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Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent

Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

This is where to come for my take on life and times in the world’s largest democracy

Why so many Indians flock to gurus

  • 19 November 2014
  • From the section India
Devotee of Sai Baba
Sai Baba's influence endures after his death

I don't think many people were aware of the controversial Hindu guru Rampal before Tuesday's violent clashes between his supporters and the police.

But then India is a country of more than a billion people and tens of thousands of gurus.

There are gurus for rich and poor. Many of them command huge followings at home and overseas counting politicians, film and cricket stars, bureaucrats and ordinary people among their devotees. The world's best known cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, is a follower of Sai Baba, whose mystique and influence lasted long after his death in 2011.

Gurus also peddle influence as politicians run to them for advice. Proximity to a guru legitimises a politician and adds to his power, says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan. India's most powerful prime minister, the late Indira Gandhi, would often turn to her yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari for advice.

Many of the gurus are also successful entrepreneurs and run massive business empires, selling traditional medicines, health products, yoga classes and spiritual therapies. They run schools, colleges and hospitals. Some of the gurus, according to Dr Vishvanathan, can make India's best-known companies "sound like management amateurs". A guru from Punjab, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who heads a popular religious sect, even performs at rock concerts and acts in films. Some gurus are adept at yoga, others are better known for their discourses, while somebody like India's most famous woman guru, Mata Amritanandamayi, has made a name for herself by hugging people as a blessing and therapy.

Read full article Why so many Indians flock to gurus

India's dark history of sterilisation

  • 14 November 2014
  • From the section India
A woman, who underwent sterilization surgery at a government mass sterilisation "camp", walks to sit in a hospital bed at a district hospital in Bilaspur, in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh, November 13, 2014
Nearly four million Indians, mostly women, were sterilised during 2013-14

The death of 15 women at two state-run sterilisation camps in Chhattisgarh has put a spotlight on India's dark history of botched sterilisations.

The drive to sterilise began in the 1970s when, encouraged by loans amounting to tens of millions of dollars from the World Bank, the Swedish International Development Authority and the UN Population Fund, India embarked on an ambitious population control programme.

Read full article India's dark history of sterilisation

Are Gujarat's 'toilet politics' democratic?

  • 13 November 2014
  • From the section India
In this September 22, 2014, photo schoolchildren talk in front of a poster bearing a quote from PM Narendra Modi in Delhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made abolishing open defecation a top priority of his government

Is banning a person from contesting for public office if he or she does not have a toilet at home a good idea?

India's western state of Gujarat certainly believes so. Earlier this week, the state's legislators passed a bill which makes it mandatory for candidates to have toilets in their homes to qualify for contesting elections to local municipalities and village councils. Existing elected members will also have to declare within six months that they have toilets at home, failing which they will face disqualification.

Read full article Are Gujarat's 'toilet politics' democratic?

Will Narendra Modi change India?

  • 5 November 2014
  • From the section India
Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi led his BJP to a historic election win

He is a powerful speaker and draws huge crowds. He talks about himself in the third person. He's the most energetic leader India has had in years, burning the midnight oil and campaigning for his party with equal fervour.

He's also an astute performer: recently he dropped into a police station and picked up a broom to promote a campaign to clean up India. Behind the bluster and performance, he, according to insiders, is a loner who trusts his instincts but very few people.

Read full article Will Narendra Modi change India?

Why the riots in Delhi's Trilokpuri are significant

  • 1 November 2014
  • From the section India
A policeman walks past a burnt shop in Trilokpuri, New Delhi
A clothes shop owned by a Muslim was burnt down in the riots

Last week's clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Trilokpuri in Delhi did not exactly become headline-grabbing news.

Residents - helped by, many say, outsiders - fought pitched battles on the streets with stones and bricks, torched a couple of shops, threatened each other and vandalised property. Thirty-five people were injured. Five people sustained gunshot wounds as the police fired to rein in the rioters. More than 60 people were arrested.

Read full article Why the riots in Delhi's Trilokpuri are significant

Black money: Making a mountain out of a molehill?

  • 28 October 2014
  • From the section India
India notes being counted
Undeclared cash is seen as a major hurdle to India's economic growth

"Black money is so much a part of our white economy, a tumour in the centre of the brain - try to remove it and you kill the patient," wrote Indian-born writer Rohinton Mistry in his novel Family Matters.

To put it simply, black money is cash that has not been declared or taxed. It also fuels India's bustling underground economy. Politicians are believed to use it to finance expensive election campaigns. Buyers and sellers vastly prefer it in transactions involving land and property . It is near-impossible, for example, to buy both in the capital, Delhi, without paying a substantial amount of the price in funny money. Since the majority of India's jobs are in the informal sector, undeclared cash transactions are common. Essentially, black money rewards the dishonest and punishes the honest.

Read full article Black money: Making a mountain out of a molehill?

Indian media invited to rather formal 'informal chat'

  • 25 October 2014
  • From the section India
Indian PM Narendra Modi meets journalists, 25 October 2014
The Indian PM made a speech praising the media's role in highlighting his cleanliness campaign

India's mainstream media has had a rocky relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi believes that the media has often been unfair and hostile to him after it blamed him for not doing enough to stop the religious riots in Gujarat in 2002.

Read full article Indian media invited to rather formal 'informal chat'

How Cyclone Hudhud got its name

  • 11 October 2014
  • From the section India
Hoopoe bird
Hudhud in Arabic refers to the hoopoe bird

Did you know Cyclone Hudhud, expected to hit India's south-eastern coast on Sunday afternoon, was "born" in Oman?

We are talking about the name of the cyclone, not the storm itself. The cyclone itself originated in the north Andaman sea in the Bay of Bengal and is now hurtling towards Andhra Pradesh and Orissa states.

Read full article How Cyclone Hudhud got its name

Ten laws that India should scrap

  • 7 October 2014
  • From the section India
Old sign "Bangalore Telegraph Office"
India still has a law regulating possession of telegraph wires - but telegram services ended last year

India's archaic and obsolete laws are seen by many as its most burdensome legacy.

Among those which remain on the books are more than 300 dating from the colonial era, as well as rules to manage issues arising out of the Partition of India. There are more than a dozen laws imposing redundant taxes that yield little and cost a lot to collect, as well as outdated laws relating to former princely states and the nationalisation of industries and banks.

Read full article Ten laws that India should scrap

Why India's sanitation crisis needs more than toilets

  • 6 October 2014
  • From the section India
Indian residents arrive to defecate in an open field in a village in the Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh.
More than 500 million Indians defecate in the open

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech, vowed to eliminate open defecation, India took notice.

After all, it was unusual for a prime minister to use the bully pulpit in India to exhort people to end this appalling practice and build more toilets.

Read full article Why India's sanitation crisis needs more than toilets

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    The people, power and politics of China

  • Gavin Hewitt, Europe editor Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

    The arguments over Europe, its politics and personalities

About Soutik

Before joining the BBC, Soutik worked with Indian newspapers and magazines and an international newspaper as a correspondent and an editor.

He was a Reuters Fellow at the University of Oxford.

Soutik has covered elections in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, the tsunami in India and Sri Lanka in 2005, and militancy in Kashmir, working mostly on a series of stories on the state of youth and women in the disputed region.

In 2005, he used a laptop link to connect BBC News readers from around the world to a people living in a Pashtun village in Afghanistan. He revisited the village two years later to do a similar project and to see how life had changed.

He loves blues and jazz, and believes Derek Trucks is the best and most innovative slide guitarist alive.

He is a big movie buff, with Michael Haneke, Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, Woody Allen and Satyajit Ray among his favourite directors.

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