Indian snipers whose stunning story broke the age and gender stereotypes, leaving rural and urban Indian women inspired.

I read this story in the news recently; I feel it has the power to encourage Indian women to live their dream no matter where they live Hailing from a remote village in Uttar Pradesh, Prakashi and Chandro Tomar’s (Prakashi’s sister-in-law) story started in 1990, when at the age of around 60 years, they took to shooting at a local shooting range established by Rajpal Singh, the honorary shooting coach with the Sports Authority of India.

It may have started with Prakashi extending support to her daughter Seema and her passion for shooting. It was not a sporting career the family was ready to support for Seema , an everyday village family bound by traditional values. Prakashi stepped in to set an example by learning to shoot at the age of 60, and also excelled at the sport. Chandro, her sister-in-law joined her soon. Today, Prakashi’s daughter Seema has become the first Indian woman to win individual gold and team gold medal at the Asian Shotgun Championship in 2014, and one of Prakashi’s granddaughter, Neetu Solanki, is an international shooter.

In times when gender issues and equality is on fire in India and women’s safety and men’s attitude towards women is being debated at large, this story challenges the traditional Indian way of thinking. In a village struggling for basic women’s education, Prakashi set an example by taking a break from everyday chores like wielding a sickle in the fields (rural India being primarily agricultural) and attending to her children and household chores, and also winning medals in many district-level events. The academy run by these dadis (fondly called village grannies) today has trained several village women in shooting.

Just like others, breaking traditional gender-based roles in a village did not come easy for the ladies. They faced the ridicule and criticism from both men and women in the village. But after training three generations of women shooters, the village of Johri today has gained the reputation of being the ‘Dadiyon ka gaon’ (the village of grannies) which has sent more than 30 international shooters to the Indian Olympics.

A thousand words cannot do what these women’s simple action did for others. It broke the traditional gender role of women and set in new standards. The village of Johri today feels proud to contribute many sharpshooters who have made their career in shooting by joining the Indian Army, Navy and Security forces; apart from training many national level shooters for the Indian Olympics. A village with a population of over 5,500 people today stands out simply because two women believed in living their dream. It has empowered women of the village and given them hope. At the age of 78 , the grannies’ (dadis) sure deserve a round of applause!

I am sure this story will not only inspire Indian women, but several others who struggle with traditional taboos and gender biases around the world. Setting a role model for other women in the village, and changing gender perception amid traditional stereotypes, it took guns to make it to glory.

Is it Indian sniping at its best? What do you think ?

Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US-India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.

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How will banning a documentary help India in curbing rape cases?


The rape documentary banned in India made its U.S. debut at the City University of New York on 16th March, with actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto also attending to show support for the controversial film. In India, the documentary was to be released on 8th March (International Women’s Day) on NDTV news, but it got cancelled after the Indian government banned its filming even as the appeal proceedings are pending before the court. The NDTV news channel went dark with an image of a candle onscreen. The United States debut of “India’s Daughter” was followed by the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Channel Four on the night of 18th March 2015.

The documentary “India’s Daughter” by Leslee Udwin faces uproar from different age-groups and mindsets in the country. It is hardly surprising that it faces several cultural taboos with its contradictory views and opinions that call for serious speculation amongst Indian masses. While the documentary has been misunderstood to defame India even as rape is an unfortunate global phenomenon, the mindset of those committing the heinous crime happens to be similar all over the world. In this context, the documentary becomes relevant globally, and not just for Indians, but any global citizen, as it opens a window for debate on men’s wrong mindset that comes forth through this documentary opening up a topic for debate.

rapeThe 45-minute documentary is an insightful account on a broader view with highlights covering the interviews of Nirbhaya’s (Jyoti Singh) parents and her friend. But it also brings forth the views of the convicts (the unpopular views of Mukesh Singh and the lawyers seem to have irked many Indians), which most likely caused all the uproar in the media and the parliament. Some of the views on the interview quote the cultural anecdotes many Indian women have grown up listening to. To think of the broader picture on rising rape cases and the issue of gender inequality in India and also globally, we must look at the root cause for such a trigger causing violation (the mindset/belief system at large). This documentary does that: it opens up a taboo subject on how many men and the society-at-large seem to think about women traveling alone, or exerting their free will.

I vote for the documentary to be aired because it reflects the society’s bias against women. The degree of unfairness may vary from a country to country, but the matter is at large when it comes to women facing unequal status in the society in terms of unequal pays, gender-based promotions and hikes, employment preference, all the way to extreme crimes like rape, domestic violence and so on. All of the standard safety generalizations for women seem to have one big problem: they put the onus for a man’s violating behavior upon a woman. “Women seem to invite dangerous situations upon themselves by asserting their freedom, be it their choice of clothes, their mode of transport, and their decision to step out of their homes during late night hours, their choice to work and the timings, their social lives, or simply put, women asserting their free will.” It is the thinking behind such crimes which comes forth with Leslee’s documentary. It is this perception which needs to be challenged and stricken out. It is not women who invite trouble, but it is the wrong mindset of men and their values that need a ‘rattle and change’.

Like Durkhiem says, “We must not say that an action shocks the common conscience because it is criminal, but rather that it is criminal because it shocks the common conscience”. Passing of anti-rape laws can curb a fraction of incidents perhaps, but I believe that any real change can truly happen with a society’s introspection that might be prompted by this documentary, which hopefully opens up a healthy debate.

A recent article (by UN) quotes that more than 150 countries worldwide lack on laws guaranteeing equal access to capital and property ownership, while nine nations legally restrict women’s freedom of movement.

This documentary deserves to be circulated amongst masses as the under-representation of women in decision-making and the crimes of violence against women are a “worldwide phenomena,” representing male domination in the world which needs to change with introspection and debate, if women are ever to be truly equal.

What does India think?

Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US-India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.


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Why do e-book readers fail to sell in India?


The bounty of free e-books has captured readers worldwide, but they are yet to break through the Indian market.  Why is it that a country almost obsessed with mobiles and smart phones shows no interest in e-readers?

India has more than 200 million Internet users. Around 500 million people will be online by 2018, with 5 million new Internet users adding up every month (as per Rajan Anandan, Managing Director of Google India).  The e-commerce sector is on fire with Indians getting comfortable with online buying. Given this, it is surprising that this rise in online shopping and consumerism does not translate into comfort when it comes to paying for e-books and e-readers online.

Is it because e-books are available for free that Indian take them for granted? Could the common perception that “free means ‘cheap and worthless’” be the reason Indians are not fond of e-books? Do they vote for the free wave similar to free OS, online music, free movies and other freeware available online?

Perhaps it is because the 5” mobile device is the primary computer of a majority of Indians instead of an iPad or a Kindle.  This size may not necessarily be more convenient or appealing than the old cultural habits of reading a physical book.  Besides, physical books are available through rampant piracy in the foreign book market (you can get cheap pirated books of leading authors on street corners).

Or is it a lack of knowledge about e-books and e-readers ( Amazon’s Kindle is popular in India but nothing  as compared to its popularity in the US). A new report says that US publishers’ revenue from e-book sales was $3 billion last year. (Source: the Bookstats Project).

Amazon’s Kindle  has entered the Indian market recently to make its presence felt but it has not been successful despite its attractive online deals on e-readers. It is yet to break-through the conventional print-book market in India. A study by Bookboon says that the most traditional readers with the highest amount of printed and the lowest amount of eBooks are found in India (29.2%). One of the reasons for the low popularity of e-readers could be the network support, as e-readers essentially fall into two types: one that uses wireless 3G connectivity and one that does not. Wireless 3G connectivity is more convenient for it allows a   user to browse and download books anywhere while for USB-based readers, one needs to connect to a PC to download e-books to read.

One of the reasons for low popularity (despite the catchy TV ads & a bounty of free e-books available with e-readers in India) could be that the Kindle uses the wi-fi network to download e-books. 3G wi-fi connections are not so common in India (boadband being more popular) and it is yet to become a household network as the mobile device is handheld.

I believe some of these innovative internet and mobile connection providers in India could use this as an opportunity and come up with attractive wi-fi connection plans with free e-readers and e-books in India. I see a chance for internet service providers to gain by collaborating with e-reader manufacturers and promoting a line of e-reading products (tablets, apps, e-readers) that fit the pocket of different segments in India.

The free gift is sure to catch up the attention of Indian households and give e-readers a much needed boost in India.

Do you think e-books have a long way to go in India? Write to me.

Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US-India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.

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Swine Flu in India vs. Ebola in USA


More than 1,000 people have died in India over the last six months due to the Swine flu while 15,000 have suffered the devastating illness. India says the strain is the same as the one that killed an estimated 284,000 people in the global pandemic of 2009-10.

On the other hand, in the US, while the annual flu season has resulted in about 100 deaths, it is the Ebola virus that has many Americans in panic mode. Yet, even with more deaths due to the Swine flu, India has seen no such panic situations. There is not much of scare or media frenzy except an article or two. Nor are there lines hoarding up for Tamiflu. Instead, Indians are responding by simply covering their faces and staying indoors, or avoiding public crowds.

Almost the opposite is the case in the US with regards to Ebola. Owing to media hype in the US, Americans have worried themselves to death over Ebola cases (not to mention the news highlights every day) making the situation worse! Following preventive measures and creating public awareness with the help of media is what is needed to calm down a jittery American public.
So why more of a frenzy in the US and less so in India? In India, people are culturally inclined to accept life with all its vices and virtues, and take it “head on” rather than worry over “What will be!” It is Indian fatalism vs. just worrying and quarantining nurses who come back from doing charity in Ebola-infected regions.

In the US, the media just went to the town over two Ebola deaths. The Indian media is dealing with the Swine flu by taking things in the stride, and focusing on other things like the World Cup Cricket; Indians had Delhi Elections (with a good turnout of voters) and life simply goes on even with 1,000 deaths. It does not mean that the government is not dealing or working towards preventive measures to curb the swine flu cases. In recent weeks, India has placed orders to increase the stock of diagnostic kits and procured additional doses of the anti-viral drug Oseltamivir (the generic version of Tamiflu) to control instances of the Swine flu. The Indian media is helping in dealing with the flu by not creating a hype, but by imparting information and creating awareness on treatment etc. amongst Indian masses.

Comparing Indian reaction on Swine flu with American paranoia over Ebola, it also reflects upon the attitude of the society (i.e. Indians believe that what will be will be). President Obama speaking out about Ebola and walking with the cured Ebola victim with a daily update from the head of the CDC vs. not a word from any political leader about it in India. What do you think?

Some food for thought? Write to me.

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