Posts for category ‘Chennai’

Chief Minister Refuses to Eat in Response to Riot
| February 24, 2009 | 3:35 am

Now in its fifth day the struggle between thousands of disgruntled lawyers and the police has drawn the attention of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M. Karunanidhi who says he intends to fast until the two groups sort out their differences. The octogenarian politician is currently recovering from a spinal surgery in a local hospital and is apparently guilt-tripping both sides to stand down. He isn’t actually taking a stand to resolve the differences that have led to a “shoot on sight” by the police order and severe unrest around the High Court that has resulted in a destroyed police station and the burning of dozens of vehicles.

The lawyers outside the court are of two minds about the Chief Minister’s actions. One group of 300 lawyers has decided to follow his lead and start their own fast to shame the police into submission. Another group has kept on with its riotous activities and stabbed a police constable.

Meanwhile the courts have been shut down until next week when they will open up to record case backlogs and the business-as-usual approach that has made a travesty out of the Indian legal system.

Police Orders to Shoot Lawyers on Sight
| February 23, 2009 | 4:01 am

The police have issued a shoot-on-sight order to kill any lawyer caught attacking public property in Chennai. The order comes as a response to a riot that broke out between the police and lawyers near the High Court on Thursday and Friday. During the incident hundreds of lawyers from the high court set fire to a police station, four city buses, several rickshaws and motorcycles. The cause of the riot is ostensibly because of the lack of government support towards the embattled LTTE in Sri Lanka, however the rage pent up by lawyers across the state to seek remediation in their cased through the law seems to be the underlying reason for the unrest.

To my knowledge, the police have not actually shot anyone, though there have been several newspaper photographs of bloodied lawyers who had been hit on the heads by riot police.
While I am not an expert on court politics in Tamil Nadu, it seems to me that it is a bad sign for the state of the government. Lawyers presumably have access to the wheels of justice and it is shocking that they would resort to violence rather than attempt to push their disagreements through official channels.

But their actions show that the legal system in India is badly broken. Cases languish in courts. And there is a backlog that can take decades to even get a hearing, and the near endless appeal process means that no decision is ever truly final. While the lawyers I know speak highly about the ideals of the legal system, they are hopelessly bogged down by its processes and rarely believe that courts can effective deliver justice.

With courts impotent, organized crime syndicates have flooded the market with their own brand of justice, and allowed underworld figures to adjudicate decisions on their own. I wrote about this happening in Bangalore for WIRED last year.

The current riots in Tamil Nadu (which are said to be spreading to Madurai and Trichy) are a natural outgrowth of the current system. If the law is completely broken, what incentive do lawyers have not to riot? When lawyers are reduced to street thuggery what does that say about the functioning of the state itself?

Of course the police’s current order to shoot lawyers on sight shows the low esteem in which the government holds the legal profession.

Chennai Runs out of Gas
| June 30, 2008 | 2:36 pm

Today the Chennai ran out of gas. By noon the few remaining pumps that were open had lines that wrapped around the block. A few, like the Indian Oil pump across from my house went for more than a mile. In the center of the city I passed a stalled Hyundai Santro with a woman in tears behind the wheel. She had run out of gas while going from station to station looking for a place to fill up. By ten at night, the few remaining pumps had police posted outside of them ready just in case a riot broke out. I saw people filling jugs for drinking water, apparently hoarding the fuel just in case the gas supply doesn’t get turned back on.

I stopped at several different pumps and asked attendants why there was no gas and got conflicting answers. A police officer with several stars on his eppillete outside one bunk told me that there was a strike. Fed up by paying $5.30 a gallon, truck drivers refused to supply gas to stations across Tamil Nadu in a bid to the government to lower petrol prices. In a country where the median income still overs around $300 a year, the current price of petrol is far higher than just prohibitive, it’s downright obscene. However another source at a local newspaper told me that gas supplies were slow to come in from abroad and that this could be a sign of things to come.

There is still no clear consensus about whether this is merely a blip, or the beginning of a trend in Tamil Nadu. I expect that the issue won’t be resolved tomorrow. There will probably be a lot of stalled cars on the roads in a few days.

Chennai’s Great Newspaper Throw-Down
| March 12, 2008 | 11:02 pm

Chennai is gearing up for a newspaper slog fest that promises to leave journalism by the wayside and more billboards on the roadside. In the next month or so, the Times of India is coming to town with a major advertising campaign and super-low introductory rates. Its move into an already crowded media market is forcing the current players to reevaluate their positions.

Part of the reason, of course, is that the Times of India arrives full coffers and is already poaching the best reporters from the established Chennai papers. Indian Express’s Jaya Menon–an extraordinary journalist in her own right–will be heading up the office as bureau chief and star reporters from the New Indian Express, the Hindu and Deccan Chronicle have been lured to the new offices by higher salaries and promises of plush assignments.

But no matter how talented the Times of India’s editorial team might be, the future of the paper won’t hinge on the stories that they break. Chennai is India’s last great media market before the big newspapers start duking it out in second tier cities. For the next couple years, papers will be competing for readers as fiercely as possible before the losers are forced to close up shop.

And what sells newspapers better than sex?

When the Deccan Chronicle entered Chennai in 2005 it learned that the quickest way to turn a buck wasn’t to fund an outstanding reporting team, rather all it had to do was paper the city with pictures cute Indian babes cavorting on the beach. Under the tag line “News Made Exciting” the paper ran high on celebrity news and sex scandals (and some occasional good reporting from senior staff) and its circulation in Chennai alone rose to more than 300,000 in just three years.

Former Rediff and Tehelka reporter and current assistant editor at the Council on Foreign Relations Basharat Peer laments that Indian editors consistantly bury hard hitting stories in favor of tabloid fluff in order to move newspapers

Privately, editors in India will say that cover stories about how Indian men and women behave in bed after age thirty sell more copies than cover stories about torture. [link], via

It is unlikely that Chennai will be able to support four major English language papers over the long haul, and editors that I’ve spoken with are nervous about what happens next. As talent migrates towards the Times of India, papers like The New Indian Express are trying to differentiate themselves before the shakeup. For the last couple months the paper has included a sexed up 40-page Friday supplement called Indulge and has lately been winning the design wars for best above the fold layouts.

Even with some positive signs, the paper has the most to lose when the Times of India enters the market. With its drab offices far outside the city in Ambattur it has to work hard to keep talented people from fleeing to greener pastures–among them Sushila Ravindranath, Sunday Express editor has shifted to the Deccan Chronicle.

All that aside, for readers, this is a great time to be in Madras. For the next couple years the industry is going to be full of energy as the papers try to out-compete themselves for your attention. Lets just hope they run some actual news stories next to the full-page babe inserts.