BBC News – Kulbhushan Jadhav: India to do ‘whatever it takes’ to help ‘spy’

India says it will do “whatever it takes” to ensure justice for a former navy officer sentenced to death in Pakistan on charges of spying

New Delhi, 11 April 2017. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said Kulbhushan Jadhav was “kidnapped” and tried on “concocted charges”.

Mr Jadhav was arrested last year and convicted on Monday of “espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan”.

Shortly after his arrest, Islamabad released a video in which he was shown admitting involvement in spying.

India has always questioned the alleged confession, saying that it was extracted under duress.

There are differing accounts of how and where Kulbhushan Jadhav was detained.

Pakistan says he was detained on 3 March 2016 in the restive Balochistan province, which has been hit by a separatist insurgency that Islamabad accuses India of backing. India says he was kidnapped by Pakistan while he was in Iran.

Speaking in the Indian parliament on Tuesday, Ms Swaraj described the death sentence as “an indefensible verdict” and warned Pakistan to “consider the consequences”.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh promised that the government would do “whatever it takes to make sure Mr Jadhav gets justice”.

Who is Kulbhushan Jadhav?

– The 46-year-old was a resident of Mumbai

– He is the son of Sudhir Jadhav, a retired Mumbai police officer

– A former naval officer, he was in the navy for more than a dozen years

– His family says he quit the navy to start his own business and was working from Iran’s Chabahar port

– He is married and has children

On Monday, Pakistan said he had been tried by a military court and sentenced to death.

Pakistan said he told the court he had been ordered to “plan, coordinate, and organise espionage/sabotage activities aiming to destabilise and wage war against Pakistan”.

He has 40 days to appeal to the court, Pakistani media report. No date was given for his execution.

The nuclear-armed neighbours have a long history of diplomatic spats and Delhi and Islamabad often accuse each other of sending spies into their territories.

In November, Pakistan withdrew six officials from its mission in Delhi after they were outed as suspected spies by India.

It later leaked to the press the names and photos of eight alleged Indian spies working from India’s mission in Islamabad.

But executions for spying are rare. In 1999, Pakistan hanged Sheikh Shamim 10 years after his conviction for spying.

Sarabjit Singh, an Indian man sentenced to death for spying in 1991, died in prison in 2013 while on death row after an attack by other prisoners.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-39563495

BBC News – ‘You may as well kill us’: Human cost of India’s meat ‘ban’

Allahabad, 30 March 2017. The government’s crackdown on meat shops in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has left many traders and butchers without much work and money. The BBC’s Vikas Pandey meets them in Allahabad city.

“I have no money since my shop shut two weeks ago. I don’t know how to feed my children and aging parents. Is it because I am a Muslim, or a meat trader?” Shakeel Ahmad, 52, asks.

He is angry with the state’s new chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, who opposes the slaughter and consumption of cows, considered sacred by India’s Hindu majority.

Authorities have closed many slaughterhouses since Mr Adityanath’s BJP party won the state elections earlier in the month. Small shops selling goat and chicken have also been forced to shut, despite the slaughter of these animals being legal.

Most butchers are Muslims and many suspect that they are being targeted unfairly. They allege that their businesses are being shut on technicalities. One meat traders association went on strike, alleging harassment by state authorities.

Mr Ahmad says he understands the crackdown on slaughterhouses which sell beef “because it was one of the BJP’s campaign promises”.

“But why punish small shop owners who sell goat and sheep meat? Most butchers like me earn daily, and don’t have any other skill after being in the business for decades,” he says.

He adds that municipal authorities recently rejected his application to renew his licence.

“They want me to set up a waste disposal unit, but I don’t have the money needed for it.”

Mr Ahmad lives in a small house with nine other family members in a densely populated area, mostly inhabited by the Muslim Qureshi community.

His mother, Fatima Begum, says that the community in this area has traditionally earned its livelihood through the meat trade.

“Men in this community don’t have any other skill. We are already poor, and now we are not sure where the next meal is going to come from. They may as well kill us,” she says.

Ms Begum says she needs regular medication because of her old age.

“I am running out of my medicines, but I haven’t told this to my son because I don’t want to add to his troubles,” she says.

Mr Ahmad’s wife, Husna Begum, is worried about her children’s education.

“I want my children to get a good education and come out of poverty. If the government thinks meat shops are bad, then give us something else to do.

“Is it a crime to dream about a good future for your children?” she asks.
‘I am scared’

A few blocks away, I meet Mohamed Shariq who has also shut his shop.

“I have the licence needed to run my shop, but I fear attacks from right-wing groups,” he says.

Mr Shariq’s fear is not unfounded.

Media reports suggest that several meat shops have been attacked in the state in the past two weeks.

Mr Shariq invites me to his house, and asks a question.

“Just look around. My house is already breaking apart. I have to feed 10 people. Is it fair to ban our only source of livelihood?”

His brother P Qureshi and other members of the family also join the conversation.

They are all worried about their future.

“I hope and pray that the chief minister understands our problems and stops people who are misusing his name. We know there is no official ban on slaughtering sheep and goats, but we are still scared,” Mr Qureshi says.

Every house in this community has similar stories.

Abdul Qureshi, who ferries animals in his cycle rickshaw, says the crackdown seems so unreasonable because Hindus too eat meat.

“Most of the customers in this market are Hindus. Even the Indian Army people buy from our shops. I don’t understand how banning a food item proves anybody is more or less religious,” he says.
‘Not just Muslims’

Gulzar Qureshi is the community leader here, and he explains that “people don’t understand that this is not just Muslims’ problem”.

“Most people who rear sheep and goats are Hindus. I know so many Hindus who have come here from their villages to sell their animals and are now stuck,” he says.

Chunni Lal is one of them.

“I am running out of money to feed the five goats I have brought with me. Nobody is willing to buy them,” Mr Lal says.

Gulzar Qureshi says people who believe that the meat trade ban has only affected butchers and slaughterhouse owners are wrong.

“That’s just over simplification. Cattle farmers, middlemen who buy animals and butchers are all affected,” he says.

He adds that even rickshaw pullers who ferry these animals, and tannery workers who need leather don’t have much work these days.

“We are not asking for fancy roads and schools. Just let us earn whatever little amount we make for our children. I think that’s the least a citizen can expect from his government,” he says.

To see the pictures and read the full article :

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-39427552

BBC News – Who’s the Hindu hardliner running India’s most populous state?

New Delhi, 29 March 2017. Yogi Adityanath has dominated headlines in India since his appointment as leader of the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh. A saffron-robed Hindu priest, he is a highly controversial figure who is loved and hated in equal measure, as the BBC’s Geeta Pandey reports.

At the weekend, Yogi, as he is widely known, returned to a hero’s welcome to the temple town of Gorakhpur for the first time since he was sworn in as chief minister on 19 March.

Overnight, the town turned saffron, the colour of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). All roads leading to Gorakhnath temple were decorated with party flags, marigold flowers and orange balloons.

The smiling new leader, 44, looked down from massive hoardings and posters on buildings, and mannequins outside shops even sported bright saffron outfits.

At a college run by the temple, thousands of people waited for hours to see him. Speakers praised his vision and leadership. “Some people walk in others’ footsteps, some make footsteps for others to walk in,” said one.

A brilliant orator, Yogi Adityanath has been elected MP for Gorakhpur five times since 1998 and the crowds there worship him. Many tell me he’s a “reincarnation of the gods, a God himself”.

But he is also a very controversial leader who has often been in the news for the wrong reasons. Critics describe him as India’s most divisive and abusive politician who used his election rallies to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria.

And some of the statements attributed to him – and his supporters – have been widely condemned.

He accused Muslim men of indulging in a “love jihad” to seduce Hindu women and convert them, he claimed that Mother Teresa wanted to Christianise India, he called for a Donald Trump-style travel ban on Muslims in India and compared Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistan-based militant Hafiz Saeed.

At one point, he shared a stage with a supporter who said that when Yogi Adityanath came to power, Muslims would no longer have the right to vote and that supporters would rape dead Muslim women.

His campaign promises included “anti-Romeo squads” to “prevent harassment of Hindu women” and he listed protecting cows and shutting down illegal slaughterhouses as his top priorities.

Religious Hindus revere cows and slaughtering them is illegal in large parts of India, including Uttar Pradesh. In 2015, a Muslim man was lynched by a Hindu mob which alleged that he had stored beef at home.

Yogi Adityanath also faces criminal charges. He has been accused of attempted murder, criminal intimidation and rioting in relation to a clash that took place in 1999. And in 2007, he spent 11 days in jail for making inflammatory speeches.

No wonder then that his surprise elevation has alarmed many in India and around the world, with many expressing concerns that the state’s 40 million Muslims will not have an easy time under his watch.

In an editorial, The Guardian called it a “victory for anti-Muslim bigotry” and the New York Times said Mr Modi was trying to “humour Hindu extremists”. The paper called the move “a shocking rebuke to religious minorities”.

Respected Indian columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta called it an “odious and ominous” development.

And the negative publicity has continued since he became chief minister. The “anti-Romeo squads” have been accused of harassing and intimidating courting couples in cities and towns, and the authorities have been criticised for forcing abattoirs to shut down, mostly on flimsy grounds.

The press in Gorakhpur, however, has been more complimentary, revelling in the “grand victory” of their hero.

“Local newspapers are writing in great detail about his amazing memory skills, they say he can remember names of thousands of people. Some are talking about how he communicates directly with his 500 cows, monkeys, dogs and birds,” says senior Gorakhpur journalist Kumar Harsh.

“For people here, he’s a celebrity. He’s the chief priest and head of the temple management, which also runs a hospital and colleges. He is very hardworking and is immensely popular with the people,” he adds.

The son of a forest ranger, Yogi Adityanath was born in 1972 in Garhwal (which was then in Uttar Pradesh but is now in Uttarakhand state) and was named Ajay Singh Bisht.

A maths graduate, he moved to Gorakhpur in November 1993 and three months later was appointed heir to Mahant Avaidyanath, the temple’s chief priest and an influential Hindu politician. A vegetarian, he has taken a vow of lifelong celibacy.

Dwarika Tiwari is his deputy at the temple and has worked closely with him since his arrival in Gorakhpur.

“He’s very intelligent, bright and hard-working, he’s efficient, he respects everyone whatever their caste, creed or religion, he respects women and loves children.”

Mr Tiwari concedes he has weaknesses – a tendency for plain speaking and a quick temper.

When I point out the anti-Muslim statements during the campaign, the criminal charges and the fact that he was briefly jailed, Mr Tiwari brushes them aside as “malicious propaganda” and “conspiracy” from his political rivals.

“Muslims respect him equally. They also come to us to resolve their disputes,” he says.

Just outside the temple gates, Muslim shopkeepers insist they are not unduly worried over the appointment.

Cloth merchant Feroz Ahmad says he, in fact, voted for the BJP and now hopes that Yogi Adityanath will bring much-needed development to this backward town.

“All politicians say such things to win elections,” he says. “Some of his supporters are troublemakers who do wrong things. But now that he’s in power, it will all stop.”

So can it all be dismissed as mere rhetoric, something he indulged in just to win the election?

Sharat Pradhan, senior journalist in the state capital, Lucknow, says “ever since he’s been named chief minister, he’s been conducting himself very responsibly”.

“In his first days in power, he’s been careful. He’s shown a lot of restraint. He’s trying to be inclusive, he’s even inducted a Muslim into his cabinet.”

He has also been trying an image makeover – paying a surprise visit to a police station one day, visiting an acid attack victim in hospital the next. He has also refrained from commenting on the contentious issue of the Ram temple in Ayodhya despite it being promised in the BJP election manifesto.

“But the worry is with the fringe elements among his supporters. With his rabble rousing, he’s freed the genie from the bottle, now the question is can he control it?” asks Mr Pradhan.

That is precisely what Yogi Adityanath attempted to do when he took the stage in Gorakhpur at the weekend, appealing to his boisterous supporters to behave.

“The prime minister has given me a huge responsibility, to ensure that development reaches the last man. I assure you no-one will be ignored, irrespective of their caste, creed or religion,” he said. “And I need your help to succeed.”

Success, Mr Pradhan says, will depend on whether he can ensure the first six months of his rule are trouble-free. Then he can build his future.

“At present Mr Modi is number one in the party, the others are number nine. There’s no-one in between. Yogi Adityanath can be number two.

“He’s young. Age is on his side. By the time he turns 60, Mr Modi will be 80. And he will be ready to take him on. He’s the BJP’s tomorrow.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-39403778

BBC News – How PM Modi destroyed rivals in India’s Uttar Pradesh

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi, 11 March 2017. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) decisive win in elections in India’s politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, it sends 80 MPs to the lower house of parliament, has produced nine prime ministers, and is located next door to the capital, Delhi, is clearly being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi was the face of the campaign in the absence of any clear chief ministerial candidates.

Mixing rhetoric with promises of development, he campaigned hard against what looked like formidable opposition, a coalition of the ruling regional Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress, headed by the young satrap Akhilesh Yadav, and the powerful Bahujan Samaj Party, (BSP) led by Dalit leader Mayawati.

So what does this victory mean for his party?

For one, the balance of power in India has now decisively swung in favour of the BJP, and reinforces the party’s position as the central pole in India’s politics.

The win in Uttar Pradesh, and in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, means the BJP now rules more than a dozen of India’s 29 state legislatures.

Also, the party appears to have successfully forged a coalition of upper, middle-ranking and lower castes to be able to manipulate the social arithmetic of Indian elections. It has also avoided being seen as doling out reckless patronage to a caste or group, the bane of Mr Yadav’s defeated party in Uttar Pradesh.

“He has managed to go beyond the caste arithmetic. On the ground, the BJP is not perceived as a casteist party,” Bhanu Joshi, of the Centre of Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank, told me.

Second, Mr Modi’s party appears to have famously survived the jitters over his controversial currency ban, which inconvenienced many people and hurt the poor and small businesses.

Political scientist Milan Vaishnav believes the vote actually “represents a referendum on demonetisation”.

“Whether voters were bothered by the implementation of the policy or not, they clearly have decided that the PM is a man of action. As the old saying goes, “you can’t beat something with nothing”, he told me.

Thirdly, midway through his first term, Mr Modi becomes the front-runner in the 2019 general elections for a second term in power.

This despite what critics say is a lukewarm economic record, the jury is out on whether he’s an economic reformer or a believer in big state, and rising social tensions.

One reason is the state of opposition. The main opposition Congress party, despite its apparent win in Punjab, remains in a limbo, run by the dynastic Gandhi family, which holds the party together but is unable to win votes. “No state in India will now vote for a Gandhi,” says political analyst Shekhar Gupta.

The defeats in Punjab and Goa are also a big setback for the national ambitions of the promising anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party, which holds power in its Delhi borough.

Fourthly, the win will mean a huge boost to Mr Modi’s party in the upper house of parliament, and help it to push through key laws.

And finally, Mr Modi’s connection with the masses remains undiminished.

“Modi is the single most popular politician in India today, bar none. His charisma, perceived personal incorruptibility, and credibility are unmatched right now in Indian politics,” says Dr Vaishnav.

“As the opposition keeps railing against him, with very little to show for itself in the way of an affirmative vision, he will continue to gain strength.”

That probably is the biggest problem with India’s jaded and uninspiring opposition: their inability to take on Mr Modi with a new narrative of hope.

Many like Yogendra Yadav, founder of the Swaraj India party, believe that jolted by the defeat in Uttar Pradesh, the opposition will be pushed to cobble together a “grand anti-Modi alliance” to take on his party in 2019.

“This could be suicidal,” says Mr Yadav, “as purely anti-Modi politics may not work.”

But politics is also about the unforeseen and the unpredictable. Nobody predicted that former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, one of the BJP’s most charismatic leaders, would lose the 2004 elections to a subdued Congress party-led coalition.

But in the summer of 2017, Mr Modi’s ratings remain high.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-39227822

BBC News – Afghanistan: IS gunmen dressed as medics kill 30 at Kabul military hospital

Kabul, 8 March 2017. More than 30 people have been killed after attackers dressed as doctors stormed the largest military hospital in Kabul, Afghan officials say.

Militants armed with guns and grenades gained entry after one detonated explosives at a hospital gate and then opened fire on staff and patients.

Commandos who landed on the Sardar Daud hospital roof killed all four attackers after several hours of fighting.

The so-called Islamic State (IS) group has claimed the attack.

The Taliban has denied any involvement.

More than 50 people were also wounded, the defence ministry said.

President Ashraf Ghani said the attack at the 400-bed hospital “trampled all human values”.

“In all religions, a hospital is regarded as an immune site and attacking it is attacking the whole of Afghanistan,” he said.

The attack began at 09:00 local time (04:30 GMT). One hospital staff member who was able to get out saw an attacker “wearing a white coat holding a Kalashnikov and opening fire on everyone, including the guards, patients and doctors”.

One employee wrote on Facebook: “Attackers are inside the hospital. Pray for us.”

Change of tactic: Analysis by Inayatulhaq Yasini, BBC Afghan

The hospital attack marks a change in approach by so-called Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan, it’s the first time they have engaged directly with security forces in the capital.

Previously they have targeted civilian gatherings, mainly of Shia Muslims, as well as causing carnage at the Supreme Court last month.

But at the hospital they used an approach more commonly associated with the Taliban, blowing the gates open to allow gunmen to enter. This suggests they now have the resources and the military training to expand their attacks.

If that’s the case, the security forces could face more such assaults in the coming months.

In the two years since it announced its presence in Afghanistan, IS has mainly engaged with Afghan forces and more powerful, rival Taliban fighters in the east, near the Pakistan border. It has failed so far to widen its base in the country, one reason, observers suggest, it may now be mounting more headline-grabbing attacks.

The government claims it has rooted out IS militants from a number of bases in the east, but has yet to dislodge them from mountainous areas they control.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39202525

BBC News – Firms urged to publish ethnic breakdown

John Moylan Industry correspondent

London-UK, 28 February 2017. A government-backed review has called for many firms to publish a breakdown of their workforce by race and pay.

The report by Baroness McGregor-Smith said the economy could receive a £24bn annual boost if businesses stamped out ethnic inequality.

It found that people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds were still often disadvantaged at work.

But the government has ruled out legislation on such a breakdown, opting for a voluntary approach instead.

“The time for talk on race in the workplace is over, it’s time to act”, said Baroness McGregor-Smith, whose report was commissioned by the former business secretary Sajid Javid.

Her year-long review found that employment rates amongst people from BME backgrounds were 12% lower than for white counterparts.

They were more likely to work in lower paid and lower skilled jobs despite being more likely to have a degree, and just 6% reached top-level management positions, the report found.

Baroness McGregor-Smith said the UK had a structural, historical bias that favoured certain individuals.

“We spoke to a lot of junior people in organisations. They don’t think that this agenda is changing”, she said.

‘Economic damage’

One of her main recommendations was legislation to make firms with more than 50 workers publish a breakdown of their workforce by race and by how much they are paid.

“If we don’t see a surge of people taking that up because they have too many other priorities well then fine, we’ll legislate,” she said. “That’s my recommendation”.

Firms should draw up five-year diversity targets and nominate a board member to deliver them, she said.

She also wants to see diversity as part of public procurement guidelines.

And her report claims that tackling barriers to progression could boost GDP by 1.3%.

“The consequences of continuing to do nothing will be damaging to the economy and to the aspirations of so many,” she said.

‘Discrimination won’t disappear’

Baroness McGregor-Smith was one of the first Asian women to lead a FTSE 250 company. She ran the outsourcing group Mitie for nearly 10 years until she stepped down as chief executive in 2016.

She said that overt racism does still occur in workplaces, but she highlighted unconscious bias as being more pervasive and potentially more insidious.

Only 74 FTSE 100 companies replied to her call for data for the report. She said that she was shocked that only half of those were able to share any meaningful information.

Last year the Equality and Human Rights Commission said that the life chances for young minority ethnic people were “the most challenging for generations”.

A study by the TUC also found that Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers were a third more likely than white workers to be underemployed.

Responding to the McGregor review, the TUC’s general secretary Francis O Grady said that “without government action, racist discrimination at work won’t simply disappear”.

“Ministers must act on the report’s recommendations, including requiring companies with over 50 employees to publish data on race and pay.”

Voluntary approach

Business minister Margot James said: “Outdated attitudes or lack of awareness about ethnicity in the workplace must be challenged.”

“The economic benefits of harnessing untapped talent is huge and I urge employers to implement these recommendations to ensure everyone can reach the top of their career – whatever their background.”

But the minister ruled out new laws on firms.

“We believe … the best method is a business-led, voluntary approach and not legislation as a way of bringing about lasting change,” she said.

You can follow John Moylan at
@JohnMoylanBBC.

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-39111775

BBC News – Pakistan hit by deadly suicide attacks

Wednesday, 15 February 2017. At least seven people have been killed and several more injured in two separate suicide attacks in north-western Pakistan.

In the first, six people died when two suicide bombers targeted a government compound in the Mohmand tribal region.

Three of the dead belonged to a tribal police force, two were civilians and one a paramilitary soldier.

A faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, said it was behind the bloodshed.

In the second attack on Wednesday, a bomber on a motorbike rammed a government van carrying four judges in the city of Peshawar.

The driver was killed, and the four judges were injured. They have been transferred to a nearby hospital.

Peshawar police chief Tahir Khan told media at the scene that the judges appeared to be the bomber’s target.

Pakistan has seen an upswing in militant attacks of late, after a period of relative calm.

On Monday, a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Lahore killed at least 13 people and wounded more than 100, most of whom are still being treated in hospitals.

The blast occurred when owners of medical shops were demonstrating against amendments to a law governing drug sales in Punjab province.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar said it had carried out the attack, as well as two gun assaults in Karachi on 12 February.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38984070

BBC News – The Indian tribesmen catching giant snakes in Florida

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

Op/Ed, 6 February 2017. Every morning, two Indian tribesmen in T-shirts and long trousers, leave their dwellings in southern Florida and head into the Everglades to hunt for some of the world’s biggest snakes.

Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal, members of the once-nomadic Irula tribe, are armed with crowbars and machetes. Wearing fleece jackets and baseball caps, they slash and wade their way through the largest subtropical wilderness in the world to hunt down Burmese pythons.

The non-native snakes, which escaped into the wild in Florida or were released as pets, pose the biggest threat to the small mammal population of the national park. They also eat birds, alligators and deer. In 2005, a Burmese python tried to swallow an alligator and exploded in the park, leaving both the predators dead.

Ever since the pythons were spotted in the wild more than two decades ago, authorities have tried everything to catch the elusive snakes in the marshes, but with limited success.

They have used pythons (called Judas snakes) to find other pythons during the mating season, asked people to turn in their pet snakes, poisoned prey, and even encouraged people to hunt them for a cash prize.

Last year, some 1,000 hunters participated in a competitive month-long Burmese python hunt to rid the wetland of the invasive species, and caught 106 snakes.

By comparison, in the past four weeks, the two 50-something tribesmen from India have caught 27 pythons, including a 16ft-long (5m) female in an abandoned missile base in Key Largo. Pythons that are caught are later put down.

“Masi and Vadivel are doing an incredible job. They excel at determining if pythons are present at a site, locating them if they are, and then catching them when located,” Frank Mazzotti, a biologist at the University of Florida who heads a team of researchers investigating pythons, told me.

“They can see pythons even when they are covered by grass. All they need is a glint of snake and they pounce. The rest of us are usually wondering where the snake is. Next thing we see they are holding it.”

The Miami Herald marvelled at the snake-hunting skills of the Irulas, whom herpetologist Rom Whitaker describes as the “best snake catchers” in the world. The newspaper reported that the Irulas appeared to have “mysterious” tracking techniques.

“They move slowly and rather than focus on roads and levees where snakes have typically been found basking, they head straight for thick brush. The Irulas believe the boulders and high grasses that line the levees are more lucrative hunting grounds.

“And when the going gets slow, everyone must stop to squat for a quick song of prayer – usually an ancient invocation mixed with an ad lib about pythons or the weather, accompanied by a beedi cigarette.”

Writer and filmmaker Janaki Lenin, who is accompanying the tribesmen, has provided a gripping account of the female python they recovered in Key Largo. The two men cut the roots that blocked the entrance to the bunker, pried open a door, went inside, poked the snake, broke through a concrete shaft and hauled out the 75kg (165lb) reptile.

Another time, a eight-foot-long python, according to Ms Lenin, “struggled and emptied its bowels” on Masi, who held the tail. “After the Irula bagged the python, the grinning but impressed Americans held their noses with their fingers, miming how stinky the snake faeces were,” she recounted.

Masi said he was not bothered. “Only if you are covered in it, can you catch snakes.”

For the past month, the two men, who have travelled around the world to catch snakes, have been living in the home of Joe Wasilewski, a well-known herpetologist. Their two months of work is funded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

After an oatmeal breakfast, they are driven to work. Sometimes they go out after dark. In the early days, they survived on Trinidadian Indian food, but since then they have tried hotdogs and burgers and watched an NFL game.

“All that they say so far is that they like being in America and want to catch lots of pythons,” Ms Lenin said.

Masi and Vadivel, members of an ancient tribe, have become unlikely globe-trotting snake-catchers. Last July, they went to Thailand to help researchers implant radio transmitters for their study, and ended up catching two king cobras.

Back home, the men are part of a thriving 35-year-old co-operative of community members, who catch snakes and extract and sell their venom for a living. India is home to 50 species of venomous snake and bites kill some 46,000 people a year, accounting for nearly half the snakebite deaths in the world.

The Irulas poached snake and lizard for their skins until the trade was outlawed in 1972. A decade later, they formed a co-operative near the southern city of Chennai and switched to catching poisonous snakes, mainly cobras, kraits and vipers, to extract and sell venom.

The venom is now sold to seven laboratories, who manufacture most of India’s anti-snake venom serum.

Last year, the co-operative’s 370-members, including 122 women, sold snake venom worth 30 million rupees ($446,500; £357,900), up from a mere 6,000 rupees in 1982.

They have a government licence to catch 8,300 snakes every year, each snake is released in the wild after four extractions in a month, but demand they are allowed to catch three times as many.

After all, a gram of cobra venom sells at 23,000 rupees today, nearly eight times as much as the price in 1983. An Irula snake-catcher earns some 8,000 rupees every month, apart from other health and pension benefits.

“We are illiterate and poor. We don’t own land. Snakes have saved our lives,” says K Ravi, an Irula. But most of them say their children want to move to the big cities and get a “company job”. The daughter of an Irula couple is the first collegiate in the co-operative, and is training to become a nurse.

It is not clear whether this will be the last generation of these snake-catchers, a community of 116,000 tribespeople. For many, that would mark the passing away of a traditional hunting skill.

“They are better at the above than any other snake catchers that I have known,” Mr Mazzotti says.

“Think of [the game of] cricket. What is the difference between really good amateurs and professionals? The Irulas are professionals.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38794352

BBC News – Why has India’s Punjab fallen into the grip of drug abuse?

The northern Indian state of Punjab votes on Saturday for a new government. But the biggest issue confronting voters is not jobs or corruption, but a drugs epidemic that is sweeping the state.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder travelled there to find out why one of India’s most prosperous states is in danger of losing an entire generation to drug abuse.

Panjab, 2 February 2017. “This is him when he was in his first grade. He had just won a school competition.”

Mukhtiar Singh smiles wistfully as he shows me a faded picture of his son Manjit, from a family album.

“In my wildest dreams I could not imagine what was to happen to him.”

Manjit, 28, died in June last year because of a drug overdose. His father, a worker in the government’s power department, marched through the streets of his village carrying his son’s body, and then addressed a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“I told the prime minister he needed to step in to save Punjab’s youth from drugs. Our children are dying and nothing is being done.”

Seven months later, Mr Singh is battling to highlight Punjab’s alarming drugs problem.

A recent government study suggests that more than 860,000 young men in the state, between the ages of 15-35, take some form of drugs.

Heroin is the most preferred, used by 53% of all addicts. But opium and synthetic drugs such as crystal methamphetamine are also common.

“My mission is to save Punjab’s youth,” Mr Singh tells me as we sit on the roof of his modest two-room home. “I have carried my son’s body on my shoulders. It’s something I don’t want any other parent to experience.”

Easily available

It is astonishing how widespread the problem is. One estimate says that more than two-thirds of Punjab’s households have at least one addict in the family.

Across the state, from villages in the lush green countryside to bustling towns and cities, young men huddle together in cemeteries, abandoned buildings or plain fields, smoking, snorting or shooting up.

Tarn Taran, a district located along the border with Pakistan is one of the worst affected.

In the main town’s civil hospital, which also serves as a centre to fight addiction, young men with glazed eyes hang around.

In the space of 20 minutes, I see a number of transactions unfold in full public view. They are approached by peddlers, money swiftly exchanges hands before a little packet is handed over.

The men then slink away behind a wall.

Beyond it is a derelict building, surrounded by rubbish and reeking of urine. Strewn all around are used syringes and broken bottles of prescription medicines.

“It’s ridiculously easily available,” Jasprit Singh tells me.

Jasprit, who is from Tarn Taran, used to be an addict, but says that he has been clean for the past four years.

“Heroin, synthetic drugs, you name it, I’ve done it all. When I scored for the first time, I felt as if I was experiencing something wonderful,” he says.

“I felt like something had been missing from my life until then.”

He now works at the same rehab centre where he underwent his recovery programme, counselling drug addicts.

“I tell them that if I can give up drugs, anyone can.”

The Hermitage rehab centre is housed in an impressive two-storey building set amid lush green lawns. Inmates, called students not patients, receive counselling, psychiatric and medical treatment here.

It’s one of hundreds of rehab centres that have sprung up across the state in the past few years.

The inmates come from a variety of backgrounds. They include judges, police officials, pop musicians, students and quite a few women.

“The women are the most difficult to treat,” the institute’s director, J P S Bhatia, says.

“Many of them are abandoned by their families. Most have been sexually molested when they try and seek help, by unscrupulous counsellors and doctors, even the police.”

Punjab’s proximity to Afghanistan and Pakistan, with which it shares a border, has meant that it’s a major transit route in the lucrative drug smuggling trade. That’s one reason why heroin is so readily available.

But why are its youth so susceptible? Drug consumption in Punjab is three times the national average.

Agriculture, which brought the state its wealth, is stagnating and with little industrialisation there is high unemployment.

And in the 1980s, Punjab was in the grip of a violent separatist militancy which has now ebbed but has left its scars.

“We got rid of terrorism only for it to be replaced with narcotics-terrorism,” says Dr Bhatia.

“And we just have not been prepared to deal with it or even come to terms with the problems faced by our youth.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38824478

BBC News – Man in court over Derby Sikh temple [Gurdwara] murder

Derby, 31 January 2017. An elderly man found dead near a Sikh temple [Gurdwara] had been beaten so badly police believed he had been hit by a car, a court heard.

Sukhraj Singh Atwal has gone on trial for the murder of Satnam Singh, 74, the father of his mother’s ex-husband, in Derby in July 2015.

The prosecution at Nottingham Crown Court alleged he repeatedly stamped and jumped on Mr Singh.

The 29-year-old, of Pear Tree Crescent, Derby, denies murder.

Mr Singh had been walking to the temple where he volunteered in the early hours of 23 July when he was attacked on the corner of Coronation Street.

He was found with 41 fractures to his ribs, lacerations to his heart and blunt force injuries to his head and face.

Mr Atwal’s car appeared several times on local CCTV at the time of the attack.

The beating itself was not caught on camera but the vehicle was seen entering the spot where Mr Singh died immediately before the attack and leaving four minutes later.

Disposed of trousers

Footage from a garage forecourt showed Mr Atwal appearing to inspect his light-coloured trousers.

He also returned to the scene several times “to observe what was happening”, the prosecution alleged, wearing different trousers.

Mr Atwal was arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving four days later, giving no comment at interview, save that police should “check the forensics” on his car.

He was arrested in April 2016 on suspicion of murder after tests determined Mr Singh had not been hit by a car.

Examination of Mr Atwal’s phone revealed he had travelled to a remote location near Carsington Water, near the Peak District, later that day where the prosecution alleges he disposed of his trousers.

A text message on his phone said he had not hit Mr Singh “with my car” and he even taunted police in a letter from custody saying they “couldn’t even get the cause of death right”.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-derbyshire-38809440