Did the British Empire resist women’s suffrage in India?

  • 22 February 2018
  • From the section India
ndian village women hold up their voting cards as they await their turn to vote at a polling station in Majitha Image copyright AFP

The US took 144 years to give equal voting rights to women. Suffragettes in UK took nearly a century to win the vote. Women won the vote in some cantons of Switzerland as recently as 1974. But Indian women got the right to vote the year their country was born.

Ornit Shani, author of an excellently researched new book on how India received universal adult franchise in 1947, says the move was a "staggering achievement for a post-colonial nation" in the midst of a bloody partition that killed up to a million people and displaced 18 million others.

In independent India, the number of voters leapt more than five-fold to 173 million people - nearly half of the total population - and included 80 million women. Some 85% of them had never voted before. (Unfortunately, 2.8 million women voters had to be excluded from the rolls because they failed to disclose their names.)

But, as Dr Shani's book, How India Became Democratic: Citizenship at the Making of the Universal Franchise, shows women's suffrage, unlike under colonial rule was not questioned.

British officials had unfailingly argued that the universal franchise was a "bad fit for India," says Dr Shani. Elections in colonial India were exercises in restricted democracy with a limited number of voters casting their ballots in seats allotted along religious, community and professional lines.

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India healthcare: Will the 'world's largest' public scheme work?

  • 4 February 2018
  • From the section India
An Indian woman holds her child's hand at the encephalitis ward of the the Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on August 14, 2017 Image copyright AFP
Image caption India presently spends a little over 1% of its GDP on public healthcare

On the face of it, it is difficult to not warm to India's newly announced flagship health insurance scheme, designed as a safety net for millions of people who struggle to afford quality medical care.

India has an abysmal record in public health. It presently spends a little over 1% of GDP on public healthcare, one of the lowest levels in the world.

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Modi magic and other takeaways from India's bellwether Gujarat elections

  • 18 December 2017
  • From the section India
Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate outside the party headquarters in New Delhi on December 18, 2017, with early counting of votes indicating a comfortable win for them in the key states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Image copyright AFP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has secured a sixth win in a row in his native state of Gujarat.

Here are some takeaways from what is a substantially reduced victory:

Modi magic still works

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Can Rahul Gandhi revive India's Grand Old Party?

  • 11 December 2017
  • From the section India
Rahul Gandhi, Vice-President of India"s main opposition Congress Party, waves to his supporters during a rally ahead of Gujarat state assembly elections, at a village on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India November 11, 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Gandhi has touched a chord with voters with a persuasive campaign in Gujarat

Rahul Gandhi's ascension to the leadership of India's 132-year-old Congress party comes at a time when it is struggling to stay relevant.

Mr Gandhi's appointment was confirmed on Monday, days after he filed his nomination papers for the post. There were no other contenders. He will officially take over on 16 December.

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The 24-year-old challenging Narendra Modi in his own state

  • 9 December 2017
  • From the section India
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Media captionHardik Patel enjoys massive support among his Patidar community

At a dusty crossroads in small town Gujarat, people are waiting patiently in the winter sun for a man many believe is giving India's powerful Prime Minister Narendra Modi sleepless nights.

Hardik Patel has a mild scowl and a slight stoop. A commerce graduate and son of a businessman, he is utterly middle-class. At 24, he is not even old enough to stand for election under India's rules.

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The crisis facing India's Supreme Court

  • 17 November 2017
  • From the section India
Supreme Court Image copyright Reuters
Image caption India's top court is facing intense scrutiny

India's Supreme Court has been witness recently to some extraordinary developments over the handling of alleged corruption by a retired high court judge.

There have been open differences between its most senior judges over petitions seeking an independent investigation into corruption charges involving a blacklisted medical college.

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Is India's middle class actually poor?

  • 15 November 2017
  • From the section India
Indian pedestrians walk along the roadside in the busy streets of Mumbai, 10 August 2007. The nation of 1.1 billion people -- marking 60 years since the subcontinent was partitioned on 14-15 August 1947 and independence from British rule-- proudly sees itself well on the road to economic, political and social greatness. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A new study says more than 600 million Indians belong to the middle class

Never before in recorded history, wrote author Gurcharan Das, have so many people been in a position to rise so quickly.

He was alluding to the rise of India's "new middle class", full of energy and drive and making things happen in an "uninhibited, pragmatic and amoral fashion". They also comprise an exploding consumer market that McKinsey Global Institute in 2007 described as India's "bird of gold".

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Delhi's air pollution is triggering a health crisis

  • 12 November 2017
  • From the section India
A schoolboy covers his face with a handkerchief as he waits for a passenger bus on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India, November 8, 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Doctors are asking people to wear anti-pollution masks outdoors and many have improvised

Last week, a six-year-old boy returned home from school in Delhi, fidgety and complaining of breathlessness.

"I thought he was joking and trying to avoid school as he's never had a history of respiratory problems," his father told me. Within hours, however, the boy was coughing violently and gasping for breath. The parents put the family in a taxi and drove through the smog to the nearest hospital.

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The man who 'discovered' 780 Indian languages

  • 27 October 2017
  • From the section India
Ganesh Devy Image copyright Anushree Fadnavis/Indus Images
Image caption Ganesh Devy undertook 300 journeys in 18 months to explore India's languages

When Ganesh Devy, a former professor of English, embarked on a search for India's languages, he expected to walk into a graveyard, littered with dead and dying mother tongues.

Instead, he says, he walked into a "dense forest of voices", a noisy Tower of Babel in one of the world's most populous nations.

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The small town film fans challenging India's anthem order

  • 25 October 2017
  • From the section India
Audience members stand for the Indian national anthem before a movie starts at a cinema in New Delhi on December 4, 2016. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Last year the top court ruled that the national anthem be played before every film and that audiences stand

One evening last week, some 200 people gathered on the roof of a shopping centre in a small town in the southern Indian state of Kerala to watch 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a gripping 2007 film on the last days of Communist rule in Romania.

"It was very well received by the audience, as most of our movies are," Anoop Kumaran of the eponymous Kodungallur Film Society, one of Kerala's 60-odd film clubs, told me.

Read full article The small town film fans challenging India's anthem order