BANGALORE – The Indian Government has gone on the offensive against internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter after political unrest in various parts of the country, demanding hundreds of pages be removed or blocked. On August 15th, India’s independence day, Indian northeasterners began fleeing Bangalore, the country’s southern IT hub and 5th largest city, after a series of widely-disseminated text messages threatening Assamese and other ethnic groups from the northeast of the country. Attempting to stop bulk messaging, authorities restricted text messages to five recipients. On the platform at Bangalore train station were hundreds of people from Assam state and other areas of India’s northeast, a remote part of the country almost 2000 miles away. The region is mostly surrounded by Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Burma and is linked to the rest of India only by a narrow strip of land nicknamed the chicken-neck.
BANGALORE –Despite the challenges faced by the IT sector in Bangalore and elsewhere, some of Bangalore’s IT entrepreneurs are sanguine about their city’s prospects.
Salil Godika is one of a group of still-young veterans of India’s IT giants such as Wipro and Infosys who broke away to set up Happiest Minds Technologies in Bangalore one year ago. The company is opening a second location in Bangalore and already employs more than 500 people at its headquarters in Electronics City. “Other cities are coming up, it is a good sign for India,” he says. “It is not an either/or thing between Bangalore and elsewhere.”
BANGALORE — Thousands of Indians have fled southern and western cities in response to text-message warnings and threats said to be from Indian Muslims angered at recent ethnic clashes in the northeast. Thousands of northeasterners who work and study in Bangalore – India’s 4th largest city and information technology hub – are fleeing, fearing that recent violence in the northeastern state of Assam, which displaced some 300,000, would spread south. Rumor and fear-mongering seem to be trumping hard evidence of any real threat for many of those leaving, however. “There was some talk about text messages saying that people would be attacked. But we do not know, really,” says 18-year old civil engineering student Takan Sama minutes before his train to Assam was slated to depart Bangalore rail station.
KOLKATA/CALCUTTA — “We get around 200 calls a day,” says Ranita Nandi, a counsellor working at the Hamara Ghair (‘Our House’), a sort of way-station for kids who have fled harsh home or working lives in Kolkata and elsewhere in West Bengal or farther away in neighbouring states in northeast India. In some of India’s poorer rural communities, children leave school early, sent to work on farms or elsewhere. Ranita’s organisation, the Child In Need Institute (CINI), handles some of the calls to the childline set up for children who want help. Some end up staying at the Hamara Ghair for a short time. The line rings several times in a few minutes, while Ranita explains how the facility works. In Kolkata alone, the line received 168,139 calls in the March 2011-April 2012 period – though of those ‘only’ 24,205 ended up as actual conversations. “Sadly we get a lot of crank calls,” says Ranita, pointing out statistics showing 43,664 calls listed as ‘Crank/Fun/Abusive’.
KOLKATA/CALCUTTA — It’s an overnight train ride from Chattisagarh to India’s third biggest city Kolkata, a journey 17 year old Lakshmi Kumari makes once a year with her parents. They are among the estimated one and a quarter million poor Indians who work on Kolkata’s brick kilns, back-breaking seasonal work in 35-40 degrees heat. Asia’s third biggest economy after China and Japan, India’s two decades of around 8% annual growth has lifted tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The country’s middle class now numbers around 300 million, and some Indians are making their mark on the world economy. Last year 55 Indians made the Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires, up from 23 in 2006. In 2008, Tata Motors bought Jaguar and Land Rover, a deal striking for its reverse-colonial symbolism, as an Indian company acquired 2 quintessentially-British brands.
KOLKATA — On the outskirts of India’s third-largest city, 5,000 partly blackened chimneys stand 100 feet high, belching smoke into the sky over millions of reddened bricks below. Some of the bricks are stacked neatly into huge square-cornered stacks, and still more, innumerable, are piled roughly – some broken, some chipped and cracked, as if tipped wantonly from a wheelbarrow. Here around 1.25 million low-caste migrant workers and their dependents spend six months each year dredging clay from nearby lakes or molding bricks under the scorching sun, or lugging back-breaking hods. It is seasonal work, done by India’s lowest castes, or in some cases, dirt-poor immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Ram Dayal, whose home is in Gazpar in Uttar Pradesh, a 24-hour train ride away, says has worked the kilns for 25 weather-beating years. Asked his age, he laughs and says he doesn’t know exactly. “I have a son about your age though,” he says.
KOLKATA/CALCUTTA — Multinational businesses such as IBM and Vodafone have offices nearby, a five-star Marriott hotel is going up on the main airport road — all within walking distance of pricey pastel apartment blocks that look like Legoland in the hazy sun-baked distance. Half-built condos, still encased in scaffolding, are shooting up all overin eastern Kolkata and will be serviced by a new metro line linked to the airport. But a mile or so away from the Marriott site is Kolkata dhapa, or rubbish dump, a vast, decades-old hill of plastic, rubber, tin and old clothes, perhaps 10-12 acres in area and 60ft-70ft high.