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Cablegate: Delhi Diary, Jan 21-28

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 NEW DELHI 000343

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL PBTS SOCI KWMN CH IN FR
SUBJECT: DELHI DIARY, JAN 21-28

REF: A. 07 NEW DELHI 5119
B. 07 KOLKATA 359
C. 07 KOLKATA 356

1. (U) Below is a compilation of political highlights from
Embassy New Delhi for January 21-28, 2008 that did not
feature in our other reporting, including:

-- New HP Government Gets Moving
-- Prime Minister Singh to Visit Indo-Chinese Border Areas
-- French President's Visit Raises Turban Issue for Sikhs
-- Controversial Writer Taslima Nasreen Back in the Headlines
-- UNICEF Reports Four Indian Children Die Every Minute
-- First school for HIV Positive kids

New HP Government Gets Moving
------

2. (U) In Delhi for a meeting of BJP-led NDA coalition
consultations, recently-elected Himachal Pradesh Chief
Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal announced a 50 percent reservation
for women in local government panchayat institutions as well
as urban representative bodies. Dhumal told the press, "It
is our first effort to empower women and increase their
representation in the share of power. We have taken the lead
to bring them into the mainstream to make them part of the
decision-making process and in matters of governance and
development in rural and urban areas of the state." Dhumal
also vowed to take on corruption and reduce unemployment with
a focus on building critically needed infrastructure and road
networks.

3. (SBU) Comment: The 50 percent reservation for women
represents a welcome BJP commitment to opening the political
sphere to women. It may take time for women in the
panchayats to assert themselves, but the Indian experience is
that once they become more comfortable in their leadership
roles, they are often more effective than their male
colleagues. Dhumal's pledges on corruption, unemployment and
infrastructure sound hopeful, but heavy state debts, a sulky
Congress government at the center and the usual Indian
inertia and corruption will make these tasks difficult. End
Comment.

Prime Minister Singh to Visit Indo-Chinese Border Areas
------

4. (SBU) Media sources report that Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh will visit Arunachal Pradesh on January 30-31 but will
likely skip a visit to Tawang District; perhaps the most
contentious area in India's border dispute with China.
Instead, the media reports that he will visit the Indian
Army's Mountain Brigade Headquarters at Lohitpur (the
tri-border area with China and Burma) and focus on
infrastructure projects along the border. Arunachal MP (and
BJP member) Tapir Gao and Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu told
the press that he would press the PM to clarify the GOI's
stance related to China's claims to the entire state of
Arunachal Pradesh.

5. (SBU) Coming on the heels of his visit to Bejing, when
touchy issues were placed on the backburner economic
complimentarities and a shared vision of the "Asian 21st
Century" were highlighted, the Prime Minister may seize the
opportunity to take a shot across the bow of the Chinese
regarding their claims to Arunachal Pradesh. In addition,
after Indian Defense Minister Antony's December statement
that the infrastructure gap along the India-China border was
"alarming," PM Singh will likely use the visit to provide a
new impetus to border infrastructure projects including the
"Border Villages Illumination Program."

French President's Visit Raises Turban Issue for Sikhs

NEW DELHI 00000343 002 OF 004


------

6. (U) Various Sikh organizations in India appealed to
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to address the ban on Sikh
turbans in French government-run schools during the visiting
French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2004, the French
government passed a law banning students from wearing turbans
in schools. The French government also refused to issue
passports, driving licences and residence cards to Sikhs who
refused to remove their turban for ID photos. With a
population of around 6,000 Sikhs in France demanded a
revision to French law in order to protect the identity of
the Sikhs.

7. (U) The Sarkozy visit has stoked a turban revolution in
Delhi and Punjab. In Delhi, at one of the most visited Sikh
temples, Bangla Sahib, large posters with slogans saying
"Sikhs have a right to wear turbans in France," have been
hung. In Punjab, schools are training Sikh youths to tie
their turbans and competitions are held rewarding students
who can perfect the art of turban tying. The hit Punjabi
songs include odes to turban wearing. Paramjit Sarna,
President of the Delhi Gurudwara Sikh Committee asserted that
the Prime Minister, who himself wears a turban, cannot turn a
blind eye to the injustice being suffered by Sikhs in France.

8. (U) Comment: The revival of the issue of the Sikh turban
ban on the eve of the French President's visit clearly
demonstrates the sensitivity of the issue amongst the Sikh
population. Both the Indian Sikh community and the Sikh
Diaspora in France will likely continue mounting a campaign
to articulate their outrage and assertion that the French
rules are a form of racial profiling. Awareness campaigns led
by the Sikh community have already had an impact. In October
2007, a revised US federal guideline gave airport screeners
the option to pat down headwear at the metal detector if a
passenger does not want to remove his turban for personal
reasons.

Controversial Writer Taslima Nasreen Back in the Headlines
------

9. (U) On January 9, controversial writer Taslima Nasreen
was awarded the French Prix Simone de Beauvoir for feminist
writing. Currently, the exiled Bangladeshi writer remains at
an undisclosed location in Delhi after she was forced to flee
her home in Kolkata last November due to protests by Muslim
groups who consider her writing anti-Islamic (reftels).
French President Nicolas Sarkozy had hoped to present the
award to Nasreen during his January 25-26 official visit, but
fearing unrest, GOI on January 23 refused to allow a formal
ceremony citing "security reasons." The French government
then invited Nasreen to travel to Paris to receive the award,
but the writer declined and asked that the award be sent to
her.

10. (U) On January 24, the Indian government did, however,
grant Nasreen a six month extension on her visa. The six
month extension allows the GOI to periodically review
Nasreen's status. Muslim groups protested the decision but
have not taken to the streets.

11. (SBU) Comment: The Muslim vote bank remains important to
Congress' electoral strategy, and after electoral defeats in
Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh a public celebration of the
lightning rod Nasreen was the last thing Congress wanted.
The six month visa extension basically allows the UPA to
split the baby, not feting Nasreen while not kicking her out
of the country (although they probably would have preferred
Nasreen accept the award in France and not return). This
episode proves again that Congress is "secular" but only up
to a point. End Comment.

UNICEF Reports Four Indian Children Die Every Minute
------

NEW DELHI 00000343 003 OF 004

12. (U) The UN reported that India loses 5,753 children
below the age of five every day - that's four a minute.
Stepping back, the largest absolute number of newborn deaths
occurs in South Asia, and India contributes a quarter of the
world total. The UNICEF's State of the World's Children
Report 2008 said about 20 per cent of these children die
within an hour of birth and another 30 per cent within 28
days. Pneumonia kills most children in India - about 2
million followed by diarrhea. Of those who survive, about 46
per cent are malnourished. While the report is sobering, it
is hardly surprising. Earlier this year, the UN's Human
Development Report said that nearly 47.7% of Indian children
are malnourished and 2.5 million annually die of starvation.
Forty million kids will never go to school, and another 30
million must work to survive. Meanwhile, 380 million Indians
subsist on less than a dollar a day, over 100 million are
jobless, 24.71 million homeless, and 300 million still live
in darkness. Two million Indians die each year from
sanitation-related diseases like diarrhea, and nearly
two-thirds have no access to clean drinking water or toilets.

13. (U) Comment: While several aspects of India may shine,
the progress report is not exactly picture perfect. India's
record is worse than its less developed neighbors Bangladesh
and Nepal. The UN reports are extraordinarily useful in
reminding Indians (and the world) that not every Indian
citizen is benefiting from their country's annual growth rate
of 9.2 percent. While India has a food surplus, it also has
more starving people than sub-Saharan Africa. While medical
tourism is the latest rage, many Indians are desperately in
need of primary health centers. While the politicians are
scrambling to project the image of social responsibility, it
is the media that has been a more effective instrument of
change. Journalists argue that the answer is not population,
nor policy, nor economics. The heart of India's inequitable
human development may be the belief that citizens are, in
fact, unequal. It is this attitude that will continue to set
India apart from the Development World, no matter how many
Bentleys the elite buy.

First School for HIV Positive Kids
------

14. (U) In Nagpur, the largest city in central India and
the second capital of the state of Maharashtra, the Municipal
Corporation (NCM) has set up schools exclusively for HIV
positive children that have similar facilities to other civic
schools. To date, the school is now providing classes to 147
children who had to be forced to stop studies in regular
schools after they were shunned and ostracized by society.
The children have been given free text books and mid-day
meals. NMC officials are also trying to root out the stigma
against HIV infected children by also admitting 28 children
who either have no parents or have just one parent. The
Nagpur school demonstrates the first attempt by a civic body
to shoulder the responsibility of educating children living
with HIV.

15. (U) HIV / AIDS is one of the greatest threats to
India's desire to become a more productive and prosperous
nation. There are more than five million Indians infected,
and new infections are occurring every day. On paper,
discriminating against people with HIV / AIDS in India is
prohibited. However, discrimination is visible in society and
HIV positive people are struggling to lead lives of dignity.
Unfortunately, the crisis continues to deepen, as it becomes
clearer that the epidemic is affecting all sectors of Indian
society, not just the groups - such as sex workers and truck
drivers - with which it was originally associated.

16. (U) Comment: Isolating the children from mainstream
schools is still discriminatory. But local NGOs report that
children are being turned away from mainstream school and,
even if they are not, parents are unwilling to send them as

NEW DELHI 00000343 004 OF 004


they fear stigma and discrimination. We will continue to
monitor the success of this "separate but equal" attempt to
provide education to an otherwise disenfranchised population.
MULFORD

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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