Archive for ‘Social & cultural’

22/09/2017

Online matchmaking businesses in India have many ways to woo

“IT WAS 2012…I was number 37,” says Ashwini, referring to the badge that was pinned on her shirt pocket.

Her task was to go onto the stage and introduce herself to around 70 eligible bachelors and their parents. Families then conferred and, provided caste and religious background proved no obstacle, would approach the event’s moderator asking to meet number 37. At midday girls would wait for prospects to swing by, again with parents on either side. A brief exchange might establish the potential bride’s cooking skills or her intention to work after marriage. If the two sides hit it off, they would exchange copies of their horoscopes. Nearly 50 men lined up to meet Ashwini that day, speed-dating style. No one made the cut. She later married a colleague.

Such gatherings form an important part of the wedding industry, worth around $50bn a year, in a country where arranged marriages continue to be the norm. India has 440m millennials—roughly, the generation born between 1980 and 1996—and a further 390m youngsters have been born since 2000, so there are plenty of anguished parents for marriage facilitators to pitch to. KPMG, a consultancy, estimates that out of 107m single men and women, 63m are “active seekers”. For now, only a tenth surf the internet to find a spouse. But the number who do is about to explode, argue executives in the marriage-portal business (India has 2,600 such sites). “After Facebook [took off], people are more open about their lives than ever before, which has had a great knock-on effect,” says Gourav Rakshit of Shaadi.com, one of India’s oldest matrimonial sites.

Take Matrimony.com, the country’s biggest online matchmaker, which raised $78m in its initial public offering on September 13th. Its shares began trading this week. It runs 300-odd websites in 15 languages, catering to different castes and religions. It has sites for divorcees, the disabled, the affluent (“Elite Matrimony”) and for those with unfavourable astrological charts, which make it difficult to find a match. All online firms run a “freemium” model: upload your profile at no charge and let an algorithm match horoscope details with potential partners filtered by age, caste, education, income and sometimes (alas) complexion. Or you can pay for features like instant chat or a colourful border around your profile to ensure the algorithm returns you as a top search result.

Such a long list of options means that finding a match on the web can be time-consuming and tedious. “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” says one suitor. Predictably, many also complain that online profiles often do not reflect reality. Outright fakes remain a scourge. This month a man was arrested in Delhi for extorting over 5m rupees ($77,700) from 15 women by luring them on matrimonial websites. And no amount of artificial intelligence can yet identify what will make two youngsters click.

Spouseup, a south Indian startup, is undaunted. It trawls social media to determine a candidate’s personality and recommends matches by calculating a “compatibility score”. Nine-tenths of its 50,000 users are non-resident Indians who usually fly to India for a month or so, scout for partners, settle on one, get hitched and fly back together. For these time-starved travellers, the machine-led scouring “provides an insight that would come from five coffee dates,” says Karthik Iyer, the firm’s founder. Banihal, which is based in Silicon Valley, relies on a long psychometric questionnaire of around 100 questions to match like-minded partners.

Real-world complements to online efforts can help secure a match. Some services, such as IITIIMShaadi.com, aimed at people graduating from prestigious universities, also act as conventional wedding-brokers, by meeting prospects on their clients’ behalf. The job is no different from that of a headhunter, says Taksh Gupta, its founder. He charges anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000 rupees for the service. His most recent catch, after a search lasting over two years, was a husband for a 45-year-old woman from a prestigious university who would settle for no less than an Ivy League groom. Matrimony.com, too, has over 400 “relationship managers” and 140 physical outlets.

“The opportunity is huge”, enthuses Murugavel Janakiraman, boss of Matrimony.com. Around four-fifths of new customers now come via smartphones, lured by instant alerts about new potential matches and services that match up people in the same town. But the spread of smartphones also brings competition. Casual-dating apps are spreading fast. Tinder, on which decisions about eligibility rarely benefit from parental advice, now counts India as Asia’s largest, fastest-growing market.

Source: Online matchmaking businesses in India have many ways to woo

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05/07/2017

H-1B and Modi: India Real Time Reveals the Secret Reading Habits of India’s Elite – India Real Time – WSJ

India Real Time started in 2010 as the first attempt by a global newspaper to offer a news product for Indian readers through the internet. Seven years and crores of clicks later, The Wall Street Journal is winding down the successful blog.

We will continue to offer the content Indian readers want through the more popular paths of distribution: WSJ subscriptions, apps and social media.

All those years monitoring the India Real Time reader has given us unprecedented insight into what educated India watchers are actually reading and we will continue to apply that knowledge to how we choose and craft stories.

We also discovered the types of stories they weren’t reading. One surprising example was the English-speaking elite just weren’t that mesmerized by cricket or Bollywood. Our readers were either getting that news elsewhere or maybe they just weren’t as film and cricket crazy as people in India are supposed to be.

Here are five other lessons we learned about India’s news junkies: Visa Power

President Donald Trump signed an executive order to revamp the H-1B visa guest worker program, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, April 18, 2017. PHOTO: SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES

H-1B may be bureaucratic jargon that means little to most Americans but it is click bait for others. Our readers couldn’t get enough news about how Washington is tinkering with the high-skilled worker visas. Stories like “H-1B Visas: How Donald Trump Could Change America’s Skilled Worker Visa,” and “So What Does Obama’s Immigration Reform Mean for India’s High-Skilled Worker?” were by far the most read, attracting millions of readers.

Modi Magic

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmadabad, India, June 30, 2017. PHOTO: AJIT SOLANKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

India’s prime minster appeals to tech-savvy Indians at home and abroad and our readers wanted to know everything he was up to whether it was his pop-star  performance at Madison Square Garden or the vanity suit he wore when he met President Barack Obama.

Battle of the Billions

The Bhendi Bazaar area of Mumbai, Dec. 2, 2016. PHOTO: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

A theme that resonated with our readers was how India was doing relative to China. As India’s economy has grown it has become increasingly aware it is living in the shadow and slipstream of its giant neighbor. When our readers saw headlines like “The Difference Between Indian and Chinese Migrants,” “India Ranked Less Corrupt Than China for the first time in 18 years,” and “India Passes China to Become Fastest-Growing Economy,” they tapped on their smartphones to read more.

Tech Triumphs

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket lifted off carrying India’s Mars spacecraft from the east coast island of Sriharikota, India, Nov. 5, 2013. PHOTO: ARUN SANKAR/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Our readers couldn’t get enough of technology trends and inventions.  From stories about how India pulled off its Mars mission and how outsourcers are coping with the cloud to blogs on an Indian-designed smartshoe and a roti-making machine, IRT was rewarded when it covered India’s contribution to the tech world.

Please Explain

An Indian Oil Corp. employee counted Indian rupee banknotes in the village of Mangrauli, Uttar Pradesh, India, July 19, 2016. PHOTO: PRASHANTH VISHWANATHAN/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Years of traffic to the blog showed us readers want reporters to sometimes step back and explain the history and context of a story as well as how it will affect their lives. “How Can Indians Living Abroad Exchange Their Old Rupee Notes?”  and “Who is Anna Hazare?” are great examples of stories that went viral because they explained the basics. The blog also had a lot of popular quirky explainers including “A Short History of the Kiss in India,” and “India Shining: We Unravel the Secret Behind Delhi’s Dazzling Sweater Vests.”The list of hits could go on and on—in fact it will but not on a separate blog page—there were great graphics like the rape map  and the global comparison of wages.  There were stories that made waves like a multi-part long form series on the history of Ayodhya as well as a quick hit that exposed how some Indian snacks from Haldiram’s and others were getting blocked from entry into the U.S.The Wall Street Journal is taking all the experience and insight gained through India Real Time and will continue to deliver its unique take on what is happening in India and what matters to Indians. It will continue to use the largest team of international newspaper journalists in South Asia to deliver the stories that matter through its websites, apps and social media pages.

Source: H-1B and Modi: India Real Time Reveals the Secret Reading Habits of India’s Elite – India Real Time – WSJ

09/06/2017

India has made primary education universal, but not good

IN 1931 Mahatma Gandhi ridiculed the idea that India might have universal primary education “inside of a century”.

He was too pessimistic. Since 1980 the share of Indian teenagers who have had no schooling has fallen from about half to less than one in ten. That is a big, if belated, success for the country with more school-age children, 260m, than any other.

Yet India has failed these children. Many learn precious little at school. India may be famous for its elite doctors and engineers, but half of its nine-year-olds cannot do a sum as simple as eight plus nine. Half of ten-year-old Indians cannot read a paragraph meant for seven-year-olds. At 15, pupils in Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh are five years behind their (better-off) peers in Shanghai. The average 15-year-old from these states would be in the bottom 2% of an American class. With few old people and a falling birth rate, India has a youth bulge: 13% of its inhabitants are teenagers, compared with 8% in China and 7% in Europe. But if its schools remain lousy, that demographic dividend will be wasted.

India has long had a lopsided education system. In colonial times the British set up universities to train civil servants, while neglecting schools. India’s first elected leaders expanded this system, pouring money into top-notch colleges to supply engineers to state-owned industries. By contrast, Asian tigers such as South Korea and Taiwan focused on schools. Of late, India has done more to help those left behind. Spending on schools rose by about 80% in 2011-15. The literacy rate has risen from 52% in 1991 to 74% in 2011. Free school lunches—one of the world’s largest nutrition schemes—help millions of pupils who might otherwise be too hungry to learn.

Pointless pampered pedagogues

However, the quality of schools remains a scandal. Many teachers are simply not up to the job. Since 2011, when the government introduced a test for aspiring teachers, as many as 99% of applicants have failed each year. Curriculums are over-ambitious relics of an era when only a select few went to school. Since pupils automatically move up each year, teachers do not bother to ensure that they understand their lessons. Overmighty teachers’ unions—which, in effect, are guaranteed seats in some state legislatures—make matters worse. Teachers’ salaries, already high, have more than doubled over the past two rounds of pay negotiations. Some teachers, having paid bribes to be hired in the first place, treat the job as a sinecure. Shockingly, a quarter play truant each day.

Frustrated by the government system, and keen for their children to learn English, parents have turned to low-cost private schools, many of which are bilingual. In five years their enrolment has increased by 17m, as against a fall of 13m in public schools. These private schools can be as good as or better than public schools despite having much smaller budgets. In Uttar Pradesh the flight to private schools almost emptied some public ones. But when it was suggested that teachers without pupils move to schools that needed them, they staged violent protests and the state backed down.

India spends about 2.7% of GDP on schools, a lower share than many countries. Narendra Modi, the prime minister, once vowed to bump up education spending to 6%. However, extra money will be wasted without reform in three areas. The first is making sure that children are taught at the right level. Curriculums should be simpler. Pupils cannot be left to pass through grades without mastering material. Remedial “learning camps”, such as the ones run by charities like Pratham, can help. So can technology: for example, EkStep, a philanthropic venture, gives children free digital access to teaching materials.

The second task is to make the system more meritocratic and accountable. Teachers should be recruited for their talents, not their connections. They should be trained better and rewarded on the basis of what children actually learn. (They should also be sackable if they fail to show up.) The government should use more rigorous measures to find out which of a hotch-potch of bureaucratic and charitable efforts make a difference. And policymakers should do more to help good private providers—the third area of reform. Vouchers and public-private partnerships could help the best operators of low-cost private schools expand.Mr Modi’s government has made encouraging noises about toughening accountability and improving curriculums.But, wary of the unions, it remains too cautious. Granted, authority over education is split between the centre and the states, so Mr Modi is not omnipotent. But he could do a lot more. His promise to create a “new India” will be hollow if his country is stuck with schools from the 19th century.

Source: India has made primary education universal, but not good

05/06/2017

India passenger bus crash kills 22 – BBC News

At least 22 people have been killed after a bus they were travelling in collided with a truck in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The crash happened early on Monday in the city of Bareilly, 251km (155 miles) from the state capital, Lucknow.

A senior police official said all 22 victims had been charred badly and could not be immediately identified.

The passenger bus had caught fire following the collision. Police are searching for the driver of the truck.

India road crashes kill 146,133 people in 2015

The AFP news agency quoted police as saying the doors of the bus jammed after the collision, trapping passengers inside.

A few people managed to escape by breaking open the windows of the vehicle.

The chief spokesman of the Uttar Pradesh police, Rahul Srivastav, said the bus was carrying 41 passengers, and that those who were injured had been rushed to hospital.

The condition of many of them is said to be serious, and officials warn that the toll is likely to rise.

India has the world’s highest number of road deaths, with an accident taking place every four minutes.

Most crashes are blamed on reckless driving, poorly maintained roads and ageing vehicles.

Source: India passenger bus crash kills 22 – BBC News

26/05/2017

Indian population is bigger than one-child China’s, claims academic | World | The Times & The Sunday Times

India has overtaken China and become the world’s most populous country, according to an academic who believes that Beijing has overestimated the number of its citizens by as much as 90 million.

With none of the infamous birth control policies that China enforced for decades, India had been expected to become No 1 in the next five to ten years.

However, Yi Fuxian, a researcher and critic of China’s one-child policy, says that the Chinese authorities have greatly overstated the country’s real fertility rate since 1990.

At a conference in Beijing, Mr Yi concluded that China was home to 1.29 billion people at the end of last year, not the 1.38 billion that is Beijing’s official estimate.Mr Yi’s calculations would put China’s population lower than that of India, whose government estimates that the Indian population is 1.33 billion. Yesterday China’s “ministry of births”, the national health and family planning commission, rejected his claims.

“Some people ignored the birth population data issued by the state statistics bureau after revision, make no analysis on the raw data of population census and random surveys, directly gathered, and believe 2015’s total fertility rate is 1.05,” the commission said. “This is completely not in accordance with the real situation.” It said the 2016 fertility rate — births per woman — was 1.7.

Mr Yi, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose book Big Country with an Empty Nest was published in Hong Kong and banned on the mainland, said that the government’s denial came as no surprise.

“I am confident in my research,” he told The Times. If the public knew the true numbers then they and policymakers would have stopped the policies and the commission would have been closed years ago, he added.

He called on China to abolish all restrictions rather than just allowing two children per family, a reform introduced last year.

Its one-child policy was introduced in 1979 and was phased out gradually. There were many exceptions: ethnic minorities were exempt and some families could have a second child if the first was a girl.

The title of the world’s most populous nation probably remains with China for the time being, according to other experts. He Yafu, an independent demographer in Guangdong province, said China’s official population statistics probably are inflated “but it’s impossible to be that much [90 million]”.“China’s population must have exceeded 1.3 billion but is less than 1.4 billion. Figures from social insurance and other areas can also prove that it’s definitely more than 1.3 billion,” Mr He said.

“It’s already too late to abolish the family planning policy because according to surveys, even if the policy was totally relaxed only 5 per cent of families will have a third child. Therefore policy-loosening won’t have too much effect on China’s birthrate.”On online forums Chinese people debated the news. “We don’t want to wear the hat of world’s No 1 population country,” wrote one poster on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. “Hurry up to give it to India!”

Another sympathised with Mr Yi’s sceptical view of official Chinese statistics, saying: “It’s very normal. The family planning commission made up data for its own long existence, which already wasn’t news a long time ago.”

Source: Indian population is bigger than one-child China’s, claims academic | World | The Times & The Sunday Times

24/05/2017

Kung phooey: A fist-fight in China turns into a clash between tradition and modernity | The Economist

MOST lovers of Chinese martial arts take the magical aspects of kung fu, as demonstrated by the flying fighters of legend and film, with a pinch of salt. But Wei Lei built his career in China on a claim that his mastery of tai chi, a branch of kung fu, had given him supernatural power. In a programme about kung fu that was broadcast on state television in 2015, Mr Wei demonstrated that he could keep a dove standing on his hand with an invisible force-field and smash the inside of a watermelon without damaging its rind.

The broadcaster itself appeared to be among the credulous.There were many sceptics, too. Earlier this year one of them stepped forward to challenge Mr Wei: Xu Xiaodong, a practitioner of mixed martial arts—a fighting form drawing on Eastern and Western traditions that began to take off in America in the 1990s (and is picking up fans in China). Mr Xu mocked tai chi as a slow-motion form of aerobics. Last month the two men decided to settle their argument in hand-to-hand combat. The fight on April 27th was quick and decisive. Just 12 seconds in, Mr Wei ended up on the ground, his nose bleeding.

A fist-fight in China turns into a clash between tradition and modernity

A video of the clash spread rapidly online. Some commentators in China sided with Mr Xu, and urged him to expose other kung fu “masters”. Mr Xu promised to do so. His aim, he said, was not to disparage Chinese martial arts, but to expose deceitful practitioners.

But many netizens accused Mr Xu of trying to besmirch the country’s ancient fighting techniques: how, they asked, could a single fight prove anything? Guancha.cn, a news portal, said Mr Xu’s posts over the years on Weibo, a microblog website, had insulted the Chinese army and Mao Zedong. Ye Yincong of Lingnan University in Hong Kong wrote that the reaction demonstrated a common tendency in China to view the world in terms of a struggle between Chinese tradition and Western influence.

Some kung-fu fighters have expressed willingness to take up Mr Xu’s challenge. But faced with a barrage of hate messages, Mr Xu appears to have lost his zeal. On May 4th he appeared in a live video-stream, looking stressed. “I have lost my career and everything,” he said, implying the pressure had been affecting his work as a mixed-martial-arts coach.

The authorities appear eager to put an end to the debate. China’s president Xi Jinping is a fan of traditional Chinese culture, and says he wants to use it promote the country’s “soft power” abroad. The recent criticism of kung fu may have triggered too much questioning of it for his taste. On May 7th Mr Xu’s Weibo account was deleted, as was some of the online reporting and commentary about his fight with Mr Wei. Mr Xu told the BBC that he would keep quiet from now on, and study traditional Chinese martial arts.

Source: Kung phooey: A fist-fight in China turns into a clash between tradition and modernity | The Economist

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22/05/2017

Indian woman ‘sets new Everest dual ascent record’ – BBC News

An Indian has climbed Mount Everest twice in under a week in what may be a new woman’s record for fastest double ascent of the world’s highest peak.

Anshu Jamsenpa, a 37-year-old mother-of-two, reached the summit on 16 and 21 May, tourism official Gyanendra Shrestha confirmed to BBC Nepali.

The current Guinness record for woman’s fastest double ascent is seven days.

News of Ms Jamsenpa’s climbs came as at least three climbers were killed on the mountain over the weekend.

An Australian climber died on the Tibetan side, while a Slovak and an American died on the Nepalese side. Rescuers have failed to locate a fourth climber – who is from India – who disappeared shortly after reaching the summit.

Hundreds of mountaineers are hoping to scale the world’s highest peak before the monsoon sweeps in next month.

 

It’s the second time Ms Jamsenpa, who is from the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, has notched up an Everest double ascent. Her previous feat was in 2011, but those ascents came 10 days apart.

She will now have to approach Guinness World Records to register her climbs after they have been certified by Nepal’s ministry of tourism.

The current woman’s record was set by Nepalese climber Chhurim Sherpa in 2012.

Apart from her two double ascents, Ms Jamsenpa also scaled the mountain in 2013.Her husband, Tsering Wange, told the BBC that her plan was always to do a double ascent twice, but her second attempt did not succeed in 2014 due to an avalanche and in 2015 because of the devastating Nepal earthquake.

Source: Indian woman ‘sets new Everest dual ascent record’ – BBC News

08/05/2017

The bullies of Urumqi: The extraordinary ways in which China humiliates Muslims | The Economist

CHINESE officials describe the far western province of Xinjiang as a “core area” in the vast swathe of territory covered by the country’s grandiose “Belt and Road Initiative” to boost economic ties with Central Asia and regions beyond.

They hope that wealth generated by the scheme will help to make Xinjiang more stable—for years it has been plagued by separatist violence which China says is being fed by global jihadism. But the authorities are not waiting. In recent months they have intensified their efforts to stifle the Islamic identity of Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighurs, fearful that any public display of their religious belief could morph into militancy.Xinjiang’s 10m Uighurs (nearly half of its population) have long been used to heavy-handed curbs: a ban on unauthorised pilgrimages to Mecca, orders to students not to fast during Ramadan, tough restrictions on Islamic garb (women with face-covering veils are sometimes not allowed on buses), no entry to many mosques for people under 18, and so on.

But since he took over last August as Xinjiang’s Communist Party chief, Chen Quanguo has launched even harsher measures—pleased, apparently, by his crushing of dissent in Tibet where he previously served as leader. As in Tibet, many Xinjiang residents have been told to hand their passports to police and seek permission to travel abroad. In one part of Xinjiang all vehicles have been ordered to install satellite tracking-devices. There have been several shows of what officials call “thunderous power”, involving thousands of paramilitary troops parading through streets.

Last month, new rules came into effect that banned “abnormal” beards (such as the one worn by the man pictured in front of the main mosque in Kashgar in south-western Xinjiang). They also called on transport workers to report women wearing face veils or full-body coverings to the police, and prohibited “naming of children to exaggerate religious fervour”. A leaked list of banned names includes Muhammad, Mecca and Saddam. Parents may not be able to obtain vital household-registration papers for children with unapproved names, meaning they could be denied free schooling and health care.

Residents have also been asked to spy on each other. In Urumqi, the region’s capital, locals can report security threats via a new mobile app. People living in Altay in northern Xinjiang have been promised rewards of up to 5m yuan ($720,000) for tip-offs that help capture militants—over 200 times the local income per person.

Across Xinjiang residents have been asked to inform the authorities of any religious activities, including weddings and circumcisions. The government is also testing its own people’s loyalty. In March an official in Hotan in southern Xinjiang was demoted for “timidity” in “fighting against religious extremism” because he chose not to smoke in front of a group of mullahs.

Mr Chen is widely rumoured to be a contender for a seat in the ruling Politburo in a reshuffle due late this year. Displays of toughness may help to ingratiate him with China’s president, Xi Jinping, who has called for “a great wall of iron” to safeguard Xinjiang. Spending on security in Xinjiang was nearly 20% higher in 2016 than the year before. Adverts for security-related jobs there increased more than threefold last year, reckon James Leibold of La Trobe University and Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology at Korntal, Germany.

Uighurs have been blamed for several recent attacks in Xinjiang. In one of them in February, in the southern prefecture of Hotan, three knife-wielding men killed five people and injured several others before being shot dead by police (local reports suggested the violence occurred after a Uighur family was punished for holding a prayer session at home). Officials may be congratulating themselves on the success of their tactics; reported large-scale attacks by Uighurs inside and outside Xinjiang have abated in the past 18 months. Yet as in Tibet, intrusive surveillance and curbs on cultural expression have fuelled people’s desperation. “A community is like a fruit,” says a Uighur driver from Kashgar. “Squash it too hard and it will burst.”

Source: The bullies of Urumqi: The extraordinary ways in which China humiliates Muslims | The Economist

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04/05/2017

Aadhaar: Are a billion identities at risk on India’s biometric database – BBC News

Shyam Divan was arguing a crucial petition challenging a new law that makes it compulsory for people to submit a controversial biometric-based personal identification number while filing income tax returns.

“My fingerprints and iris are mine and my own. The state cannot take away my body,” a lawyer told India’s Supreme Court last week

Defending this law, the government’s top law officer told the court on Tuesday that an individual’s “right to body is not an absolute right”.

“You can have right over your body but the state can restrict trading in body organs, so the state can exercise control over the body,” Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said.At the heart of the latest challenge are rising concerns over the security of this mega biometric database and privacy of the number holders. (The government says it needs to link the identity number to income tax returns to improve compliance and prevent fraud.)

India’s biometric database is the world’s largest. Over the past eight years, the government has collected fingerprints and iris scans from more than a billion residents – or nearly 90% of the population – and stored them in a high security data centre. In return, each person has been provided with a randomly generated, unique 12-digit identity number.

For a country of 1.2 billion people with only 65 million passport-holders and 200 million with driving licenses, the portable identity number is a boon to the millions who have long suffered for a lack of one.

Indians will need the identity number to receive benefits from more than 500 welfare schemes

States have been using the number, also called Aadhaar (Foundation), to transfer government pensions, scholarships, wages for a landmark rural jobs-for-work scheme and benefits for cooking fuel to targeted recipients, and distribute cheap food to the poor.

Over the years, the number has taken a life of its own and begun exerting, what many say, is an overweening and stifling control over people’s lives. For many like political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Aadhaar has transmuted from a “tool of citizen empowerment to a tool of state surveillance and citizen vulnerability”.

People will soon need the number to receive benefits from more than 500 of India’s 1,200-odd welfare schemes. Even banks and private firms have begun using it to authenticate consumers: a new telecom company snapped up 100 million subscribers in quick time recently by verifying the customer’s identity through the number.

‘Forcibly linked’

People are using the number to even get their marriages registered. The number, says Nikhil Pahwa, editor and publisher of Indian news site MediaNama, is “being forcibly linked to mobile numbers, bank accounts, tax filings, scholarships, pensions, rations, school admissions, health records and much much more, which thus puts more personal information at risk”.

Some of the fears are not without basis.

The government has assured that the biometric data is “safe and secure in encrypted form”, and anybody found guilty of leaking data can be jailed and fined.

But there have already been a number of leaks of details of students, pensioners and recipients of welfare benefits involving a dozen government websites. Even former Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni’s personal information was mistakenly tweeted by an overzealous enrolment service provider.

The fingerprints and iris scans are stored in high security data centres

Now a disturbing report by The Centre for Internet and Society claims that details of around 130-135 million Aadhaar numbers, and around 100 million bank numbers of pensioners and rural jobs-for-work beneficiaries have been leaked online by four key government schemes.

More than 230 million people nationwide are accessing welfare benefits using their numbers, and potentially, according to the report, “we could be looking at a data leak closer to that number”. And linking the number to different databases – as the government is doing – is increasing the risk of data theft and surveillance.

The chief law officer believes that the outrage over the leaks is “much ado about nothing”.

“Biometrics were not leaked, only Aadhaar numbers were leaked. It is nothing substantial. The idea is biometrics should not be leaked,” Mukul Rohtagi told the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The government itself has admitted that it has blacklisted or suspended some 34,000 service providers for helping create “fake” identification numbers or not following proper processes. Two years ago, a man was arrested for getting an identification number for his pet dog. The government itself has deactivated 8.5 million numbers for incorrect data, dodgy biometrics and duplication. Last month, crop loss compensation for more than 40,000 farmers was delayed because their Aadhaar numbers were “entered incorrectly by banks”.’

‘Mass surveillance’

There are also concerns that the number can be used for profiling. Recently, authorities asked participants at a function in a restive university campus in southern India to provide their Aadhaar identity numbers. “This is not only a matter of privacy. The all pervasiveness of the Aadhaar number is a threat to freedom of expression, which is a constitutional right,” Srinivas Kodali, who investigated the latest report on data leaks, told me.

Critics say the government is steaming ahead with making the number compulsory for a range of services, violating a Supreme Court order which said enrolment would be voluntary. “The main danger of the number,” says economist Jean Dreze, “is that it opens the door to mass surveillance.”

AadhaarDetails of millions of Aadhaar number holders have been leaked

Nandan Nilekani, the technology tycoon who set up the programme popularly known by its acronym UIDAI, believes concerns about the safety of the biometric database are exaggerated.

He says the identity number has cut wastage, removed fakes, curbed corruption and made substantial savings for the government. He insists that the programme is completely encrypted and secure. “It’s like you are creating a rule-based society,” he told Financial Times recently, “it’s the transition that is going on right now.”

Abused

More than 60 countries around the world take biometric data from its people, says Mr Nilekani. But then there are nagging concerns worldwide about these databases being abused by hackers and state intelligence.

In 2016, personal details of some 50 million people in Turkey were reportedly leaked. (Turkey’s population is estimated at 78 million.) In 2015, hackers stole more than five million fingerprints after breaching US government networks. In 2011, French experts discovered a hack involving the theft of millions of people’s data in Israel.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta has written that the lack of a “clear transparent consent architecture, no transparent information architecture, no privacy architecture worth the name [India doesn’t have a privacy law], and increasingly, no assurance about what exactly you do if the state decides to mess with your identity” could easily make Aadhaar a “tool of state suppression”.

So a lot of lingering doubts remain. How pervasive should an identity number be? What about the individual freedom of citizens? How do you ensure the world’s biggest biometric database is secure in a country with no privacy laws and a deficient criminal justice system?

In many ways, the debate about Aadhaar is also a debate about the future of India. As lawyer Shyam Divan argued forcefully in the top court, “people are reduced to vassals” when the state controls your body to this extent.

Source: Aadhaar: Are a billion identities at risk on India’s biometric database – BBC News

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14/04/2017

Tiger toffs: China’s elite boarding schools | The Economist

CHINESE parents pride themselves on the importance they attach to education; it is, they say, the most important gift they can bestow on the next generation.

That makes them all the more willing to shell out, if they can afford it, on expensive boarding schools which they believe will enable their children to concentrate fully on their studies. Poor families in the countryside pack their children off to board, too. But that is because they have no choice: daily commuting would be too expensive or arduous. In the cities, boarding schools are usually far grander. Attending them is more a badge of privilege than evidence of pragmatism.There is considerable demand for such urban schools. In many rich countries, parents often fret about sending their children away to board, partly because of the high cost and partly because these days many parents prefer to have their children with them. In China, by contrast, it is considered very normal for a couple to live apart from their child (they usually only have one). For urban boarders, the distance is seldom great: parents usually send their children to schools very close to where they live.

Boarding school offers an alternative to foisting a child on grandparents, which parents often do, sometimes for days on end. It may be costly, but parents reckon that such schools can do more to help children study after class than the elders can at home. In a country where siblings are so rare, many also see communal living as good for their offspring. Some 3.5m children now board in cities, around 4% of the urban school population. The vast majority of them do so at high school (8% of secondary-school pupils board, compared with 1% of primary schoolers).

A few of the boarding schools court the country’s elite by offering to prepare children for admission to universities abroad (in China, foreign education is another much-desired symbol of privilege). The redbrick quadrangle of the recently built Keystone Academy in a suburb of Beijing resembles a boarding school in New England. The institution’s annual boarding fee of 360,000 yuan ($52,000) is higher than tuition at Harvard University.

But the most expensive boarding schools may have had their heyday. Many parents with that much cash to spare would often prefer to send their children to board abroad: enrolments in American and British boarding schools are rising fast. Social trends are also changing. A wife who can afford not to work—and who has time to parent a child—is increasingly seen as someone who enjoys high status: traditional gender roles are making a comeback. In 2014 Yin Jianli, a popular author and former teacher, included an essay entitled “Boarding is a Bad System” in a book she wrote about education. It argued that if dorm-life really fostered the “sense of collectivism” that its proponents claim, then children from orphanages would score top marks. She said that mothers should be more involved in child-rearing.

For ordinary middle-class parents, less fancy state-run boarding schools are becoming more affordable: often they cost only a few thousand yuan a year. But even their future may be threatened. President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft drive is making it harder to secure a place in the best ones by using the once common methods of paying backhanders and pulling strings. These days having a child at a good state boarding-school can be a sign of corruption. No one wants that badge.

Source: Tiger toffs: China’s elite boarding schools | The Economist

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