Poor harvest triples onion prices in India and forces the world’s largest seller to import the commodity from Afghanistan, Egypt and Turkey.
A labourer segregates onions inside Shivshankar Trading Company’s onion storehouse at Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) in Lasalgaon, Nashik district, India, on Saturday, Aug 31, 2013. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
Onions in India are once more at the epicenter of a major controversy, pitting government officials who want lower prices against farmers that need extra income. The onion is India’s most “political” vegetable.///CRIMSON TAZVINZWA//
The Indian onion crisis involves the dramatic rise in the cost of onions across India. The crisis is caused by devastating monsoons that destroyed this golden cooking ingredients that has fed Indians for donkey years
An onion shop at Indore Mandi on Sunday. Onion prices have gone up more than threefold in the past fortnight. (Shankar Mourya/HT)( )
Prices of the vegetable, as ubiquitous as spices in Indian cooking, surged more than 200% in September from previous months after flooding from heavy monsoon rains damaged crops and reduced supplies. That’s prompted the government to ban exports and crack down on hoarding to lower prices, angering farmers who took to the streets on Monday in protest.
The onion, whose soaring prices have been blamed for bringing down past governments, puts Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tight spot
Bilateral talks between world leaders were the main order of business in Osaka amid a host of simmering tensions on trade and climate change. DW breaks down the most important takeaways from the first day of the summit.
This year’s meeting is one of the most high-stakes G20 summits to take place in years. Here’s a roundup of what went down on Friday:
Trump appeared to take Abe’s appeal for unity to heart, as he toned down his usually derisive rhetoric and did a three-way fist bump with the Japanese leader and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
What does the G20 mean for locals?
In stark contrast to the past two G20 summits, which saw massive protests and sometimes violent clashes erupt in the prior host cities of Buenos Aires and Hamburg, the streets in Osaka have been calm, and patrolled by some 30,000 police officers.
Takashi Hatanaka, an employee at a hotel where G20 participants are staying, told DW’s Bernd Riegert that the cordoned off streets don’t bother him.
“The guests are welcome. Japan can show that it is taking on responsibility in the world,” he said.
ELLEN LAIPSON//The conventional truth that US-Israeli relations are solid, sustainable and largely impervious to American partisan differences is mostly correct. But it’s worth considering whether some important shifts in Israel’s foreign-policy priorities will have an impact on its bonds with Washington. Over time, Israel’s leaders may find ties to major Asian countries at least of equal value and at most an acceptable alternative to its long-standing Western orientation.
Two years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced during a visit to Singapore a “pivot to Asia,” an amusing echo of the Obama-era pivot that was much maligned and misunderstood. (It was criticized as proof that the Middle East would be abandoned, and for the appearance that it focused more on military cooperation with Asian countries wary of China, rather than a more three-dimensional engagement with the rising powers of the East.) For Israel, the announcement was a rhetorical flourish for a reality that had been evolving over many years.
From its early days as an independent state, Israel courted those members of the United Nations that might be willing to provide political recognition. The Philippines and Burma (today’s Myanmar) were the only Asian nations to provide support in 1947 and 1948, voting for the partition resolution and the admittance of Israel as a UN member, respectively. Burma’s leader, U Nu, was the first foreign leader to visit the state. In the 1950s, Israel helped Singapore develop its security sector, and relations have remained strong over the years, often out of the limelight, because of sensitivities about offending Singapore’s large Muslim-majority neighbor, Malaysia.
India and China, the two Asian powerhouses of today, established discreet relations with Israel in 1950, but it took 40 years to establish full diplomatic relations. Trade was modest in the early years, in the tens of millions of dollars, but today, China is Israel’s second-most-important trading partner, with more than US$17 billion in two-way trade in 2017, and with India around $5 billion. (The US-Israel trade volume, by comparison, was about $35 billion in 2017 and 2018.)
Israel is now a member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and China has begun to think of its strategic location as part of the massive Belt and Road Initiative.
In other measures of soft power, Israeli-China and Israeli-India relations are developing depth. There are two Confucius Institutes in Israel, based in the two major universities in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. An Israeli non-governmental organization, the Israel Asia Center, is committed to building ties among emerging leaders from China, Taiwan, South Korea and India. Tourist travel from Asia is growing annually by double digits, and the Israeli tourism industry plans expanded hotel capacity to accommodate an anticipated growth in travel from newly mobile Chinese citizens.
Economic relations in a global marketplace may not be the most important metric of power and influence. One could argue that all these examples simply show the power of mutual economic benefit. Israelis are pragmatic, and their location between Europe and Asia provides a distinct opportunity to sustain their economic success by expanding to new markets.
But with the rising Asian powers, it’s worth keeping in mind that the scale of economic interaction can lead to interdependence in some sectors, and that takes on larger political and security dimensions. For now, nearly all analysts would insist that there is no substitute for the security partnership with the US; Israel has been able to develop its high-tech defense sector and its civilian economy, and avoid painful compromises with the Palestinians, thanks to American political protection and support.
And in the past, when forced to choose between meeting US expectations or working with new Asian business partners, Israel has accepted the primacy of its ties to Washington. In the late 1990s and again in 2005, Israel had to publicly rescind lucrative transactions with China when the US objected to the technology transfer of airborne radar systems and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones).
Even now, as trade in defense goods forms a significant part of Israeli exports to India and to China, those transactions are still fraught with political considerations. Israel is wary of China’s arms trade with Iran, and China is unhappy with Israel’s important investments in India’s defense sector, estimated at about $600 million in one recent annual count. So one cannot make the case that Israel has deep relationships of trust with the Asian powers, comparable to its decades of strategic cooperation with Washington.
However, it’s still worth opening our minds to the potential shift. Trade in the billions of dollars takes on political value for politicians and industry leaders. They begin to have a vested interest in keeping those relationships steady. Should US-China relations move in a more adversarial direction, Israel may be faced with some difficult tradeoffs. The dilemmas will sharpen if a post-Trump administration walks back the over-the-top embrace of hardline Israeli positions, creating friction in that key relationship. And rising anti-Semitism in many Western countries will erode Israelis’ trust in the West.
It’s not self-evident that Israel’s pivot to Asia will harm its traditional foreign policy, but it might.
NEHANDRA Modi Heading for 2nd Term//CRIMSON TAZVINZWA
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to unite the country on Thursday after a big election win, with his party on course to increase its majority on a mandate of business-friendly policies and a tough stand on national security.
Sex workers take part in a rally on International Labor Day in Kolkata, India. The city is home to one of the largest red light districts in South East Asia. Sex workers demand dignity, labor rights and social protection during rally. Photograph by Saikat Paul/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.
Indian sex workers in Sonagachi, Kolkata, demand employment rights and government benefits.
From the ground level, Garstin Bastion Road looks like any other bustling commercial street in New Delhi, the capital of India. It is lined with vendors selling fresh fruit and cold drinks, auto-rickshaw drivers waiting for customers, and a slew of electronics and hardware stores. By night, however, it is a bustling market for something entirely different—sex work
The upper levels of the multistoried buildings host an extensive network of brothels. I walk into one of the rooms on the second floor, painted bright blue, where I am welcomed by a group of women whose ages range from early 20s to mid-50s.
India is undertaking a seven-phase general election that started on April 11 and ends on May 19. It’s the largest democratic election in the world, with almost 900 million eligible voters. So far, the usual issues have dominated the political debates in the country, including the recent India-Pakistan tensions and a growing jobs crisis (India’s unemployment hit a 45 year high at 6.1 percent in 2018).
Sex workers across India are lobbying candidates in the country’s general election to support their demands for better health and welfare services in return for votes.
“We wanted to see which party accepts sex workers as part of the community,” said Kusum (who goes by only one name), president of the All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW), which is coordinating efforts. “Some express support for us behind closed doors, but never in public.”
The network has 5 million members, who between them have 20 million dependents – yet sex workers have little influence. Indian society and politics are too conservative to discuss sex work openly, much less debate or acknowledge their rights as citizens, said Kusum.
“That is why we are making a special effort in this election to get some visibility and get our voices heard. Our vote is important because we all come to a consensus and collectively decide which party to vote for,” said Kusum, who is based in New Delhi.
In Kolkata, sex workers are taking their demands directly to candidates for the first time. Sex workers have lobbied two-thirds of the 150-plus candidates standing in West Bengal, where Kolkata is located, to sign declarations of support for their demands. Election results are expected on 23 May.
“About 50 candidates [have] signed a pledge to fulfil our demands. The day the results are out, we are going to be at their door, demanding they act,” said Dr Smarajit Jana, chief adviser for Durbar, a sex workers’ collective in Sonagachi, the biggest red light area in south Asia, and part of AINSW.
In the Indian capital, the New Delhi branch of AINSW released a charter of demands last month, calling for access to basic services, education, a pension for sex workers once they reach 45, and participation in policy-making.
The branch also demanded the official listing of sex work as a recognised occupation by the labour ministry, which would allow sex workers access to government benefits unavailable to them at present. These include a “ration card”that gives poor people subsidised foods, government health insurance, widowers’ and old-age pensions, and compensation in case of injury.
Although sex work is not illegal in India, certain laws make it difficult for sex workers to get the documentation required to access services.
“Sex work is a valid profession and must be recognised as such. This is their right, and giving it to them will make it more difficult for them to be exploited or discriminated against,” said Ashok Alexander, author of A Stranger Truth: Lessons in Love, Leadership and Courage from India’s Sex Workers.
With most sex work performed on streets or in rented rooms, the only concentrated areas for workers are the red light areas in Mumbai, Sonagachi in the north of Kolkata, and along the GB Road in Delhi.
Above the bustling electronic and hardware shops that line GB Road there is a large complex of brothels. Fanning out from squalid staircases are rows of tiny cubicles.
Outside, the May sun is scorching. At the top of the stairs of one brothel, the temperature dips as a cooler pumps cold air. In the entrance room, with its cheap marble flooring and mirror-lined walls, about 20 women sit around, some doing their makeup and others watching soaps or videos on their mobiles. It’s mid-afternoon and quiet.
Most of the women here, including the brothel’s “madam”, come from southern India. Many are Muslims. The “manager”, known as Dadu or grandad, is a corpulent, mild-mannered man who sits in a corner.
Dadu recently made a special visit to his village in Uttar Pradesh to cast his vote. Few of the women in the brothel voted because they are registered in their home villages. But many of the women in the adjoining brothels went out last Sunday, which was polling day in New Delhi, to cast their vote.
In Kolkata, voter turnout from Sonagachi during the last election was high. “Once we make a collective decision on which party to support, we urge them to vote. In the last general election, for example, 90% of Sonagachi sex workers voted,” said Jana.
At the GB Road brothel in New Delhi, the disenchantment with politicians was unanimous. “No party has ever done anything for us. No politician visits us, only the police,” said Preeti, who has worked here for eight years.
She supports the idea of a pension. “When we get old, many of us don’t have a husband or children to help us. A pension would help,” she said.
Several are opposed to prime minister Narendra Modi, calling him “anti-Muslim”. “Under Modi, Muslims feel persecuted and frightened, and we resent this. We don’t like this divisiveness,” said Neelam.
“We are paid in cash. When our customers had no cash, they didn’t come,” said Preeti. “Our incomes slumped so badly it was difficult to feed ourselves. And it took a long time for things to recover. Some of us had to go back to our villages until things picked up.”
Jana, though not very optimistic that India will recognise sex work as a legitimate profession, takes some heart from the signed pledges of the candidates. He calls it a small step forward. “Sex work is like any other job. Until it is recognised by the labour ministry, sex workers have no legal status, and that leaves them without rights enshrined in the constitution. Yet they are citizens of this country.”
(Some names have been changed to protect identities).