News & Current Affairs

July 16, 2009

Jackson’s ex-wife denies pay-off

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:28 pm

Jackson’s ex-wife denies pay-off

Michael jackson and Debbie Rowe

Rowe was married to Michael Jackson from 1996 to 1999

Michael Jackson’s ex-wife Debbie Rowe has denied reports she was paid by the singer to give up parental rights to their two children.

The New York Post reported that Rowe agreed to take about $4m (£2.4m) to give up her rights to children Prince Michael Jr, 12, and Paris, 11.

In a letter to the newspaper, her lawyer Eric George called the claims “blatant falsehoods”.

New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allan said the paper “stands by its story”.

That was despite Mr George asking the newspaper to publish an immediate retraction.

‘Reckless’

The lawyer said Ms Rowe, who was married to Jackson from 1996 to 1999, “has not and will not” give up her parental rights and the claim was “unequivocally false”.

Jatherine Jackson

Katherine Jackson has temporary guardianship of her grandchildren

He said the story had been “concocted with reckless disregard for the truth”, adding that Ms Rowe had also not taken, and would not accept, any additional money beyond the spousal support she had agreed with the singer years ago.

Mr George said that, following Jackson’s death, “no determination has been reached concerning custody or visitation”.

Jackson’s mother, Katherine, was granted temporary guardianship of her son’s three children on 29 June.

A custody hearing on the three is set for next Monday.

The surrogate mother of Jackson’s youngest child, seven-year-old Prince Michael II, has never been identified.

In a 2002 will signed by Jackson, he said he had “intentionally omitted” to provide for Ms Rowe.

She gave up custody rights to the children but sought them again in 2003.

They agreed a settlement in 2006 but the terms were never disclosed.

Intervention

Meanwhile, sales of Jackson’s music have continued to rocket in the US.

Early figures show the singer’s catalogue of solo albums sold 1.1 million copies in the past week.

It brings the total number of Jackson album sales in the US to more than 2.3 million in two-and-a-half weeks.

Meanwhile, Tito Jackson has said he and his brothers and sisters confronted the star over claims he was addicted to prescription drugs.

In an interview with the Daily Mirror, he said: “We had to act – it was me, my sisters Janet, Rebbie and La Toya and my brothers Jackie and Randy.

“We kept asking him if it was true.”

He added: “He kept denying it. He said we were over-reacting. We talked about it again and again for hours but we just couldn’t get through to him.”

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Los Angeles coroner said results of Jackson’s autopsy would not be released “this week or next” while final work on the case was carried out.

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July 12, 2009

Jackson children hearing delayed

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:11 am

Jackson children hearing delayed

Michael Jackon's children

Jackson’s children appeared at his televised memorial concert

A hearing to decide who will take care of Michael Jackson’s three children is to be delayed by a week, says his mother’s lawyer.

Katherine Jackson and her son’s ex-wife Deborah Rowe joined on Friday to ask the judge for a delay to the hearing. The case has been delayed once already.

Ms Jackson will remain the temporary guardian of her son’s three children, whose ages range from seven to 12.

The two sides are believed to be trying to broker an out-of-court settlement.

‘Privately and amicably’

In a statement to the Associated Press news agency, L Londell McMillan, a lawyer acting for Ms Jackson, said the delay would “allow us to privately and amicably resolve this most important matter in a dignified manner for the benefit of the children first and all involved”.

Lawyers for Ms Rowe, who was married to the pop singer from 1996 to 1999, have declined to comment.

She is the mother of Jackson’s two oldest children, 12-year-old Prince Michael, and 11-year-old Paris Michael Katherine Jackson.

The surrogate mother of Jackson’s youngest child, seven-year-old Prince Michael II, has never been identified.

In his will, Michael Jackson stated he wanted his mother to care for his children if he died. As an alternative, he named singer and friend Diana Ross.

September 18, 2008

Mrs Sarkozy meets Metallica on TV

Mrs Sarkozy meets Metallica on TV

Singer Carla Bruni, the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has given a rare performance, appearing alongside rock bands Metallica and Kings of Leon.

The acts were all on UK music TV show Later… with Jools Holland, where Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy told the host her husband was “very kind” about her music.

“I play it at home and I disturb him with it in the middle of the night,” the 40-year-old former model said.

She married Mr Sarkozy in February and released her third album in July.

The TV show, starting its 33rd series, is renowned for its eclectic mix of music.

Metallica, Carla Bruni and Jools Holland (far right)

Metallica provided a contrast to Carla Bruni on Jools Holland’s show

Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy tapped her foot and clapped as heavy metal monsters Metallica performed tracks from their number one album Death Magnetic.

But their music could not be further apart, with Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy’s sultry, breathy chanson style evoking Parisian cafes, while Metallica normally soundtrack sweaty stadiums.

As well as the French first lady and Metallica, the program also featured the group at the top of the UK singles chart – Tennessee blues-rockers the Kings of Leon.

One edition of the show went out live on Tuesday, while another extended version was filmed to be broadcast on BBC Two on Friday.

Jools Holland, the former Squeeze musician turned TV host, interviewed Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy for both shows.

Her appearance came just days after she met Pope Benedict XVI, while she has also accompanied Mr Sarkozy meeting dignitaries such as the Queen and the Dalai Lama in recent months.

During the live episode, Holland asked what it was like mixing her roles as a singer-songwriter and president’s wife.

Carla Bruni
It’s not so hard – it’s just like playing in a film
Carla Bruni on being the French first lady

“I don’t really mix them up – I separate them,” she replied. “I play my music and then I go with my husband when he needs me.”

He was involved in her music but did not act like a critic or a fan, she said – and it did not “drive him mad” when she played it in the middle of the night.

“It’s just a very different world for him,” she said. “But he’s very kind and he listens to all my doubts.”

Asked whether she wrote songs about her husband – who was not present for the TV show – she simply replied: “Well, I write songs about my life.”

Wearing an elegant trouser suit, Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy performed one song, Tu Es Ma Came, on the live show.

She translated it variously as: “You’re my junk, you’re my type, you’re my cup of tea.”

It was about “being addicted to someone in a toxic way and in a lovely way”, she said.

During the recorded show, she also performed L’Amoureuse, or The Woman in Love, with a chorus that repeats the line: “Je suis l’amoureuse.”

Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy with Pope Benedict XVI

Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy met Pope Benedict XVI last week

But she has said 95% of her latest album was written before she met Mr Sarkozy.

During the interview for Friday’s show, she gave further insights into her new life.

“I have my husband’s world,” she said. “It’s like I just try to be with him and be cool about it and not change everything I know and my way of living.

“It’s not so hard. It’s just like playing in a film.”

She then accompanied Holland on a version of US blues singer Bessie Smith’s song Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.

Security fears

Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy’s latest album, Comme Si De Rien N’Etait, went straight to number one in France.

It came six years after her first release, Quelqu’un M’a Dit, which sold two million copies around the world.

She had previously said she would not play any more live shows for security reasons until her husband leaves his job.

Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy was given a warm reception, but the biggest cheer of the night went to Metallica, who closed the recorded show with their 1991 piledriver Enter Sandman.

The other acts on the bill were UK rapper Sway, New Jersey singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins and British pop newcomer VV Brown.

September 8, 2008

Silent movie star Page dies at 98

Silent movie star Page dies at 98

Anita Page

Anita Page was a key figure as the silent movie era ended

Veteran actress Anita Page, whose career dated back to the silent movie era, has died aged 98 in Los Angeles.

Page counted Buster Keaton, Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford among her co-stars during an 84-year career which saw her start out as an extra in 1924.

Her big break came in 1928 when she starred alongside Crawford in Our Dancing Daughters.

More recently, she had completed a cameo role in forthcoming horror movie Frankenstein Rising.

Page died in her sleep at home on Saturday morning, friend Randal Malone told the Associated Press news agency.

Her daughter, Linda Sterne, said her mother had been good friends with Marion Davies and Jean Harlow, and for a period in the 1930s had lived as a guest in a California castle owned by newspaper magnate William Hearst.

“She was the best mother I could have,” Sterne said. “She was wonderful.”

Page starred alongside Chaney in 1928’s While The City Sleeps, while the following years she co-starred in musical The Broadway Melody, the first talkie to win a best picture Oscar.

Her other work included two of Keaton’s sound films: Free and Easy in 1930, and the following year’s Sidewalks of New York.

She also starred alongside Walter Huston in 1932’s Night Court, and The Easiest Way, in which Clark Gable had a small role.

But Page stopped acting when she fell in love with US Navy aviator Herschel House. The couple married in 1936, six weeks after they met, and she settled down to life as an officer’s wife, hosting many parties at their home in San Diego Bay.

After House died in 1991, Page returned to acting, starring in suspense thriller Sunset After Dark in 1994.

August 30, 2008

Two bodies found at arson house

Police have revealed that two bodies have been recovered from the burnt-out Shropshire home of a millionaire and his family.

Christopher Foster, 50, his wife Jillian, 49, and daughter Kirstie, 15, who lived at Osbaston House, near Maesbrook, are all missing.

The building was deliberately set alight early on Tuesday, police said.

The remains will be examined by a Home Office pathologist and postmortem examinations will be carried out later.

West Mercia Police said the bodies were found in the main part of the house overnight on Friday, but the search of the property is likely to take some days, possibly several weeks.

It is going to be a painstaking and lengthy process before the full examination of the house and its surrounds is completed
Supt Gary Higgins

Police said they were not able to give any further details such as the gender or age of the bodies which were found.

Formal identification would take place in the future and there were a range of techniques which could help, such as dental records and DNA profiles, Supt Gary Higgins said.

He added: “It is going to be a painstaking and lengthy process before the full examination of the house and its surrounds is completed.

“In the meantime, we will keep an open mind concerning what we may, or may not find.”

Mr Higgins said all possible lines of inquiry were being followed up.

Christopher, Jillian and Kirstie Foster

Special prayers will be said for the family at a church service on Sunday

Police have retrieved two computers from the house and are examining them as part of their inquiries.

Forensic teams were able to move into the main part of the house by mid-afternoon on Friday after access was delayed by falling debris.

Three horses found dead in a stable block, which was also gutted in the fire, have now been examined and police are awaiting test results.

Detectives also confirmed the bodies of three dogs had been found close to the horses and a large horse box, parked close to the gates of the property, had been removed from the site for forensic examination.

CCTV cameras from the property have also been taken away by police.

Firm in administration

Special prayers will be said for the Foster family at a church service in Maesbrook on Sunday.

The service, at St John’s Church at 1000 BST, will be open to members of the public and the media.

The Fosters had been at a friend’s barbecue on Monday evening before returning home later.

The fire in the house, thought to be valued at £1.2m, started at about 0500 BST on Tuesday.

Mr Foster, who made his fortune developing insulation technology for oil rigs, is listed as the director of Ulva Limited – a thermal insulation manufacturing company in Telford – with Mrs Foster named as company secretary.

The firm went into administration in August last year and a court order was issued in November for the company to be wound up.

A judge later found Mr Foster had spent the previous months stripping Ulva of its assets and transferring them to a new firm he had set up called Ulva International.

Anyone with information has been asked to contact West Mercia Police’s incident room at Shrewsbury or Crimestoppers.

August 26, 2008

Huge statue of Roman ruler found

Huge statue of Roman ruler found


Marcus Aurelius ruled over the empire for 19 years

Parts of a giant, exquisitely carved marble sculpture depicting the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius have been found at an archaeological site in Turkey.

Fragments of the statue were unearthed at the ancient city of Sagalassos.

So far the statue’s head, right arm and lower legs have been discovered, high in the mountains of southern Turkey.

Marcus Aurelius was portrayed by Richard Harris in the Oscar-winning 2000 film Gladiator and was one of the so-called “Five Good Emperors”.

He reigned from 161AD until his death in 180AD.

In addition to his deeds as emperor, Marcus Aurelius is remembered for his writings, and is considered one of the foremost Stoic philosophers.

The partial statue was unearthed in the largest room at Sagalassos’s Roman baths.

The cross-shaped room measures 1,250 sq m (13,500 sq ft), is covered in mosaics and was probably used as a frigidarium – a room with a cold pool which Romans could sink into after a hot bath.

It was partially destroyed in an earthquake between 540AD and 620AD, filling the room with rubble. Archaeologists have been excavating the frigidarium for the past 12 years.

The dig is part of wider excavations at the ruined city, which was once an important regional center.

Imperial gallery

Last year, the team led by Prof Marc Waelkens, from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, uncovered fragments of a colossal marble statue of the emperor Hadrian in the rubble.

This month, the researchers found a huge head and arm belonging to Faustina the Elder – wife of the emperor Antoninus Pius.

Archaeologists now think the room hosted a gallery of sculptures depicting the “Antonine dynasty” – rulers of Spanish origin who presided over the Roman Empire during the second century AD.

Foot of Marcus Aurelius statue (Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)

The emperor wore army boots decorated with lion skins

Early on 20 August, a huge pair of marble lower legs, broken just above the knee, turned up in the debris.

They also found a 1.5m-long (5ft-long) right arm and hand holding a globe which was probably once crowned by a gilded bronze “Victory” figure.

But it was the giant marble head which identified this statue as the young Marcus Aurelius. The colossal head, which is just under 1m (3ft) in height, is said to bear his characteristic bulging eyes and beard.

Prof Waelkens said the pupils were gazing upwards “as if in deep contemplation, perfectly fitting of an emperor who was more of a philosopher than a soldier”.

He added that this was one of the finest depictions of the Roman ruler.

The emperor wore exquisitely carved army boots decorated with a lion skin, tendrils and Amazon shields.

The torso was probably covered in bronze Armour filled inside with terracotta or wood. When the niche’s vault collapsed in the earthquake, the torso would have exploded.

Bath complex

The statue of Hadrian was found lying halfway down in the frigidarium‘s rubble.

This initially led archaeologists to think it had been hauled in there from another part of the huge bath complex, perhaps to remove its gilded bronze armour, or to burn the huge marble pieces to make cement in a nearby lime kiln.

However, they now think sculptures of Hadrian, his wife Vibia Sabina, another Roman emperor Antoninus Pius, his wife Faustina the Elder, and Marcus Aurelius all once adorned niches situated around the room.

There were three large niches on both the western and eastern sides. The fragments of Hadrian’s statue were found near the south-west niche.

The front parts of two female feet were discovered in the opposite niche, on the room’s south-eastern side.

Arm and hand of Marcus Aurelius (Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)

The remains of a globe can still be seen, cupped in the right hand

The archaeologists now think these belonged to a colossal figure of Vibia Sabina, who was forced into marriage with the homosexual Hadrian at the age of 14.

Remains of the statue depicting Faustina the Elder were found further along, on the eastern side.

In the opposite niche, they found the front parts of a pair of male feet in sandals, which could belong to her husband, Antoninus Pius – who succeeded Hadrian as emperor.

The experts suggest Antonine emperors occupied niches on the western side of the room, while their spouses stood opposite, on the east side.

Five good emperors

After the discovery of Faustina and her male counterpart, the archaeologists guessed the north-western niche would contain a colossal statue of Marcus Aurelius – the longest-surviving successor of Antoninus Pius.

The discovery on Wednesday confirmed this prediction, and suggests the north-eastern niche may contain remains of a statue depicting Faustina the Younger, Marcus Aurelius’s wife.

Archaeologists will get the opportunity to excavate this part of the room next year.

Lower legs of Marcus Aurelius statue (Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)

The statue of Marcus Aurelius stood in the north-western niche

Despite his philosophical leanings, Marcus Aurelius had to spend much of his reign fighting Germanic tribes along the Austrian Danube where, in  180AD, he died in nearby Carnuntum.

The part of Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator was one of Richard Harri’s last roles (the actor died in 2002). Although much of the storyline is fictional, it is set against an historical backdrop of the imperial succession from Marcus Aurelius to his son Commodus.

While Marcus Aurelius is considered, along with Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, as one of Rome’s Five Good Emperors, Commodus’s reign was marked by internal strife, cruelty and conspiracies.

Commodus took part, naked, in gladiatorial battles – which he always won. Opponents, whose lives were apparently spared, would eventually submit to the emperor.

He was murdered in 192AD – not by a general called Maximus, but by an athlete named Narcissus, sent by conspirators to strangle the megalomaniac emperor in his bath.

August 22, 2008

Zardari nominated to be president

Zardari nominated to be president

Pakistan People’s Party leaders Asif Ali Zardari (L) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (C) and ex-PM Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on Tuesday 19 August 2008

The coalition must decide who will be Pakistan’s new president

Pakistan’s biggest party, the PPP, has nominated its leader, Asif Zardari, to be the country’s president.

Pervez Musharraf resigned from the post on Monday in the face of the threat of impeachment by his political enemies.

Mr Zardari’s main coalition partner, Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N, is not in favor of Mr Zardari getting the job.

The two men are also deadlocked over how many of the judges sacked by Mr  Musharraf during emergency rule last November should be reinstated.

Twenty-four hours

PPP spokeswoman Sherry Rehman told reporters in Islamabad that senior PPP members had come to a unanimous decision to nominate Mr Zardari.

“Mr Zardari thanked the Pakistan People’s Party of which he is the co-chairman and said he will announce his decision within the next 24 hours,” she said.

The PPP and the PML-N have been discussing ways to reduce the power of the presidency. But if Mr Zardari gets the job, it is not clear if such reforms will go ahead.

He took over as PPP leader after his wife, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December.

The president is chosen by the two chambers of the national parliament and the country’s four provincial elections. The election will be held on 6 September.

Mr Sharif prefers what he calls a consensus president.

Wednesday deadline

Earlier on Friday Mr Sharif agreed to let parliament hold a debate next week on how to reinstate the judges sacked by Mr Musharraf.

He had threatened to pull out of the coalition government unless it was agreed on Friday that all the sacked judges be restored.

The PPP fears that if former Supreme Court judges, including ex-Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, are reinstated, they could overturn a controversial amnesty that Mr Musharraf granted Mr Zardari Ms Bhutto last year that paved the way for them to return to the country.

That would open up Mr Zardari to prosecution on long-standing corruption charges.

Mr Sharif pulled back from his threat to withdraw his PML-N party from the governing coalition after talks with other coalition parties in Islamabad.

But Mr Sharif is still hoping the resolution will result in Mr Chaudhry and the other judges getting their jobs back.

“Wednesday should be the day for reinstatement of judges,” he told journalists.

Squabbling

The coalition was elected in February but analysts say it has failed to find solutions to Pakistan’s economic crisis and to the militants in its north-western tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistani security officials examine the site of the suicide bombing in Wah

The politicians’ squabbling is hindering any possible plan for tackling militant violence.

The Pakistani Taleban claimed responsibility for Thursday’s suicide bombings on an ordnance factory in the town of Wah, near the capital Islamabad. It was the deadliest attack on a military site in Pakistan’s history.

The militant group promised more attacks in Pakistan’s major urban conurbations unless the army withdrew from the tribal areas.

On Tuesday, 32 people were killed in a suicide attack on a hospital in the northern town of Dera Ismail Khan.

On Friday the Taleban said at least 16 of their fighters were killed in clashes with security forces in the north-western district of Hangu.

In the Bajaur tribal region near the Afghan border, reports said at least one person was killed and eight others were injured when army helicopters fired at a convoy. Locals said the vehicles were carrying civilians who were fleeing the fighting in the area.

Mr Musharraf, a key ally of President George Bush’s “war on terror”, stepped down this week after nine years in power to avoid being impeached.

He sacked about 60 Supreme Court judges during a state of emergency in November to prevent them from overturning his re-election as president.

Analysts say that although the PPP and PML-N worked together to hound Mr Musharraf from office, there is a history of intense rivalry and mistrust between the two main parties.

The parties differ over the future of Mr Musharraf, who has been replaced by a caretaker president, the speaker of the Senate.

Mr Zardari’s party has said it believes Mr Musharraf may have immunity from prosecution.

But Mr Sharif’s party argues he should stand trial for, among other things, abrogating the constitution.

August 21, 2008

Greek helicopter fugitive caught

Greek helicopter fugitive caught

The helicopter that was used in the jailbreak

The helicopter pilot said he was forced on the mission at gunpoint

Police in Greece have re-arrested the country’s most wanted fugitive, two years after he escaped from a high-security prison by helicopter.

Vassilis Paleokostas, 44, was serving a 25-year prison term for robbery and kidnap when he was whisked from an Athens prison in 2006 by accomplices.

Police say they believe he is behind the kidnap of northern Greek industrialist George Mylonas in June.

Mr Mylonas’s wife said she was relieved Paleokostas had been caught.

“It’s a kind of vindication for us to know who this man was,” Nelly Mylonas told Greek television on news of Paleokostas’ arrest.

Mr Mylonas – who was kidnapped at gunpoint outside his home – was released in June, after his family paid a ransom.

Greek industrialist George Mylonas

Mr Mylonas was kidnapped by a team said to have been led by Paleokostas

His kidnap helped police find Paleokostas, as they were able to trace the marked ransom money paid back to him. Three other men suspected in involvement in his kidnapping were also arrested.

Paleokostas is the brother of Nikos Paleokostas who has been convicted of 16 bank robberies, among other crimes.

He was considered the country’s most wanted fugitive until his arrest two years ago.

Snail hides from march of history

Snail hides from march of history

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

National Trust)

The snails were found in a balustrade imported from Rome

A colony of Mediterranean snails has been found at the UK’s Cliveden House, where they have lived in marble-wrapped secrecy for a century.

The snails, never found before in the UK, apparently came from Italy in a balustrade bought by a Lord Astor, a former owner of the mansion.

There are thought to be several hundred of the 11mm-long snails at Cliveden.

John Profumo met model Christine Keeler at the Buckinghamshire house in 1961, which led to a political scandal.

Footballer Steven Gerrard married at the National Trust property last year.

Amidst all this activity – and the visits down the years of luminaries as important as Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin – the Papillifera papillaris snail has been a reclusive guest.

What they’re doing, what they’re eating, we don’t rightly know
Matthew Oates

“They were found by a specialist volunteer who helps us clean the statuary in Cliveden,” said the Trust’s nature conservation adviser Mathew Oates.

“He went to a talk at the local archaeological society given by a snail specialist, mentioned his find, and it turned out he’d spotted the colony which had almost certainly been there since 1896,” he told BBC News.

Common around the Mediterranean, this is believed to be the UK’s only sighting of the species.

School for scandal

It was in 1896 that Cliveden took delivery of a travertine marble balustrade that now runs for about 100 metres along the top of the house’s immaculately coiffured lawns.

“It was purchased and brought over from Rome by the first Viscount Astor,” said John Bignell, visitor services manager at the property.

“He’d been an ambassador in Rome and was a great collector. The Villa Borghese in Rome, which he bought it from, now has a copy.”

When the snails climbed on board is not known, although the balustrade itself dates from about 1816.

At Cliveden, they have lived in crevices in the marble and at the bottom of the balustrade.

“What they’re doing, what they’re eating, we don’t rightly know, although it’s likely they’re feeding on lichen or algae growing on the marble,” said Mr Oates.

“But what’s important is they’ve also been found in two, possibly three other places at Cliveden, so all our eggs are not in one basket from a conservation point of view.”

Cliveden House

Cliveden’s past includes the pool party where John Profumo met Christine Keeler

Over the years, the snails would have had the chance to witness a number of seminal moments in UK politics.

Nancy Astor, wife of the second viscount, was the first woman MP to take her seat.

In the 1930s, ministers, prime ministers and other dignitaries came so often to mull the issues of the day that the circle of habitues gained the sobriquet of the “Cliveden Set”.

But the most notorious event was undoubtedly the meeting of Profumo and Keeler in 1961. The 18-year-old model and call-girl was having an affair with a Soviet military attache; and when she later started an affair with the cabinet minister, and he then lied to parliament about it, his fall was a matter of time.

Still owned by the National Trust, the house itself is used as a hotel. Its most famous recent visitor was probably Liverpool star Steven Gerrard who tied the knot there in June 2007, though whether he or his guests spotted the odd Papillifera papillaris is not on record.

August 20, 2008

Struggling with India’s gender bias

Struggling with India’s gender bias

The number of female foetuses being aborted in India is rising, as ultrasound is increasingly used to predict the sex of babies.

What would you do if your husband’s family did not want you to have daughters – and insisted you took steps to make sure it did not happen?

Would you walk out or would you stay on and take a chance?

What if the bias against girls is reflected across society? Would that mean you could not make it on your own?

Vaijanti is an Indian woman who says she faces this dilemma.

She lives in the city of Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, perhaps the world’s most famous monument to a woman, the wife of a Mughal emperor.

“I had a lot of dreams in my heart,” Vaijanti says, “just like in the movies… but now I think of love as a betrayal.”

Vaijanti has taken her husband to court, saying he and his family insisted that she have an abortion because a scan showed she was expecting a girl.

Having already had one daughter, she says the pressure to abort the second child was intense.

So Vaijanti moved out of the marital home and now lives apart from her husband – with her two girls.

Gender skew

Testing and aborting for gender selection are illegal in India and Vaijanti’s husband and in-laws deny the charges against them.

Despite the obvious bitterness between her and her husband’s family, reconciliation is still possible.

Girl child

Girls still face discrimination in modern Indian society

But Vaijanti was unsure of what to do next. We wanted to find out if she thought India really is a country biased against young girls.

Despite the law, some Indians clearly are using ultrasound techniques to scan for female foetuses, in order to abort them.

Figures suggest as many as a million such foetuses could be aborted every year in India.

It is unlikely nature alone accounts for this gender skew – in Delhi, for instance, only 821 girls are born for every 1,000 boys.

Many Indian families regard daughters as a liability.

Expensive dowries must be arranged for their weddings and they frequently move into their husband’s households – making it less likely they will support ageing parents.

As Vaijanti had never travelled beyond Agra, director Nupur Basu took her on a whistle-stop tour of India.

In Rajasthan, she meets Jasbir Kaur, who left her husband after facing a similar predicament.

Told she should abort her girl triplets, she decided to go ahead and have them anyway.

She is a potential role model for Vaijanti, telling her: “You must educate your girls. Don’t lose courage. Don’t feel alone.”

Although millions of Indian girls are still left out of formal education, Jasbir Kaur’s three girls are doing fine in the local school.

Icon of globalization

In Delhi, there is good and bad news. Vaijanti meets women who have come into Delhi filled with hope, but end up begging on the streets.

In many places, boys are unable to agree to find girls to marry. Because of this, the nation will soon face an unimaginable crisis
Renuka Chowdhury
Minister for women

She also visits a disco for the first time in her life – no den of iniquity but a place where she meets some bright young women with good cheer and strong advice.

In Bangalore, there are also two sides to the picture.

This is the city that is world famous as an icon of globalisation and woman’s empowerment.

It has young girls working in IT, making good careers, and scooting around town on mopeds, listening to their iPods.

But there is another Bangalore – where some families still demand the expensive dowries traditionally given by a bride’s family to the in-laws.

And while Bangalore’s senior managers may encourage women, younger men may still question their qualifications and their right to work.

Finally Nupur also takes Vaijanti to Mahatma Gandhi’s retreat, where she hears that the revered leader was concerned about the bias against women.

Writer Tridip Suhrud says Mahatma Gandhi “would have been deeply perturbed with this entire social surge of… civilization to acquire this hard militant, masculine self-identity”.

He adds: “He would have fought it with femininity.”

‘Grave situation’

We wanted to make this film after a leading development expert, Kevin Watkins, suggested India had a curiously ambivalent role in the globalisation debate.

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was conceived as a monument to an emperor’s wife

Its booming economy is cause for hope, and the government is clearly concerned about both gender and economic inequality.

But if huge swathes of the populace do not share the increasing wealth, the whole Indian model of development may be called into question.

Meantime, Vaijanti’s immediate concern is India’s missing girls – unborn because of the desire to have boys.

Vaijanti and Nupur call on Renuka Chowdhury, the minister for women, who says: “This is a very, very grave situation.”

She adds: “In many places, boys are unable to agree to find girls to marry. Because of this, the nation will soon face an unimaginable crisis.”

When Vaijanti left Agra she was quiet but watchful. At the journey’s end, she is calm and eloquent as she weighs up whether to seek reconciliation with her husband’s family.

“I feel at peace… I will go back to Agra now and think about what I should do for my daughters and myself. I will go back and think about my decision.”


A selection of your comments on this story:

Nowadays females are doing much better in many fields. I think it is time now that men pay a dowry to see how it feels. We as men would not have been here without women. In our family women have studied at a higher level than the men, so where is the difference? I have daughter and son, and as my daughter is older, I have explained to her that she will be the head of the household after us in all aspects.
Ganesh, Vijayawada, India

How very sad and so short-sighted to consider abortion because of gender. Some parts of China already face a serious shortage of women for the very same reason. Why can’t people recognise that both genders are valuable but for very different reasons? As someone who strongly advocates a woman’s right to reproductive choices, it seems to me that the worldwide problem is not gender, but rather overpopulation.
Lisa, United States

The practice of dowry-giving by the bride’s family devalues women in society and is responsible for the widespread practice of aborting female foetuses. The skewing of boys to women born to families represents a social time-bomb. The law in India must be rigorously enforced with immediate effect.
Shouvik Datta, Prague, Czech Republic

I don’t understand why in Indian and European cultures, the tradition of the woman’s family paying a dowry to the man’s came about. In Chinese culture, the dowry or “bride-gold” is paid by the man’s family – which makes a lot more sense considering how much labour and other economic benefits a housewife ends up contributing in an old-fashioned family.
Shi-Hsia Hwa, Penang, Malaysia

This article creates an impression that the cause of all the gender bias in India are males. That is not what I saw when growing up in India. Several of the discriminatory, abusive practices against females are carried on by females themselves. Many times men have no part in this, nor do they have such intentions.
Kamal, Portland, USA

India is definitely a country biased against young girls and I am stating this as a fact, being a girl born in India. It is still a matter of pride to bear a male child and people still express their deep sympathy for a girl child. It sickens and saddens me to see so much hypocrisy in our society where goddesses are worshipped in temples and female babies are aborted and killed at homes.
Anisa Chaudhary, USA

My mother was one of these ladies. She was married at the age of twelve and was pregnant by the age of thirteen and a half. My father found out that I was going to be a girl and ordered my mother to have an abortion. When she refused, he and my grandfather beat her. A tourist saw them and stopped them. My mother married this wonderful stranger who brought her here and accepted me as his daughter.
Nia, Johannesburg, South Africa

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