Dalai Lama defended over tongue-sucking remark

Dalai Lama
Image caption,Penpa Tsering has said that the Dalai Lama’s actions have been misinterpreted

By Cherylann Mollan

BBC News, Mumbai

A top Tibetan leader has defended the Dalai Lama over a video that showed him asking a child to suck his tongue.

Penpa Tsering, head of Tibet’s government-in-exile, has called the spiritual leader’s actions “innocent” and said it demonstrated his “affectionate behaviour”.

The video sparked outrage after it went viral on social media, with users calling his actions inappropriate.

The Dalai Lama’s office has apologised over the incident.

On Thursday, Mr Tsering said the Dalai Lama’s actions had been misinterpreted and that the controversy had hurt the sentiments of his followers.

He also said that the Dalai Lama has always lived in “sanctity and celibacy” and that his years of spiritual practice had taken him “beyond the sensorial pleasures”.

Mr Tsering also claimed that investigations suggested “pro-Chinese sources” were behind making the video go viral on social media. He gave no evidence for the claim. He added that the “political angle of this incident cannot be ignored.”

Though the incident appears to have taken place at the Dalai Lama’s temple in Dharamshala on 28 February, the controversial video went viral on social media earlier this month. It has been viewed over a million times on Twitter.

In the video, the Dalai Lama can be heard asking the boy to kiss him on his cheek and then his lips after the boy asks if he can give him a hug.

The leader then put his forehead to that of the boy’s, before sticking out his tongue, saying “and suck my tongue”.

The video sparked international criticism with some right’s activists saying that the spiritual leader’s actions amount to child abuse.

In a statement issued by his office, the Dalai Lama said he wanted to apologise to the child and his family “for the hurt his words may have caused”.

“His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras. He regrets the incident,” his office said.

The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959, following an uprising against Chinese rule there.

He courted controversy once before in 2019, http://trukgandeng.com/ when in an interview with the BBC he said that any future female Dalai Lama should be “attractive”. His office later apologised for his remarks.

Diljit Dosanjh and Ali Sethi: South Asian stars take over US festival

Diljit Dosanjh performs on stage during the Born To Shine World Tour in Vancouver in June 2022
Image caption,Diljit Singh Dosanjh will be the first Punjabi language singer to perform at the festival

South Asian music fans are flocking to Coachella this year as it offers blockbuster attractions from the community.

The Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, among the most profitable music events in the world, takes place over two consecutive weekends every April in Indio, California.

This year, Indian singer and actor Diljit Singh Dosanjh and Pakistani singer and composer Ali Sethi are among South Asian acts debuting at the festival as they perform alongside international acts like BLACKPINK, Kid Laroi, Charli XCX, Labrinth, Jai Wolf, Joy Crookes, Jai Paul, Frank Ocean and Underworld.

Sethi’s Pasoori was the most searched song of 2022 on Google. Dosanjh, hugely popular among the Indian diaspora worldwide, will be the first Punjabi language singer to perform at the festival.

Last year’s lineup also included South Asian artists like Raveena Aurora and Arooj Aftab, but the elevated profiles of this year’s performers makes it a huge moment for fans.

“If there was going to be a time to go to this festival, it was now. This is the year,” Brooklyn resident Gauree Patel says.

Growing up in Texas, Garima Singh could never have imagined a “South Asian artist at a prominent American music festival”. She will be at Coachella this year with six South Asian friends from different parts of country to “hear, see and dance along” with Dosanjh who they consider “one of their own”.

Ali Sethi performs on stage as part of the Harvard ARTS FIRST 2019 Festival in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Image caption,Ali Sethi’s Pasoori was the most searched song of 2022 on Google

“Who hasn’t heard his music! I am excited about South Asian headliners, it’s crazy!” she says.

The diversity and “brown inclusivity” at Coachella is appealing to fans of South Asian artists who see it as an opportunity to “experience joy” like other Americans.

Ms Patel says a dozen of her friends chatted about “our community” being at Coachella and felt a sense of affinity.

“Music festivals allow white people to experience joy, connect with each other, centring their experience,” Ms Patel says. “This is what it will mean for us South Asians. We too will have the experience of being centred at Coachella.”

South Asian singers and film stars frequently tour North American venues thronged by their fans.

Radhika Kalra has attended multiple concerts by Dosanjh in the US and Canada but says she “can’t miss him on such a huge stage”.

“It’s about time they get this stage,” she says.

A trained dancer, Ms Kalra plans to have nine friends – all South Asian girls from New York – “practice a few steps to the Diljit song Black & White” for the festival.

For the South Asians who grew up in North America listening to Bollywood and other South Asian film songs, this is a milestone nod to their culture.

Fans at coachella
Image caption,Fans say the line-up this year is a huge moment for South Asia music fans

So, not attending Coachella was simply not an option for Denver-based Deep Singh Badhesha and Harshwinder Kaur Badhesha. The couple bought their tickets “as soon as the announcement popped up” on their computer.

Their tweet about the booking got a response from the star himself.

“I hope Diljit sings Born to Shine, GOAT, Vibe and 5 Taara,” says Mr Badesha.

Immigrant parents of second-generation South Asians are supportive of the journeys as their children embrace the music with ties to their heritage.

Sarina Singh, who describes herself as a “huge Diljit fan” was torn about taking the Coachella trip with her husband Simranjeet Singh Bedi, as she is seven months pregnant.

Her mother decided to fly from Pennsylvania to Colorado to take care of the couple’s two-year-old daughter, allowing them “their baby moon”, a little trip before their baby arrives.

“My mom said we should celebrate. I never had any interest in going to Coachella but I am going for Diljit!” Ms Singh says.

Music and fashion go hand in hand at Coachella. Fans whose daily playlists include Dosanjh and Sethi, are getting fashion ready. Ms Kalra plans to wear an anodized silver necklace with coins on it she bought from India over a white crop top with jean shorts for a “typical Coachella boho look”.

Fans attend Weekend 1, Day 2 of Coachella on April 13, 2019
Image caption,Fans say they are having an ‘conversation’ about cultural appropriation in festival outfits

Garima Singh says she got her nails done in a henna motif to go with her Indo-western attire.

As fans accessorise their looks, they are mindful of the cultural appropriation linked to American festivals, like the usage of henna tattoos and bindis that originate from South Asian culture.

Fans say its brought up a conversation about how one shows up at the festival as young South Asians try to reclaim their culture.

“So much of [the] music festival style [here] has been appropriated from Indian culture,” Garima Singh says, with jewellery like anklets and nose rings.

Neha Assar, http://knalpotbelah.com/ a popular Los Angeles area artist, is used to drawing intricate henna designs on festival goers.

“People want to show off their bodies and henna has become a universal accessory to go with outfits at Coachella,” she says. “The reason is to tap into the ‘bohemian’ look. But henna is Indian for me, not bohemian!”.

Fans hope this year’s festival helps non-South Asians understand the community and its culture better.

“I hope people will listen to more South Asian music after this,” says Ania Ahsan, a Pakistani-origin fan.

Punjab: The Indian ‘American dream’ which ended in a scam in Bali

Image caption,Sukhjinder is among hundreds of Indians who were duped by a gang of smugglers

By Sarbjit Dhaliwal

BBC Punjabi

Like millions of others in India, Sukhjinder always dreamt of migrating to the US in search of a better life.

Now he shudders at the very idea.

“I have chills down my spine when I hear someone talk about going abroad. That one decision ruined everything for me,” said the 35-year-old, who goes by only one name.

A resident of Tarn Taran, a small town in Punjab, Mr Sukhjinder is among at least 150 young men and women in the northern Indian state who were duped by a gang which extorted huge sums of money in exchange for false promises of getting them settled in the US.

Police said the gang, which is entirely made up of Indians, would fly out its victims to new destinations such as Bali in Indonesia and hold them hostage for days to extract a ransom from their families.

They said they suspected the gang chose countries like Indonesia or Singapore as their base because of cheap flights and the “visa on arrival” facility available to Indian citizens in these countries. Besides Punjab, men in three other states – Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh – were also targeted, they added.

Last year, police said they had arrested “the gang leader” Sunny Kumar’s wife and his father and recovered 15m rupees ($182,000; £147,000) from their home in Punjab. So far, 11 people have been arrested in connection with the scam, they added.

But Kumar and other gang leaders are still absconding, believed to be hiding in Indonesia. Police say they are in touch with the Indian federal government to get their whereabouts. Those under arrest have not made any statements. The BBC has contacted the Indonesian police for comment and the story will be updated when they respond.

The gang, which has been active for over two years, mostly targeted young, but not very educated, people in Punjab.

“The members approached their victims with the promise of taking them to the US via Mexico,” Gursher Singh Sandhu, police commissioner of Mohali city, told the BBC.

“They would fly their clients out of the country and then force them to call their family and lie that they had reached safely, and ask their family to pay the gang’s fee,” he said.

Some members of the gang, based in Punjab, would then go and collect the money from the victims’ families. After that, the gang would either abandon the victims or put them on a return flight to India, Mr Sandhu added.

Punjab police with the money seized from a gang member's home in Punjab
Image caption,Police say they have arrested the main accused’s wife and his father

Mr Sukhjinder said he first got in touch with Sunny Kumar in October after a relative told him he could help him reach US.

Kumar told Mr Sukhjinder he would get him there if he paid 4.5m rupees. The plan was that Mr Sukhjinder would first travel to Bali, from where Kumar and his men would chart a route for him to get to Mexico and then to the US. Mr Sukhjinder said he trusted the offer because Kumar sent him a ticket to Bali without him making any advance payment.

On October 29, he boarded a flight for Bali from Delhi. From here on, things took a sinister turn.

Mr Sukhjinder alleged he was held hostage at an unknown location for 23 days. “I was beaten so severely that I had no option but to agree to lie to my family.”

He said he was allowed to take a flight back to India after his family paid 4m rupees to the agents.

This is not the first time Indians have taken desperate steps to migrate to the US.

Thousands of Indians dream of moving to foreign countries, especially the US, in the hope of a better life. Some even fall victim to human smugglers in their desire to reach their goal.

US government data shows that 19,883 Indians were arrested while entering the country illegally in 2020. The numbers went up to 30,662 in 2021 and to 63,927 in 2022.

Representative image
Image caption,The gang would send its victims air tickets to Bali and take them hostage on arrival

Experts say while a lot of families try to cross over from Canada, many end up going to Mexico, where they get in touch with smugglers who push them to undertake treacherous journeys across the border. Many die along the way.

Last week, four-members of an Indian family were found dead in a river marsh near the US-Canada border. In January 2022, bodies of another family of four were found frozen to death near the border. In 2019, the death of a six-year-old girl from Punjab, who had illegally entered US from Mexico with her mother, had caused widespread outrage in India.

Ranjit Singh Ghuman, an economist from Punjab, says the situation is particularly alarming because of the lack of jobs in the state. Data from India’s Economic Survey shows that the rate of unemployment stood at 7.2% in 2021 and 2022.

“The youth here are frustrated and desperately want a way out from their dismal lives. So they take such extreme decisions,” he said, adding that the government should increase investments to spur more jobs.

Vishal Kumar, another victim of the gang, agreed – he said it was desperation that pushed him to take the step.

After passing 10th grade, Mr Kumar had to drop out from school. He said he had been looking for jobs since.

“When I heard about this gang, I thought I would be able to escape this life and build something from scratch in a different country. But eventually I had to pay money to save my own life,” he said.

The Punjab government has introduced new laws to prevent illegal trafficking and launched a crackdown on fake travel agencies operating in the state.

In February, authorities in Jalandhar district cancelled licences of thousands of immigration consultants, international ticket booking agents and owners of English tuition centres on charges of fraud.

But Mr Ghuman says that http://mesintik.com/ despite tough laws, fake agents continue to operate unhindered in the state. “Legal processes are often long and complex, while the victims are mostly small farmers with little education,” he said.

Back in Tarn Taran, Mr Sukhjinder worries about his future.

“I sold my farmland and borrowed money to go to the US. Now the creditor is demanding his money back and I don’t know what to do,” he said.

Atiq Ahmed: The brazen murder of an Indian mafia don-turned-politician

Atiq Ahmed (right) and his brother Ashraf taking questions from journalists moments before their death
Image caption,Atiq Ahmed (right) and his brother Ashraf taking questions from journalists moments before their death

It was all over in less than a minute.

Footage from Saturday night shows mafia don-turned-politician Atiq Ahmed getting out from the back of a police jeep near a hospital in the city of Prayagraj, also known as Allahabad.

A heavyset man, Ahmed, a former MP and convicted criminal, is helped down by a policeman and his brother Ashraf. The brothers are being led by a chain attached to their handcuffs.

As they start walking, surrounded by a ring of police constables, local TV reporters besiege them – among them are gunmen pretending to be journalists.

A second later, a gun is pulled close to his head, his white turban detaches from his head as he collapses to the ground. A moment later, his brother is also shot.

The Uttar Pradesh state government has ordered an investigation, but Saturday evening’s daring murder has unleashed a torrent of criticism from major local and national politicians who say it shows law and order has broken down there.

Lawyer and politician Kapil Sibal said there had been “two murders” in Uttar Pradesh – “one, of Atiq and brother Ashraf and two, of Rule of Law”.

Vikram Singh, former director general of Uttar Pradesh’s state police, told the BBC that Ahmad’s murder was unacceptable. “Death in custody is bad enough, murder is worse,” he said.

A forensic team at the murder spot
Image caption,A forensic team examined the spot where the Ahmed brothers were killed

To say Ahmed was a controversial man is an understatement.

The 60-year-old was born in a poor family in Prayagraj and was a school dropout, but over the years he amassed huge wealth, enjoyed political patronage and power and came to wield immense influence in the city of his birth and beyond.

Starting in 1989, he was elected five times as a legislator to the state assembly from the city, and was also elected to the parliament from Phulpur constituency in 2004.

Mr Singh describes him as a sort of “Robin Hood, a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde type of character” who “spent lavishly to help poor people – paying for weddings, giving them money during Eid festivals, and helping poor women buy school uniforms and books for their children”.

But this persona unravelled as Ahmed was accused of kidnappings, murders, extortion and land grabs.

More than 100 cases were registered against him and he was said to be involved in as many more “but the victims were too afraid to lodge complaints”, he added.

Over two decades Ahmed had spells in prison but but he maintained his sway over Uttar Pradesh’s underworld and ensured his men were protected.

But after the regional Samajwadi Party severed ties with him and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in the state that Ahmed’s influence began to wane.

He was arrested for assault in 2017 and was later moved to a prison in the western state of Gujarat.

The most recent action against him started in February when footage emerged that showed a group of men killing Umesh Pal, a key witness in the 2005 murder of Raju Pal, a lawmaker belonging to the regional Bahujan Samaj Party. The Ahmed brothers had been accused of involvement in Pal’s murder.

The February murder caught on video set in motion a chain of events that has left Ahmed and several members of his family and supporters dead, his wife on the run with a bounty on her head, two of his sons in jail and the remaining two sons who are minors in government protection homes.

Ahmed was brought to Prayagraj to face charges in the case after India’s Supreme Court last month declined to hear his petition alleging that there was a threat to his life from the police. His brother was also brought to the city from a prison in another district in the state.

On Thursday, his 19-year-old son Asad and an aide were killed by the police in a so-called encounter – with accusations flying that they were shot dead in a planned execution.

Many parts of Prayagraj were a ghost town on Sunday morning. The main bazaars in the old city – usually buzzing with activity at this time of the year as Muslims celebrate the festival of Eid – were deserted.

Police vans and officers are deployed on almost every street. Internet services are down in most parts. And locals are reluctant to talk to the media or say anything about the murders.

Image caption,Asad, Atiq Ahmed’s teenaged son, was killed by the police on Thursday

A 40-year-old Muslim man, who didn’t want to be named, told the BBC that people were shocked.

“How can somebody be killed in front of the media and the police? He was a convicted criminal I agree, but that doesn’t mean he can be shot like that. What about the rule of law?” he asked.

“Many of us are wondering if he was killed because he was a Muslim. I don’t know if that’s true, but this incident has terrified the city. We deserve better.”

Mahant Raju Das, head of Hanumangadhi temple in the town of Ayodhya, however, said that such incidents should not be looked at through a sectarian lens.

“Criminals do not have religion or caste. http://mesinpencarinenas.com/ I appeal to all politicians to not look at crime through a Hindu-Muslim lens,” he said, adding that “it is a regrettable incident and raises questions on law and order situation in the state”.

“There are still so many mafias in the state. But they should not be killed like this, they should be kept in jail so they should realise their sins.”

Maharashtra: Twelve die of heatstroke at Indian award event

Heatwave deaths
Image caption,Opposition leaders have alleged that the event was badly managed

Twelve people have died from heatstroke while many others have been admitted to hospital after attending an awards ceremony in India’s Maharashtra state.

The government-sponsored event took place in an open ground under a blazing sun and lasted for several hours.

Thousands of people attended Sunday’s event, which was held to felicitate a prominent social activist.

Many people complained of dehydration and other heat-related ailments after attending the function.

Navi Mumbai – a city close to financial hub Mumbai – where the event was held, recorded a maximum temperature of 38C (100F) on Sunday. Health experts have advised people to stay out of the sun during the peak heat hours of 11am to 4pm, especially during April, which is considered to be one of the hottest months in India.

Photos of the event show thousands sitting directly under the sun, with no roof or covering providing any kind of shelter.

Officials told the media that refreshments had been provided at the venue through the day and that booths had been set up to provide medical aid to people, but opposition parties alleged that the event was mismanaged and that it should not have been held at this time of the year.

The event was organised at the Kharghar International Corporate Park grounds to confer an award on social worker Dattatreya Narayan Dharmadhikari, popularly known as Appasaheb Dharmadhikari.

It was attended by top politicians, including India’s Home Minister Amit Shah and leaders from the state’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Local media reported that hundreds of thousands of people attended the event and that it went on for over three hours. Numerous people complained of dehydration, high blood pressure and exhaustion, while close to two dozen people were admitted to hospital.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde called the incident “unexpected and painful” and announced 500,000 rupees ($6,102; £4,913) as compensation to the families of each of the deceased. He said the government would provide free treatment to those who fell ill during the event.

Opposition leaders have accused the government of jeopardising people’s lives. Former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said the event had “not been planned properly” and called for an investigation.

Congress spokesperson Atul Londhe Patil accused the state government of negligence and said people had died because the event was held in April.

India recorded it’s hottest February since 1901 this year, http://outbackball.com/ and the country’s weather department has also forecasted an “enhanced probability” of heatwaves between March and May.

Global Pharma: FDA says India firm linked to US eye drop deaths broke safety norms

A woman using eye drops
Image caption,The eye drops were made in India and imported to the US under the brand names EzriCare Artificial Tears and Delsam Pharma’s Artificial Tears

The Indian manufacturer of eye drops linked to three deaths and serious infections in the US violated several safety norms, the country’s top regulator has said.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a report last week after inspecting Global Pharma’s plant in India’s Chennai city.

The firm recalled the drops in February after a recommendation from the FDA.

The FDA had also stopped imports of the products.

The eye drops – made in India by Global Pharma and imported to the US under two brand names, EzriCare Artificial Tears and Delsam Pharma’s Artificial Tears – were linked to a deadly outbreak of drug-resistant infections in the US

In addition to the deaths, eight patients suffered vision loss, and four had their eye surgically removed, the BBC reported in March.

“To the greatest extent possible, we have been contacting customers to advise them against continued use of the product,” EzriCare Artificial Tears said on its website in February .

The company said it marketed the eye drops, but had no role in the “actual manufacturing” of the product.

While the product recall was initially for the eye drops called EzriCare Artificial Tears Lubricant and Delsam Pharma Artificial Tears Lubricant, it was later expanded to include an eye ointment marketed by Delsam Pharma as well.

The FDA conducted an 11-day inspection of the Global Pharma plant in India from 20 February, and said in its report that it observed several violations related to sterilisation and hygiene.

This included a “black, brown coloured greasy deposit” on a bowl; several parts of the sterile manufacturing area such as doors and handles were not cleaned properly.

The FDA report also said that surfaces that came into contact with the drug packaging “were not cleaned, sanitised, decontaminated, or sterilised”.

The BBC has emailed Global Pharma for comment.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that the CDC was concerned the bacteria could gain a foothold in the US healthcare system.

“I think we are going to see the impact of this play out over the course of months to years,” Maroya Walters, lead investigator for the CDC’s antimicrobial resistance team, told the NYT.

The CDC had earlier advised anyone who used the recalled products and was experiencing symptoms to contact a doctor. The symptoms included yellow, green, or clear discharge from the eye, discomfort or pain, redness, blurry vision and increased sensitivity to light.

In recent months, many Indian firms have come under scrutiny for the quality of their drugs, with experts raising concerns about the manufacturing practices used to make these medicines.

In March, India’s drug regulator cancelled the manufacturing licence of Marion Biotech, whose cough syrups were linked to 18 child deaths in Uzbekistan.

The World Health Organization http://pembangkitkuku.com/ also issued an alert last October linking four Indian-made cough syrups to child deaths in The Gambia. India later said that the medicines complied with specifications when tested at home, but the WHO responded that it stood by “the action taken”.

Arunachal Pradesh: India rejects China’s attempt to rename disputed places

Indian Army soldiers of the Gorkha Regiment carry weapons as they walk through snow, along the India-China border at the height of 16,000ft near Tawang,some 580km from Itanagar, state capital of Arunachal Pradesh,
Image caption,India and China share a de-facto border, parts of which are located in Arunachal Pradesh

India has reacted sharply to China’s attempts to rename places in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh and said it “outright rejects” the move.

The state has been and will always be an “integral and inalienable part of India,” foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Tuesday.

His comments came after reports said that China had renamed 11 places along a disputed Himalayan border region in the state.

Beijing has not yet commented.

China and India share a disputed 3,440km (2,100 mile) long de facto border – called the Line of Actual Control, or LAC – which is poorly demarcated. The presence of rivers, lakes and snowcaps means the line can shift.

China continues to stake claim on the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, calling it “South Tibet”.

The soldiers on either side – representing two of the world’s largest armies – come face to face at many points, the last time being in December when Indian and Chinese troops clashed along the border in the town of Tawang.

This is also not the first time that Beijing has renamed places in the state, triggering angry reactions from India.

The latest tensions began after the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs on 1 April announced that it had “standardised some geographical names in southern Tibet”.

This included mountain peaks, residential areas, rivers and a town close to the state’s capital Itanagar.

India said Beijing could not alter the status of places in the north-eastern state.

“This is not first time China has made such an attempt. We reject this outright,” Mr Bagchi said in a statement.

“Arunachal Pradesh is an integral, inalienable part of India. And attempts to assign invented names will not alter this reality,” he added.

Beijing first sought to rename six districts in Arunachal Pradesh in 2017 in a move that was seen as “retaliation” for a visit by the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan spiritual leader had visited the region earlier that year in April.

It released a second list in http://belahsamping.com/ December last year, this time renaming 15 places in the region. India reacted strongly and said it rejected the changes.