From today’s edition of the Times of India online: Man strangles wife for questioning him. Youth slits his own throat in front of estranged ex-girlfriend. Girl dies after suitor sets her on fire. Sexually harassed victim succumbs to burns. Husband’s ‘friends’ gang rape wife. Mob attacks women for throwing youth off a female-only train. What accounts for so many sex and violence stories in perhaps the most po-faced publication in India? Maybe there is simply more journalism and more policing; so that the gang rape of a woman in ‘her shanty adjoining the Malanga railway compound wall’, whose husband’s occupation is given as ‘growing vegetables near the tracks’, no longer goes unreported. Previously of little import, attention paid to the life of the poor may point to the progressive expansion of the state and civil society. Alternatively, perhaps the battle of the sexes and its recently elevated position in the news agenda, is shaping up to be the shared territory – the mediating space – for negotiating the battery of acute contradictions now assaulting India. Opportunity and constraint – propulsion and coercion in the anarchy of economic development – played out in front line stories from the sex war. Paradox so prolific that news reporting can barely contain it – even if ‘news’ was originally formulated by the British in the attempt to straighten everything out. Thus mention of ‘a eunuch sodomised in a moving van’, can only have issued from the contradiction between pre-modern methods of sexual repression and population control, e.g. castration, versus modern manufacturing epitomised in the automobile. The farm labourer whose proposal of marriage was rejected by the parents of a ‘Class XII’ student, is a modern fable of Mr Going Nowhere versus Ms Upwardly Mobile. Similarly, the youth who slit his throat in front of his ex-girlfriend, is reported as studying for a ‘correspondence’ degree while working as a day labourer. Doing his utmost; but still the girl’s mother persuaded her to reject him. Social mobility – and the people it leaves behind, was also a factor in the wife-killing case. When the construction worker from Gandhinagar (named after India’s most famous man of peace) strangled his spouse, the two of them were alone in their house in because their children had ‘gone for tuitions’. Contradiction is writ large both in what’s occurring and in the way it is written up. In the midst of epochal change, there are linguistic leftovers from 1940s English, the way the sahibs would have spoken it: the wife-killer on the run is ‘absconding’; a suitor is spurned by his ‘lady love’; the women-only train is a ‘ladies’ special’; the gang of rapists, two of them known personally to the rape-victim’s husband, ‘thrash him too’. What blackguards! Meanwhile the newspaper which looks to the sobriety of the London Times, is all but drunk on advertising. Adverts weave in and out of editorial columns like a man staggering home from the pub. There are even hyper-linked words which you would think must lead to further information on the story, only to find that they offer up absolutely unrelated advertising. Hard news, hard sell, a country finding it hard to make terms with the pace of change.