India To Ground Domestic Passenger Flights Over Coronavirus

Vehicles are stopped by policemen at a checkpoint at the Uttar Pradesh and Delhi border to inforce a lockdown order in some districts by Uttar Pradesh’s government as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, in Ghazipur on March 23, 2020. Prakash SINGH / AFP.

 

India will ground all domestic passenger flights from Wednesday to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, the government said, as more states ordered lockdowns.

India has already banned incoming international flights and sealed most of its land borders.

The government information bureau said only cargo flights will be allowed.

Domestic Indian carriers carried some 144 million passengers last year.

“Covid-19 pandemic is crippling the global economy and aviation including India’s once-booming aviation sector for years to come,” Devesh Agarwal, the editor of the Bangalore Aviation website, told AFP.

“This is not a short-term pandemic and the outlook for Indian aviation looks tragic. The aviation sector in India is decimated right now. This is similar worldwide.”

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Spain Death Toll Surpasses 2,000 After 462 Die In 24 Hours

International traffic to the financial capital Mumbai had also fallen more than 55 percent in the month of March amid the increasing flight restrictions,” a Mumbai Airport spokeswoman told AFP.

India has reported seven virus deaths from more than 400 cases, but infections have risen sharply in recent days.

Hundreds of millions of Indians were ordered locked down Sunday in the world’s second-most populous nation.

AFP

India Executes Four Men Over 2012 Bus Gang-Rape

Asha Devi (C), the mother of a gang-rape victim, reacts after the convicts of her daughter's case were hanged in New Delhi on March 20, 2020. STR / AFP
Asha Devi (C), the mother of a gang-rape victim, reacts after the convicts of her daughter’s case were hanged in New Delhi on March 20, 2020. STR / AFP

 

India executed four men on Friday for the gang-rape and murder of a woman on a Delhi bus in 2012 that sparked huge nationwide protests and international revulsion.

The four were hanged before dawn at Tihar Jail in the Indian capital, prison chief Sandeep Goel told AFP.

“The beasts have been hanged,” the victim’s mother told reporters outside the jail.

The brutal attack on Jyoti Singh sparked weeks of demonstrations and shone a spotlight on the alarming rates of sexual violence and the plight of women in India, where around 95 rapes are reported daily.

“We are satisfied that finally my daughter got justice after seven years,” Singh’s mother Asha Devi said, as a small crowd celebrated outside the prison.

“Today all Indian women received justice,” Delhi resident Meena Sharma told AFP, clutching an Indian flag.

“I came here around 3:00 am in the morning. I waited here as today is a great day for us.”

Celebrations were also held in Singh’s ancestral village in northern Uttar Pradesh state, where her extended family members exchanged sweets.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded to the execution on Twitter, saying “justice has prevailed”.

“It is of utmost importance to ensure dignity and safety of women,” he tweeted.

Many of his cabinet colleagues also expressed their satisfaction.

But the European Union, while condemning the “heinous” crime, reiterated its opposition to executions, calling it a “cruel and inhumane punishment, which fails to act as a deterrent”.

Rights Group Amnesty India called the executions another “dark stain” on India’s record.

They were India’s first executions since 2015.

Singh, 23, was returning home from the cinema with a male friend at night on December 16, 2012 when they boarded a Delhi bus, thinking it would take them home.

Five men and a 17-year-old aboard the vehicle knocked the friend unconscious and dragged Singh to the back of the bus before raping and torturing her with a metal rod.

The physiotherapy student and the friend were then dumped on the road. Singh died 13 days later in a Singapore hospital from massive internal injuries.

“A decent girl won’t roam about at 9 pm,” one of the perpetrators later told a BBC documentary that was banned in India.

The saga was also turned into an awarding-winning Netflix mini-series reconstructing the police investigation.

‘Bursting dam’

Nearly 34,000 rapes were reported in India in 2018, according to official data. This is considered the tip of the iceberg, with many more victims too scared to come forward.

But Singh’s ordeal, and the fact that she was part of a generation of young women trying to break out of a still very traditional society, struck a chord.

“It was like the bursting of a dam,” said Kavita Krishnan, an activist who took part in the huge protests.

“It was not restricted to seeking revenge. Women said they do not want to trade their freedom for safety… There was a social awakening of society,” she told AFP before the hangings.

The uproar over the case led to tougher punishments for rapists including the death penalty for repeat offenders.

Singh, nicknamed “Nirbhaya” (“fearless”), survived long enough to identify her attackers and all six were arrested. Four were convicted in 2013.

A fifth, the suspected ringleader, was found dead in jail in a suspected suicide, while the 17-year-old spent three years in a juvenile detention centre.

India “has given a strong message to rapists that if you commit this crime you will be hanged,” tweeted Swati Maliwal, of the Delhi Commission for Women.

But for Krishnan, the executions masked the continued failure to provide justice and improve safety for women in the world’s biggest democracy.

Almost 150,000 rape cases are awaiting trial in India’s dysfunctional criminal justice system.

The government is “trying to fix the public gaze on the gallows to divert attention away from what it has failed to do”, Krishnan said.

 

AFP

India To Quarantine All Travellers Arriving From Seven Virus-Hit Countries

This handout illustration image obtained February 27, 2020 courtesy of the National Institutes of Health taken with a scanning electron microscope shows SARS-CoV-2 (round blue objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab, SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, is the virus that causes COVID-19. Handout / National Institutes of Health / AFP

 

India on Wednesday suspended all tourist visas until April 15 and said it would quarantine travellers arriving from seven virus-hit countries as it attempts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

The move comes as the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic, and as countries worldwide scramble to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

India’s visa suspension begins March 13 at 1200 GMT at the port of departure, the government’s Press Information Bureau said.

Diplomatic visas and visas for international organizations, employment and projects are exempt.

While the majority of COVID-19 cases have been in China — which shares a border with India — the number of new infections has steadied there. Hotspots however have emerged in Italy, Iran and Spain.

All travellers, including Indian nationals, “arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after February 15 will be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days,” the statement read.

The number of COVID-19 cases in India — which has a population of 1.3 billion — has doubled to 60 in the past four days, increasing public fear and the government’s state of alert.

Many of the cases have been blamed on Indians who have travelled or worked in badly hit countries in Europe and the Middle East.

The visa decision was reached following a meeting of ministers led by Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, the statement read.

The government also “strongly advised” Indians against non-essential foreign travel, warning that they can be subjected “to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.”

Visa-free travel granted to Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card holders — some three million people, not nationals but from ethnic Indian families living abroad  — was put on hold until April 15.

And land border traffic will be funnelled through “designated check points with robust screening facilities.”

Foreign nationals who plan to travel to India “for compelling reasons” can contact their nearest Indian mission, the statement said.

 Visa suspensions 

Separately, India’s Bureau of Immigration said that all visas and e-visas granted to French, German and Spanish nationals before Wednesday “and who have not yet entered India stand suspended with immediate effect.”

And Italian, Iranian, South Korean and Japanese nationals who have visas issued before March 3 “who have not yet entered India remain suspended.”

Visas granted to Chinese nationals before February 5 also continue to be suspended, the statement read.

Foreigners already in India with valid visas are unaffected by the new requirements.

After the visa announcement, national carrier Air India said it was temporarily suspending flight services to Rome, Milan and Seoul, the Press Trust of India reported.

AFP

India: Tensions High In Delhi After Riots, Death Toll Rises To 38

Residents look at burnt-out vehicles following sectarian riots over India's new citizenship law, at Shiv Vihar area in New Delhi on February 28, 2020. Xavier GALIANA / AFP
Residents look at burnt-out vehicles following sectarian riots over India’s new citizenship law, at Shiv Vihar area in New Delhi on February 28, 2020. Xavier GALIANA / AFP

 

Tensions remained high in India’s capital Thursday, as thousands of riot police and paramilitaries patrolled streets littered with the debris from days of sectarian riots that have killed 38 people.

An uneasy calm has descended over the affected northeast fringes of the Indian capital, punctuated by sporadic outbreaks of violence overnight.

The unrest was the latest bout of violence over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s citizenship law, which triggered months of demonstrations that turned deadly in December.

Sunil Kumar, director of the Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital, said Thursday it had registered 34 deaths, adding that “all of them had gunshot injuries”.

The chief doctor at Lok Nayak Hospital said three people had died there. Another victim died at Jag Parvesh Chander Hospital, an official said.

Kishore Singh, medical superintendent at Lok Nayak Hospital, told AFP 10 people were still in a serious condition.

Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday said families of those who died, were injured or had their businesses and homes destroyed during the rampage would be compensated.

Food and other support would also be provided to trashed neighbourhoods, he added.

Police said they had detained or arrested more than 500 suspects for questioning, and had also starting holding “peace committee meetings” across the megacity to “improve inter-community harmony”.

The new fatalities — up from 27 on Wednesday — were all from the violence on Monday and Tuesday when mobs of Hindus and Muslims fought running battles, except for one from Wednesday.

The initial violence erupted late Sunday.

Groups armed with swords and guns set fire to thousands of properties and vehicles.

Homes, shops, two mosques, two schools, a tyre market and a fuel station were torched.

More than 200 people were also injured.

According to a list from the GTB hospital seen by AFP, the victims are a roughly even mix of Hindus and Muslims, based on their names.

Delhi police spokesman Mandeep Randhawa told AFP that there was “no major incident” overnight, while the city’s chief fire officer Atul Garg said they received 19 distress calls.

‘Gun down traitors’

In December at least 30 people were killed, mostly in police action in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to a significant Muslim population, after the citizenship law was passed.

Many of India’s 200 million Muslims fear the citizenship law — combined with a mooted citizens’ register — will leave them stateless or even sent to detention camps.

They and critics see Modi’s right-wing ruling party, which is linked to once-banned militaristic Hindu group RSS, as wanting to turn officially secular India into a Hindu nation.

His party has denied the allegations but in recent weeks BJP politicians, including in an ugly recent campaign for Delhi elections, have called the demonstrators “anti-nationals” and “jihadists”.

One, Parvesh Verma, said protestors “could enter houses and rape and kill your sisters”, while another, Anurag Thakur, encouraged a crowd to chant “gun down traitors”.

A call on Sunday by another BJP politician, Kapil Mishra, for “Hindus” to clear a northeastern Delhi sit-in protest is being seen as the spark for the current unrest.

On Wednesday a Delhi High Court judge, Justice S. Muralidhar, sharply criticised the police and called on them to investigate BJP politicians for inciting violence.

Muralidhar was transferred to another state court in a late-night order, prompting a social media storm. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad insisted it was a “routine transfer”.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on India’s political leaders to “prevent violence”, while the Organisation of the Islamic Conference said it “condemns the recent and alarming violence against Muslims in India”.

On Wednesday the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises Washington but does not set policy, voiced “grave concern” about the violence as President Donald Trump was visiting.

Trump, asked at a news conference in the capital about the violence, said the issue was “up to India” and praised Modi’s “incredible” statements on religious freedom.

 

AFP

Modi Calls For Calm As 20 Killed In Delhi Riots

Congress Party workers shout slogans against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a protest in Amritsar on February 26, 2020. NARINDER NANU / AFP.

 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for calm Wednesday after Delhi’s worst sectarian violence in decades left at least 20 people dead and calls for a military curfew.

This week’s battles between Hindus and Muslims have seen mobs armed with swords, guns and acid raze a northeastern district of the Indian capital.

The clashes, which also left almost 200 injured, were triggered by protests against a citizenship law seen by many critics as anti-Muslim and part of Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda.

They exploded into brutal violence on Monday and Tuesday, with residents forced to flee their homes after seeing their homes destroyed and a mosque attacked.

“I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times. It is important… calm and normalcy is restored at the earliest,” Modi tweeted on Wednesday.

Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, a political opponent, called for the army to be deployed and for a curfew to be imposed over the flashpoint areas.

“Police, despite all its efforts, (are) unable to control situation and instil confidence,” Kejriwal tweeted.

– Fear, anger –

Sunil Kumar, the director of the hospital where many of the wounded were taken, told AFP on Wednesday that almost 60 had gunshot injuries.

On Wednesday morning residents cleaned out the blackened interior of a trashed mosque, including a charred Koran, burned out during the violence in the Ashok Nagar area.

A video circulated on social media and verified by AFP showed men ripping off the muezzin’s loudspeaker on top of the mosque’s minaret and installing a Hindu religious flag.

Locals accused the police of doing nothing to help — or worse.

“We tried to make many calls to the police… that people are entering our neighbourhoods chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’,” said Naeem Malik, referring to a popular Hindu chant.

“But police did not help us at all. We tried to save the women at the protest site but instead policemen started beating us up,” Malik said, showing wounds on his leg and hands.

Elsewhere a fire engine tried to put out blazes from the previous night, the air thick with smoke from still-smouldering cars, motorbikes, shops and homes.

“They say we are not Indians but we are Indians by blood,” Farhat, 22, a student in Islamic studies, said in her father’s shop as police looked on.

“We are afraid, we left our homes. There is no police in the streets at night, just during the day.”

The area is home to mostly poorer economic migrants living in many shanty neighbourhoods, and some fled on Wednesday ahead of more expected clashes.

“It is better to leave than to stick around here. Why would we want to die here?,” a tailor told AFP, adding that he was returning home to his village in northern India.

– ‘Politics of hate’ –

The unrest comes amid growing concerns at home and abroad about the direction of India and the future of its 200 million Muslims since Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP swept to a second term last year.

Sonia Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, on Wednesday accused BJP figures of giving “inflammatory speeches spreading an atmosphere of hatred and fear”, including in Delhi city elections this month.

Congress “appeals to the people to reject the politics of hate,” Gandhi said, calling Home Minister Amit Shah, Modi’s close ally, “responsible” for the riots.

Since winning a second term, Modi’s government has revoked the partial autonomy of Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, and said it wants to conduct a nationwide citizens’ register to weed out “infiltrators”.

Together with the citizenship law, which fast-tracks claims for persecuted non-Muslim religious immigrants, this has stoked fears that Modi’s master plan is to remould India as a Hindu nation, something he denies.

The citizenship law has sparked months of nationwide protests as well as clashes that killed more than 25 people in December.

In recent weeks sit-ins, mostly by women, have sprung up.

The flare-up in violence occurred as US President Donald Trump visited India and held talks with Modi in Delhi on Tuesday. But Trump left as scheduled on Tuesday and his visit was not visibly interrupted by the violence.

AFP

America Will Always Be Faithful To The Indian People – Trump

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump disembark from Air Force One at Palam Air Force Base in New Delhi on February 24, 2020. Prakash SINGH / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump got a rapturous and romantic welcome to India on Monday, addressing a huge rally and holding hands with his wife at the Taj Mahal, in a maiden official visit big on photo opportunities but short on concrete results.

Casting a cloud over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s welcome, however, a policeman and at least three civilians were killed in clashes in New Delhi over a contentious citizenship law hours before the US president was due in the Indian capital.

At the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Modi’s home state of Gujarat in western India, Trump heaped praise on the Indian right-winger as an “exceptional leader, a great champion of India”, before a crowd of around 100,000.

“America loves India. America respects India, and America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people,” Trump told the ecstatic crowd, many in Trump-emblazoned baseball caps.

Name-checking Bollywood films and Indian cricketers, Trump — with an eye on elections in November — paid tribute to the four-million-strong Indian-American diaspora as “truly special people”.

“President Trump’s visit opens a new chapter in our relationship — a chapter that will document the progress and prosperity of the people of America and India,” Modi said.

“The whole world knows what President Trump has done to fulfil the dreams of America.”

Excited spectators had queued from 4:00 am for the “Namaste Trump” rally, reciprocating a “Howdy Modi” event in Houston last year where Trump likened Modi to Elvis.

‘Tariff King’ 

Workers rushed to finish the stadium and erect a wall along the route that locals said was to hide a slum. Stray dogs, cows and monkeys were also kept away.

“Events like these will galvanise people to start to cooperate in new initiatives,” said Pramit Maakoday, an Indian-American in the stadium.

Before the speech, Trump and First Lady Melania visited independence hero Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram, where Modi gave him a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” three wise monkeys statue.

Later Trump and Melania — in an off-white jumpsuit and sash alongside her husband in a buttercup-yellow tie — flew to the Taj Mahal for a pre-sunset tour.

Then they headed to Delhi ahead of the main talks on Tuesday.

Parts of the Taj Mahal, the marble monument to love that UNESCO calls a “jewel of Muslim art”, were given a mud-pack facial to remove stains, while efforts were made to lessen the stench of the adjacent river.

Behind the platitudes and blossoming bromance between the two leaders lies a fraught relationship as Trump’s “America First” drive collides with Modi’s “Make in India” mantra.

Trump has imposed tariffs on Indian steel and aluminium and suspended duty-free access for certain goods, prompting India to raise duties on the US to produce such as almonds.

The US leader has called India the “tariff king”, and said before his visit that Asia’s third-largest economy had been “hitting us very, very hard for many, many years”.

Rather than a wide-ranging trade deal, reports said Trump and Modi may instead sign smaller agreements covering products such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles and US dairy products.

“We are in the early stages of discussions for an incredible trade agreement,” Trump told the rally, calling Modi a “very tough negotiator”.

“I am in no rush,” he told reporters later.

US pressure 

With the US and India sharing concerns about China, the two men were expected to sign a number of defence deals during the visit and to discuss the supply of six nuclear reactors.

Russia, however, remains India’s biggest supplier in arms, with India having agreed to buy Moscow’s $5.4-billion S-400 missile defence system despite the threat of US sanctions.

The US has pressured India to stop buying Iranian oil, while US businesses have raised concerns over New Delhi’s plans to force foreign firms to store Indian consumers’ personal data inside the country.

India has bristled at Trump’s offer to mediate in the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan which a year ago again brought the two nuclear-armed neighbours close to war.

In Washington, India has faced criticism over its clampdown in restive Kashmir, and the recently passed citizenship law that has led to protests across the nation, including in New Delhi on Monday.

A senior US administration official told reporters Trump would raise concerns about religious freedom in the Hindu-majority nation during the trip, “which is extremely important to this administration”.

Trump ridiculed Modi last year for “constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan”.

“That’s like five hours of what we spend,” Trump said.

Policeman Killed In Delhi Clash Ahead Of Trump’s Arrival

Policemen stand on a vandalised road following clashes between supporters and opponents of new citizenship law, at Bhajanpura area of New Delhi on February 24, 2020, ahead of US President arrival in New Delhi.  Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP

 

A policeman was killed in New Delhi Monday in violent clashes over a contentious citizenship law, hours before US President Donald Trump was due in the Indian capital as part of a two-day visit.

Protests have broken out across India since the law that critics say discriminates against Muslims came into force in December, with at least 30 people killed in clashes with police.

The new law has raised worries abroad — including in Washington — that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to remould secular India into a Hindu nation while marginalising the country’s 200 million Muslims, a claim he denies.

The latest unrest erupted between several hundred supporters and opponents of the law in a Muslim-dominated area of northeast Delhi on Sunday and continued on Monday.

A constable was killed after receiving a critical head injury, local media reported, while another senior officer was injured.

“Please renounce violence. Nobody benefits from this. All problems will be solved by peace,” Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted.

The Press Trust of India said protesters torched at least two houses and shops. Local TV channels showed plumes of black smoke billowing from buildings.

One video posted on social media showed crowds of men shouting “Jai Shree Ram” or “Hail Lord Ram”, a revered Hindu deity, as they went on a rampage.

Trump arrived in the western state of Gujarat on Monday and addressed a huge rally with Modi before he visited the Taj Mahal monument in Agra.

The US president was due to arrive in Delhi late Monday before official talks in the city on Tuesday.

A senior US official told reporters that Trump would raise concerns about religious freedom in the Hindu-majority nation during the trip, calling them “extremely important to this administration”.

AFP

Huge Rally For Trump As US President Arrives India

A cutout of US President Donald Trump is seen as people wait beside a street to catch a glimpse of his motorcade in Ahmedabad on February 24, 2020. Mandel NGAN / AFP
A cutout of US President Donald Trump is seen as people wait beside a street to catch a glimpse of his motorcade in Ahmedabad on February 24, 2020.
Mandel NGAN / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump arrived in India on Monday for a lightning visit featuring a huge rally at the world’s biggest cricket stadium and other high-profile photo opportunities, but likely short on concrete achievements.

Trade tensions have grown between the world’s two biggest democracies as Trump’s “America First” drive collides with fellow protectionist strongman Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” mantra.

While sharing concerns about China and deepening defence ties, India has bristled at Trump’s offer to mediate over the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, and at unease in Washington over a citizenship law criticised as anti-Muslim.

The billionaire and the tea seller’s son were due to address a huge rally of around 100,000 people at the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Modi’s home state before Trump and First Lady Melania fly to the Taj Mahal to watch sunset.

Excited crowds began queueing at 4:00 am to get into the brand new stadium for the “Namaste Trump” rally, payback for a “Howdy Modi” event in Houston last year in front of cheering Indian-Americans where Trump likened Modi to Elvis Presley.

“We hope the US liberalises its visa regime for skilled workers. They need it and India has too many young skilled and talented people,” said student Maunas Shastri.

Preparations have been feverish for the visit, with workers rushing to finish the stadium and building a wall that locals said was to hide a slum. Stray dogs, cows and monkeys have been moved away.

Parts of the Taj Mahal, the white marble “jewel of Muslim art” according to UNESCO, were given a mud-pack facial to remove stains while efforts were undertaken to lessen the stench of the adjacent river.

Trump told a rally on Thursday that “six to 10 million people” would be along the route of his motorcade, but this appears to have been a misunderstanding. Organisers said there will be tens of thousands.

Thousands of posters with the words were erected every 10 metres (yards) along Ahmedabad’s major roads. Sellers of flags and masks of Modi and Trump were doing brisk business.

Trump tweeted en route to India — in Hindi — that he was “eager to come to India” while Modi responded by saying that “guests are next to God”, a well-known saying.

‘Tariff king’

But behind the platitudes and apparent warm rapport between the two leaders lies a fraught relationship worsened by the trade protectionism of both governments.

Trump has called India the “tariff king” and said before the visit that Asia’s third-largest economy has been “hitting us very, very hard for many, many years”.

Rather than a wide-ranging trade deal, reports said Trump and Modi may instead ink smaller agreements covering Harley-Davidson motorcycle imports and American dairy products, as well as defence pacts.

Also on the cards could be the supply of six nuclear reactors, the fruit of a landmark atomic accord in 2008.

An Indian government spokesman said the world’s fifth-largest economy “would not like to rush into a deal”, adding that the issues involved were “complicated”.

“The big missing deliverable at least for now seems likely to be the one both countries had sought, which is the trade deal,” Tanvi Madan from the Brookings Institution told reporters.

Other points of friction include defence, with Russia remaining India’s biggest supplier despite a possible $2.4-billion deal for American helicopters.

The US has pressured India to stop buying Iranian oil, while US businesses have raised concerns over New Delhi’s plans to force foreign firms to store Indian consumers’ personal data inside the country.

In Washington, India has faced criticism over its clampdown in restive Kashmir, and a recently passed citizenship law that critics say is anti-Muslim and which has led to ongoing protests across the nation.

A senior US administration official told reporters Trump would raise concerns about religious freedom in the Hindu-majority nation during the trip, “which is extremely important to this administration”.

“We are concerned… and I think that the president will talk about these issues in his meetings with Prime Minister Modi and note that the world is looking to India to continue to uphold its democratic traditions, respect for religious minorities,” the official added.

Trump also ridiculed Modi last year for “constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan”.

“That’s like five hours of what we spend… And we are supposed to say, ‘oh, thank you for the library’. I don’t know who is using it in Afghanistan,” Trump had said.

India Hit With Wave Of New Apps To Aid Premarital Sex

This photo taken on February 10, 2020 shows items for a 'love kit' in a room at the Dragonfly hotel in Mumbai. Punit PARANJPE / AFP
This photo taken on February 10, 2020 shows items for a ‘love kit’ in a room at the Dragonfly hotel in Mumbai. Punit PARANJPE / AFP

 

A new raft of Indian apps which offer rooms to unmarried couples are helping overturn traditional norms in a country where premarital sex remains taboo.

From StayUncle and BreviStay, which offer hourly packages, to Softbank-funded Oyo, which allows users to search for couple-friendly hotels via its ‘Relationship Mode’, young entrepreneurs are tapping into a previously neglected market to lucrative effect.

The development is good news for Pooja, a Mumbai-based PR executive who tried to check in to a hotel with her then boyfriend in 2016 and found that the romantic experience quickly turned ugly as staff enquired about her marital status.

“I could feel them judging me,” Pooja, whose name has been changed on her request, told AFP.

Stung by their questions, she decided to lie.

“We were both above 18 — they had no reason to deny us a room, but it was all just so awkward,” she said.

Her experience is not unusual in a country where many people live with their parents until they marry — either because of high housing costs or conservative cultural norms — leaving courting couples desperate for a shred of privacy.

On any given evening in Mumbai, dozens of canoodling lovebirds can be spotted along the city’s famous seafront, their backs to the slow-moving traffic as they seek out personal space in the world’s second-most populous nation.

Sometimes the consequences can be dangerous: police raid hotels and demand bribes from unmarried guests, while Hindu hardliners attack couples celebrating ‘Western’ holidays like Valentine’s Day.

‘Supply and demand’

“People have a hard time accepting the idea that being in a relationship is a natural thing,” said Rahul Taneja, co-founder of LuvStay, one of several apps seeking to shake up the hospitality industry with services aimed at unmarried couples.

“It is a simple case of supply and demand. The rooms are there, the customers are there: the challenge is to bring them together,” LuvStay’s 29-year-old Taneja told AFP.

StayUncle founder Sanchit Sethi initially planned to target business travellers with his app focusing on hourly rentals but when he began fielding enquiries from couples he realised he was targeting the wrong customer.

Soon the former engineer found himself handing out business cards to young people hanging out in coffee shops — advertising his new venture with the tagline: “Couples need a room not judgement”.

When the app went live in 2016, hardline groups threatened to beat up Sethi and his colleagues, but “no one ever went beyond a phone call”, the 30-year-old told AFP.

Getting hoteliers on board proved a tougher sell, with many worried about police raids and offending the sensibilities of traditional clients.

In one case, a hotelier signed up only to get cold feet and refuse guests at check-in, prompting Sethi to decide that he would not spend any more time trying to “convince reluctant hotels”.

He need not have worried, given the soaring demand.

The app currently has 800 hotels in 45 towns and cities and plans to add another 1,500 by the end of the year. And it’s not shy about pursuing new customers, with a YouTube channel offering dating advice to anxious singles.

At nearly 700 hotels, LuvStay is not far behind, with ambitions to raise that number to 2,000 within three years.

So-called love hotels are also popular in Japan and South Korea, with couples either seeking extramarital liaisons or private time away from demanding families.

Love kits

Mumbai’s Sahar Garden hotel, which signed up with StayUncle in 2018, said the tie-up added 150,000 rupees ($2,100) to their coffers each month as bookings surged.

“Business just keeps going up,” said Satya Shankar Rao, the hotel’s sales and marketing manager.

With free StayUncle-branded ‘Love Kits’ in each room — a silky red pouch containing condoms, lubricant and chocolate — and staff under strict instructions to respect unmarried guests, the hotel has seen repeat business, according to Rao.

Sunil Kyal, sales director of Mumbai’s Dragonfly boutique hotel, which is preparing for a boom in bookings ahead of Valentine’s Day on Friday, told AFP that StayUncle’s success reflected a generational shift.

“People used to feel that it’s a sin or it is not right (to be in a relationship before marriage),” he said, remarking on changing beliefs.

For young women like PR executive Pooja, 27, the apps are “a blessing”.

“We can’t expect Indian society to grow up overnight,” she said, adding: “But I hope that in the future we don’t need such apps.”

AFP

Indian Students Protest After Being Stripped For Menstruation Checks

 

Scores of women students staged a protest outside an Indian college saying they were forced to strip to check if they were menstruating.

The students were told to undress after a used sanitary napkin was found in a garden outside Sahjanand Girls Institute, where they are banned from the hostel when they are having their periods.

“There are no words to describe the humiliation that we faced,” said one of the students protesting outside the college in Bhuj, in the western state of Gujarat.

Deep-rooted social taboos remain in India around menstruating women. In some rural areas, women are made to sleep separately during periods. They are banned from entering some temples.

College authorities lined up 68 students in the washroom and ordered them to undress one by one, the students told reporters.

The college is run by the conservative Hindu sect Swaminarayan. The sect runs lavish temples around the world, including in London.

Its rules bar students from staying in the hostel during their periods.

Menstruating women students must stay in an isolated basement area and keep away from the kitchen and the place of worship.

They also have to sit at the back of the classroom during lectures.

The college said it had set up an inquiry and indicated action could be taken against the staff behind the checks.

College trustee Pravin Pindoria said: “The girls were informed about the hostel rules before they took admission.

“I have called a meeting of the administrative committee which will take action against the responsible persons.”

AFP

At Least 14 Dead In DR Congo Road Crash

 

A man died after falling into a river on Sunday as Storm Dennis swept across Britain with the army drafted in to help deal with heavy flooding and high winds.

The man fell into the River Tawe, in south Wales, police said.

The storm also battered much of France, with some 60,000 people suffering power cuts in the northwest of the country.

Britain’s government weather agency issued a rare red warning for south Wales, saying there was a risk of “significant impacts from flooding” that included a “danger to life from fast flowing water, extensive flooding to property and road closures”.

Police said in a tweet the man who fell into the river was later found dead “further along the river in the Tebanos area”.

A record 594 flood warnings and alerts were in place on Sunday, extending from Scotland’s River Tweed to Cornwall in southwest England.

Winds of over 90 miles per hour (150 kilometres per hour) were recorded in Aberdaron, south Wales.

Pictures circulated on social media showed the nearby River Taff bursting its banks, while rescue workers rushed to get people trapped in their homes in Powys to safety.

“The forecast is for very significant levels of rain, especially in the eastern valleys of South Wales,” said Jeremy Parr, from government body Natural Resources Wales.

“Impacts could be severe overnight, and everyone should take the warnings extremely seriously,” he added.

Police declared major incidents in parts of Wales and England, with landslides also reported.

“Some communities have been cut-off…, but emergency service workers are working tirelessly to put measures in place to ensure the safety of residents,” South Wales Police said in a statement.

Roads and railways were badly affected by the downpours and winds, having barely recovered from a similar storm last week.

The Ministry of Defence deployed troops in West Yorkshire, northern England, which suffered badly from flooding caused by last weekend’s Storm Ciara.

“Our armed forces are always ready to support local authorities and communities whenever they need it,” said defence minister Ben Wallace.

British Airways and easyJet confirmed they had grounded flights, with footage posted online showing a massive Airbus A380 jet being blown about as it attempted to land.

Earlier, two bodies were pulled from rough seas off the south England coast on Saturday as the storm barrelled in.

One of the men is assumed to have been the subject of a search triggered when an LPG tanker reported that one of its crew was unaccounted for.

He had last been seen several hours earlier.

Northwestern France was also affected by the storm, especially Brittany where the Finistere and Morbihan regions were temporarily placed on orange alert for rain and flooding, according to the national weather service, Meteo-France.

Electricity provider Enedis said it had deployed 450 staff in an attempt to bring power back to homes affected.

A regional spokesman told AFP normal service would not likely resume before Monday.

By Sunday evening, Meteo-France said the worst seemed to have passed as winds dropped to below 100 kph (62 mph).

Several neighbouring countries were also affected.

“Winds will be increasing throughout the day on Sunday across Germany, Denmark and southern Sweden,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Maura Kelly said earlier Sunday.

AFP

Indian Students Protest Against Forceful Strip For Menstruation Checks

 

 

Scores of women students staged a protest outside an Indian college saying they were forced to strip to check if they were menstruating.

The students were told to undress after a used sanitary napkin was found in a garden outside Sahjanand Girls Institute, where they are banned from the hostel when they are having their periods.

“There are no words to describe the humiliation that we faced,” said one of the students protesting outside the college in Bhuj, in the western state of Gujarat.

Deep-rooted social taboos remain in India around menstruating women. In some rural areas, women are made to sleep separately during periods. They are banned from entering some temples.

College authorities lined up 68 students in the washroom and ordered them to undress one by one, the students told reporters.

The college is run by the conservative Hindu sect Swaminarayan. The sect runs lavish temples around the world, including in London.

Its rules bar students from staying in the hostel during their periods.

Menstruating women students must stay in an isolated basement area and keep away from the kitchen and the place of worship.

They also have to sit at the back of the classroom during lectures.

The college said it had set up an inquiry and indicated action could be taken against the staff behind the checks.

College trustee Pravin Pindoria said: “The girls were informed about the hostel rules before they took admission.

“I have called a meeting of the administrative committee which will take action against the responsible persons.”

AFP