Archive for ‘mumbai’

11/07/2019

Mumbai rains: Is India’s weather becoming more extreme?

A girl walk along a flooded street after heavy rain showers Gandhi Market, Sion on July 1, 2019 in Mumbai, India. Heavy rains for last four days led to trains disruptions, flooded roads, traffic jams and flight delays.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

With unusually severe rainfall in India’s financial capital Mumbai over the past few weeks, and severe drought conditions elsewhere in the country, questions are being raised about whether these extreme events are becoming more common.

Reality Check has had a look at the available data for floods and drought over time to see if any patterns are emerging.

First, the rainfall

India relies on the heavy rains of the annual monsoon season for most of its water needs.

The rains arrive in different parts of the country at different times and, if they are early or late, with devastating consequences for farmers. If they are unusually heavy, built-up areas can face severe disruption.

In recent days, Mumbai has been particularly badly affected, with at least 30 flood-related deaths, and the city’s top civic official says its infrastructure has not been able to cope with the erratic rainfall patterns.

Media caption Deadly floods has brought India’s financial capital to a standstill

But is there a longer-term pattern?

Looking at the annual data from the 36 weather stations that monitor monsoon rainfall across the country, no clear pattern emerges.

Yes, the rainfall levels are unpredictable and erratic, but figures since 2002 show no indication of an increase in the extremes of monsoon rainfall.

Excess and deficient rainfall

A UN report has estimated that in the decade 2006 to 2015 there were 90 severe floods with the loss of almost 16,000 lives. In the previous decade there were 67 floods with the loss of around 13,600 lives.

While there was an increase, this does not indicate a major change in the frequency of flooding over the two decades.

A man pushes a motorbike on a flooded street after heavy rain showers at Santacruz Chembur Link Road, on July 2, 2019 in Mumbai, India.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

What about drought conditions?

While Mumbai has experienced heavy rains and flooding, much of the country has been experiencing very dry weather.

The south-eastern city of Chennai has suffered from severe water shortages because of delayed rains.

There has also been a recent heatwave across India, with temperatures crossing 45C in several regions in June.

Overall, more than 44% of land across India is estimated to be under drought – 10% more than last year.

So, are there patterns we can see from looking at the temperature data over time in India?

Rise of heatwaves and cold wave A heatwave is declared when temperatures reach at least 4.5C above an area’s normal temperature for two days.

From 1980 to 1999, there were 213 heatwaves.

Between 2000 and 2018, roughly the same time interval, there were 1,400.

Also of note is the very noticeable jump in extremes of heat and cold for 2017 and 2018.

But the outlook for extreme weather conditions in the longer term is not encouraging.

A study carried out by an international team of researchers has predicted that by 2100, about 70% of India’s population is likely to face threats from extreme heat and humidity driven by global warming.

People walk on the railway tracks as heavy monsoon rains hit the local train services near Sion on July 1, 2019 in Mumbai, India.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

Can better planning alleviate flooding?

Mumbai is a good example of the problems faced by urban planners in dealing with the annual monsoon rains.

When, in 2005, at least 900 died in floods in Mumbai, a decision was made to build eight stations to pump out water. Two of them are yet to be built.

Large parts of the city are built on land reclaimed from the sea and many blame poor planning and rapid construction for the annual rain chaos.

Mumbai’s centuries-old storm drains discharge rainwater through outfalls into the sea and the city’s Mithi river, but these outfalls get blocked when high tides coincide with heavy rain.

Their capacity is also affected by silting and dumping of solid waste.

A plan to revamp the city’s drains began back in 1993, but critics say not enough has been done.

Source: The BBC

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02/07/2019

Heavy rains in India kill 27, cripple financial capital

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Monsoon rains caused wall collapses that killed 27 people in India on Tuesday, as a second day of bad weather disrupted rail and air traffic in the financial capital Mumbai, prompting officials to shut schools and offices, though markets were open.

During every monsoon season, which runs from June to September, India experiences fatal incidents of building and wall collapses as rainfall weakens the foundations of poorly-built structures.
Heavy rain brought a wall crashing down on shanties built on a hill slope in Malad, a western suburb of Mumbai, a fire brigade official said, killing 18 people.
“Rescue work is still going on,” the official added. “So far we have rescued more than two dozen people.”
Three people died when a school wall collapsed in the city of Kalyan, 42 km (26 miles) north of Mumbai.
In the nearby western city of Pune, six people were killed in a wall collapse on Tuesday, a fire brigade official said, after a similar incident on Saturday killed 15.
Mumbai is looking to turn itself into a global financial hub but large parts of the city struggle to cope with annual monsoon rains, as widespread construction and garbage-clogged drains and waterways make it increasingly vulnerable to chaos.
More than 300 mm (11.8 inches) of rain fell over 24 hours in some areas of Mumbai, flooding streets and railway tracks, forcing the suspension of some suburban train services, which millions of commuters ride to work each day.
About 1,000 people stranded in low-lying areas of the city were rescued after a swollen river began to overflow, municipal authorities said.
As weather officials forecast intermittent heavy showers and isolated extremely heavy rainfall, authorities called a holiday for government offices and educational institutions.
“Rain is expected to remain intense even today,” city authorities said on Twitter. “We request you to stay indoors unless there’s an emergency.”
Financial markets were open on Tuesday, though trading volumes were expected to be lower than normal. Many firms asked employees to work from home.
The main runway at Mumbai airport, India’s second biggest, was closed from midnight after a SpiceJet flight overshot the runway while landing, an airport spokeswoman said.
The secondary runway is operational, but 55 flights were diverted and another 52 were cancelled due to bad weather, she said.
In 2005, floods killed more than 500 people in Mumbai, the majority in shantytown slums home to more than half the city’s population.
Source: Reuters
01/07/2019

Heavy rains batter India’s Mumbai, disrupting air, rail traffic

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Heavy rains battered India’s financial capital Mumbai on Monday causing disruption to the commuter train network, snarling traffic on water-logged streets and delaying flights from the country’s second-busiest airport.

The city, home to India’s two biggest stock exchanges and the headquarters of several major companies, has been hit by heavy rain since Sunday night and could get more over the next 24 hours, the weather department said.

Suburban trains were delayed by as much as two hours because the tracks were submerged under water while some long distance trains were cancelled.

Several flights were delayed by around half an hour, said a spokeswoman for Mumbai International Airport.
Thousands of commuters were stranded in trains and vehicles during peak morning hours as they tried to reach offices.
“Fifty minutes train journey took two and half hours today as railway tracks were flooded,” said Ketan Bondre, who works for a private sector company.
Although Mumbai is trying to build itself into a global financial hub, large parts of the city struggle to cope with annual monsoon rains.
Unabated construction on floodplains and coastal areas, as well as storm-water drains and waterways clogged by plastic garbage, have made the city increasingly vulnerable to chaos.
Floods in 2005 killed more than 500 people in Mumbai. The majority of deaths occurred in shanty town slums, which are home to more than half of Mumbai’s population.
Source: Reuters
21/06/2019

Yoga Day: Thousands of Indians celebrate the day

Indian yoga practitioners participate in a mass yoga session on International Yoga Day in New Delhi on June 21, 2019.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

Indians across the country celebrated the fifth international yoga day on Friday.

Temperatures are soaring in many cities, including the capital Delhi, but that didn’t stop people from gathering outdoors and stretching and bending their way through at least an hour of yoga.

And everyone joined in – even the dog unit of the Indian army!

Dogs doing yoga with Indian armyImage copyright @SPOKESPERSONMOD/TWITTER

The Indo-Tibetan border police – and their dogs and horses – were not about to be outdone. They practised what they called yoga, doga and hoga.

And they were luckier than many of their counterparts – they got to practise their yoga in cooler climes, along India’s scenic Himalayan border.

Dogs and horses doing yoga alongside Indo-Tibetan border policeImage copyrightI TBPOFFICIAL

Among those who did yoga in more hostile climates were the armed forces on board the naval aircraft carrier INS Viraat which is docked off the coastline of sweltering Mumbai city.

Indian Armed Forces personnel take part in a yoga sesssion to mark International Yoga Day on the Indian Navy aircraft carrier INS Viraat anchored at the Mumbai harbour on June 21, 2017Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

In Gujarat, the soldiers got a little more creative with their yoga.

Source: The BBC

11/06/2019

Aarey forest: The fight to save Mumbai’s last ‘green lung’

Aarey ForestImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Aarey forest is in Mumbai city

The Aarey forest, a verdant strip that lies at the heart of India’s bustling Mumbai city, is often referred to as its last green lung. But now, locals say, it’s under threat from encroachment. BBC Marathi’s Janhavee Moole reports.

As a child, Stalin Dayanand used to picnic in the Aarey forest.

“It was the only place where you could go and play, climb trees or just sit and eat under the shade of a tree and be close to nature,” says Stalin, who prefers to go by his first name.

Now the 54-year-old is the director of an NGO that works to protect forests and wetlands. He is fighting for Aarey.

On 6 June, the government cleared 40 hectares (99 acres) of the 1,300 hectare forest to build a zoo, complete with a night safari.

Another slice of it is being claimed by Mumbai’s new metro rail which is currently under construction. Thousands of trees will have to be felled to construct a new multi-level parking unit for the metro.

Media caption What happens if you ban plastic?

Stalin has petitioned India’s Supreme Court challenging the construction, but the case is still pending.

Locals and environmental activists like him are up in arms because they fear the government will eventually clear the way for private builders to encroach on the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which lies to the north of Aarey. Spread over 104 sq km (40 sq miles), this protected area makes Mumbai one of the rare cities to have a jungle within its boundaries.

Their concern is partly fuelled by the fact that this is prime location in a city where land is scarce and real estate prices are among the most expensive in the world.

But officials dismiss these fears as unfounded and point out that the construction for the metro only requires 30 hectares of the 1,300 hectares that make up the Aarey forest.

“This is the most suitable land due to its size, shape and location,” says Ashwini Bhide, managing director of the Mumbai metro rail corporation.

Residents of Aarey colony and Aam Aadmi Party members protest against cutting of trees to build a metro shed at Aarey Colony on 2 October 2018 in Mumbai, India.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Plans to fell trees in the forest have led to protests

She adds that the city badly needs a “mass rapid transport system”. India’s financial hub is congested and infamous for its crawling traffic jams and its local train system heavily overburdened.

Officials say that the metro will eventually carry around 1.7 million passengers every day and bring down the number of vehicles on the road by up to 650,000. The city’s current colonial-era railway system, which is effectively its lifeline, ferries some 7.5 million people between Mumbai’s suburbs and its heart on a daily basis.

But they have been up against the city’s residents, including activists and conservationists, ever since news emerged in 2014 that trees would be cut to make way for the metro.

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What makes the issue complicated is that the Aarey forest is the site of competing claims.

It’s locally known as the Aarey “milk colony” because most of the land was given to the department of dairy development in 1951. But they are allowed to grow cattle fodder only on a fraction of the land. The rest of it is densely forested and dotted with lakes, and the Mithi river flows through it.

Aarey is also home to tribal communities who live in settlements known as “padas”.

“We are not getting basic facilities here, and now metro authorities want to take away the jungle which belongs to us too,” says Asha Bhoye, who belongs to the Konkani tribe and lives in one of the 29 padas. Plans to relocate some of the tribal communities have also met with resistance and led to protests.

Stalin alleges that instead of declaring the Aarey forest a protected area, the state government has used the opportunity to parcel away pieces of it first to the dairy development department and now to other projects.

Aadivasi Halka Sanvardhan Samiti and Tribals of Aarey colony protesting to demand protection of Aare forest.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Tribals who live in Aarey demand that it be declared a protected area

“Aarey Forest is part of the same forest as Sanjay Gandhi National Park and we are fighting for the national park itself. In the name of public good, the land is being opened up for developers. It’s a systematic effort to destroy the forest.”

Activists fear that after the parking units are built, other projects will be permitted, further threatening the area’s ecology and wildlife, which includes leopards.

So locals have joined the fight enthusiastically, even leading hikes into the forest to raise awareness. “We bring people here, make them familiar with the forest – there are many species of spiders like trapdoor spiders, the site [of the parking unit] is a leopard site,” says Yash Marwa, a screenwriter who is among those campaigning for the forest.

“Mumbai needs to be liveable”, he adds. “We need to talk about good quality of air and life before talking about infrastructure and development.”

Stalin agrees, saying that “air quality and temperature seem to be last among people’s priorities.”

But he is determined to not give up.

“If I couldn’t do something for my city I’d consider I’ve failed myself.”

Source: The BBC

05/05/2019

India’s rural pain goes beyond farmers, and it may be a problem for Modi

ZADSHI VILLAGE, India (Reuters) – Three years ago, brick mason Pundlik Bhandekar was always busy as farmers in his tiny hamlet in Maharashtra commissioned new houses and nearby towns were undergoing rapid urbanisation. Now, as the rural economy sinks and the pace of construction slows, Bhandekar is struggling to get work.

“I used to get a new construction project before I could even finish one. People would come to my house to check when I would be free to work for them,” said Bhandekar, as he sat with friends under the shade of a tree on a hot afternoon.

From daily wage workers such as masons, to barbers and grocery shop owners – just about everyone in Zadshi village, some 720 km (450 miles) from India’s financial hub Mumbai, says a drop in farm incomes has dented their livelihoods.

Their woes are symptomatic of a wider problem across India, where more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, as the slowdown in the rural economy is felt in the dampening sales of consumer goods, especially the biggest such as car and motorbike sales.

The slowdown has also dented Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity in the hinterland that propelled him to power in 2014, and political strategists say it may mean he struggles to form a majority after voting in a staggered general election that began on April 11 concludes on May 19.

Zadshi has been almost entirely dependent on annual cotton and soybean crops that, according to farmers, have given lacklustre returns in the past few years due to a dip in prices, droughts and pest attacks.

And as incomes have dropped, farmers have cut back on big-ticket spending such as building new houses, digging wells or laying water pipelines, squeezing employment opportunities for people such as Bhandkekar.

“No one is interested in hiring us. We are ready to work even at 250 rupees ($3.60) per day,” said Bhandekar, who charged 300 rupees a day when work was steady, but now gets work only once or twice in a fortnight.

LOWER WAGES, LESS SPENDING

Economic data reflects the plight of farmers and daily wage workers.

Retail food inflation in the fiscal year ended on March 31 fell to 0.74 percent, even as core inflation stood at 5.2 percent, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch Research, eroding the spending power of farmers.

Inflation adjusted wage growth for workers involved in crop sowing was just 0.6 percent 2018/19 compared with 6.5 percent in 2013/14.

The value of farm produce at constant prices grew 15 percent in the past five years, compared with 23 percent in the previous five, while the manufacturing sector grew 40 percent, against 32.6 percent in the previous five years, government data shows.

“Lower rural wages will result in lesser spending, which in turn will reduce demand for goods and services that are part of the rural basket,” Rupa Rege Nitsure, group chief economist at L&T Finance Holdings in Mumbai, told Reuters.

The government needs to spend more in rural areas to generate employment and boost incomes, Nitsure said.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist government did introduce various support schemes in the past six months, such as a 6,000 rupees yearly handout to small farmers.

The main opposition Congress party has gone much further with its pledges though, saying it would introduce a basic minimum income, where the country’s poorest families would get 72,000 rupees annually, benefiting some 250 million people.

RISING UNEMPLOYMENT

In Zadshi, as the mercury touched a searing 40 degrees Celsius(104F), a group of villagers gathered under the trees lining a dusty road and began chatting about everything from crop prices to politics.

“What else we can do? Had work been available in urban areas, we could have moved there but even in the cities construction has slowed down,” said Amol Sontakke, an unskilled labourer who works in farms and on construction sites.

Job opportunities have slowed even in urban areas and India’s unemployment rate touched 7.2 percent in February, the highest since September 2016, according to data compiled by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Official data is unavailable for recent periods.

The mood in Zadshi was glum. While four dozen villagers interviewed by Reuters were hopeful that if there was a good monsoon this year it could improve farm incomes, they’ve been cutting back on spending in the meantime.

“People are thinking twice before buying new clothes during festivals,” said Avinash Gaurkar, a farmer currently doubling up as a part-time driver. “Buying big-ticket items such as motorcycles or refrigerators is out of the question.”

Two years ago Gaurkar began building a house, but had to give up midway as his five-acre farm could not generate the money needed, he said, pointing towards a half-finished structure without doors.

In 2018, just four villagers bought new motorbikes compared with as many as 10 a year about four years ago, said cotton farmer Raju Kohale, whose son is sitting at home unemployed after graduating as an engineer.

“Poor monsoon or lower prices, something or the other has been hurting us in the past few years,” Kohale said.

MODI AGAIN?

In the 2014 general election, most in Zadshi voted for Modi, but the farmers’ distress has swayed many towards the opposition Congress party. That was clear from Reuters’ interviews with 48 villagers, who cast their ballots last month.

Farmers are at the bottom of the Modi administration’s priority list, said labourer Sagar Bahalavi.

“They are building big roads to connect metros and calling it development. How is that useful for us?” he said.

Some, though, want to give Modi a second chance.
“Modi’s intentions are good, it’s the bureaucratic system that is not supporting him,” said Gulab Chalakh, who owns a 20-acre farm and is among the richest in the village. “We should give him another chance.”
Source: Reuters
29/04/2019

Police break up clashes in West Bengal, Mumbai votes in fourth phase of massive poll

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Police broke up clashes between rival groups of voters in West Bengal on Monday as some of India’s richest families and Bollywood stars also cast their ballots in Mumbai during the fourth phase of a massive, staggered general election.

In West Bengal, a populous eastern state crucial for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid, supporters of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) clashed with others from the regional Trinamool Congress, police said.

TV footage showed armed security forces chasing away people wielding sticks, although it was initially difficult to determine the scale of the clashes.

There were no immediate reports of any poll-related injuries in West Bengal, where at least one person was killed and three injured during the third phase of voting last week.

The BJP is in a direct, and sometimes bloody, fight in West Bengal with Trinamool, whose chief Mamata Banerjee is one of Modi’s biggest critics and a potential prime ministerial candidate.

More than 127 million people are eligible to vote in this round of the seven-phase election held across 71 seats in nine states. Modi’s coalition won more than 75 percent of the seats in the previous election in 2014.

Many of the constituencies are in Uttar Pradesh in the north and western India’s Maharashtra, where the financial capital Mumbai is located. Uttar Pradesh elects the most lawmakers, with Maharashtra next. Both states are ruled by the BJP and its allies.
However, political analysts say the BJP may struggle to repeat its strong showing this time due mainly to a jobs shortage and weak farm prices, issues upon which the main opposition Congress party has seized.

‘SOME PROGRESS’

First-time voter Ankita Bhavke, a college student in Mumbai, said she voted for economic development.

“I want the country to be at par with the best in the world,” she said. “There’s been some progress in the last five years.”

India’s financial markets were closed on Monday for the election.

Mumbai is home to the massive Hindi film industry, as well as Asia’s wealthiest man, Mukesh Ambani, and India’s richest banker, Uday Kotak.
Ambani, who heads Reliance Industries, and Kotak, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank, created a stir this month by publicly endorsing an opposition Congress party candidate from their upscale South Mumbai constituency.
Mumbai, which has six seats, is India’s wealthiest city but ageing and insufficient infrastructure is a major concern. Six people were killed last month when part of a pedestrian bridge collapsed, recalling memories of a 2017 rush-hour stampede that killed at least 22 people on a narrow pedestrian bridge.
The election, the world’s biggest democratic exercise with about 900 million voters, started on April 11 with Modi in the lead amid heightened tension with long-time enemy Pakistan.
The last phase of voting is on May 19, with results released four days later.
There are a total of 545 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Modi sent warplanes into Pakistan in late February in response to a suicide attack by an Islamist militant group based there that killed 40 Indian police in the disputed Kashmir region.
Modi has sought votes on his tough response towards militancy and in recent days has evoked the deadly Easter Sunday bombings in nearby Sri Lanka.
Maidul Islam, a professor of political science at Kolkata’s Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, said long queues outside polling stations would indicate whether Modi’s national security pitch was working.
“Whenever there is a BJP kind of a wave, you see a higher voter turnout,” he said.
Source: Reuters
15/04/2019

India gold smuggling slowed by election seizures of cash, bullion

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s gold smugglers have slowed their operations over worries their shipments will be caught up in seizures of cash, bullion, booze and drugs that are aimed at controlling vote-buying in the country’s national elections, industry officials told Reuters.

In India, political parties and their supporters often offer money or goods in exchange for votes. The Election Commission, which monitors the polls, tries to prevent this by setting up highway checkpoints to seize cash, gold, liquor and other high-value items that candidates avoid mentioning in their expenses due to a cap on the amount they can spend.

Last month in Mumbai, in one of the biggest seizures since the current election was announced on March 10, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence seized 107 kg of gold, worth about 300 million rupees ($4.3 million).

The slowdown in smuggling has boosted gold imports at banks in the world’s second-biggest buyer of the precious metal, allowing them to charge a premium over global prices.

“After a big seizure in Mumbai, smuggling has gone down drastically. Grey market operators don’t want to take the risk during the election period,” Anantha Padmanabhan, chairman of All India Gem and Jewellery Domestic Council (GJC) told Reuters.

India’s Election Commission as of April 14 has seized $365 million in cash, liquor, gold, drugs and other goods over the last month, more than double the $172 million confiscated in the last election cycle in 2014.

(GRAPHIC – Drugs, gold, cash, alcohol: The gifts that buy votes (JPG), tmsnrt.rs/2D7Z2w5)

The random checking of vehicles and seizures have made it nearly impossible for smugglers and other “grey market” operators to move cash and gold from one place to another, said the head of the bullion division at a Mumbai-based private bank.

Gold smuggling surged in India after the government raised the import duty to 10 percent in August 2013. Grey market operators – businesses that smuggle gold from overseas and sell it in cash to avoid the duties – got a further boost in 2017 when India imposed a 3 percent sales tax on bullion.

The grey market operators can sell gold at discounts to prevailing market prices as they evade paying the 13 percent tax, said Harshad Ajmera, a gold wholesaler in Kolkata.

But this week, even in the cash market, gold was sold at the market price, said Ashok Jain, proprietor of Mumbai-based gold wholesaler Chenaji Narsinghji.

Dealers were charging a premium of up to $2.50 an ounce over official domestic prices, the highest in nearly five months.

Up to 95 tonnes of gold was smuggled into India in 2018, according to the World Gold Council, although India’s Association of Gold Refineries and Mints and other industry bodies put the figure at more than twice that.

Election Commission rules makes it mandatory for people to show valid documentation if they are carrying more than 50,000 rupees ($722) in cash, or else it could be seized. This rule has been hurting the jewellery industry, especially in rural areas where more than half of gold is bought in cash.

The limit of 50,000 rupees is “too low for the jewellery industry” as even a small 20-gram (0.7-ounce) gold chain costs more than that, said Padmanabhan of GJC.
“Demand has fallen due to the cash restrictions. We have requested that the Election Commission raise the limit.”
Source: Reuters
07/03/2019

The British woman who fought for India’s freedom

A portrait photo of Freda taken in Lahore in the early 1940
Image captionFreda Bedi’s is a remarkable story

Freda Bedi lived an unusual life. Born in a small town in England, she moved to India for love and ended up joining the independence movement. Her biographer, Andrew Whitehead, writes about her remarkable story.

“There are things deeper than labels and colour and prejudice, and love is one of them.”

These were the words of Freda Bedi, an English woman who overcame prejudice to marry an Indian Sikh and went on to challenge Indian notions about the role of a woman and a wife.

Freda and her boyfriend, Baba Pyare Lal Bedi (his friends called him BPL), met at Oxford where both were students.

This was the early 1930s and romances across the racial divide were rare – almost as rare as a girl from Freda’s background securing a spot at a top university. She was born, quite literally, above the shop in the city of Derby in England’s East Midlands, where her father ran a jewellery and watch repair business.

Freda could barely remember her father. He enlisted during the First World War and served in the Machine Gun Corps, where casualties were so high it was known as the “suicide club”. He died in northern France when his daughter was just seven years old. “This death shadowed my whole childhood,” she recalled – it shaped her political loyalties and prompted her lifelong spiritual quest.

Her years at Oxford were “the opening of the gates of the world”, as Freda once put it. She was part of “the Depression generation” – those who were students at a time of global crisis, mass unemployment and the rise of fascism.

She made firm friends at her college with young women who were rebellious by nature, and went with them to meetings of the Labour Club and the communist October Club.

The engagement photo of Freda and BPL taken at Oxford in 1933
Image captionFreda and BPL met as students at Oxford University

Driven by curiosity and by sympathy with those struggling against the Empire, she also went along to the weekly meetings of the Oxford Majlis, where radicals among the university’s small number of Indian students asserted their country’s case for nationhood. BPL Bedi, a handsome and cheerful Punjabi, was a regular there. A friendship developed into intellectual collaboration and, within months, Freda and BPL were a couple.

In the early 1930s, women’s colleges at Oxford were obsessed with sex or rather with preventing it. If a male student came to have tea in a female student’s room, a chaperone had to be present, the door left wide open and the bed had to be taken into the corridor. Freda’s college did its best to derail her relationship – she was disciplined for visiting BPL without a chaperone in what she was convinced was a case of racial discrimination.

But she was fortunate in her student friends. Barbara Castle, who later became a commanding British woman politician of her era, was thrilled when Freda confided that she intended to marry her boyfriend. “Well, thank goodness”, Barbara exclaimed. “Now at least you won’t become a suburban housewife!” Freda’s mother didn’t see things that way though. Her family were sternly disapproving, until BPL made a visit to Derby and managed to charm them.

Freda commented that the engagement caused “a minor sensation” in Oxford. That was an understatement. She believed she was the first Oxford woman undergraduate to marry an Indian fellow student. Some didn’t hide their disapproval. The registrar who conducted the marriage ceremony pointedly refused to shake hands with the couple.

From the moment she married, Freda regarded herself as Indian and often wore Indian-style clothes. A year later, husband and wife and their four-month old baby, Ranga, set off by boat from Trieste, Italy, on the two-week journey to the western Indian city of Bombay (now Mumbai). “The nightmare was to get milk for myself to drink because I was feeding the baby”, Freda recalled. “And I remember the millions of cockroaches that used to come out at night in the ship’s kitchens – I used to go in and attempt to get milk.”

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The couple had already been marked out by the British authorities as revolutionaries and potential trouble makers because of their student activism. When they disembarked in Bombay, their bags and cases were inspected for seven hours to check for left-wing propaganda. “Even Ranga’s little napkin was taken off and searched,” recalled Freda, “because they thought I might be carrying messages in it”.

The key test of Freda’s marriage was still to come – the first meeting with her Indian mother-in-law, a widow and matriarch known in the family as Bhabooji. From Bombay, the Bedis travelled non-stop for a couple of days to reach the small Punjabi city of Kapurthala, arriving at the family home close to midnight. Freda was wearing a white cotton sari – “not the ideal travelling dress, and nursing Ranga had not improved it”.

BPL bowed to touch his mother’s feet in the traditional expression of respect. “I copied him, feeling a little awkward,” Freda said, “but all my shyness disappeared when she smiled at us both with tears in her eyes, and embraced us and the child as if she could not hold us close enough.”

Although Freda was determined to fit in with her Indian extended family, her lifestyle was anything but conventional. BPL’s political stand extended to rejecting any share in his family’s wealth. They made their home in Lahore, one of the largest cities in Punjab, in a cluster of thatched huts without power or running water, keeping hens and a buffalo. It can’t have been the sort of life Freda had expected – nor would she have been used to the idea of sharing the household with her mother-in-law.

“Nowhere had I seen a white woman trying to be a typical Indian daughter-in-law”, commented Som Anand, a frequent visitor to the Bedis’ huts. “It surprised me to see Mrs Bedi coming to Bhabooji’s hut in the morning to touch her feet. In household matters she respected the old mother’s inhibitions. Her mother-in-law was an equally large hearted person; despite all her conservatism she had accepted a Christian into the family without a murmur.”

Freda with a rifle when she was living in Kashmir, probably 1948 - she is holding hr son, Kabir, while her older son, Ranga, is sitting on the family's pet dog.
Image captionFreda and BPL moved to Kashmir after 1947 and remained politically active

When World War Two broke out, both BPL and Freda were outraged that India was being dragged into supporting the British war effort. BPL was detained in a desert prison camp to stop him sabotaging military recruitment in Punjab. Freda decided to make her own stand against her motherland.

She volunteered as a satyagrahi, a seeker of truth, and was among those chosen by Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi to defy emergency wartime powers. She travelled to her husband’s home village of Dera Baba Nanak and announced that she would “break the law by asking the people not to support the military effort until India became democratic”. The authorities didn’t know how to respond to a white woman staging such a protest – they hurriedly sent an English police inspector to the village, deeming it inappropriate for an Indian policeman to arrest an Englishwoman.

Freda was brought before a visiting magistrate that same morning – she has left her own account of the trial:

It was finished in 15 minutes. The man on the other side of the table was quite young still, and looked as though he had been to Oxford. His face was red.

“I find this as unpleasant as you do,” he murmured.

“Don’t worry. I don’t find it unpleasant at all.”

“Do you want the privileges granted to an Englishwoman?”

“Treat me as an Indian woman and I shall be quite content.”

She was sentenced to six months in jail, which was fairly standard, and also to hard labour, which she regarded as vindictive.

That turned out to be no more onerous than supervising the prison gardens, where women imprisoned for criminal rather than political offences – many were locked up for killing their abusive husbands – did most of the work.

“It was my destiny to go to India,” Freda asserted. It was her destiny too to make history as an English woman who went willingly to jail in support of India’s demand for freedom.

The Bedis’ political prominence persisted after independence, when they moved to Kashmir – Freda joined a left-wing women’s militia and worked with the radical nationalists who gained power there. In the 1950s, her life changed utterly when, during a UN assignment in Burma, she encountered Buddhism for the first time and became an enthusiastic convert.

Freda as a nun, when she took the name Sister Palmo
Image captionFreda became a Buddhist nun in the 1950s

When thousands of Tibetans fled across the Himalayas in 1959 to escape Chinese oppression, Freda devoted herself to helping these “brave and wonderful” refugees. She became steeped in Tibetan spirituality. And once she felt that she had fulfilled her role as a mother (the film star Kabir Bedi is one of her three surviving children), she broke convention again by taking vows as a Tibetan Buddhist nun. In her sixties, she travelled relentlessly to spread the word about Buddhist teachings but never returned to live in the West.

“India is my womanhood and my wife-hood,” she once declared. “I too am ‘dust that England bore, shaped and made aware’. Yet I am living in an Indian way, with Indian clothes, with an Indian husband and child on Indian soil, and I cannot feel even the least barrier or difference in essentials between myself and the new country I have adopted.”

Throughout her life, Freda was determined not to be constrained by barriers of race, religion, nation or gender. She delighted in challenging convention and confounding expectations – that is what makes her story so beguiling.

Source: The BBC

07/03/2019

Pakistan seizes religious schools in intensified crackdown on militants

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan intensified its crackdown against Islamist militants on Thursday, with the government announcing it had taken control of 182 religious schools and detained more than 100 people as part of its push against banned groups.

The move represents Pakistan’s biggest move against banned organisations in years and appears to be targeting Islamic welfare organisations that the United States says are a front for militant activities.

Pakistan is facing pressure from global powers to act against groups carrying out attacks in India, including Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which claimed responsibility for the Feb. 14 attack that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police.

The escalating tension in the wake of the bombing led to a major confrontation between the nuclear-armed rivals, with both countries carrying out aerial bombing missions and even engaging in a brief dogfight that prompted fears of a war.

Pakistani officials say the crackdown is part of a long-planned drive and not a response to Indian anger over what New Delhi calls Islamabad’s failure to rein in militant groups operating on Pakistani soil.

Previous large-scale crackdowns against anti-India militants have broadly been cosmetic, with the proscribed groups able to survive and continue operations.

The interior ministry said law enforcement agencies had placed 121 people in “preventive detention” as part of the crackdown that began this week.

“Provincial governments have taken in their control management and administration of 182 seminaries (madaris)”, the ministry said in a statement, referring to religious schools.

What to do with madrasas is a thorny issue in Pakistan, a deeply conservative Muslim nation where religious schools are often blamed for radicalisation of youngsters but are the only education available to millions of poor children.

The interior ministry said other institutions from different groups had been taken over, including 34 schools or colleges, 163 dispensaries, 184 ambulances, five hospitals and eight offices of banned organisations.
Many banned groups such as JeM run seminaries, which counter-terrorism officials say are used as recruiting grounds for militant outfits
Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which operates hospitals and a fleet of ambulances, is estimated to run about 300 madrasas across the country. Pakistan’s government banned the group this week.
JuD calls itself a humanitarian charity but the U.S. State Department has designated it a “foreign terrorist organisation” and calls it a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), a Pakistan-based group accused of orchestrating attacks in India, including the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 166 people.