Should India's Jains be given the choice to die?

  • 21 August 2015
  • From the section India
Indian woman Taraben Chovatia, 78, rests as she undergoes the Jain practice of Santhara or voluntary death by fasting at an upashray (Jain monastery) in Mumbai, on April 6, 2008. Chovatia has renounced food for the last 14 days as she sits in the company of Sadhvis or nuns, as her only source of nourishment is two glasses of water during the d
Image caption A 78-year-old Jain woman who gave up food to prepare for sallekhana in 2008

"You have to understand that for us death is full of excitement. You embrace sallekhana not out of despair with your old life, but to gain and attain something new. It's just as exciting as visiting a new landscape or a new country: we feel excited at a new life, full of possibilities," a Jain woman monk tells writer William Dalrymple in his book Nine Lives.

Jainism is one of the world's most ancient religions, and Jain monks lead a life of extreme austerity and renunciation. Sallekhana or santhara is a controversial religious practice in which a Jain stops eating with the intention of preparing for death. It is seen as the ultimate way to expunge all sins and karma, liberating the soul from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

So when Dalrymple probes further, the monk says that sallekhana is a ritual fast to death which Jains regard as the "culmination of our life as ascetics". She insists it's not suicide.

"It is quite different. Suicide is a great sin, the result of despair. But sallekhana is a triumph over death, an expression of hope... With suicide, death is full of pain and suffering. But sallekhana is a beautiful thing. There is no distress or cruelty," she tells the author.

A court in India doesn't quite believe so.

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The men waging war against pornography in India

  • 17 August 2015
  • From the section India
Kamlesh Vaswani
Image caption Kamlesh Vaswani says pornography is a "moral cancer" which hurts India's future

On his many trips to Internet cafes in the bustling central Indian city of Indore, lawyer Kamlesh Vaswani discovered what he calls the "epidemic" of pornography.

"I would go to download important Supreme Court judgements, and pornographic adverts would pop up instead. And when I looked around, I saw rows of children surfing porn openly without a care in the world," says Mr Vaswani, 43, a quiet man with a probing look.

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Why India's Bihar is taking DNA samples to spite Modi

  • 12 August 2015
  • From the section India
DNA samples being collected in Bihar
Image caption On Tuesday, the Bihar government launched DNA collection camps in 250 places in the state capital, Patna

Why is India's Bihar state planning to send the DNA samples of up to five million of its people to Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

Because, according to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Mr Modi has hurt the pride of Biharis by casting aspersions on him.

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The fear of censorship in Indian media

  • 11 August 2015
  • From the section India
Mr Modi on Indian TV
Image caption Mr Modi prefers to interact with people through social media and radio talks

George Bernard Shaw once said that "censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions".

A recent outcry in India shows just how many fear this in Narendra Modi's government after it accused three TV news networks of violating broadcasting regulations by airing interviews that criticised last month's execution of Yakub Memon, the man convicted of financing the deadly 1993 Mumbai bombings. It even threatened to cancel the licenses of the channels for violating broadcasting laws.

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Is Kama Sutra a feminist book of erotic love?

  • 6 August 2015
  • From the section India
kama sutra
Image caption The Kama Sutra is nearly 2,000 years old

Does the world's oldest textbook of erotic love need to be redeemed and accorded its proper place as a literary landmark of India's rich heritage?

American Indologist Wendy Doniger, who teaches at the University of Chicago and has written nearly half a dozen books on Hinduism, believes so.

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Has Narendra Modi lost the plot?

  • 5 August 2015
  • From the section India
Narendra Modi
Image caption Narendra Modi swept to power with an overwhelming majority last year

Has India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi lost the plot?

This week, his BJP government backed down on its controversial land acquisition bill, which would have made it easier for land to be used for industry and infrastructure projects. It has, more or less, returned to the old law approved by the former Congress party government which actually made it tougher for industry to acquire land from farmers.

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Was Aarushi Talwar murder verdict a miscarriage of justice?

  • 21 July 2015
  • From the section India
Aarushi Talwar
Image caption Aarushi Talwar was killed in May 2008

"We are living an unreal life for the past seven years," says Rajesh Talwar. "It is like living in a haze."

Talwar and his wife, Nupur, are currently lodged in a prison set amid verdant farmland outside India's capital, Delhi. In November 2013, a court found the dentist couple guilty of killing their 13-year-old daughter Aarushi and their Nepalese servant, Hemraj Banjade, in the family apartment in nearby Uttar Pradesh, one of India's worst-governed states.

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Does India's national anthem extol the British?

  • 9 July 2015
  • From the section India
Tagore was the first Asian to win the Nobel prize for literature
Image caption Tagore was the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for literature

More than a century after it was first sung in the eastern city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), the song that later became India's national anthem is again mired in a worn-out controversy.

On Tuesday, the governor of Rajasthan state Kalyan Singh, a veteran BJP leader, pulled an old chestnut out of the fire by saying that Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's Jana Gana Mana, had actually praised the British rulers. He said the phrase adhinayak jai he, which literally translates as "hail the leader" should be removed and replaced with mangaldayak, which means the "welfare giver" . His audacious remarks even made it to the front page of a prominent newspaper.

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What yoga record attempt tells us about India

  • 20 June 2015
  • From the section India
Indian school students attend a yoga workshop conducted by teachers from The Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Institute at The FD Higher Secondary School in Ahmedabad on June 16, 2015
Image caption More than 30,000 people are expected to participate in Sunday's gathering in Delhi

India is in the grip of yoga fever, thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi coaxed the United Nations into declaring 21 June International Yoga Day and announced a grand event to be held in Delhi on that day. His government plans to get tens of thousands of people to perform yoga in the heart of the capital on Sunday.

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Is India's growth exaggerated?

  • 1 June 2015
  • From the section India
A worker carries an iron pipe inside a metal fabrication workshop in an industrial area of Mumbai February 9, 2015
Image caption Many experts say the economy is still waiting to gather momentum

Last week, India announced growth figures which would make the world envious.

Asia's third-largest economy grew 7.5% in the three months ending in March, higher than the previous quarter and above expectations. Forecasts were for growth of about 7.3% for the period compared with a year earlier.

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