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.


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.”

BBC News – The unspoken alcohol problem among UK Punjabis

By Anusha Kumar, Aidan Castelli & Chayya Syal

UK, 4 April 2018. For many British Punjabis, alcohol abuse is an open secret. Alcohol consumption is glamorised across different aspects of Punjabi culture and shame stops many seeking the help that they need.

Harjinder read her daughter Jaspreet one last bedtime story, then kissed her goodnight. She was exhausted after a long day, and drifted off next to her daughter. Her toddler son was already asleep in the next room.

The next thing she remembers is her husband yelling. He was drunk and furious that when he returned from the pub she wasn’t in their marital bed.

In a rage, he flipped the child’s bed throwing his wife and daughter to the floor. Harjinder hit the radiator hard with Jaspreet landing on top of her.

Incidents like this were a regular feature of Jaspreet and her brother Hardeep’s childhood. “It was heartbreaking,” Jaspreet says.

So when Harjinder found Hardeep, now aged 16, drinking whisky in his room after an argument with his alcoholic dad, she was terrified that he was following in his father’s footsteps.

There are around 430,000 Sikhs in the UK, making up a significant proportion of the British Punjabi population. Harjinder herself is Sikh and amongst her community her experience isn’t unique.

A new survey, commissioned by the BBC to investigate attitudes to alcohol among British Sikhs, found that, although drinking alcohol is forbidden in Sikhism, 27% of British Sikhs report having someone in their family with an alcohol problem. It’s a problem which is rarely talked about openly in the community.

Harjinder moved in with her husband’s family after their arranged marriage, both common practices within Punjabi and wider South Asian communities. She was shocked to find out how much her newly acquired family’s social life centred around the men’s excessive drinking.

The family, along with young children, would go to a friend’s house and would stay there until two or three o’clock in the morning waiting for the men, and she started to feel increasingly isolated.

Rav Sekhon, a British Punjabi psychotherapist who works with ethnic minority communities, says: “There is really strong pride and honour for the family name. They don’t want anyone to perceive them as having something wrong with them or any form of weakness.”

Sanjay Bhandari is from a Hindu Punjabi family, a partner at a multinational city firm in London and a recovering alcoholic. After his father died when he was 15, he says he started drinking and never really stopped.

By his mid 30s, he realised that he hadn’t been a single day without a drink for over seven years, and he’d been dependent on alcohol for much longer. He says his Punjabi background played a big part in discouraging him from admitting he had a problem.

Sanjay, who has been sober for 16 years, says he didn’t feel that he could admit he had a weakness, nor that he was feeling lonely and self-medicating with alcohol. He didn’t look to the Punjabi community for help, but eventually found Alcoholics Anonymous.

“It would never have occurred to me to go to the community for help with drinking. It was almost the last place I would have gone.”

When the first immigrants, who were mostly men, came to the UK from Punjab in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, many found themselves struggling to assimilate being in a new country, often working long hours to send money home to their families.

The stresses of moving to a new culture, the associated language barriers and the racism they faced meant many of these men turned to alcohol to cope. This reliance on alcohol has had generational repercussions.

Jennifer Shergill, an alcohol practitioner from the West Midlands, works with Sikh men and women to manage and overcome addiction. She points to the combination of British binge drinking and the culture of drinking in Punjab, which together create a perfect storm for some of the people accessing support services.

For Harjinder, her husband’s heavy drinking had worsening consequences. Although he was becoming increasingly violent towards her, she was still reluctant to seek help.

She says his behaviour was normalised by his family, leaving her feeling almost brainwashed by them into hopelessly accepting the situation. It wasn’t until she went to her GP with injuries from the abuse that she realised that what she was experiencing wasn’t normal.

Eventually Harjinder called the police and she and her children moved out of the family home to stay with her parents. Even then her husband didn’t acknowledge the impact that his drinking was having.

“I think [my husband] knew deep down that what he was doing was wrong but it was almost as if his male pride couldn’t admit it.”

Jennifer Shergill thinks one of the barriers for people seeking help is the fear of someone finding out. “There is stigma associated with chronic alcohol misuse and they don’t want their reputation to be tainted… if there is a dependent drinker in the family what might people think of our family?”

The Shanti Project, where Jennifer works, is just one scheme working to tackle this stigma and to provide culturally appropriate services for the Punjabi community in Birmingham.

Others include a volunteer-led Sikh Helpline, the Derby Recovery Network, BAC-IN, and First Step Foundation, which are all doing their part to help tackle alcoholism in a culturally sensitive way.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute Harjinder’s husband due to a lack of evidence and, six weeks later, Harjinder and her children returned to the home she shared with her husband.

Her husband’s family had visited her to assure her he had stopped drinking and things would be different, so feeling the pressure from both his family and her own, she and her children returned home.

But Harjinder struggled with depression. Her husband hadn’t stopped drinking. It was at this point that, prompted by a community psychiatric nurse, she started talking to a counsellor. “I felt quite desperate at times,” she says, “but the counselling really helped, I felt that I could carry on.”

Harjinder is still living with her husband after more than 20 years of marriage, but their lives are very separate now. Her daughter, now in her 20s, constantly urges her to leave him.

“I’ve thought about it a lot. A part of me thinks, why bother at this age? But then another part of me thinks: well, if I’ve got another 20 years of this, that’s not good. I think it could happen.”

Harjinder and her family members’ names have been changed

BBC News – Why cancer strikes more women than men in India

For oncologists worldwide, India can look like a puzzling outlier when it comes to cancer.

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 28 March 2018. For one, despite reporting more than 1.5 million new cases every year, India’s cancer rate remains lower than, say, the economically advanced US. That’s about 100 cases per 100,000 people compared with 300 in the US.

This may be easier to explain: Indians are a vastly younger people and as people get older, the chances of getting cancer get higher. But survival rates are poor, barely a third of patients survive beyond five years or more after being diagnosed with the disease.

What is more difficult to explain is why more women in India are diagnosed with cancer than men, according to a new study published in The Lancet Oncology. Men report a 25% higher incidence of cancer than women all over the world, but India bucks this trend.

Sharp rise

Having said that, more men die of cancer in India than women.

But that is because breast, cervical, ovarian and uterine cancer, that account for more than 70% of the cancers in women in India, allow higher chances of survival on treatment.

Indian men suffer largely from lung or oral cancer, both related to smoking and ingesting tobacco, which are more virulent with lower survival rates.

Breast cancer is now the most common cancer among women in India, accounting for 27% of all cancers among women. Oncologists say there has been a sharp uptick in cases in the last six years.

At 45-50 years, the peak age of onset of breast and ovarian cancer in India appears to be a decade younger than the peak age (above 60 years) in high-income countries. This could be due to genetic and environmental factors.

Cancer is, at times, a genomic disease. Studies have shown the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes usually increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer four to eightfold and can explain why some families have lots of relatives diagnosed with breast cancer.

But less than 10% of the breast cancers in India are inherited, so genomic screening may not be very useful to find out the cause in the vast majority of female cancers.

Then there are regional variations.

The incidence of breast cancer is the highest, for example, in the capital, Delhi, but oncologists are not sure why. They can only speculate about increased awareness and higher rates of diagnosis, and not much more.

Dr Ravi Mehrotra, director of the National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research and one of the authors of the study, believes that known risk factors for breast cancer, high-fat diet, obesity, late marriage, fewer children, inadequate breast feeding, may be leading to more cases in what is a rapidly urbanising country.

Also, he says, many women may be diagnosed late because of lack of awareness and reluctance to go to doctors.

In the US, for example, 80% of breast cancers are diagnosed relatively early in the first and second stages. In India, most of the breast cancers are diagnosed in the third and fourth stages.

The only silver lining, say oncologists, is that 60% of those with breast cancer in India survive for five years.

“But we still don’t know fully why women are reporting such a high rate of breast cancer,” says Dr Mehrotra.

What can be more easily tackled is cervical cancer, mainly caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), and accounting for nearly 23% of all cancers among women in India.

Since 2008, HPV vaccines have been offered to girls aged 11 to 13, and cases of the cancer caused by this virus have fallen sharply worldwide. In India, only Punjab and Delhi have HPV vaccination programmes.

‘Preventable cancer’

But cervical cancer is still the second most common cancer among women in India, and accounts for a quarter of deaths among women suffering from cancer.

“It is one of the most preventable of all cancers,” says Dr Mehrotra. “No women should be dying of cervical cancer.”

India needs a louder and more transparent conversation about reproductive sexual health. It also needs to include the HPV vaccine in the bouquet of free mass vaccinations provided by the government.

According to the Lancet paper, India – a country of more than a billion people and 4,000 anthropologically distinct groups – needs genomic studies to identify country-specific genetic biomarkers. It also needs cancer prevention strategies that work for its people.

For example, the Lancet suggests parallel studies of women cancer patients in the Punjab region of India and the Punjabi diaspora in the UK. “This might offer an unique opportunity to study the genetic and environmental influences on cancer development in genetically related populations that have been subjected to different environmental factors.”

India launched a cancer control programme in 1976, but there’s not enough funds because the government spends a mere 1.2% of GDP on healthcare. But sometime this year, the government will launch free cancer screening for oral, breast and cervical cancer in 165 of the country’s 700 districts.

“Things are looking up,” says Dr Mehrotra. “But we have a long way to go. We still have a long way to go before we solve the many riddles.”

BBC News – The Rohingya children trafficked for sex

Girls in their early teens are being trafficked into prostitution in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, a BBC News investigation has found. Foreigners seeking sex can easily gain access to children who have fled conflict in Myanmar and now face a new threat.

Anwara is 14. Fleeing Myanmar after her family were killed she searched for help on the road to Bangladesh.

“Women came with a van. They asked me, if I’d go with them.”

After accepting their help, she was bundled into a car, with the promise of safe passage to a new life. Instead she was taken to the nearest city, Cox’s Bazar.

“Not long after that they brought two boys to me. They showed me a knife and punched me in my tummy and beat me because I wasn’t co-operating. Then the boys raped me. I wasn’t willing to have sex but they kept going.”

Tales of trafficking in the nearby refugee camps are rife. Women and children are the main victims, lured out of the camps and into labour and sex work.

A BBC team alongside the Foundation Sentinel, a non-profit group established to train and assist law enforcement agencies combating child exploitation, headed to Bangladesh to investigate the networks behind the trade we had heard so much about.

Children and parents told us they were offered jobs abroad and in the capital Dhaka as maids, as hotel staff and kitchen workers.

The chaos of the camps offers big opportunities to bring children into the sex industry. Offering a chance of a better life to desperate families is a cruel tactic deployed by traffickers.

Masuda, 14, who is now being helped by a local charity, described how she was trafficked.

“I knew what was going to happen to me. The woman who offered me a job, everyone knows she makes people have sex. She is a Rohingya here for a long time, we know her. But I didn’t have a choice. There is nothing for me here.

“My family have disappeared. I have no money. I was raped in Myanmar. I used to play in the forest with my brother and sister. Now I don’t remember how to play.”

Some parents wept for fear of never hearing from their children again. Others smiled at the prospect of a life bettered, despite not having heard from their loved ones.

As one mother said, “anywhere is better” than a life outside the camps.

But where are these children being taken to, and by whom?

Undercover, posing as foreigners recently arrived in Bangladesh looking for sex, the BBC investigation team set out to see if we could get access to children.

Only 48 hours in, after asking small hotel and beach cottage owners, places notorious for offering rooms for sex, we found the telephone numbers of local pimps.

With the knowledge of police, we asked the pimps if they had younger girls available for a foreigner, specifically Rohingya girls.

“We have young girls, many, but why do you want Rohingya? They are the dirtiest,” one man said.

This was a recurring theme throughout our investigation. In the hierarchy of prostitution in Cox’s Bazar, Rohingya girls were considered the least desirable and the cheapest available.

We were offered girls by a variety of different pimps operating as part of a network. During the negotiations we stressed that we wanted to spend the night with the girls immediately, as we did not want to create a demand.

Pictures of different girls began to come in and we were told they were between 13 and 17. The number of girls available and the scale of the network was striking. If we did not like any of the girls in the photos, there were plenty more.

Many of the girls live with the pimps’ families. When they are not with a client, they are often cooking or cleaning.

“We don’t keep the girls for long. Mostly Bangladeshi men come for them. They get bored after a while. Younger girls cause more of a fuss, so we get rid of them,” we were told.

With the recording and surveillance done, we presented the evidence to the local police. A small team were assigned to set up a sting operation.

The pimp was immediately identified by the police. “I know him. We know him very well,” said one of the police officers. Perhaps an informant, or a known criminal, it was not clear exactly what he meant.

In preparation of the sting, we called the pimp, and asked for two of the girls we had seen in the photograph to be delivered to a prominent hotel in Cox’s Bazar at 20:00 local time.

The undercover foreigner posing as the client, a member of the Foundation Sentinel, waited outside the hotel with a translator. In the car park undercover police officers waited for the trafficker to arrive.

As 20:00 drew closer, frantic phone calls were made between the pimp and our undercover client. The pimp wanted the client to come away from the hotel, we refused. Instead, the pimp sent a driver to deliver two of the girls from the photograph we had seen.

After the money was exchanged, our undercover client asked: “If tonight is good, can we get more?” The driver nodded in agreement.

After collecting the cash, the police moved in. The driver was arrested, and childcare professionals and trafficking experts helped to arrange care for the girls.

One of the girls refused to go to a shelter, while the other, who said she was 15, went into social care.

The girls appeared torn between poverty and prostitution – they said that without the sex work they would not be able to provide for themselves or their families.

Moving women and children both domestically and internationally takes a degree of organisation. The internet provides the tools to both communicate between different members of organised crime groups and sell sex.

We found examples of Rohingya children taken to Chittagong and Dhaka in Bangladesh, Kathmandu in Nepal and Kolkata in India.

In Kolkata’s booming sex industry, they are given Indian identity cards and absorbed into the system, their identities lost.

At the Cyber Crime Unit in Dhaka, police explained how traffickers trade girls for sex over the internet. Open and closed Facebook groups offer a gateway to a child sex industry out of sight.

Amid a labyrinth of encrypted websites, we were shown a platform used by paedophiles to share information on the dark web. The goal is to share experiences of how to have sex with children around the world.

One prolific user offered a step-by-step guide on how to take advantage of children, specifically Rohingya, in a refugee crisis. He goes on to talk about the best ways to avoid detection, the lowdown on local law enforcement and the best areas to prey upon children.

Another user replies: “As this is happening now, and I feel like a vacation, any thoughts/local knowledge would be appreciated.”

The thread has since been taken down by the authorities but it offered a chilling insight into how refugee crises provide opportunities for paedophiles and traffickers to prey on people at their most vulnerable.

Both online and offline in Bangladesh a network of traffickers, pimps, brokers and transporters continue to supply women and children for sex.

The Rohingya crisis did not create a sex industry in Bangladesh, but it has increased the supply of women and children, forcing the price of prostitution down and keeping demand as strong as ever.

Names in this article have been changed to protect identities

BBC News – Myanmar ‘militarising’ Rohingya villages in Rakhine, says Amnesty

Myanmar – Rakhine State, 12 March 2018. Myanmar is conducting a “military land grab” on land in Rakhine state where Rohingya once lived, a new report from Amnesty International alleges.

Citing satellite images and witnesses, the rights group says villages have been bulldozed to make way for new infrastructure since January.

An Amnesty spokesperson said this “alarming” militarisation was removing evidence of crimes against Rohingya.

The government of Myanmar has yet to respond to the report.

It has previously asked for “clear evidence” to support allegations from the UN that it may have carried out “acts of genocide” against the Rohingya.

Amnesty says that while the picture its new report presents “is only partial, the situation raises urgent concerns about its implications for the future of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya… as well as the tens of thousands who continue to live in the region”.

In August, the Myanmar military launched a military operation in Rakhine state after deadly attacks on police stations.

It said it was a crackdown on insurgents, but reports have emerged of widespread human rights violations, killings, and the burning of villages.

“New bases are being erected to house the very same security forces that have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director.

“This makes the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees an even more distant prospect.”

The group says new facilities for security forces and roads have been built around places where Rohingya villages once stood, suggesting the area could be used to accommodate more security forces.

By bulldozing entire villages the authorities are also “erasing evidence of crimes against humanity, making any future attempts to hold those responsible to account extremely difficult”, said Ms Hassan.

She said development was “sorely needed” in Rakhine, one of Myanmar’s poorest states, but that it “must benefit everyone in the state regardless of their ethnicity, not entrench the existing system of apartheid against Rohingya people”.

Rakhine has been largely sealed off from UN investigators, rights groups and media organisations, making it impossible to independently verify such reports.

The Rohingya are denied citizenship and equal opportunities by the Myanmar government, which says they are illegal immigrants, and they are largely despised by the majority-Buddhist population.

BBC News – Asma Jahangir: Who will succeed the woman who fought for Pakistan’s soul?

Op/Ed, 02 March 2018. Last month one of modern Pakistan’s most extraordinary women died. Tributes described Asma Jahangir as a champion of human rights and a defender of the oppressed.

But it’s hard to see who will now take on her fights, as the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan reports.

It has been said that no combination of the tributes paid to Asma Jahangir can adequately define her, but perhaps the one that best encapsulates what it was like to come up against her was “street fighter”.

Pakistan in 2018 is a place which still faces many of the problems she spent decades fighting. It is a deeply divided society, where invisible forces battle over the direction of the country, where people suddenly disappear, and where, rights groups say, abuses are still routine.

She took on oppressive military regimes and fought relentlessly against abuses, she set up legal aid firms and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

She worked for the rich and the poor. But she was hated by those powerful interest groups who promulgate a conservative vision of religion and patriotism, thought to be backed by elements in the military.

They would not tolerate her vision of Pakistan.

But Ms Jahangir understood this polarised Pakistan and through it blazed a path that she believed could help the nation make the right choices.

‘We can’t live in her shadow forever’

In the wake of her death, many have said that there are no fighters quite like her left.

There is the HRCP she set up, legal firms manned by some strong characters, but without her towering personality that commanded global authority, activists have felt a vacuum.

At her funeral, mourners wailed that with Ms Jahangir gone they were now orphans. But Ismat Shahjahan, a left-wing activist who’s been on the scene since the 1980s, had this to say:

“It may be true, but it reflects our own weakness. Whenever a challenge to our way of thinking arose, Asma was there to respond to it, and we didn’t have to try much harder.

“But now she’s gone, and we have to realise that we can’t live in her shadow forever; we have to pull our act together and start tackling those challenges ourselves. Mourning her death won’t work, but emulating her life will.”

The essence of her success, friends have said, was her unique courage.

She never minced her words. In one television interview, she called army generals “duffers”, saying they only “play golf, have parties, grab plots of land,” and are in the “habit of using our children as their human shields”.

“Sit in the barracks. You have your plots. Eat, drink, have a party, but leave us alone,” she advised.

She was equally harsh on religious lobbies.

She said she was “against all religious extremism. I’m in fact a secular person. I consider all religions equal, and I don’t have a religion of my own”.

This was a daring, some would say rash, admission to make in a country with harsh Islamic laws implemented not only by courts by also vigilante groups carrying out street justice.

And there were consequences.

In 2005, during a riot in Lahore, the police tried to disrobe her in public, reportedly on orders from the government which was headed by military ruler Pervez Musharraf. They were restrained by her supporters, but they did succeed in tearing off her shirt, baring her back.

What was she doing at that point? She had been trying to hold a mixed gender marathon to highlight violence against women.

A combative spirit

In 2013, a leaked American intelligence report revealed that elements within Pakistan’s security establishment had plotted to assassinate her, after she embarked on a legal campaign to recover missing political activists in the restive province of Balochistan, where the military had gone in to suppress an armed insurgency.

Despite attempts on her life, she never left the country or even went into “hibernation”, as advised by friends. Instead, she retaliated with a combative spirit.

Perhaps she was protected by her global reputation. That same leaked US report warned of an “international and domestic backlash” should anything happen to her.

This is a luxury afforded to few in Pakistan where there are many faceless campaigners who work just as hard but suffer for it too.

But even her childhood and family was steeped in Pakistan’s political division, quite literally.

Pakistan’s first general election held in 1970 was won by the Awami League, a party based in what was then called East Pakistan.

West Pakistan, which dominated the country and controlled East Pakistan’s resources, failed to transfer power in time, sparking a rebellion in East Pakistan which ended in it seceding from West Pakistan and emerging as an independent country, Bangladesh, after military intervention by Pakistan’s arch rival India.

Asma Jahangir’s father Ghulam Jillani was involved with the Awami League and was jailed when he criticised military action against Awami League supporters in East Pakistan.

The anger and frustration felt in Pakistan made people like Mr Jillani targets, painted as traitors, Hindus and agents of India.

One of Asma Jahangir’s acquaintances shared a story.

One evening in 1973 she was at a neighbourhood party where some girls began telling others to beware as there was a traitor in the house.

When she heard this, the young Jahangir commandeered the microphone and let them all have a piece of her mind. Then in frustration she stepped out onto the lawn alone and broke into tears.

That’s when Tahir Jahangir, the son of a businessman and a neighbour, came up from behind and comforted her. They were married in 1974.

Setting a precedent

Another example of triumphing over adversity proved to be historic and came on the legal front, long before she became a lawyer.

When her father was arrested on charge of treason he sent the family a message asking them to file a petition for his release. Asma went to a lawyer who, believing she was a minor, asked her where her mother was.

“My mother had at that time gotten very depressed and upset, and had taken sleeping pills and gone to sleep.

“So I told him that you write down the petition and I’ll drive home and get it signed by her. Then he looked at me and asked, ‘how old are you?’ I said 18. He said you need not (take it to your mother). You can just sign it yourself,” she recounted in an interview once.

This case, titled Asma Jillani versus the Federation of Pakistan, is one of the most widely quoted precedents in case law, and is the only case in Pakistan’s history in which a military dictator was declared a usurper.

Ismat Shahjahan is now putting together a women’s democratic front, a reincarnation of the socialist campaigners that burst onto the scene in 1968 as a military dictatorship was about to be ousted and before the secession of East Pakistan.

Perhaps her successor will be found among them.

BBC News – India: Kerala mob takes selfies while lynching man

Kadukumanna-Palakkad district-Kerala-India, 23 February 2018. Police in the south Indian state of Kerala have arrested two people after a video of a mob lynching a man accused of theft went viral.

Footage of the incident horrified Indians, along with images of people taking selfies while watching the man, who was tied up, being killed.

The victim was identified as a tribesman who lived in the area.

Police told the BBC that they were actively searching for other people involved in the murder.

Senior police official Prateesh Kumar said a team had rushed to the spot in the state’s Palakkad district after receiving information that a man was being attacked.

They managed to halt the attack and rushed the man, named Madhu, to hospital. However, he died before he could receive any medical attention, Mr Kumar added.

There was widespread horror in Kerala when graphic footage of the incident emerged, and some of it was broadcast on TV.

Popular Kerala actor Mammooty made an impassioned statement on Facebook about the incident.

“Madhu’s death is because our system is responsible… a system which has ordered mob justice and a person who attacks another is no human. How can we declare ourselves modern and progressive?” his post read.

State chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that “strict action” would be taken against the attackers and that the incident was a “blot” on Kerala’s progressive society.

“The worst thing that one person can do to another is to take a selfie in such a situation,” tribal activist Dhanya Raman told BBC Hindi.

BBC News – Indians who abused ‘witches’ arrested by police

Ranchi-Jharkhand-India, 19 February 2018. Police in India have arrested 11 people in northern Jharkhand state for abusing two women after they were accused of practising “witchcraft”.

The 65-year-old woman and her daughter, 35, were allegedly stripped naked, made to walk through the streets, and forced to eat human excreta.

They had been accused of spreading an illness in the village, the daughter told the BBC.

“Witch hunts” targeting women are common in parts of India.

Experts say superstitious beliefs are behind some of these attacks, but there are also occasions when people – especially widows, are targeted for their land and property.

On Thursday, the two women were at home when their relatives started banging on the door aggressively, the mother told the BBC’s Ravi Prakash. “They accused us of practising witchcraft,” she said.

The two women had consulted an unqualified medical practitioner last week after a family member died. The practitioner blamed them for the death.

“We were punished the next day,” the daughter said.

Despite their protests, they were taken to a cremation ground where the relatives flung human urine and faeces at them, and forced the material down their throats.

The women had their hair forcibly shaved off, were stripped naked and paraded around the village, as large crowds gathered around them.

“We were terrified,” the mother said, adding that nobody came to help them.

Police said they have started running awareness campaigns in the village “to avoid similar incidents in the future”, and have provided the women with extra security.

BBC News – The Indian state to become a global leader in clean energy

Chennai-Tamil Nadu-India, 9 February 2018.  India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu is poised to become a global leader in wind power, according to a new report. But first the state must overcome its addiction to coal, writes Nityanand Jayaraman.

The report, by the US-based Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, predicts that by 2027, more than half of Tamil Nadu’s power will be generated by “zero emissions” technologies, notably solar and wind.

The state’s current capacity to generate wind power, 7.85 gigawatts (GW), is already impressive considering it is higher than that of Denmark or Sweden. But the report estimates that it could double over the next decade, and that solar installations too could increase six-fold to reach 13.5GW.

If that happens, clean, renewable energy would account for 67% of Tamil Nadu’s capacity, which could revive the state’s debt-ridden utility. But in order to harvest that potential, Tamil Nadu needs to transform its power sector.

Tamil Nadu’s population is three times that of Australia and its per capita GDP is on a par with Sri Lanka and Ukraine. It could prove to be an example of how emerging economies can grow while slashing their carbon emissions.

Assuming Tamil Nadu’s GDP will grow at an annual rate of 7%, the report suggests that much of this growth can be driven by renewables. Installation and operating costs for wind and solar power have dropped low enough to compete with established but dirty sources of power such as coal.

But that is where reality tempers the possibilities. The report argues that not only does Tamil Nadu not need coal or nuclear power, but that these projects are financially fraught.

Electricity from new coal power plants is likely to be twice as expensive as solar or wind power. But, despite the bleak financial prospects, Tamil Nadu currently has 22.5GW of coal power plants in the pipeline.

Pursuing these ventures will weaken the state utility’s finances and its ability to invest in smarter, cleaner alternatives.

There are other challenges too. Wind power can be generated only from May to October. Even during those months, production cannot reach its peak because the state does not have a large enough grid to convey excess electricity to other states. So, they will have to slow down generation from other sources.

This also means the state is unable to import cheap power from other states during the remaining seven months when wind power is not feasible. Work is afoot to change this but its not guaranteed that the improvements will ensure that the grid can cope with the predicted generation.

Integrating power from seasonal sources like wind requires a smart grid, one with a sophisticated system of supply and management that can adjust to variations in demand. On this count too, Tamil Nadu has a long way to go.

But the biggest limiting factor for the state is likely to be water.

Between climate change and reckless exploitation and pollution of rivers, streams and lakes, Tamil Nadu is staring at a bleak water future. At least 60% of groundwater resources in the state are assessed as over-exploited, critical or semi-critical, according to India’s Central Ground Water Board.

In April 2017, Tamil Nadu farmers camped out in India’s capital, Delhi, staging dramatic protests, stuffing dead rats in their mouths, stripping themselves naked in front of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home and drinking their own urine, to underscore the intensity of the drought back home.

In June 2017, villagers in Tamil Nadu’s parched Ramanathapuram district were protesting against a solar power plant – they alleged that more than 200,000 litres of scarce water was being extracted illegally from bore wells to clean the 250,000 solar modules daily.

Utility-scale solar farms, massive projects that supply power to the gird, such as the one in Ramanathapuram need to be re-evaluated, especially if they are to run in areas where water is scarce.

The report predicts that Tamil Nadu will have 10.3GW of utility-scale solar installations by the end of this decade and only about 2GW of rooftop installations.

Given that both the availability of sunlight and the demand for electricity are decentralised, it makes sense to maximise rooftop solar installations rather than to invest in large solar parks.

The overall direction, if not the magnitude and rate of change, laid out in the report is not just possible but essential both financially and environmentally.

A healthy and environmentally sustainable future requires more than just switching from dirty coal to wind or solar power.

But the bigger challenge lies not in decoupling growth from carbon emissions but in decoupling human wellbeing and progress from growth.

Nityanand Jayaraman is a Chennai-based writer and social activist.