BBC News – Shujaat Bukhari: Killing of Kashmir journalist shakes India

The murder of prominent journalist and editor Shujaat Bukhari, who was shot outside his office by unknown gunmen in Indian-administered Kashmir has devastated both journalists and ordinary people. Sameer Yasir writes about the impact of his death.

Jammu & Kashmir – India, 15 June 2018. A tall man with a husky voice, Shujaat Bukhari, 50, was admired, but also loathed by many for his moderate voice in an increasingly polarised region.

His was an extremely difficult job.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is at the centre of a decades-old territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim Kashmir in its entirety and control different parts of it.

India has also been battling armed militant groups who are fighting against Delhi’s rule in the region. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people over the years.

This has meant that journalists in the region have often worked under tremendous pressure from all sides.

Apart from running three daily newspapers, including the English language daily Rising Kashmir, Mr Bukhari lobbied aggressively for peace by organising conferences and summits in the US, UK and other parts of the world.

He was also a regular presence at secondary diplomatic initiatives envisioning better relations between India and Pakistan. He frequently wrote for international publications including the BBC, being the voice that explained the complexities of the region to the rest of the world.

Mr Bukhari’s friendly nature and fierce commitment to peace and moderation had won him fanlike adulation in recent years, not just in Kashmir, but across India, and his death has been widely condemned.

Tairah Firdous, a former Kashmiri journalist, described his killing as “a strong and saner voice silenced, a powerful story cut short too soon.”

Well-known journalist and former television anchor Barkha Dutt told an Indian television channel that she felt the journalist was assassinated precisely because he was a voice of moderation.

“Moderation does need courage,” Ms Dutt said. “But, in a place like Jammu and Kashmir to be reasonable needs more courage than to be an extremist on either side of the ideological trenches.”

The Chief Minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, who had known Mr Bhukari for decades, broke down as she entered his house in an uptown locality in Srinagar.

“What can I say. Only a few days ago he had come to meet me,” she said, while struggling to hold back her tears.

Her political rival and former chief minister Omar Abdullah was equally devastated, putting out a series of tweets expressing his anguish.

India’s home minister Rajnath Singh also tweeted, saying he was “shocked and pained” at his death, while the leader of India’s main opposition Congress party Rahul Gandhi called him a “brave heart who fought fearlessly for justice and peace in Jammu & Kashmir”.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-44493264

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BBC News – The Scot who was the sex guru’s bodyguard

Myles Bonnar & Steven Brocklehurst

BBC Scotland, 04 June 2018. Hugh Milne was a disciple of Indian “sex guru” Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh from his very early days but his dream of an enlightened community based on love and kindness came crashing down in spectacular style.

The popular Netflix series Wild Wild Country documented how the charismatic but controversial Bhagwan Rajneesh relocated from his ashram in India to create a commune for thousands of followers on a 64,000-acre ranch in the US State of Oregon.

Over a five-year period there were legal confrontations and tensions with residents as well as attempted murder, election rigging, arms smuggling and a mass poisoning that still ranks as the largest bio-terror attack in US history.

Hugh Milne, from Edinburgh, spent almost a decade at close quarters with the mystic, who is reckoned to have had 90 Rolls Royces.

Over that period, Bagwhan Rajneesh inspired him, slept with his girlfriend and sent him to do hard labour.

For many years Hugh served as the Bhagwan’s bodyguard, with the main task of stopping his followers touching him.

In the decade that Hugh was with him, Rajneesh presided over the rapid expansion of a movement from “20 followers to 20,000”.

“These are not 20,000 people who are buying a magazine,” Hugh says.

“These are people who have left home, left their families, given up everything and will work 60 to 80 hours a week for no pay and live in dormitories.

“It’s that kind of commitment.”

Hugh, who is now 70, was born in Lanark because it was the only natural child birth centre in Scotland.

He grew up in Edinburgh, where his family were linked to the Kingston Clinic, founded by his grandfather James C Thomson, who promoted natural treatments such as hydrotherapy.

In 1973, after finishing his training as an osteopath, 25-year-old Hugh went to India after hearing the teachings of Bhagwan Rajneesh on audio cassettes.

“When you meet such a remarkable man it has an extraordinary impact on your being,” says Hugh, who in India went by the name of Swami Shivamurti.

“I thought ‘what a wonderful, wise, kind, loving, sentient being this is’.

“I wanted to sit at his feet and learn from him.”

Hugh, who published a book about the Bhagwan called The God That Failed, says he was never a God in the Christian sense.

“I saw him as a highly-evolved human being with extraordinary gifts of perception and understanding,” he says.

He says the Bhagwan, who adopted the name Osho in the years before his death in 1990, was a “chameleon” who became whatever people needed him to be.

Although Hugh says he found his one-to-one meetings with the Bhagwan, known as dharshans, “quite revelatory”, he still struggled with life in India at first.

Within the first 18 months Bhagwan Rajneesh began to sleep with Hugh’s girlfriend and then sent him away to work on a farm in one of the hottest parts of India.

Hugh says Rajneesh, who was in his early 40s at the time, had “special” darshans with female followers at four in the morning.

“He got the soubriquet The Sex Guru in part because he talked a lot about sex and orgasm in his public lectures and partly because it was quite well-known that he slept with his female followers,” Hugh says.

Hugh admits that he was jealous and considered leaving the ashram but he says some part of him thought it would work out for the best.

“I knew he was a sex guru. It was par for the course,” he says.

“We were all sexually liberated. Very few people were monogamous. It was a different context in 1973.”

Hugh says his relationship with his girlfriend had a “new quality” after the special darshans but it was shortlived because the Bhagwan sent him to a farm 400 miles away.

When he came back he became the bodyguard of Ma Yoga Laxmi, Rajneesh’s personal secretary.

She had been violently attacked when a follower, or sannyasin as they are called, had been denied a darshan.

Laxmi told Hugh he needed to guard the Bhagwan as well.

Rajneesh claimed to be uncomfortable with the idea of denying his followers access to him but Hugh says the guru could not stand people touching him or kissing his feet.

“He found it distasteful,” he says.

For the next seven years, Hugh was one of the high-level sannyasins who created a “certain sanctity” around the Bhagwan.

Another of the inner circle was Ma Anand Sheela, who features heavily in the Netflix documentary about the Oregon commune.

Sheela was Indian but went to college in New Jersey and married an American before returning to study with the Bhagwan.

Hugh says he worked alongside Sheela when they were running the canteen of the ashram in Pune, which was growing in size as the Bhagwan attracted more followers.

Hugh says he and Sheela had an intense affair for a month before her husband asked Rajneesh to stop it.

After it ended Sheela’s demeanour to Hugh changed and it caused him problems as she rose up the ashram hierarchy, replacing Laxmi as Rajneesh’s personal secretary.

It was Sheela who was the driving force behind the commune’s move to Oregon.

Rajneesh was attracting controversy in India and he wanted an ideal place to extend and settle a new community with tens of thousands of followers.

Sheela bought the Big Muddy Ranch in Oregon in 1981 with little regard to local laws and set the Sannyasins to work on building a new city based on Rajneeshi beliefs.

“I regard Oregon as a mistake,” says Hugh. “It was a disastrous choice.”

He says they were in contravention of local laws right from the start.

Sheela and a small band of followers did everything they could to be able to continue with their plans.

This involved harassing and intimidating the people of nearby Antelope before moving to larger targets and plotting to kill State government officials.

More than 750 people contracted salmonella when salad bars at local restaurants were poisoned by the Sannyasins in an attempt to rig an election.

The Rajneeshis claimed they were being persecuted by the authorities and the conservative establishment but Hugh says they brought trouble on themselves by having so little care for the rule of law.

By April 1982, Hugh says he was having doubts about the commune.

It was no longer about love and kindness and meditation, he says.

Hugh was working as an osteopath in the health centre on the ranch.

The Sannyasins, who were working 80 to 100 hours a week to build the commune, were “falling apart”.

He says Sheela’s directions on how to treat them when they came to health centre were “inhuman”.

“She said ‘give them an injection and send them back to work’,” Hugh says.

On another occasion, he was forbidden to go looking for a friend who had capsized in his canoe on the river and ordered to go back to work.

“I thought ‘we are becoming a monster’,” he says. “Why am I still here?”

Hugh left Oregon in November 1982.

“For a period I was a basket case,” he says.

“I was so confused and torn apart, I could not handle things.”

He spent six weeks in a psychiatric hospital before trying to rebuild his life.

Hugh says he spent some time working as an osteopath in Edinburgh before he moved to London, Zurich and California, where he has been since 1985.

He says the events depicted in the documentary series Wild Wild Country largely took place after he left and he knew very little about the full extent of what Sheela was doing.

But did Rajneesh know what Sheela and her supporters were up to?

“I have no doubt at all that he knew,” says Hugh.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-44300915

BBC News – The story of Pakistan’s ‘disappeared’ Shias

Secunder Kermani, BBC News – Karachi

CCTV images from a local mosque show 30-year-old Naeem Haider being led away in handcuffs by more than a dozen armed men. Some have their faces covered with masks, others are in police uniform.

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 31 May 2018. It was the night of 16 November 2016. Mr Haider has not been seen since. Despite the CCTV video evidence both the police and intelligence services have denied in court that he is in their custody.

Mr Haider is one of 140 Pakistani Shias to have “disappeared” over the past two years, according to community activists. Their families believe they were taken into custody by the intelligence services. Over 25 of the missing, including Mr Haider, belong to Pakistan’s largest city Karachi.

Mr Haider’s family say he had returned to the port city from pilgrimage in Karbala, Iraq, with his pregnant wife just two days before he was detained.

Uzma Haider has since given birth to a baby boy who has never seen his father.

“My kids are always asking me, ‘When will our dad come home?'” she told the BBC. “What answer can I give them? No-one is telling us where he is or how he is. At least tell us what he’s accused of”.

The families of the other “disappeared” Shia men have similar stories of their loved ones being picked up from their homes at night by the security forces.

A tearful group of women gathered in a house in a working class Shia neighbourhood of Karachi told me they have been given no information from the authorities about where their relatives are being held or what the allegations against them are.

Community leaders though, say they have been told the men are suspected of links to a secretive militia in Syria, the Zainabiyoun Brigade, thought to be made up of around 1,000 Pakistani Shias fighting on behalf of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The brigade takes its name from the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, a figure particularly revered in Shia Islam. Zainab bint Ali’s shrine is in the Syrian capital Damascus, and the ostensible purpose of the brigade is to protect it from destruction by Sunni extremists like the Islamic State group who believe shrines are heretical.

In fact, the Zainabiyoun are also believed to have fought in a number of key battles in Syria, including in Aleppo.

They are not, however, named on a list of proscribed organisations issued by the Pakistani Ministry of Interior, and none of the “missing” men have ever been charged with any offence.

Rashid Rizvi is the head of the Shia Missing Persons Committee in Karachi. He has lead a number of protests in the city calling for the men to either be released or produced in court. He says most of the men were detained after returning from pilgrimage to the Middle East.

“Some representatives of the ‘state institutions’ came to meet me,” he tells the BBC, using a euphemism for the intelligence services.

“They tried to convince us to end our protest movement… I asked them ‘Why did you pick these men up?’ They said, ‘We think they’ve gone to Syria to fight against Daesh (IS) and al-Qaeda’.

“I said, ‘If that’s the case, then put them on trial… Otherwise what’s the point of having judges and courts?”

Pakistan’s security forces did not respond to a BBC request for comment.

“Missing people” are one of the most sensitive issues in Pakistan. According to official data there are more than 1,500 unresolved cases of enforced disappearances in the country. Those detained also include suspected Sunni jihadists, ethnic nationalist activists, and secular critics of the Pakistani military establishment.

Authorities in Pakistan have often said the security services are unfairly blamed for disappearances and that the number of missing people is inflated.

A handful of the Shia men who were picked up have subsequently been let go.

One young man, who did not want to be identified, told the BBC he had been held in a “small, dark cell” where he was “badly tortured” by the security services, including by electric shocks. He says he was repeatedly interrogated about the Zainabiyoun, with questions focussed on who he knew in the brigade, and where their funding was coming from.

Another is social activist Samar Abbas. He was detained in Islamabad in January 2017 at the same time as a number of bloggers critical of Pakistan’s military establishment.

They were released a few weeks later after a public outcry, however, Mr Abbas was held captive until March 2018. His brother-in-law was also detained and is still “missing”.

Mr Abbas was released after he says his captors told him he had been cleared of any wrongdoing. He told the BBC he is “grateful” for having been released, but says his period in detention has been traumatising for his family, particularly his young children.

“They lost their childhood… My daughter doesn’t like to leave me even for a single minute”.

Mr Abbas told the BBC that he was interrogated about his activism, and that some questions focussed on the Zainabiyoun.

“They told me ‘You are involved in sending people to Syria to fight… Tell us their names’.

I said, ‘I have never visited there [Syria] in my life’.

The Zainabiyoun Brigade is part of a network of Shia foreign fighter brigades operating in Syria, linked to Iran.

Others include Iraqi militias, Hezbollah from Lebanon, and the Fatemiyoun Brigade, consisting of Afghan fighters.

The Zainabiyoun is the most secretive of the groups; however supporters have uploaded some pictures and videos of “martyrs” from the brigade. Many appear to be from Parachinar, a city in Pakistan’s north western semi-autonomous tribal regions. Parachinar has a substantial Shia population and has been repeatedly targeted by Sunni jihadists.

Researchers believe over 100 Pakistani fighters have been killed in Syria, with their families said to receive financial support from Iran.

Shia community leaders told the BBC they believed the intelligence services in Pakistan likely feared returning Zainabiyoun members would continue to act on Iran’s orders, and could increase sectarian tensions with the country’s Sunni majority. However, they were sceptical that the fighters would ever pose a threat within Pakistan.

The families of the disappeared men say their relatives are not involved with any armed groups. Their demands are simple.

“For the sake of God, tell me where my child is,” pleads 65-year-old Shamimara Hussain. She breaks down in tears as she talks about the moment her youngest son Arif Hussain was taken away from her home by security forces.

“They told me, ‘we are just going to ask him a few questions and then let him go.’

“It’s now been a year and a half now and we’ve had no news about him. If they’ve killed him or he’s still alive, just tell me something… I’ve been all over the city trying to find him. I’m tired of crying, I’m tired of praying”.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-44280552

BBC News – The story barely reported by Indian media

Justin Rowlatt, South Asia correspondent

New Delhi – India, 28 May 2018. It is a potential scandal that claims to strike at a key pillar of Indian democracy – the freedom of the press – yet it is barely being reported in the Indian media.

There’s a simple reason for that: this alleged scandal involves many of the most powerful media institutions in the country.

A sting operation by a news organisation called Cobrapost claims to have revealed a deeply engrained bias towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) within many of India’s leading media groups, as well as a willingness among some of the country’s most senior media executives and journalists to take money in return for pushing a political agenda.

Cobrapost, a small but controversial outlet known for undercover stings, describes itself as a non-profit news organisation that believes too much journalism in India has been “trivialised”. It has dubbed its story “Operation 136” – the figure is a reference to India’s ranking in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Their website says its recordings show that some of the country’s leading news organisations are willing to “not only cause communal disharmony among citizens, but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party”- and all in return for cash.

Undercover stings of this kind are notoriously unreliable. The footage can easily be taken out of context or edited to change the meaning of a conversation or misrepresent its real nature.

An undercover reporter from Cobrapost, Pushp Sharma, says he approached more than 25 of India’s leading media organisations, offering them all a similar deal.

He claimed to represent a wealthy ashram, a Hindu monastery, which, he said, was willing to pay large amounts of money in the run up to next year’s general election in an attempt to ensure the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, remains in power.

Mr Sharma says he outlined a three-stage strategy his paymasters wanted to bankroll.

First, he proposed the media organisations promote what he describes as “soft Hindutva”, the idea that Hindu faith and values are the defining ideology of India. He suggested this could involve promoting the sayings of Lord Krishna or retelling stories from the Bhagvad Gita, the epic poem that is one of the most holy texts of Hinduism.

The next stage would involve attacks on the BJP’s political rivals, particularly Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the main opposition Congress Party.

Finally, the plan was to move on to promoting incendiary speeches from some of hard-line proponents of Hindutva, including some divisive radical Hindu figures.

The idea of this stage of the operation, Mr Sharma explained to some of the executives, was to polarise voters in the hope that the BJP would benefit at the ballot box.

‘Viral videos and jingles’

Amongst the media groups Cobrapost says it approached were giants like Bennett Coleman, the media empire that owns The Times of India, the largest selling English language newspaper not just in India, but in the world.

It also targeted the The New Indian Express, another large English language newspaper, and the India Today Group, which owns one of the country’s most popular television news channels.

Hindi language newspapers and regional media groups were also approached.

According to Cobrapost, all but two of the more than two dozen groups it had meetings with said they were willing to consider the plan.

Videos of the encounters posted on the Cobrapost website show media executives, editors and journalists discussing how they might be able to accommodate his proposals.

The different organisations come up with a whole range of suggestions, from publishing undeclared “advertorials”, to paid news items and special features.

Some say they would set up “special teams” to push the ashram’s agenda. There is talk of creating viral videos, jingles, quizzes and events.

Cobrapost has made some potentially very serious allegations about some of the countries most powerful media organisations.

In most democracies, claims like this would have generated a huge national scandal with banner headlines and public outrage.

But, here in India, only few online media organisations – including the Wire, Scroll and The Print – have given the story extensive coverage.

‘Reverse sting’

Some of the big media groups targeted in the sting have responded to Cobrapost’s claims, however.

They deny any wrongdoing and say that the undercover footage has been edited to misrepresent the real nature of the encounters.

The Times of India, for example, says it is “a case of doctoring of content and falsification” and says none of the media organisations Cobrapost names “agreed to any illegal or immoral activity and no contracts were signed”.

The Cobrapost videos appear to show Vineet Jain, the managing director of Bennett Coleman, the publisher of the Times of India, haggling over how much the group would need in order to consider the proposal. Mr Jain says he wants $150mn (£112mn) but finally settles for half that.

There is also a discussion about how any payment could be made in cash, possibly to avoid paying tax.

Bennett Coleman has since rejected any suggestion of dishonesty. In fact, an article in the Times of India explained that Cobrapost was the victim of what the newspaper calls a “reverse sting”.

It says “senior functionaries” of Bennett Coleman were well aware that Mr Sharma was an imposter and deliberately went along with his proposals in an attempt to “trap the fraudster and discover his true intent”.

The India Today group also denied that it had done anything wrong. In a statement it said that the company’s managers would not do anything unethical, and that any advertising that divides the country on religious or caste lines will not be acceptable or aired on its channels.

Meanwhile the New Indian Express has said that there are no editorial issues for the newspaper because the meetings were between the undercover reporter and advertising executives and the discussion was only about the possibility of an advertising campaign.

It also said it would never accept advertisements which encouraged communal disharmony and that the executives made clear that any advertisement would need to be legally vetted.

There is no question that the Cobrapost allegations need to be treated with healthy scepticism. But there is also no question that they raise potentially troubling doubts over the independence of the media in India, particularly when it is a year away from a general election.

That the world’s largest democracy languishes towards the bottom of the rankings for press freedom is already a matter of national shame.

If proven, these allegations would no doubt see India slipping yet further down the table.

A headline in the online news site Scroll captures the challenge the country faces.

“Cobrapost expose shows Indian media is sinking”, it runs. “Now we can fight back or be drowned.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-44280188

BBC News – India Karnataka: Modi ally resigns in regional crisis

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has suffered a setback after the chief minister of the southern state of Karnataka resigned minutes before a vote of confidence in the assembly.

Bengaluru – Karnataka – India, 19 May 2018. B S Yeddyurappa said he could not get the numbers to secure a majority.

A coalition government will take over and replace the chief minister, who has held office for less than three days.

The Supreme Court ordered the vote when the opposition Congress complained the BJP lacked the necessary support.

The BJP won 104 of the 222 seats in recently concluded state polls, but fell short of a majority by eight seats.

The Congress emerged as the second largest party and declared an alliance with a regional party, Janata Dal (S), which won enough seats to give their coalition a majority in the new assembly.

But the governor, Vajubhai Vala, invited the BJP to form the government and even allowed their candidate, BS Yeddyurappa, to be sworn in as chief minister.

His controversial decision had led to a major standoff, with many calling it a violation of the constitution.

Opposition parties challenged his decision in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the BJP had until 1600 (1030 GMT) on Saturday to win over eight members from the opposition alliance to form the government.

Analysts believe losing Karnataka would have been a major blow for Congress which rules only three of India’s 29 states. The BJP and its allies are in power in 21.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-44166194

BBC News – The Simpsons: Not all Indians think Apu is a racist stereotype

Why is a goofy Indian convenience store owner in a satirical TV series suddenly raising the hackles of some Indian-Americans, nearly three decades after he was introduced as a character?

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

Op/Ed, 09 May 2018. In The Simpsons, Bengal-born Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is an indefatigable immigrant who talks in a mocking sing-song way.

He topped his class of “seven million students” in a college in India before moving to the dystopian fictional town of Springfield, peopled by misfits and oddballs and powered by a polluting nuclear plant owned by a heartless cynic.

A devout Hindu, Apu is a doting father to eight children and eccentric husband to a homemaker wife, with whom he had an arranged marriage. Best known to his fans around the world for his catchphrase, “Thank you, come again”, Apu loves cricket, drives a 1979 Pontiac Firebird, enjoys one rock song and is a miser.

The problem with Apu erupted last November when Indian-American comic Hari Kondabulu argued in an angry 49-minute documentary that the store owner is based on racial stereotypes.

Kondabulu hates Apu’s accent, which he describes as a “white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father”.

The comedian told the BBC in an earlier interview that the character was problematic because he is defined by his job and how many children he has in his arranged marriage.

In his film, a bunch of Indian-American comedians and actors, including Aziz Ansari and Kal Penn, talk about how the caricature led to them being mocked by classmates in school.

Bollywood actress and star of the ABC show Quantico, Priyanka Chopra, who spent her teenage years in the US, has separately chimed in on the controversy, telling a TV show: “Apu was the bane of my life growing up in the US.”

And writing in the New York Times, Vikas Bajaj, a member of the editorial board of the newspaper, said although there is “some truth to Apu” as far as caricatures go, he “comes across as a caricature designed to mock a minority for the entertainment of the majority”.

With a population of more than two million, Indian immigrants make up the second-largest foreign-born group in the US, after Mexicans. Three-quarters of them arrived after the 1990s. Nearly 70% held college or university degrees in 2010, making Indian Americans the best educated and the highest-earning group of immigrants.

Many wonder why a 30-year-old animation caricature is under fire at a time when the community is more visible and wealthier than ever before.

They say all characters in The Simpsons are brutal stereotypical caricatures anyway – Homer Simpson, the pater-familias of the dysfunctional family which headlines the show, is a slob, a glutton and a lousy parent.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Tunku Varadarajan, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said Apu’s inauthentic accent doesn’t matter because he’s a caricature, like everybody else in the show.

“Are all caricatured accents racist? Should we ban ‘foreigners’ from comedy shows altogether?”

So why is Apu under a cloud three decades after he was introduced in the show?

Mr Varadarajan told me Kondabulu’s documentary “suffused with self-righteous indignation about the racism-by-caricature in Apu” is to blame for the recent kerfuffle.

Also, he says, “this has happened at a moment of particular cultural sensitivity in liberal America, with the white intelligentsia being even more capitulative than before to accusations of racism”.

“I guess the fact that Indians haven’t traditionally been at the forefront of America’s race-complaint industry has given this latest outrage over Apu added significance. But in my view, just because traditional non-whiners are whining doesn’t mean that the whining is justified!”

But Shilpa Davé, a professor at the University of Virginia and author of Indian Accents: Brown Voice and Racial Performance in American Television and Film, believes that Apu has been a “topic of conversation, interest, and censure about the accent” long before the Kondabulu documentary.

“It’s a made-up accent that makes Apu an object of racial humour because of the way he talks rather than what he is saying. The enduring characteristic that he represents is that all Indians talk with a funny and foreign accent, compared to US accents,” she told me.

Sanjoy Chakravorty, co-author of The Other One Percent: Indians in America, isn’t even sure whether there is any wider outrage over Apu beyond the “media echo chamber” following the Kondabolu documentary.

“As I see it, there are two primary products that second generation Indian American comedians sell – the ridiculousness of their parents’ ‘culture’ (arranged marriage and ‘my son, the doctor’ are the commonest tropes); and the racism of white Americans,” Professor Chakravorty, who teaches at Temple University in Pennsylvania, told me in an email interview.

“It is not hard to see why these two lowest hanging fruits are plucked all the time. This is very standard fare. Apu is also very standard fare. What Kondabulu has done is nothing new. He picked almost the most identifiable Indian project possible in the US. And he plugged into the market for identity-based outrage.”

Professor Chakravorty adds that he loves The Simpsons.

“As far as I am concerned: Apu is one of three likable characters in The Simpsons – Lisa and Marge are the others. Homer, a caricature of the ignorant, blue collar white male, is actually the most offensive.”

Back in Apu’s native land, fans of The Simpsons appear to have no problems with the character.

“I like Apu, in fact I love him. He has a PhD in computer science, but enjoys running his store, he is a valued citizen of Springfield, a ladies man and adores cricket and is funny,” Sidharth Bhatia, Mumbai-based founder-editor of The Wire, told me.

“It reflects true American diversity. The controversy about the stereotyping is classist snobbery – Indians in America don’t want to be reminded of a certain kind of immigrant from their country – the shop keepers, the taxi drivers, the burger flippers,” says Mr Bhatia.

“They would rather project only Silicon Valley successes, the Wall Street players and the Ivy League products, with the proper accents, people they meet for dinner – by itself a stereotype.

The millions of Apus in America, the salt-of-the-earth types, with their less ‘posh’ accents, are an inconvenience to that self-image of this small group of Indian-Americans.”

Last month, Hank Azaria, the Emmy-award winning voice of Apu, said he is “willing to step aside” from his role voicing the character. “The idea that anyone young or old, past or present, being bullied based on Apu really makes me sad,” said Azaria. “It certainly was not my intention.”

So does Apu’s future look uncertain? Will the show write him out of the script? Will he be given a new voice? Will the show update the stereotype?

The Simpsons creator Matt Groening says he’s “proud of what we do on the show” and this is “time in our culture where people love to pretend they are offended”. A recent episode made a nod to the accusations, but some viewers found it insufficient.

There are no indications that Apu will leave Springfield yet. But the convenience store owner’s job could very well be on the line.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-44027613

BBC News – Afghanistan: At least 17 killed in Khost mosque blast

Khost – Afghanistan, 6 May 2018. At least 17 people have been killed and 37 wounded in an explosion at a mosque in the Afghan province of Khost, local officials say.

People had gathered for afternoon prayers at the mosque, which was also being used as a voter registration centre.

Some of the injured are said to be in a critical condition.

No group has claimed responsibility but the Islamic State group has carried out similar attacks in the past.

The latest incident appears to have been caused by explosives left in the mosque, rather than by a suicide bomber.

There have been a number of attacks on voter registration centres since the process started last month for October’s parliamentary elections.

On 22 April, a suicide bomb attack at a voter registration centre in the capital Kabul killed at least 57 people.

The Kabul attack was claimed by IS, but the Taliban has also warned people not to take part in the elections, which are said to be a key test of President Ashraf Ghani’s credibility.

In another development, police in the province of Baghlan say that seven Indian engineers and their Afghan driver, working for an electricity provider, were kidnapped by the Taliban on Sunday morning.

A police spokesman, Zabihullah Shuja, told the BBC that they were travelling to a government-run power station in Pul-e Khomri, the capital of the northern province.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-44022554

BBC News – Kabul bombings: Journalists targeted in blast which killed 25

At least 25 people have been killed in two bombings in the Afghan capital Kabul, including several journalists documenting the scene.

AFP chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai, is among the victims.

The first explosion was carried out by an attacker on a motorbike. A second followed about 15 minutes later after a crowd, including several reporters, had gathered at the scene.

The Islamic State group (IS) said it had carried out the attack.

It was one of several fatal incidents on Monday.

BBC reporter Ahmad Shah was also killed in a separate attack in the Khost region.

And in a third attack, 11 children were killed in a suicide bombing intended to target Nato troops in Kandahar province.

Bomber ‘disguised himself”

In the Kabul attack, the AFP news agency said the second blast had deliberately targeted the group of journalists, including its photographer Shah Marai.

“The bomber disguised himself as a journalist and detonated himself among the crowd,” AFP quoted a police spokesman as saying.

At least eight journalists and four police officers were among the dead, interior minister spokesperson Najib Danish told the BBC. So far, 45 people have been reported injured.

– Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty confirmed that three of its journalists were killed in the attack. Abadullah Hananzai, a journalist and cameraman, had been working on a story about narcotics, while Maharram Durrani worked on the weekly women’s programme. Sabawoon Kakar had earlier been listed as injured, but died later in hospital.
– Tolo News said its cameraman Yar Mohammad Tokhi was among the victims
– Afghanistan’s 1TV said reporter Ghazi Rasooli and cameraman Nowroz Ali Rajabi had been killed

The intelligence services headquarters had been the target, IS said in a statement released through its self-styled news outlet Amaq.

The Shashdarak district also houses the defence ministry and a Nato compound.

“This is the deadliest day for Afghan media in the past 15 years,” the head of Tolo News TV, Lotfullah Najafizada, told the BBC.

“We went, all of us, to the blast site. We said: ‘If you killed an entire line of journalists reporting here, in five hours time we’re back here; the line is longer; the queue is longer and the resolve is greater.”

Bombings in the Afghan capital are not uncommon.

Earlier in April, a suicide bomb at a voter registration killed almost 60 people and injured 119, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

The Taliban also remain active in the country, only 30% of which is under full government control, according to BBC research published earlier this year.

AFP paid tribute to Shah Marai, who it said had six children, including a newborn baby.

“This is a devastating blow,” global news director Michele Leridon said.

“We can only honour the extraordinary strength, courage and generosity of a photographer who covered often traumatic, horrific events with sensitivity and consummate professionalism.”

Who was the BBC’s Ahmad Shah?

A shooting in Khost province resulted in the death of a BBC reporter.

“It is with great sadness that the BBC can confirm the death of BBC Afghan reporter Ahmad Shah following an attack earlier today,” said Jamie Angus, director of the BBC World Service.

“Ahmad Shah was 29. He had worked for the BBC Afghan service for more than a year and had already established himself as a highly capable journalist who was a respected and popular member of the team.

“This is a devastating loss and I send my sincere condolences to Ahmad Shah’s friends and family and the whole BBC Afghan team.

“We are doing all we can to support his family at this very difficult time.”

Local police are investigating a motive.

What happened in the Kandahar attack?

Also on Monday, a suicide bomb attack in the Kandahar region killed 11 schoolchildren and injured many more.

The bomber appeared to have been targeting a military vehicle convoy in Daman district, but the explosion struck a nearby religious school. In addition to the dead, more than a dozen children were reported injured in the blast.

Nato forces operate from a base in the area, and Nato officials confirmed that some of its people had been injured, as had Afghan police.

Eight of the injured were of Romanian nationality, Nato said, but all were in stable condition.

No group has yet said it carried out the Kandahar attack.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43946539

BBC News – The tragic lives of India’s mistreated captive elephants

Soutik Biswas – India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 24 April 2018. For more than a month, Rajeshwari, a 42-year-old temple elephant in India, lay desultorily on a patch of sand, her forelimb and femur broken and her body ravaged by sores.

An animal lover went to the court, seeking to put her down. The court said the pachyderm could be “euthanised” after the vets examined her. On Saturday afternoon, she died anyway.

Rajeshwari had led a hard life since she was sold to the temple in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in 1990. She would stand on stone floors for long hours to bless devotees and perform rituals like pouring or bringing water to the deities.

In 2004, she fell from an open truck on the way to a “rejuvenation” camp for captive elephants and broke her leg. She lived in pain ever since with a misshapen limb.

Recently, she broke her femur when authorities used an earthmover to flip her and treat her. After that, say activists who visited the temple to check on her condition, the largely disabled pachyderm just wasted to death.

Rajeshwari’s tragic story mirrors the sorry state of many of 4,000 captive elephants in India, mostly in the states of Assam, Kerala, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

India, according to a World Animal Protection report, is widely considered the “birthplace of taming elephants for use by humans” – a practice which began thousands of years ago. (In comparison, India has 27,000 elephants in the wild).

In southern India, pachyderms are rented out during religious festivals for noisy parades and processions, including weddings and shop and hotel openings. They travel long distances in open vehicles and walk on tarred roads in the scorching sun for hours. (They have often gone on the run at temple festivals and killed devotees.)

Elsewhere, chained and saddled elephants are used for rides, sometimes carting tourists up and down steep forts, or entertaining tourists who wish to touch, bathe and ride them.

They are also hired by political parties for campaign processions, and by companies for promoting their goods in trade fairs. They are rented out for tourism in the national parks, used for anti-depredation squads, logging activities and lately even for begging on highways.

According to media reports, more than 70 captive elephants have died under “unnatural conditions and at a young age” in private custody in just three states – Kerala – Tamil Nadu – Rajasthan – between 2015 and 2017.

Some 12 captive elephants have died this year in Kerala alone. “Most of these deaths are due to torture, abuse, overwork or faulty management practices,” says Suparna Ganguly, president of the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre.

‘Gross ignorance’

It’s not surprising to see why.

Lack of space and habitat to exercise and graze in natural surroundings means elephants lodged in captivity are shackled for long hours in concrete sheds with stone floors. This is enough to make the animal sick.

They usually get foot rot, a condition where their feet develop abscesses and thinning pads, sometimes leading to severe infection. When outside, constant exposure to the glare of sun can affect their eyesight. Ms Ganguly blames this on “gross ignorance on part of the keepers and managers”.

Then there’s the poor diet. Elephants are slow eaters, and in the wild typically eat more than 100 kinds of roots, shoots, grasses, foliage and tubers. In captivity, their diets are severely restricted. In parts of northern India, for example, the animals have access only to glucose-rich dried sugarcane fodder.

Vets say many of them suffer from intestinal infection, septicaemia and lung-related infections. The life expectancy of captive elephants in Kerala, according to a report, has dipped to below 40 years from 70-75 years a couple of decades ago.

There’s not even enough places to shelter rescued and ailing elephants. There are five of them in India – including three private rescue centres – that house some 40 elephants, not enough considering the high population of captive animals.

Tamil Nadu holds month-long rejuvenation camps for temple elephants, where the animals can rest, get treated and interact with other elephants in a natural environment.

Elephants are trucked into these camps from distant places and many elephants have had accidents resulting in deaths due to their inability to cope with road transport or because they fall down from trucks.

India’s Supreme Court has outlawed the sale and exhibition of elephants at a well-known animal fair, and directed authorities to ban the use of elephants in religious functions to reduce their demand.

More than 350 captive elephants in Kerala and Rajasthan are “illegal” – they don’t have any ownership papers. Despite adequate laws – including a powerful animal protection law and guidelines to protect captive elephants – not enough is being done to protect them, say activists.

Lucrative trade

One reason is captive elephants are a lucrative trade. The owner of an elephant in Kerala, for example, can easily make up to 70,000 rupees ($1053; £754) for a single day’s appearance at a religious festival during the busy season.

“For the first time in the history of India’s captive elephant business, the murky underworld of elephant trade has been split wide open – decades of elephant trafficking, the ghastly nexus between poachers capturing young elephants and their collusion with private trade coupled with neglect, corruption and apathy on part of government departments have led to the unacceptable conditions today,” says Ms Ganguly.

The top court is expected to pass further – and final orders – on protection of the mistreated elephants soon. There may be hope yet.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-43862182

BBC News – Protest over detention of Scots Sikh Jagtar Singh Johal

Supporters of a Scottish man detained in India on suspicion of murder have staged a protest in London.

London – UK, 18 April 2018. Jagtar Singh Johal, from Dumbarton, was arrested in Punjab last November.

Campaigners said the 31-year-old Sikh has been held without charge and tortured. Indian authorities said he is being investigated over seven counts of aiding and abetting of murder.

The protest coincided with the arrival in the UK of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He is in London for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

Downing Street said Prime Minister Theresa May raised Mr Johal’s case with Prime Minister Modi when they met on Wednesday morning.

Mr Johal’s brother, Gurpreet Singh, is among those who travelled from Glasgow to take part in the protest in Parliament Square.

His family have said Mr Johal was a peaceful activist who had contributed to a website remembering the 1984 massacre at the Golden Temple at Amritsar but was not a militant.

He was arrested in Punjab on 4 November, just over a fortnight after his wedding.

His supporters claim he has had limited access to his family and to a lawyer, and they have also said reports of torture have been ignored.

Charandeep Singh, from Glasgow Gurdwara, who was among those protesting in London, told BBC Scotland: “What we are asking and urging the government of India and the authorities to do is to actually present the evidence and actually outline what the official charge is.

“If we understand what the official charge is, if there is one, then we are able to present a case, and he can actually rightfully defend himself.”

The Indian High Commission has previously said each of the cases against Mr Johal was proceeding “strictly as per due process of Indian law, as in any mature democratic set-up”.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The prime minister raised Mr Johal’s case with Prime Minister Modi this morning and the government will continue to make representations on his behalf until our concerns are addressed.

“Our High Commission staff in India have visited Mr Johal 10 times since his detention, most recently on 22 March, and the Foreign Office are in regular contact with his family.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-43809583