Sunday, June 30, 2013

Farewell to the Durstons

On Thursday night, we had a farewell for one of Tania’s work colleagues: Andrew, Tiana and Aine.

The night was made up of a progressive dinner at our house (entree), Gary and Lynda’s place (main course) and then Melissa’s place (dessert).

The night also involved an elephant taking the Durstons to Gary and Lynda’s place – followed closely by a Punjabi band carrying on the way they do.

It was a great night and funny to see the entire street out to see the elephant.

Enjoy the photos:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Today's newspaper article

Today’s article is from “The Independent” and talks about attempts by the Indian government to seize the palace of the King of Manipur:

Modern India takes on the King of Manipur over his royal palace

State government plans to evict ‘living deity’ from building that dates back to the British Raj


Tuesday 25 June 2013
The head of a once-powerful royal family in the north-east of India is on hunger-strike after state authorities announced plans to force him from his palace and seize control of the building.

In a unlikely showdown, the titular King of Manipur, Leisemha Sanajaob, said he was beginning the fast after the state government at the weekend announced its decision to take control of the Sana Konung palace, which his family has occupied for more than 100 years.

The decision to force out Mr Sanajaob, believed by some to be the latest in a line of living deities dating back to 32AD, has triggered protests in the state capital, Imphal, from groups who say Manipur's culture will be further diluted as result. A number of them are camping out at the palace to try and ensure the authorities do not step in.

"He feels betrayed. In 2006, a memorandum was signed between the king and the government agreeing that no decision should be taken about the palace unless there was consent on both sides," the king's advisor, Puyam Tomcha, told The Independent.

He added: "To the common man, the king is a God. He cannot work, he can only do religious work."

The announcement by the state government to seize the palace in Imphal marks the latest twist in the slow but steady demise of the Ningthouja dynasty, said to be descendants of Pakhanbga, the serpent king. The independent state of Manipur, located alongside Burma and one of the "seven sister" states of the Indian north-east, was the very last of the independent princely states to be conquered by the colonial British government.

The Anglo-Manipur War of 1891, triggered by the beheading of half-a-dozen British officers, resulted in a major operation to defeat the sovereign state and appoint a monarch from a minor line of the lineage. The Kangla palace, which had been occupied for centuries, was taken over by British troops and an alternative palace, Sana Konung, was built instead.

In 1947, when India gained independence, Manipur agreed to be part of a union but it was not until 1949 when the then maharajah was forced, some say at gun-point, to sign-away Manipur's sovereignty.

Since 1971, when prime minister Indira Gandhi scrapped the payments to the 600-plus princely states, the royal family of Manipur has, like many other erstwhile royals, has struggled by as best it can, selling off portions of its estate in order to survive.

One Manipuri writer and historian who asked not to be identified, said public opinion about Mr Sanajaob was probably divided, but that a number of people supported him. "He is the customary head of the laws of the land," he said.

For more than three decades, Manipur has been rocked by separatist violence and an attendant crack-down by security forces that has turned it into a heavily militarised place. Unemployment is high, as is drug addiction and HIV infection.

In protest at the cycle of violence, one Manipuri woman, Irom Sharmila, has embarked on what has become the world's longest hunger-strike.

Mr Sanajaob's fast is unlikely to last anywhere near as long as her's. The royal advisor, Mr Tomcha said the king would be discussing his strategy over the next day or two.

A spokesman for the government of Manipur on Tuesday failed to respond to inquiries. However, M Okendro Singh, who is also the education minister, told the Times News Network that the government had thought at length on how to renovate the palace "ensure retention of the feel of the glorious era when Manipur existed as an independent nation".



Sunday, June 23, 2013

Today's newspaper article

Today’s newspaper article is from “The Washington Post” and talks about a help line for women that has been set up in New Delhi:

In New Delhi, a help line for women is flooded with calls

By Rama Lakshmi, Published: June 21

NEW DELHI — The phones ring without a break.

On one line, a girl says she was raped by a neighbor.

“Please do not tell my parents because they will stop me from going out of the house,” the caller, who says she’s 15, pleads with a help-line attendant. “Do not tell the police either because I don’t want the police to land at my door.”

On a nearby phone, another caller says she is being threatened by the family of a man she reported to the police for harassing her. And on another line, a mother says she is rushing her teenage daughter to the hospital after she was assaulted by a group of men.

The busy New Delhi help line was set up by the city government after a fatal gang rape six months ago set off nationwide protests against sexual assaults on women and prompted complaints that calls to an existing police hotline in New Delhi often went unanswered or were met with indifference.

The new 181 help line has received more than 138,000 calls since it was launched at the end of December — stark evidence, its staff says, of a newfound courage among Indian women to report crimes that they may have suffered silently just months ago.

Women call to say they are being stalked and molested on the streets, raped, harassed by phone and Facebook, beaten by their husbands or the victims of acid attacks by spurned lovers. They call from crowded shopping plazas, from public transport buses, while walking home late in the evenings, and from their own homes.

In this traditional society where families worry that reporting a rape could make a woman the subject of ridicule and scorn, experts say many sexual assaults go unreported. But something does appear to be changing.

In the first three months of this year, 359 cases of rape were reported in the capital, more than double the number reported in the same period last year.

“Don’t cry, little one; just give us the man’s address,” Geeta Pandey, the help-line supervisor, told the caller, who worried that her attacker had made a video recording of the incident with his cellphone and might make it public. “We will get the police to go to his house and confiscate his cellphone. Meanwhile, try to talk to your mother about this.”

The new help line, usually staffed by five women, occupies a windowless corner room in the office of city’s 75-year-old chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, New Delhi’s top elected official since 1998, and it derives some of its influence because it was her idea. But it has no power over the police department, which, under New Delhi’s complex maze of authorities and jurisdictions, reports to the national government rather than Dikshit’s.

Adding to the frustration of those working to improve women’s safety in New Delhi is the fact that the city police deploys at least two-thirds of its force to protecting politicians and bureaucrats, rather than dealing with ordinary crimes.

“A help line can be truly effective only if the police’s attitude changes," said Kavita Krishnan, a leading anti-rape campaigner who mobilized students during the December demonstrations. “It is still an uphill task just to be heard by the police and get a complaint registered.”

‘Speak up’

But the unprecedented uproar against rape in December and a subsequent anti-rape law that criminalized offenses such as stalking, voyeurism and acid attacks — and prescribes the death penalty for fatal rapes — has increased the confidence among women to speak out more freely.

“It is as though a lid has been lifted,” said Anita Daniel, 37, who worked in an insurance company before joining the help-line staff. “Unlike my generation, the new generation’s resolve to speak out will force the authorities to change,” she said.

“It is very satisfying to work here because I can see the change happening right in front of me,” she added. “Every day, with every call.”

The city police department is also stepping up its efforts. In early June, it began running an advertising campaign aimed at women with the tagline: “Speak up. Leave the rest to us.”

But coordination between the police and the new help line remains difficult.

“Where are you standing right now? Go to a crowded area, maybe a bus stand, and wait,” Munira Rizwan, a help-line attendant, told a caller who said she was being followed by three men making lewd comments. “Do not panic, we will send a police vehicle to you immediately.”

“Come on, pick up the phone,” Pandey muttered in frustration after she dialed the police.

Three months ago, a caller dialed 181 from her cellphone to say she was surrounded by a small group of men threatening to attack her, recalled Khadijah Faruqui, the head of the help line. The phone line was live. The help-line staff could hear the men, but they could not get the police to track the caller’s location in time. The caller was found raped and murdered the following day, Faruqui said.

Faruqui has now asked the government and the telephone companies to provide a location tracker. Software upgrades are also underway to cut down time in answering calls and improve coordination with the police. Faruqui wants to train the city’s hospitals and women’s legal services to respond quicker when her help line forwards a complaint.

Calls from children

Some callers seek advice on marrying lovers whom their parents do not approve of. Others call when their money and cellphone are stolen in a bus or Metro. Perhaps the most disturbing calls are those made by girls, Faruqui said.

“Sometimes young girls call us in the dead of the night, whisper into the phone that an older man is abusing them,” said Faruqui, adding that about 20 percent of the total calls come from children.

“The December gang rape was not an isolated incident,” Daniel said, as she handed off to the next shift. “Terrible things are taking place all the time.”

© The Washington Post Company


A visit to the Taj Mahal - finally !!

A visit to the Taj – finally !!

On Thursday, Tania, myself and the girls went to see the Taj.

For Tania, this was the ??th time she’d been to see it whereas it was my first – sad I know. Living here over two years and still I haven’t been to see it.

I’m glad to have finally seen it for myself – the building is amazing and quite beautiful.

The Taj Mahal is a huge white marble mausoleum built in Agra between the years 1631 and 1648, by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to her fourteenth child.

The main architect was a man by the name of Ustad-Ahmad Lahori.  He strived in giving the construction maximum strength and stability to the tomb and worked out the minute details with utmost precision. The weight of the entire structure is uniformly distributed and extraordinarily massive piers and vaults were constructed to support this heavy load.

As part of that uniform distribution, there are two red sandstone buildings at either sides of the Taj- they are precise mirror images of each other. The western building is a mosque and the other is the jawab (answer), whose primary purpose was architectural balance.

For its construction, masons, stone-cutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome builders and other artisans were requisitioned from the whole of the Mughal empire and also from Central Asia and Iran.

Our guide mentioned that the gold and jewels that once adorned the Taj were removed by the British and distributed amongst the officer class. Gotta love the Brits !!

There are stories that Shah Jahan wanted to build a “Black Taj” across the river (a mirror of the white Taj). He didn’t get around to it as he was overthrown by his youngest son, Aurangzeb and died under house arrest at the Red Fort in Agra.

He was eventually buried in the Taj, to the left of his beloved wife.

The actual burial chamber is located on the basement of the Taj – what you see on the ground floor is an exact replica of what’s directly below.

The photos I’ve taken don’t do it justice but I hope you like them:

The Mosque

Looking across the Yamuna River to the site of the "Black Taj"

The Jawab - located to the East

The real tombs on the lower ground level