Thursday 31 August 2017

Saving pets is paramount for many fleeing tropical storm Harvey

When Joe Garcia spotted a rescue boat on Monday outside his flooded home in Spring, a suburb north of Houston, he pushed a plastic tub of his belongings through chest-high water and loaded it on the boat. Then he returned to his home to grab one more prized possession: Heidi, his German shepherd.

Mr. Garcia, his body soaked, carried Heidi through the rising floodwaters, making sure her head stayed dry, and lifted her to safety on a volunteer’s fishing boat. They were whisked away in a moment captured by a photographer with The Associated Press.

Joe Garcia carried his dog, Heidi, from his flooded home in Spring, Tex., on Monday.
Credit David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Over the past several days, Tropical Storm Harvey has unleashed breathtaking amounts of rain in the Houston area, paralyzing the region and transforming streets into fast-moving rivers. Thousands of people have been displaced, with many still waiting to be rescued.

When people are plucked to safety, they often take with them the clothes on their backs and the few possessions they can carry. For many people, that includes taking their pets, hoisting them onto boats and into high-water vehicles before riding together to dry ground.

But that is not always the case. Many pets have been left behind, abandoned in homes, chained to trees and left for strangers and animal shelters to round up and rescue. And some animals such as cattle were simply too big to move before Harvey arrived.

But Winston and Baxter, a West Highland terrier and a Shih Tzu, were never going to leave Belinda Penn’s side. The floodwaters began to seep through the exterior doors of her home in Spring on Sunday afternoon and started to fill up the first floor.

Belinda Penn held her dogs, Winston and Baxter, after being rescued from their home in Spring on Monday. Credit David J. Phillip/Associated Press

She and her husband, Scott, grabbed the dogs and retreated to their second floor. The family was upended, but Winston and Baxter had their crates and food on the second floor. It did not matter, though, Ms. Penn said. They were too nervous to eat.

Around 11 a.m. on Monday, a neighbor told the Penns that a rescue boat was on the way. They loaded garbage bags with clothes and dog food, and carried the dogs through the water. On Monday night, they had reached Ms. Penn’s mother’s apartment in the suburb of the Woodlands.

“Every situation is different, but for us, it was not an option to leave our pets behind,” Ms. Penn said. “They are my best friends.”

Other animals were not as fortunate.

A woman in Corpus Christi said on Twitter that she took in her neighbor’s dog left in the backyard. A photographer for The Daily Mail rescued a dog he found chained to a pole in Victoria, waters rising around him, the paper reported. In Dickinson, a CNN reporter spotted two retrievers abandoned in a boat.

In San Antonio, the city’s Animal Care Services Department had taken in about 200 displaced animals as of Monday afternoon. More were on the way.

Rescued dogs were being held in rows of cages in an air-conditioned warehouse east of downtown San Antonio. Cats, for their own peace of mind, were taken to a separate location.

“Our commitment is for as long as it takes and as long as the nation needs our help,” Heber Lefgren, the department’s director, said in an interview.

A dog named Smegel tended to her nursing pups on Sunday at an emergency shelter in San Antonio created for displaced pets from the Gulf Coast. She and her pups arrived Friday and were in the care of San Antonio Animal Care Services, along with 200 other dogs and cats displaced by flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey. Credit Staci Semrad

Some animals already in the shelter’s care before the storm were expected to be flown to animal centers in other states to make room for displaced pets from Harvey. On Tuesday morning, the first flight full of dogs and cats is scheduled to depart San Antonio for New Jersey. On Wednesday, a flight will head to Seattle.

“There’s a likelihood that this could go on for weeks, because as the waters recede, they are going to be finding more and more pets that are displaced,” said Kim Alboum, a director at the Humane Society of the United States, which was organizing the flights.

Pets were also helping rescuers track down people who were stuck in their homes. Marty Lancton and another firefighter in Houston were driving people to rescue in a boat in southwestern Houston when he spotted two dogs on a roof.

“Something didn’t sit right,” Mr. Lancton said, describing why it caught his attention.

The firefighters, their boat already crowded as they ran rescues, pulled closer to the home and soon saw a message on the glass of the front door: “Help.”

“We backed up the boat — the water was almost halfway to three-quarters of the way up the house — we busted the window, tried to call for somebody and the homeowner was in the garage,” said Mr. Lancton, the president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.

He said he never found out why the dogs were put on the roof. Maybe there was no room in the house. Maybe they were there to catch someone’s attention.

“Either way, it worked,” Mr. Lancton said.

(Source: NYT)

I’m turning 40 without a partner, children or parents – and I’m free

Leading an unusual life has its perks. It is highly unusual to lack parents, a partner and kids at my age. But what I am trying to embrace at 40 is this sense of being radically free, writes Steven W Thrasher in the Guardian. Read on: 

I turn 40 years old today. If I live about as long as my relatives have, this means my life is probably more than half over. There’s nothing unusual about turning 40; people do it all the time. But unlike many of my friends, I “lack” three things at this stage of my life: parents, a partner and children.

That my mom, dad and stepmother all died when I was in my twenties doesn’t exactly make me a helpless orphan. Still, I was much younger than almost anyone I know to lose all of my parents. It still makes me a little weird even at 40 to be nobody’s child. But I am certainly not unusual in being single; most adults in the US now are not married. And not having kids isn’t so odd considering my sexual history as a gay man.

But it is highly unusual to lack parents and a partner and kids at my age.

Judging from Facebook, I am also “lacking” a lot of other things people 40 years old are “supposed” to have – most notably a home mortgage, a car loan and pictures of my kids’ accomplishments. I have none of these things.

Having moved to New York City when I was 17, I have never owned a house or a car. Not having financial dependents, and not owning big things, makes me relatively financially unattached, though not rich. (As an unmarried person and as a renter, I pay higher taxes; and as most American households need two incomes to get by, I have to work both of those jobs myself.)

Yet “lacking” all these things, I am not unhappy – far from it – even though being unattached from the financial and relational expectations so many have makes me suspect.

Leading my unusual life at 40 has its perks. My life is interesting. I travel the world. I read, write, teach and think for a living. I get to meet people in jails, at academic conferences and in classrooms. I’ve experienced the uprising and the teargas of the Black Lives Matter in Ferguson, Baltimore and New York. I went to the White House correspondents’ dinner with Gary the dog and his human, Carrie Fisher. I’ve hiked the Rockies, the Alps and the Himalayas and have backpacked in pre-dawn darkness to watch the sunrise on Angkor Wat and Taj Mahal.

 ‘This freedom can create a sense of being unmoored, but it contains great potential.’ Photograph: Steven Thrasher
I even got to start a PhD when I was 37, which has let me head into middle age as a college student – and to do so with all the knowledge I wish I’d had 20 years ago during my first time on campus.

My life is often fun, but I’m aware of how transient it is. Everyone’s life is fleeting, but I feel that I might be more aware of the liminal state of life than some of my more “stable” peers.

Still, I am far from alone. I have beautiful, close friends. “Lacking” certain relationships allows me to be flexible and available. I can show up for my friends when they need someone – especially when they are getting divorced and need a place to crash, or when they enter hospice. (I’ve gone through hospice with so many people now, the end of life doesn’t frighten me.)

I have lovers, meeting men in the far-flung reaches of the planet wherever our paths intersect. Sometimes I only know lovers briefly, but sometimes there’s a spark to an emotional or intellectual relationship which lasts for the rest of our days.

I have great relationships with readers and with other writers – and with my teachers and students.

Friends confide in me – sometimes about things they can’t talk to their own spouses about. And despite not having my own kids, I have relationships with lots of kids. (Everyone is always having kids, so there are always babies and kids around to befriend.) Sometimes these kids can talk to Uncle Steven about things they can’t talk to their parents about.

I get to commune with my siblings, and I got to be with my sister Sharron (who did not have a parent, partner or children either) in her final weeks of life.

And I have gotten to be deeply involved with religious, intellectual, spiritual and intentional communities – including a monastic Christian commune in France, those dusty Burners in Nevada, an annual retreat of queer people of color in California and the American Sociological Association.

The depth of many of these relationships wouldn’t be as possible if I was in more “traditional” relationships. But many of the ways I relate to others aren’t highly valued by the society. 

This is bizarre considering that, as we hit 40, many of my single friends seem much happier and fulfilled than most of my married friends. Many (not all) of my married friends, gay and straight, seem like they are stuck in a script they had to follow. Many seem to feel regret or wonder about what might have been.

This isn’t true for most of my single friends or me. We are largely still seeking and exploring (and often improvising) what the story of the script is. Opportunity still feels before us. We get to discover new authors and look at new art. And when Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter or Hurricane Sandy relief or the Trump resistance need our help, we have more space to dedicate to loving one another, ourselves and our community than many of my married friends.

This freedom can create a sense of being unmoored, but it contains great potential. We get to dream big, radical political dreams and work toward making them real without worrying about a mortgage. We get to risk loving in many ways, getting hurt and loving again.

I do miss my parents and wish they were still around, though I am lucky that I get to write about them often. But since I can’t wish them back, I celebrate the freedom I have.

I love that there will be new first kisses, and that I’ll get to experience the thrill of touching someone’s hand (or waking up next to them) for the first time. I love that I am radically free to spend time with friends in the hospital, and that I’ll perhaps get to reunite with old lovers as friends or lovers once more.

And this is what I am trying to embrace at 40 – this sense of being radically free.

Mumbai rains: Mumbaikars, here are all the helplines you need

In the coming hours, Mumbai could receive showers similar to those that brought the city to its knees in 2005, the weatherman says. Mumbaikars, here are some helpline numbers that could be of great use to you.

Heavy rains lashed Mumbai today, leaving several areas of Maximum City waterlogged, and affecting road and rail traffic. The Disaster Management Unit of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has warned Mumbaikars of more rainfall in the next 24 hours, and advised them against leaving their homes "unless required."

The Devendra Fadnavis administration ordered all its offices to allow employees to leave early. The chief minister visted the State Disaster Management Control room to take stock of the situation.

In the coming hours, Mumbai could receive showers similar to those that brought the city to its knees in 2005, the weatherman says. That year, the city was battered by the heaviest rainfall recorded in Indian history. 108 people were killed in two days: 25 drowned after being trapped in their cars, and another 190 were feared buried in landslides.

Mumbaikars, as you brace for more rains, take a look at some helpline numbers that could be of great use to you.

Mumbai Police: 100, or contact on Twitter (@MumbaiPolice)
Mumbai police wireless: 22633319
Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) helpline number: 1916
Central Complaint Registration System: 1916
Disaster Management Control Rooms: 22704403, 22694725, 22694727, 22694719
Disaster Helpline: 108
Civil Defence: 22856435
Nodal officers of BMC during disasters
Chief Fire Officer: 23074923, 23076111
Chief Medical Superintendent: 26406787, 26420131
Chief Officer, DMP & CCRS: 22694727, 22694725


(Source: India Today)

Australia gets its first female Anglican archbishop

Australia has its first female Anglican archbishop with Kay Goldsworthy to lead the church in WA.
The Archbishop-elect replaces Roger Herft, who stood down from the top job after admitting he let down survivors of child sexual abuse during Royal Commission hearings last year.

Archbishop-elect Goldsworthy is currently Bishop of Gippsland in Victoria, and was previously an Assistant Bishop of Perth.

She was among the first women in Australia to be ordained as a priest and the first woman to be consecrated as a bishop.

Raised in Melbourne, Archbishop-elect Goldsworthy is married and has twin adult sons.

She was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia this year for her service to religion through the Anglican Church. She is a former chaplain of Perth girls’ school Perth College.
Australia's first female Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy in 2008.Picture: John Mokrzycki /WA News
The Anglican church in Perth has effectively been without a leader since December when Archbishop Herft announced his retirement a year ahead of schedule amid pressure over his handling of historic abuse cases in the Newcastle diocese, where he was Bishop between 1993 and 2005.

At the time, Archbishop Herft was the highest-ranking casualty of the Royal Commission into institutional abuse.

Former Perth Anglican Archbishop Roger Herft last year.Picture: Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian
In July The West Australian revealed how Anglican priests were left demanding answers after it was revealed the church spent almost $500,000 defending Archbishop Herft after it was realised insurance policies would not cover legal fees as had been thought.

(Source: The West)

Tokyo Camii: Japan’s biggest mosque

There are around 80 mosques in Japan, many of them relatively small. The country’s biggest place of Islamic worship is Tokyo Camii, which has space for around 1,200 worshipers. has a wonderful article with some great pictures of this this magnificent Ottoman-style mosque in the heart of the Japanese capital. Read on: 

In the heart of a quiet residential area in Yoyogi Uehara, just a short distance from the bustling city-center hotspots of Shinjuku and Harajuku, is a building whose towering minaret and impressive dome make it stand out from the surrounding architecture.

The minaret of Tokyo Camii against the backdrop of the Shinjuku skyline (right). From this arched balcony (left), the muezzin makes the call to prayer (“azan”). (Photo on the right courtesy of Tokyo Camii.)
This is Tokyo Camii, the largest mosque in Japan, built in impressive Ottoman style. The English word “mosque” and its cognates in other European languages derive ultimately from the Arabic masjid, meaning “place where one bows one’s head.” Mosques can be found throughout Japan’s major cities—a fact that in itself is likely to come as a surprise to most Japanese people, who remain largely unaware of these pockets of Islamic culture thriving in their midst.

Camii is a Turkish word derived from the Arabic jami, and refers to a central “congregational mosque”—a major mosque where people gather for Friday prayers, the most important of the week. Tokyo Camii, the largest mosque in Japan, is architecturally similar to the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

Apart from water, concrete, and steel, all the building materials and furnishings used in the mosque were brought from Turkey. Around a hundred Turkish artisans worked for a year to build the second-story mosque itself and the cultural center downstairs. The building itself is a work of art.

In the morning and early afternoon, the sunlight comes streaming through the stained glass windows, enveloping the interior of the mosque in an atmospheric light. Because of strict prohibitions against idolatry, the mosque depends on Arabic calligraphy and geometric designs for its interior decoration. The dome represents the wide expanse of God’s created universe.
A verse from the Koran in Arabic calligraphy.

In many Turkish-style mosques, the roof of the dome is inscribed with Arabic calligraphy depicting the names of God (Allah), the Prophet Muhammad, and his four successors.

According to Islamic tradition, there are 99 names for God. These include “Al-Muhyi” (The Giver of Life); “Al-Khaliq” (The Creator), and “Ar-Rahman” (The Exceedingly Compassionate). The holy “most beautiful names” of God are written in beautifully flowing Arabic calligraphy on the walls of the mosque. In front of this is the minbar, the pulpit from which the imam delivers his sermon to the faithful during Friday prayers.

Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day. The most important prayers take place early on Friday afternoon, when large numbers of people attend the mosque. The faithful prostrate themselves in the direction of Mecca. The Muslim style of prayer, with everyone on the same level, symbolizes that all people are equal in the eyes of God, regardless of race or social status. Women pray in a separate section of the mosque.

The Russian Revolution and Japan’s First Mosque
The roots of Tokyo Camii are in Central Asia.

Nurullah Ayaz, imam of the Tokyo Camii mosque, came to Japan in summer 2012,
after studying Japanese for five years at university in Turkey.
He emphasizes the “many points in common between the
Japanese national character and the conduct expected of a Muslim.”

“Unfortunately, for much of Japanese history there was no direct contact with the Islamic world,” says Nurullah Ayaz, the imam at Tokyo Camii.

“It was only in the twentieth century that a Muslim community first established itself in Japan. The first mosque in Tokyo was built by Tartars who came to Japan as refugees after the Russian Revolution in 1917. They were a Turkic group originally from Central Asia, who came to Japan via Siberia and China. As Muslims, the first thing they wanted to do in Japan was to build a school for their children and to establish a mosque where the community could pray. These Muslims received permission from the Japanese government in 1928, and the school opened in 1935. The first mosque was completed three years later, in 1938.”

(Left) The school in Tokyo for Muslim children, which opened in 1935. There are plans to demolish the school, which is starting to show its age, and build a new Turkish culture center on the site. (Right) The original Tokyo mosque, built in 1938—the precursor to today’s Tokyo Camii. The original mosque was demolished in 1986, and the current structure was completed in 2000.

Islam and Japan: Closer Than You Think
Friday prayers at Tokyo Camii are well attended by a growing congregation, most of them foreign-born. With the recent increase in the number of Muslims from Southeast Asia in particular, the Friday sermon is now given in Turkish, Japanese, and English rather than Arabic.

Despite a widespread image in Japan of Islam as a “desert religion” with its roots in the culture of Arabia and the Middle East, Egypt is the only Arabic-speaking country among the world’s five most populous Muslim countries, ranking fifth—behind Indonesia (250 million), Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, in that order. In this sense, it would be no exaggeration to say that Islam is already on Japan’s doorstep.

Imam Nurullah says he wants Japanese people to feel comfortable and welcome in the country’s mosques.

“We try to give visitors a simple explanation about Islam. We give them a quick run-down on the etiquette when visiting a mosque. For example, women cover their head with a scarf (called a hijab) before they enter the mosque. We have head cloths available at the entrance for people to cover their hair and any exposed skin. Men cannot enter the mosque in short trousers that expose the legs. And people should refrain from conversation while prayers are in progress. Photography is not allowed without special permission. Otherwise, there aren’t really any rules that people need to worry about.”
One courtesy that Nurullah does want people to follow is to respect people at prayer by not cutting across in front of them. “The idea is that there should be nothing between you and Allah when you are praying. Cutting across people is tantamount to breaking that connection between the worshiper and Allah.”

The reception room on the first floor, near the entrance to Tokyo Camii, is similar to the interior of a Turkish home. The central fountain and impressive tulip-motif tiled fireplace are typically Turkish.

The multi-purpose hall on the first floor, where lectures on Islam are held, along with various events and parties.

Muslims wash their face, hands, and feet in these ablution areas to purify themselves before prayer.

Met at Tokyo Camii
We talked to several visitors to the mosque.

Aromatherapist Okabe Yoshiko (left) says she has wanted to visit the mosque for some time, since she often passes it on her walks around the neighborhood. For some reason people often speak to her on their way out of the mosque, and today she decided to stop in and have a look around.

“Unfortunately, today’s Japan is cut off from the universe. Coming to a sacred place like a mosque steadies the spirit. Your heart becomes calm and at one with the universe.”

Nasser from France (center) was visiting Japan from Dubai, where he now works. “I found out about Tokyo Camii on the Internet. As well as Tokyo, I’ve also visited Kyoto and Hiroshima. Everywhere’s been great. I was especially moved by the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima. I think Japan is a particularly spiritual country. People are kind and respectful of the values of others; everything feels very natural.”

Sagawa Nobuko (right) is an Arabic calligrapher. She was struck as a young girl by the calligraphy on the flag of Saudi Arabia, and resolved to study Arabic calligraphy.

This group of students from Atomi University was visiting the mosque as part of a cultural studies program. “Islam is a religion where God has no form, and there’s nothing like the Buddhist images one sees in a Japanese temple,” one student said. “It’s a religion where there is direct dialogue between the individual and God. That’s one of the things that really made an impression on me during my visit today.”

Wednesday 30 August 2017

A look at international marriage in Japan

The number of international marriages in Japan rose rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s, peaking at over 40,000 in 2006. Since then, the number has been decreasing, and now averages around 20,000 per year. Despite this decline, interest in international marriage remains strong in Japan, as reflected in popular books and TV programs, says an article on Read on: 

Trends for International Marriages
According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, 21,488 of the 660,613 marriages registered in Japan in 2013 were between a Japanese and foreign national. This works out to be 1 in every 30 newlywed couples. Although international marriages remain a small fraction of overall figures, such unions did increase significantly during the past half century. In 1965, there were only 4,156 international marriages, but the number rose steadily in the following decades, climbing to 20,000 by the late 1980s and then to 30,000 in 1999. The number peaked at 44,701 in 2006 and has fallen dramatically in the ensuing years, tumbling by nearly half to the level of around 20,000 in 2011. While the pace of decline has slowed, the trend remains gradually downward.

The drop in international unions from 6.11% of all marriages in 2006 to 3.25% in 2013 cannot be attributed solely to an overall decline in the number of people marrying. While annual marriage figures have trended down over the last decade, after peaking in 2006 at 730,971, they did in fact see a slight uptick in 2008 prior to decreasing again.

The Impact of New Immigration Rules
Changes made to the Immigration Control Act in 2005 have been pointed to as a prime cause for the decline in international marriages. The revisions were introduced to improve public safety by tightening requirements for certain types of visas. This has made it harder for Filipino women, who account for a significant percentage of foreign spouses, to obtain entertainment visas allowing them to live and work in the country. The resulting decline in Philippine nationals coming to Japan to work has limited opportunities for Japanese men to meet potential marriage partners, pushing down overall figures for international unions.

According to the health ministry statistics, there were 5,771 marriages in 1992 between Japanese men and Filipino women. In 2006 this number grew to 12,150, but began declining steadily following the revision of the immigration law, dropping to 3,118 in 2013. Another factor affecting figures for international unions is the increased efforts by the government to crack down on fake marriages involving Chinese women.

Interest in Foreign Spouses High
Although international marriages in Japan have steadily decreased over the past few years, they still remain a significant percentage of unions in Japan. Some experts point to this fact as well as the significant number of Japanese marrying foreign nationals overseas as proof that international marriages are rapidly becoming a normal aspect of society.
The stars of NHK morning TV drama Massan: Tamayama Tetsuji plays the whisky
brewer Kameyama Masaharu and the American actress Charlotte Kate Fox portrays
his Scottish wife Ellie. (© Jiji)

There continues to be strong interest among Japanese in the topic of international marriage. An abundance of Internet sites exist to help potential suitors find foreign spouses. And there have also been TV programs regularly aired that focus on the lives of international couples. Japan’s public broadcasting company, NHK, is currently running a morning TV drama titled Massan that tells the story of a Japanese-Scottish couple’s efforts to establish a whisky distillery in Japan. The story is based on the lives of Nikka Whisky founder Taketsuru Masataka and his Scottish wife Rita. At the end of each episode, a photograph appears on screen featuring an international couple under the heading: “Happily Married International Couples.” Books featuring Japanese married to foreign spouses, such as Wade Mika’s My Sweet Husband is British, have also become much sought after items, with publishers releasing new works regularly.

Chinese Women Top Marriage Partners
In 2013, there were 15,442 international marriages involving a foreign bride, compared to 6,046 where the groom was non-Japanese. A large number of the foreign women wedding Japanese nationals were from neighboring Asian countries. Chinese were the overwhelming majority of marriage partners at 6,253, or 40.4% of all female spouses; Filipino women were second with 3,118 brides, followed by 2,734 Korean spouses.
Actress Terajima Shinobu with her French husband Laurent Ghnassia. © Jiji.

Koreans were the most popular marriage partners for Japanese women, with 1,689 unions, or 27.9% of all male spouses. American men were second, at 1,158, followed by 718 Chinese spouses. The high percentage of Korean nationals as marriage partners is due in part to the large number of ethnic Koreans, who were born in Japan but retain South or North Korean citizenship. The data also shows that Japanese women have a stronger tendency than their male counterparts to marry partners from the United States or European countries.

Tuesday 29 August 2017

We are considered pious but we live as prostitutes: Sadhvi's letter that nailed Ram Rahim

Read the full text of the letter anonymously written by the sadhvi who had been raped by Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim. This letter led to conviction of Ram Rahim 15 years later.

Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim has been boastful of his political connections and absolute power. He used to tell his followers that he was the most powerful and equal to God.
Ram Rahim unleashed a reign of terror at the Dera Sacha Sauda. But, a letter, written anonymously by a sadhvi , brought the Dera empire of Gurmeet Ram Rahim down.

Fifteen years after the letter was written, addressed to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Gurmeet Ram Rahim was convicted by a CBI court. Ram Rahim is currently lodged in the Rohtak jail in Haryana.

Here is the full text of the letter under whose the mighty godman of Dera Sacha Sauda crumbled and lost his empire:

Honourable Prime Minister
Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Government of India)

Subject: Request for probe into rape of hundreds of girls by Dera chief (Ram Rahim)

I am a girl hailing from Punjab and I have been serving as a sadhvi at Dera Sacha Sauda, Sirsa (Haryana) for the last five years. There are hundreds of other girls, who serve for 16-18 hours a day at the Dera. We are being physically exploited here. Dera Maharaj Gurmeet Singh rapes girls at the Dera. I am a graduate girl. My family members are blind followers of Maharaj (Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh). I became a sadhvi at my family's bidding.

Two years after I became a sadhvi, Maharaj Gurmeet Singh's close woman-disciple Gurjot told me one night around 10 pm that I had been summoned to 'Gufa' (residence of Gurmeet Ram Rahim). As I was going there for the first time, I was elated that God himself had sent out for me. When I went upstairs, I saw Maharaj sitting on the bed holding a remote control in hand and watching a blue film on TV. Beside his pillow on the bed, lay a revolver. Seeing all this, I was stunned, felt dizziness, and felt as if the earth has moved from beneath my feet. I wondered what at all was happening here.
I had never imagined that Maharaj would be such a person. Maharaj switched off the TV and seated me beside him. He offered me water and said that he had called me because he considered me very dear to him. This was my first day (experience).

Maharaj took me in his arms and said that he loved me from the core of his heart. He also said that he wanted to make love with me. He told me that at the time of becoming his disciple, I had dedicated my wealth, body and soul to him and he had accepted my offering. By this logic, your body is mine now.

When I objected he said, "There is no doubt that I am God." When I asked if God also indulges in such acts, he shot back:

1. Sri Krishna too was God and he had 360 gopis (milkmaids) with whom he staged Prem Lila (love drama). Even then people regarded him as God. This is not a new thing.

2. I can kill you with this revolver and cremate you here. The members of your family are my devoted followers and they have such blind faith in me that they are my slaves. You know it very well that your family members cannot go against me.

3. I have considerable influence in the governments. The chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana, and central Ministers touch my feet. Politicians seek my support and take money from me. They cannot take any action against me. We will get your family members dismissed from government jobs. I will get them killed and wouldn't leave any evidence behind. You know it very well that I had got Dera manager Fakir Chand killed earlier. No one knows anything about him till date. Neither there is any evidence of the murder. By money power, I can buy politicians, police and justice.

Thus, he raped me. For the past three months, my turn comes every 25-30 days. Now, I realise that he has been raping other girls staying with him.

Around 35-40 women living at the Dera are over 35-40 years old and past the marriageable age. They have compromised with their lives at the Dera. Most of the girls are educated and have secured BA, MA, BEd degrees. But they are living a life of hell at the Dera because their family members are fanatic followers. We wear white clothes, cover heads with scarf, forbidden to look at men and keep a distance of 5-10 feet from men as per Maharaj's commands.

We appear like devis (pious women), but our situation is that of prostitutes. I tried once to tell my family members that all was not well at the Dera. But, they got angry with me saying that if God's company is not worth enjoying then which place would be. It seems your mind has become corrupt, recite the name of satguru (the real teacher), they told me.  I am helpless. I have to obey every command of the Maharaj.

No girl is permitted to talk to another. As per the commands of the Maharaj, girls are not permitted to talk to their families even over telephone. If a girl talks about the reality of the Dera, she is punished under the commands of the Maharaj. Just a few days ago, a Bathinda girl spoke about the wrongdoings of the Maharaj, she was thrashed by women-disciples. She is still bed-ridden at her home due to this assault. Her father has left his service as a sevadar (servant of Dera). She is not telling anyone anything for the fear of Maharaj.

Similarly, a girl from Kurukshetra district has also left the Dera and went back home. When she narrated her sufferings at the Dera to her family, her brother who worked as a sevadar, gave up his job. When a Sangrur girl left the Dera, went home and narrated the wrongdoings at the Dera to the people, the Dera's armed sewadar hooligans visited the girl's home and threatened to kill her. They warned her not to tell anyone anything about the Dera.

Similarly, girls from Mansa, Ferozepur, Patiala and Ludhiana districts (of Punjab) have gone back home and are keeping mum as they have threat to their lives. Same is the fate of girls from Sirsa, Hissar, Fatehabad, Hanumangarh and Meerut who are not uttering a word due to muscle power of the Dera goondas.

If I reveal my name (and) my address, my family and I will be killed. I can't keep quiet and I also don't want to die, but I want to expose the reality (of Dera). If a probe is conducted by the press or some government agency, 40 to 45 girls - living in utmost fear at the Dera -, if they are convinced, are willing to tell the truth.

Our medical examination should be conducted so that our guardians and the people would know whether we are still celibate disciples or not. If we are no longer virgins, it should be probed as to who violated our chastity. The truth will then come out that Maharaj Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of Sacha Sauda has ruined our lives.

(Source: India Today)

The evolution of the Japanese animation industry

In recent years, Japanese animation has become popular around the world. Industry veteran Yamaguchi Yasuo, who has been involved in anime production for half a century, traces the history of Japanese animation, from its birth to today, on Read on: 

The Dawn of Japanese Anime
Japan began producing animation in 1917—still the age of silent films—through trial-and-error drawing and cutout animation techniques, based on animated shorts from France and the United States. People started talking about the high quality of Japanese “manga films.” But Japanese anime were costlier to produce than Western animations and were overshadowed by the popularity of Disney cartoons. They faced an uphill battle from the start.

One of the things that helped them find their niche was anime production for public relations and publicity campaigns by public institutions. Domestic anime production was beginning to develop a small but solid foundation when Tokyo and the surrounding area suffered catastrophic damage in the Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923. The anime industry was forced to start over from scratch.
The industry continued to struggle, unable to respond adequately to successive innovations, including the appearance of the first talkies in 1929 and color film in 1932. During this period, Ōfuji Noburō won international acclaim for Bagudajō no tōzoku (The Thief of Baguda Castle), which he made by cutting and pasting chiyogami (Japanese colored paper). His film is remembered as the first to make its presence felt outside Japan.

Many other promising anime artists appeared one after another, but with war approaching, goods were in extremely short supply as the national mood turned militaristic. Even film was not easy to get hold of. It was in this context that the first full-length theatrical film in the history of Japanese anime was released. Momotarō: Umi no shinpei (Momotarō’s Divine Sea Warriors, B&W, 74 minutes), produced by the navy, came out just before the end of the war. This was a propagandistic film designed to lift morale and commitment to the war effort.

Soon after the war ended, the General Headquarters of the Allied occupation (GHQ) brought together 100 anime artists in the bombed-out ruins of Tokyo to form the Shin Nihon Dōgasha, or New Japan Animation Company. The aim was to make it easier to spread occupation policies by having the artists produce anime in praise of democracy. However, many of the artists were fiercely independent and territorial, and the company was riven by disagreements from the outset. The project strayed off course, and eventually disbanded. Even GHQ threw in the towel. It seemed the switch from militarism to democracy was not going to be so easy.

The Start of Tōei Dōga (Now Tōei Animation)
It was during these years, as Japan began to recover from the disastrous war, that Ōkawa Hiroshi, president of the Tōei film company, saw Disney’s Snow White (1937). He was overwhelmed by the gorgeous color of the film. In 1956, he built a modern studio—a white-walled palace with air conditioning, as people called it—and founded Tōei Dōga (now Tōei Animation). His ambition: to become “the Disney of the East.”
Tōei Dōga’s first full-length film, Hakujaden, was released in October 1958.
It was based on a Chinese tale. Miyazaki Hayao, who saw the f
ilm during a break from studying for his college entrance exams,
was astonished by its quality. © Tōei

Tōei Dōga chose Hakujaden (The Legend of the White Snake) as their first film. They sent a research team to the United States and invited several experts to travel to Japan as mentors. As a result, they were able to master the Disney system of “assembly-line production.” They hired a team of new employees who honed their skills while they produced the film under the supervision of veteran animators like Mori Yasuji and Daikuhara Akira.

With jobs hard to come by in the postwar Japan, the new company was able to attract an outstanding team of young talent happy to work for relatively low starting salaries. It was a typical labor-intensive company. However, as the government’s drive to double people’s incomes started to take effect, wages shot up and the company soon found itself in the red. Attendances at the World Masterpiece Fairy Tale Anime Series, a “manga festival” held every year during the springtime school holidays (and, in later years, during the summer vacation as well), were falling. The company’s financial future was uncertain. The labor movement was also gaining momentum, bringing frequent labor disputes and labor-management clashes. Takahata Isao and Miyazaki Hayao, now with Studio Ghibli, began their careers at Tōei Dōga (Takahata entered the company in 1959, Miyazaki in 1963). Both were active members of the labor union, Takahata serving as vice-chairman and Miyazaki as secretary-general.

Tetsuwan Atomu: The First Japanese Television Anime
On January 1, 1963, Fuji Television broadcast a 30-minute animated television series called Tetsuwan Atomu (better known in English as Astro Boy). The show became a surprise hit, starting an anime boom and a period of intense competition for TV audiences. The success marked the beginning of a new kind of anime industry.

The low franchise fees paid to the studio for Tetsuwan Atomu (created by Tezuka Osamu, the president of Mushi Production) meant that the company needed to come up with a way to drastically cut production costs. They ruthlessly cut the number of drawings, trimmed the number of lines in each image to the bare minimum, and took to using more still images. They worked to make the storylines quicker and devised clever ways of simulating movement, from sound effects to the dialogue.

The company offset its losses with copyright income—licensing the rights for the Atom character to their corporate sponsor, confectionary maker Meiji Seika, who used the character on a popular brand of chocolates. When the company still posted a loss, Tezuka decided to invest his own income from manga publishing. It was a generous gesture typical of the man they called the “god of manga.”

The Wilderness Years and the Appearance of a Blockbuster
Merchandising became entrenched as part of the basic business model for all the television anime that followed. The most popular genre dealt with science fiction and space, followed by shows about girls with magical powers. In 1968, the popular baseball-themed Kyojin no hoshi (Star of the Giants) began, followed in 1969 by the first episode of the family drama Sazae-san, which continues to this day as the longest-running series in anime history. But not every series could be a winner, and with a glut on the market competition intensified.

At Tōei Dōga, which continued to run a deficit due to high production costs, labor-management relations deteriorated, leading to a lockout and layoffs in the summer of 1972. Mushi Production went bankrupt in 1973 (although the labor union later took over from Tezuka, the founder, and has led the company until the present day). The anime industry went into recession. Behind this recession were larger economic issues, such as the Nixon Shock in 1971 and the 1973 oil crisis.

When an animated television series ended, the staff was disbanded. Tōei’s seniority-based employment system fell apart, and they switched to a system of performance-based pay. They were required to change to a corporate style that was more compatible with the shrewd programming policies of television stations.

Amidst the recessionary mood of these bleak years, a new work appeared that challenged the idea of anime as simply children’s entertainment. Uchū senkan Yamato (Space Battleship Yamato), released as a TV series in 1974 and a feature film in 1977, became a social phenomenon, tremendously popular with millions of young adults.

The Proliferation of “Japanimation” Fans
Meanwhile, Japanese television anime began to become popular among young people overseas. In some countries, adults rejected it, calling it “Japanimation” and criticizing it as cheap, violent, and sexually explicit. When Kyandi kyandi (Candy Candy) was broadcast in France, young girls were glued to the television screen. Some parents resented this, claiming their children were being corrupted by a strange culture from the Orient. Nevertheless, the anime fan base continues to grow around the world, mostly among young people. Some fans even wonder, “Why can’t our country create works that surpass Japanimation?” Today, “Japanimation” means something quite different from the negative connotations it used to have.

Although the number of television anime gradually recovered after the collapse of the bubble economy in 1992 and the economic slump of the 1990s, the industry as a whole has never recovered the pomp of its golden years. A slump in advertising revenue, dwindling birthrates, and the popularity of alternative forms of entertainment like video games and cell phones have led to sluggish prime time ratings and a decline in the number of anime since the peak in 2006. Although there are fewer anime on the main commercial stations today, other channels have remained anime-friendly: TV Tokyo chief among them, followed by local and regional stations, satellite channels, and other communication systems. Unfortunately, these smaller channels tend to have smaller budgets than the main stations, with predictable consequences for production costs.

The Japanese anime industry is at a turning point. The reality is that many anime production companies are struggling, and have become little more than subcontractors for television stations. The need to improve the status of these companies is foremost among the many issues that need to be addressed if the industry is to continue to develop new talent for the future.

Monday 28 August 2017

Remembering Ram Chander Chhatrapati, the journo who was killed for allegedly exposing Ram Rahim

Ram Chander Chhatrapati was killed on October 23, 2002, allegedly by Nirmal Singh and Kuldeep, who were allegedly Sacha Sauda supporters.

The special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Panchkula today pronounced Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a rape case.

With the news flashing all over, a name, which a very few people might have heard before is flowing on social media. Journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati, who ran a local daily Poora Sacch, was the journalist who exposed the rapes of two women at Dera headquarters in Sirsa in 2002.

Months after Chhatrapati published an anonymous letter giving details about how women were sexually harassed by the godman at Sirsa ashram, was shot from point-blank range right outside his house on October 24, 2002.

Chhatrapati in his newspaper had addressed the anonymous letter to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and heads of several other institutions including the Chief Juctice of Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Ram Chander Chhatrapati 

Ram Chander Chhatrapati highlighted the ‘deeds’ of Ram Rahim in the article. The letter, reportedly written by a woman follower of Baba Ram Rahim, narrated how the Dera chief sexually exploited his women followers at the ashram.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court took note of the letter and directed the then district and sessions judge in Sirsa to order a probe into the matter.

It was after Chhatrapati’s report, that a case was raised against Ram Rahim on December 12, 2002, under Section 376 (rape), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 509 (insult to the modesty of woman) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

According to an Indian Express report, during a resumed hearing in the Ram Chander Chhatrapati murder case in 2011, the CBI had dropped a follower of Dera as a witness.

Chhatrapati was killed on October 23, 2002, allegedly by Nirmal Singh and Kuldeep, who used to work as carpenters.

According to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Dera Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim had ordered the killing of Chhatrapati for publishing news about illegal activities in Dera Sacha Sauda, Sirsa. The CBI also alleged that a scooter and pistol were provided to Nirmal and Kuldeep by Krishan Lal. The pistol is registered in the name of Lal.

(Source: inUth)

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Kabir Khan, Karan Johar top Nepotism Index

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Kabir Khan and Karan Johar score highest among Bollywood directors on the nepotism index

Ever since film actor Kangana Ranaut drew attention to nepotism in Bollywood earlier this year, the issue has continued to attract attention. Hardly any interview with a Bollywood celebrity is complete these days without that customary question on nepotism.

In an attempt to quantify the extent of nepotism in the industry, and to measure how nepotism varies across production houses, Mint has developed a Nepotism Index, based on the share of insiders (those with Bollywood family connections) cast as leads. As the chart below shows, nepotism is prevalent across production houses, with Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment Ltd leading the charts. The production houses of Ajay Devgn and Shah Rukh Khan (Red Chillies Entertainment Ltd) follow close behind.

Nadiadwala Grandson scores the highest on the Nepotism Index

Nadiadwala Grandson
Ajay Devgan Films
Red Chillies Entertainment
Balaji Motion Pictures
Yash Raj Films
Dharma Productions
Fox Star Studios
Excel Entertainment

The analysis of production houses is based on data for 10 large film production houses in the country, which cumulatively accounted for an overwhelming majority of super-hit films over the past five years. Data from was used to arrive at the top 10 revenue-grosser in each year from 2012 to 2016. Once the top production houses were identified, data on leads for the past five years was sourced from the official websites of the production houses.

UTV scores low on the Nepotism Index partly because it co-produces many movies with independent producers and directors. Yash Raj Films Pvt. Ltd has a low score thanks to its subsidiary, Y-films, which has produced films such as Mere Dad in Maruti and Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge targeted at a younger audience. T-Series Pvt. Ltd appears to be the least nepotistic among the top producers.

The Nepotism Index only serves as a rough gauge of the power of connections in Bollywood. Even though some Bollywood dynasts may have been initially selected for a film role because of their connections, some of them may have flourished in the industry because they have delivered hits, and are seen as bankable stars by producers. Also, stars such as Shah Rukh Khan are technically ‘outsiders’, and have been considered as such in this analysis. But today they wield as much clout as any Bollywood insider.

Given that directors have as much say, if not more, in the casting of leads, it also makes sense to look at the Nepotism Index for leading film directors of Bollywood. The directors considered for the analysis include both big-budget film directors who work for the top production houses, as well as directors such as Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Bharadwaj who lead smaller production houses of their own, and have won critical acclaim for some of their films in recent years.

The analysis shows that Sanjay Leela Bhansali, known for making big-budget films, scores highest on the Nepotism Index. He is followed closely by Kabir Khan (of Ek Tha Tiger and Bajrangi Bhaijaan fame) and Karan Johar, whom Ranaut had criticized for promoting nepotism when she was interviewed by Johar on his talk show Koffee with Karan.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali scores highest on the Nepotism Index for directors

Farah Khan
Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Kabir Khan
Karan Johar
Zoya Akhtar
Rohit Shetty
Rajkumar Hirani
Vishal Bhardwaj
Anurag Kashyap
Imtiaz Ali
Farah Khan

Directors of big-budget films seem to prefer working with insiders or established stars. Their low risk appetite in experimenting with new actors perhaps stems partly from the higher financial stakes involved. In contrast, directors such as Bharadwaj and Kashyap, who typically produce and direct relatively small-budget films, seem to be more comfortable in casting outsiders as their leads.

Kashyap, who has launched actors without Bollywood family connections such as Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Richa Chadda, has among the lowest scores on the Nepotism Index. Only Imtiaz Ali and Farah Khan have scores equal to or lower than him.

There is also a gender aspect to this issue. Male lead actors, who typically play the central, pivotal characters, are more likely to be insiders. With the exception of Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar, most of the other male leads—Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, for instance—come from families with connections to Bollywood. In contrast, the secondary nature of their roles in Bollywood films makes it relatively easier for female outsiders.

Ajay Devgan's production house is the most nepotistic when it comes to male actors

Excel Entertainment
Ajay Devgan Films
Nadiadwala Grandson
Balaji Motion Pictures
Dharma Productions
Yash Raj Films
Fox Star Studios
Red Chillies Entertainment
Excel Entertainment

Shah Rukh Khan's production house is most likely to cast Bollywood insiders as female leads

The chart below shows the share (%) of insiders who played female leads in Bollywood films produced over the period 2012-16 by these ten production houses

Red Chillies Entertainment
Yash Raj Films
Ajay Devgan Films
Nadiadwala Grandson
Excel Entertainment
Fox Star Studios
Balaji Motion Pictures
Dharma Productions

The median share of insiders cast as male leads by the top production houses over the past five years is as high as 40%. For female leads, the median share is relatively lower at 27%.

One important caveat to note is that all industry connections are not exactly equal even though they have been treated as such in the analysis for the sake of simplicity. Both Shreyas Talpade and Kareena Kapoor have been considered as insiders in this analysis. However, Talpade’s level of access, which comes from his two aunts who are actors, cannot be compared to Kapoor’s privilege. Ranveer Singh may appear to be an outsider, but he happens to be Sonam Kapoor’s cousin. Many consider Deepika Padukone, with her familiarity with industry figures, to be as much of an insider as someone from a Bollywood family. Both Padukone and Amitabh Bachchan, son of a renowned Hindi poet, have been considered as outsiders in the analysis, though they are privileged.

That said the broad trends seem to suggest that producers and directors of big-budget films are more likely to be nepotistic. Relying on Bollywood dynasties does not seem to have hurt their top lines, at least so far.

(Source: Live Mint)