Wednesday, September 19, 2007

bonded labor - not just in bihar

I'm doing a little reporting on bonded labor this week, so my translator and I made the short hop to Faridabad to visit a stone quarry that employs "freed" bonded laborers -- following intercession on their behalf by Swami Agnivesh. I was intrigued to learn that the conditions of their present contracts are hardly more liberal than the original bonds. The only difference, essentially, is that now they receive cash wages, the terms of their debts are written down and nominally at least they can eventually pay off what they owe. When I first met them, they identified themselves as "former" bonded laborers for this reason, and because they are allowed to move from one employer to another provided they can get a second loan with which to pay off the first guy.

Frankly, I was shocked--not to find bonded labor still exists, but to find out that it was practiced so blatantly so close to the Parliament and that the victims don't even consider themselves to be bonded laborers anymore. The guys I spoke to had all taken loans of 15,000-20,000 from their employer over the years because they receive very low wages and they are required to supply their own equipment, dynamite etc. They're convinced that the employer (who supplies the gear) overcharges them, but they have no other recourse, since they don't have trucks to transport their own dynamite, etc. They're also convinced that the boss downgrades the rock they produce unfairly so he can underpay them. And -- in classic bonded labor fashion -- they have no idea of the rate of interest they're paying on their loans, how long it will take them to pay them off, or any of the financial terms.

And these are the "freed" guys!

Friday, September 14, 2007

any boxing fans out there?

I met my first Delhi boxing fan last night.... Correction: I met my first fan of professional boxing last night, and amid furious planning to share my coveted collection of recorded fights it occurred to me that I've never put out the call: Are there any other boxing fans in Delhi? Anybody else who recognizes the names of Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Israel Vazquez or even Floyd Mayweather or Ricky Hatton?

Being the lone fan in the wilderness--especially with all the work I go through to see the fights--is a bit like cooking and eating gourmet meals for one.

'new' delhi nightlife leaves a hole in your pocket

For awhile I was pretty excited about all the new bars, clubs and restaurants opening up around town. But now I've decided that it's all a conspiracy to make me feel underpaid and tight-fisted. As far as I can tell, all the new joints have formed a tacit agreement to boost the going rate for beer at "posh" bars from Rs.150-200 for a large bottle of domestic to Rs.150-200 for the 330 ml bottle that in Delhi is erroneously identified as a pint. (Folks, a pint is about 475 milliliters--40% larger than the small beer bottle).

What is behind this disturbing trend? I've always believed that Delhi bar owners operate under the mistaken impression that well-heeled patrons cause less trouble than regular folks. But the only bar squabbles I've witnessed or heard about have been in the upscale joints, and the most famous such incident (the murder of Jessica Lal) occurred at a chic-chic bar and was allegedly perpetrated by one of the city's rich and powerful.

At the same time, it appears to me that the steady stream of business at the previous generation of reasonably priced nightspots--Buzz, Flames and (formerly) Turquoise Cottage, to name a few that are full of patrons seven days a week--must be more lucrative than posh places that are half-empty many nights and never have many patrons until the end of the night.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

new grocery for gk2?

Since the demise of FoodPlus -- which had a good selection but a foolish insistence on a computerized checkout that took eons -- there's no longer any source of "foreign" supplies in GK2. This is a market waiting to be tapped. Now, creative cooks have to fight the parking nightmare at GKI M-block market or drive all the way to Defence Colony if they want items like olives, jalapenos, gerkins, tortillas, mozzarella, etc. Back in the days of FoodPlus, I used to make pasta once or twice a week and my patented burritos, salsa & guacamole once a month or so. But now I hardly ever bother....

Speaking of which, a friend who's new in town suggested that I should share more of my wisdom on matters like where to find inexpensive cheese, how to make guacamole in Delhi, how to get a gas connection, etc. I'm not sure whether or not I'm going to bother--basically it's just the product of living here too long and reading CityLimits, SimplyDelhi and (now) Time Out. But I agree that somebody should do so. How about the folks at Right now, the site is pretty much a party planner--for people with v. deep pockets....

Saturday, September 01, 2007

suddenly burma is in the news....

As some of my foreign correspondent buddies head off to Myanmar/Burma to report on the crackdown on protesters demonstrating against high petrol prices, I'm wondering why this is the moment to resume coverage of Burma.... OK, maybe that's putting it wrong. It makes sense to bring attention to this protest and its suppression regardless of its likelihood of toppling the junta. But why so little attention to the impotence of American/Western action against the regime? (A boycott that means nothing, and a lot of empty lip-service). Why so little attention to India's -- once basically the only regional power that actively criticized the junta -- final abandonment of Aung Sun Kyi to her fate? I hate to say it, but these protests seem like a non-event to me. Just another blip on the graph of what promises to be a long, grim reign of the military dictators... I mean: NOW Bush plans to bring up Burma at the Asian summit? The junta wasn't doing anything wrong over the last decade?

A statement from Laura Bush's office said, according to the IHT, "Mrs. Bush noted that by staying quiet, the United Nations — and all nations — condone these abuses."

And this kind of "harsh condemnation" does what, exactly?