Sri Lanka: Journalist Gets 20 Years Hard Labor

We have been getting several tips about the conviction of a Sri Lankan journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam, who has written articles critical of the Sri Lankan government for a magazine. Tissinayagam has been sentenced to 20 years in prison under Sri Lanka’s emergency laws:

J. S. Tissainayagam, editor of the North Eastern Monthly magazine, wrote articles highly critical of a government military offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels who had controlled a large chunk of Sri Lanka’s north. The government decisively defeated the Tigers in a bloody final battle on a strip of beach in northern Sri Lanka in May.

Mr. Tissainayagam was arrested in 2008 and charged under Sri Lanka’s powerful emergency laws, which were enacted in response to the Tamil Tiger insurgency. The insurgents, members of the Hindu Tamil minority, sought a separate state from Sri Lanka’s Buddhist, Sinhalese majority. Prosecutors argued that Mr. Tissainayagam had received money and other support from the Tamil Tigers in exchange for writing articles critical of the government. Mr. Tissainayagam has repeatedly denied this.

As is often the case with local journalists in conflict zones, Mr. Tissainayagam’s reporting reflected the prevailing point of view of the minority to which he belonged, but the government argued his work went further. (link)

I don’t know about the supposed evidence that Tissainayagam ever took money directly from the LTTE, or gave money to them. It’s very difficult, from this distance, to know whether there is any validity to that. Obviously, if you’re critical of the Sri Lankan government you’re likely to be extremely skeptical about that part of the story. By contrast, if you’re critical primarily of the LTTE, you might wonder where the funding for Tissainayagam’s magazine, North Eastern Monthly came from. Continue reading

“Ladli”: In Delhi, an Incentive to Have Girls

I recently came across the news that, in Delhi, for the first time in many years, the number of girls born was higher than the number of boys.

Having long campaigned against a cultural discrimination towards baby girls which has led to a growth in the aborting of female foetuses, campaigners said figures, which showed that in 2008 1,004 girls were born for every 1,000 boys, could mark a break-through.

Dr Dharm Prakash of the Indian Medical Association, which ran a campaign against aborting girl foetuses, said: “The community has responded to our request that girls should be born.” Selective abortion has been illegal for years, but the practice remains rife. There are often reports of police raiding clinics where such operations are performed. In 2007, police in Gurgaon, a satellite city of Delhi, arrested a doctor after the remains of up to 35 foetuses were discovered in his clinic. The government has estimated that up to 10 million girls have been killed, before or immediately after birth, by their parents over the past 20 years.

In Delhi, some credit for the turn-around has been given to the local government’s so-called Ladli scheme. Under this project, the government deposits 10,000 rupees (£125) on the the birth of a baby girl and makes subsequent payments as she passes through school. The money is used for further education or to pay for a wedding and setting up home. (link)

In total, the Delhi government is committing to spend Rs. 1 Lakh (~$2000) to support families that give birth to girls. As I understand it, the program is limited to lower income families.

Livemint raises questions about whether the “Ladli” program, which was only initiated in the spring of 2008 itself, could have become so instantly successful. In a way, it would be even better if it wasn’t the government-financed program, as that might suggest that behaviors were starting to change on their own, at least in Delhi.

For the curious, here is the Delhi government’s web page outlining the guidelines for the Ladli scheme.

(See Abhi’s previous post for grim statistics on female foeticide in India, and indeed, around the world.) Continue reading

Set your DVRs – ABDC Goes Bollywood

While some folks are addicted to American Idol or Survivor, my favorite reality competition show, for a couple seasons now, has been MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew (ABDC). ABDC brings together dance teams from across the country who compete in a variety of challenges and each week, the illustrious judges and America vote a team off.

Winning teams from previous seasons including the Jabbawockeez and Quest Crew have delivered some utterly showstopping performances that have set a high bar for the show in general. Full episodes from previous episodes & seasons are available on line and the ABDC’s top 10 performance recap is a great intro to the show.

Season 4 began a couple weeks ago with a new set of crews who’ve been assembled from across the country. While previous seasons were criticized for being overly weighted towards b-boys and hip hop, this time around, the producers have tried to venture wide and bring in other styles of music and groups. Towards that end, this week, the 6 remaining ABDC crews will be facing the Bollywood challenge

UPDATE – MTV’s blog has released a few snapshots & commentary from the upcoming episode

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Dark is Beautiful, Indeed

This past Memorial Day, I opened the medicine cabinet at my aunt’s house looking for toothpaste only to find a tube of Fair & Lovely staring back at me. My heart sank. I yelled for my 10-year old cousin. “What is THIS?” I asked her, holding the tube gingerly.

“What?” she said innocently, “It’s just suntan lotion so I don’t get dark.” I looked at the ingredient list. Indeed, among the ingredients was “sunscreen.” I shouldn’t have been surprised. This was the same girl who had teased her seven-year old darker-skinned cousin so much that a year later, the poor kid still adamantly states “I’m not pretty.” Little wonder given that our mothers come from a country where bridal makeup still means you pancake the woman in white foundation from the neck-up and then hide her hands under her dupatta so the color disparity doesn’t show. Continue reading

Ted Kennedy: A Champion for Immigrants

Ted Kennedy passed away today, the third-longest serving member of the Senate in history, and a man who affected the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. In a family of public servants, he perhaps did the most for our country of any of the Kennedy brothers, and he certainly made a profound impact in almost all of our lives, as immigrants and the descendants of immigrants. Most notably in civil rights and immigration, but also in practically every other walk of life, he has affected the lives of South Asian immigrants.


From the moment he entered the Senate in 1962, he was devoted to the causes of Civil Rights and Immigration Reform, in a large part motivated by his own family’s experience. His great-grandparents had been immigrants to the United States from Ireland, and his family had profoundly benefited from the opportunities that America offered while also bearing the brunt of discrimination against Irish Catholics. He recounted these experiences as he fiercely advocated for the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and most relevantly to us, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Kennedy described how his immigrant ancestry impacted him in an insightful 2006 NPR interview about his work on immigration policy:

(My grandfather told me about when..) no Irish need apply for jobs. They were constantly ostracized and discriminated against, primarily against employment and every other aspect of social-political and economic life. And then they gradually asserted themselves. My grandfather Fitzgerald was the first son of immigrants that was elected to the Congress of the United States, and also a mayor of a major city, which was a major breakthrough. But the sting of discrimination they felt was very powerful and stayed with them. And that became a very important element in the whole restructuring of our immigrant bill in 1965.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 “abolished the national-origin quotas that had been in place in the United States since the Immigration Act of 1924.” The quotas based on preferences for ethnicities from Western Europe were significantly loosened, opening the doors for immigrants from Africa and Asia to come to this country in far greater numbers.

In 1965, Kennedy was floor manager for an immigration bill that ended four decades of preferences for Northern Europeans at the expense of Asians and other groups and, some have argued, paved the way for Barack Obama’s presidential victory (Slate).

His legislative skill in passing this bill was extraordinary, given the fact that there was no powerful constituency lobbying for people, such as my parents, who were not yet in the country:

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Hard-hitting Coverage

29761705.JPGIf the recent Wall Street Journal and New York Times articles about Indian women in boxing intrigued you then you’ll probably want to keep an eye out for the documentary With This Ring by Ameesha Joshi and Anna Sarkissian, currently in post-production. Joshi became interested in Indian women boxers when she came across a photo of one in a Montreal exhibit and learned the “Indian team was one of the best in the world.”

The filmmakers have been following female boxers in India for a few years and were there when Indian women claimed victory at the 2006 World Women’s Boxing Championship in Delhi, winning medals in eight out of 13 categories. Joshi writes, “Mary Kom in particular caught our attention, she was and still is the most successful amateur boxer ever, yet no one in India or elsewhere even knew she existed. We were inspired by their incredible achievements despite all their struggles and wanted to share their stories with the world.” Continue reading

Top Chef: Las Vegas “Vice”

Wherein we recap epidsode one and live blog episode two, of one of the best reality shows EVAR.

Exactly one week ago, a few of you joined me for the season premier of Top Chef: Las Vegas. Together, we good-foodies watched with breaths abated as Google’s Executive Chef, Preeti Mistry, took on a ginger who blew off MIT for cooking (he’s like the anti-brown!) and Michael Isabella, whom I know by name because I’m devoted to his restaurant, Zaytinya, even if he’s shaping up to be this season’s honorary representative from Massengill. Speaking of that currently-beloved epithet, this amusing blog thinks Preeti is one of three “Contenders for Top Douchebag”. Wow, not only are we a post-racial nation, we’re living in an era where a woman is nominated to be a “top” DB. That’s…something.

Like last week, you are invited to join in the chant by tuning in at 10pm, when you will be able to crash this live-blogging party:

Now about that Mise-en-place relay race from last week, which is ALL people can mention when I bring up Preeti… Continue reading

Site Maintenance

Update: If you are seeing this, the move is complete.

We interrupt this blog to bring you this notice that Sepia Mutiny site will be down for maintenance between 2am – 4am EST on 8/26/2009. This includes DNS updates of our domain which would mean that for some users, depending on your location across the globe, the site may not work for up to 24-48 hours. 🙁

Please bear with us during this transition. Back to the real bloggers … Continue reading

Shyamalan Goes to Canada

As much as I love Philadelphia, I know it’s not always a hub of desi activity. But we do have one thing. Or should I say, one man. We have M. Night Shyamalan. All right, fine. Maybe given his recent string of flops, that’s not much to be proud of, but we take what we can. One of the reasons why Shyamalan remains beloved by Philadelphians is because he continues to base his productions in and around the City of Brotherly Love. The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Lady in the Water and his upcoming film, The Last Airbender, were all filmed in and around Philadelphia.

With the combination of Shyamalan and the recent spate of Bollywood films that were shot in Philadelphia, Philadelphia desis didn’t have to go far to see some of their favorite South Asian stars. (Which reminds me, Dev Patel, please come back to Philadelphia.I promise I’ll stop stalking you.) But today, it was announced that Shyamalan is leaving Philadelphia for the budget-friendly shores of Canada to film his latest production, Devil. Continue reading

Empowering the World’s Women

23cover-395.jpg This Sunday’s New York Times’ Magazine had a special and resonant theme: “Saving the World’s Women.” The magazine had a descriptive collection of articles well-worth reading. They covered subjects including the challenge of educating young girls in Afghanistan, an interview with Hillary Clinton covering the Obama Administration’s foreign policy in relation to women’s rights, a troubling trend of gender selection in developing countries, and a growing branch of philanthropy in which women support women’s causes. The cover article, “The Women’s Crusade,” is an excerpt from Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s upcoming book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” I’ll highlight a few of the most important problems and solutions illustrated in the issue here, but the whole magazine is well worth reading, and much of it focuses on South Asia and issues relevant to South Asia. The cover article speaks urgently about the world’s “missing women”:

Amartya Sen, the ebullient Nobel Prize-winning economist, developed a gauge of gender inequality that is striking…“More than 100 million women are missing,” Sen wrote in 1990…Sen noted that in normal circumstances, women live longer than men, and so there are more females than males in much of the world. Yet in places where girls have a deeply unequal status, they vanish. China has 107 males for every 100 females in its overall population (and an even greater disproportion among newborns), and India has 108. The implication of the sex ratios, Sen later found, is that about 107 million females are missing from the globe today.

Tragically, another article, “the daughter deficit,” points out that as development progresses in China and India, sexual selection actually becomes even worse. As women become better educated, they have less children, and the implied urgency of having a boy ironically increases than if they had many children:

In Punjab, then India’s richest state, which had a high rate of female literacy and a high average age of marriage…the prejudice for sons flourished. Along with Haryana, Punjab had the country’s highest percentage of so-called missing girls — those aborted, killed as newborns or dead in their first few years from neglect. Here was a puzzle: Development seemed to have not only failed to help many Indian girls but to have made things worse.

There are many more striking facts about the oppression of women globally: 1% of the world’s landowners are women, a woman in India has a 1-in-70 chance of dying in childbirth, girls in India 1-5 years of age are 50% more likely to die than boys their age, 1 million children work in Asia’s sex trade, “bride burnings” take place in India every two hours, and much more harrowing information that is important to read. But for all the bad news, there is also a lot of inspiring news in the magazine. It illustrates that simple steps taken to help educate and empower the world’s women can have a dramatic effect on the problems of poverty and extremism. (The good news after the jump….) Continue reading