Thursday 28 February 2019

Pakistan can’t afford a war with India – unless China comes to its aid

A fifth of India’s population and a third of Pakistan’s live in extreme poverty. Another conflict between the two nations would devastate their economies and lead to people facing destitution

India’s airstrikes against Pakistan-based terror camps, in retaliation for the horrific 14 February suicide attack on Indian troops by Pakistan-based terrorists, threatens to lead the two nuclear weapon neighbours to a conflagration they can ill afford. There are also fears of an Indian government decision to impose a national emergency by citing “external aggression”, threatening the peace, security, stability and governance of the country.

There have been pitched war cries from both sides since the Valentine’s Day Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy in Pulwama, in the terror-ridden border state of Jammu and Kashmir, which claimed the lives of 40 soldiers of the Central Reserve Police Force. JeM claimed responsibility for the carnage that saw a local Kashmiri youth, acting at the behest of the jihadi group, drive into the convoy of buses with an explosive-laden SUV.

Two days later, prime minister Narendra Modi sounded a warning – “We will settle the account in full this time” – and pledged to avenge “each drop of tear shed”, even as India started roping in international support to isolate Pakistan at the world stage and charting a retaliatory action plan. His Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan, addressed India: “If you think you will attack us and we will not think of retaliating… We will retaliate. We all know starting a war is in the hands of humans, where it will lead us only God knows.”

Not only was the terror attack the worst on Indian security forces in the Kashmir valley this decade, India’s retaliatory airstrikes were the first across the line of control frontier since the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971. Both sides have now claimed responsibility for shooting down jets, as Pakistan has confirmed it is closing its airspace.

The sharp exchange prompted US president Donald Trump to tell the media: “Right now between Pakistan and India, there is a very, very bad situation. A very dangerous situation. We would like to see it [hostility] stop.” India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj will today visit China to take part in an India-China-Russia trilateral meeting, to anticipate the response of these powers in case India-Pakistan hostilities escalate. The group is expected to urge India to carry out its “fight against terrorism” through international cooperation.

India and Pakistan have gone to war four times – in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. But another war today would prove mutually disastrous. A fifth of India’s population and a third of Pakistan’s live in extreme poverty, defined as those living on less than $1.90 (£1.43) a day. Not only would such an engagement ravage their economies and lead to civilian destitution, it may draw other global powers into the conflict too, deepening the discord.

While some quarters still predict the conflict can be contained locally, with some cross-border reprisals, that would depend on the two nations working together to avert any outbreak of further hostility by showing sensitivity to its consequences and by marshalling diplomatic interventions by other powers.

Already, Pakistani troops have violated a ceasefire by firing in the Akhnoor, Nowshera and Poonch sectors along the line of control. On the Indian side, movement of soldiers has increased, amid reports of a heavy troop buildup across the border. Flashpoints are erupting across the Indian sub-continent because military posturing is being matched by political grandstanding from the two country’s leaders. Political rhetoric needs to be scaled down on both sides to give peace a chance.

While the Modi regime is hamstrung by electoral pressures, with general elections due in May, Khan will also feel obliged to abide by his promise of retaliation.

There are broader economic issues at play, too. Although Khan promised a “new Pakistan” upon his swearing-in last August, his country is reduced to bankruptcy, with foreign exchange reserves critically inadequate to fund imports beyond a few months. While the country is now banking on an IMF bailout, Trump has warned against capitalising Pakistan in order to help it repay its massive debt to China. Yet the country runs a serious risk of defaulting on its payments without the IMF dole.

To go to war against India, Islamabad will have to look to China. China’s entry into the affray would raise major questions for India, which lacks the military power to wage a war on two fronts for any length of time.

There are those in India who are interpreting the government’s “non-military” pre-emptive action as a political move. The prime minister urged the public at a rally to vote for him to ensure the “safety and security” of their homeland. His ministers, too, upheld the aerial offensive as indicative of a strong and decisive leadership that provided security to all Indians.

With Modi increasingly unsure of re-election, declaring a national emergency could potentially allow a delay to elections, extending the term of the incumbent regime for as long as the emergency continues. 

The altercation between India and Pakistan is fraught with grave consequences. An event of war will physically endanger civilians living along the borders and jeopardise the lives of all Indians and Pakistanis by devastating both country’s economies. Scaling down the rhetoric to come to an understanding is the only way forward.

(Source: Independent)

Pakistan to release Indian pilot captured in Kashmir attacks

Imran Khan says pilot to be freed as ‘peace gesture’ amid rising tensions between nuclear neighbours

Pakistan says it will release a captured Indian pilot as a “peace gesture” between the neighbours amid the gravest military crisis in the subcontinent in two decades.

Imran Khan, the country’s prime minister, told a joint sitting of parliament that the Indian wing commander, Abhi Nandan, who was shot down over the heavily guarded ceasefire line in disputed Kashmir on Wednesday, would be released on Friday

“We have captured an Indian pilot,” Khan said. “As a peace gesture, tomorrow we are going to release him.”

Nandan was shot down on Wednesday during a dogfight in the Himalayan foothills, the first between the countries to be publicly acknowledged for 48 years. It followed tit-for-tat airstrikes this week that have led to the closure of dozens of airports and put major cities on high alert across the subcontinent.

The wreckage of an Indian aircraft after it crashed on Wednesday near Srinagar,
the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Photograph: Javed Dar/Xinhua/Barcroft Images
The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, accused Pakistan of having “evil designs” to stunt India’s growth on Thursday in his first remarks since Nandan was captured and appeared in several prisoner videos released by Islamabad.

Speaking to party workers in a video conference on Thursday, Modi did not respond to an offer of dialogue from Khan, leaving open the possibility of further escalation between the two nuclear-equipped armies.

“The enemy tries to destabilise us, carries out terror attacks,” Modi said. “Their motive is to stop our growth. Today, all countrymen are standing like a rock to counter their evil designs.”

The clashes over the heavily militarised “line of control” that divides Indian and Pakistani-held Kashmir sparked calls for restraint from countries including the US, China, Russia and the UK.

The US president, Donald Trump, who was addressing a press conference in Hanoi at the same time Modi was speaking, hinted that diplomatic efforts had begun behind the scenes.

“They have been going at it and we have been involved,” Trump said. “We have some reasonably decent news, hopefully it’s going to be coming to an end, this has been going on for a long time, decades and decades.”

Leave was cancelled for health workers and police in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and emergency orders were issued in Karachi, while train stations in Delhi were placed on “red alert” as both countries prepared for the possibility of more military attacks.

Pakistani jets struck sites in Indian-controlled territory on Wednesday and shot down one of the Indian planes that scrambled in response, capturing the pilot. Videos of Nandan showed him being interrogated in a bloodied uniform then being beaten by villagers near the crash site. Both were widely shared on WhatsApp and social media.

By late evening, in a video that appeared to be aimed at calming public anger in India, the pilot was shown drinking tea and praising the way he was being treated by his captors, who he said were “thorough gentlemen”.

(Source: The Guardian)

Injured Abhinandan fought captors, fired into air, swallowed imp documents before being captured: Pak media

Pakistani media reports how in the face of grave danger, our fighter pilot didn't panic or lose his mind.

As the country prays for the safe return of IAF braveheart Abhinandan Varthaman, Pakistani media reports how in the face of grave danger, our fighter pilot didn't panic or lose his mind.

Instead, he fought his captors, fired into the air and swallowed important documents (which should not have been in enemy hands), before he was outnumbered and captured.

All this, while he was bleeding profusely after the crash.

Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports: The pilot, who was equipped with a pistol, asked the youngsters whether it was India or Pakistan. On this, one of them intelligently responded that it was India. The pilot, later identified as Wing Commander Abhi Nandan, shouted some slogans and asked which place exactly it was in India. To this, the same boy responded that it was Qilla'n.

The pilot told them that his "back was broken" and he needed water to drink.

Some emotional youth, who could not digest the slogans, shouted Pakistan army zindabad. On this, Abhinandan shot a fire in the air while the boys picked up stones in their hands.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman (Photo:Still from old interview with a TV channel)
According to Mr Razzaq (an eyewitness), the Indian pilot ran a distance of half a kilometre in backward direction while pointing his pistol towards the boys who were chasing him.

During this brisk movement, he fired some more gunshots in the air to frighten them but to no avail, he said. Then he jumped into a small pond where he took out some documents and maps from his pockets, some of which he tried to swallow and soaked others in water.

The boys kept on asking him to drop his weapon and in the meanwhile one boy shot at his leg, Mr Razzaq said.

Even while catering to Pakistani readership that would perhaps not want to read about the bravery of an Indian fighter pilot inside their territory, Dawn reports that Abhinandan said his back was broken while he displayed such valour.

The fact that Abhinandan was perhaps severely injured when his fighter jet crashed could be seen from the videos circulated on social media.

In one, a profusely bleeding Abhinandan is seen trying to get up as men in uniform pull him up and locals hit him and shout slogans.

"The boys got hold of him from both arms. Some of them roughed him up, in a fit of rage, while others kept on stopping them. In the meanwhile, army personnel arrived there and took him into their custody and saved him from the wrath of the youths, he said. Thanks God, none of the furious boys shot him dead because he had given them quite a tough time," Dawn reports.

Read those words again: "He (Abhinandan) had given them quite a tough time."

No wonder even Pakistani handles want Abhinandan to return to India with dignity.

(Source: India Today)

The hairdressers spotting signs of abuse

When Kerri McAuley feared for her life after being attacked by her abusive boyfriend, it was her hairdresser she confided in. She was killed in early 2017. Now, a new campaign to help hairdressers and beauticians spot the signs of domestic abuse has been launched.

It was an appointment hairdresser Annie Reilly still remembers vividly.

"She turned around and said to me, 'I know he's going to kill me'.

"They were words I never thought I'd hear any of my clients say."

Kerri McAuley - aged 32, with two young boys - had confided in her about aspects of her abusive relationship, weeks before her death.

Joe Storey had a restraining order imposed on him at the time of the murder

It is thought she had not dared tell her family for fear of repercussions from her then-boyfriend.

"When I opened the door she just looked at me and she collapsed into my arms, sobbing," Annie tells the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme.

"I comforted her, cuddled her."

Kerri went on to explain that her boyfriend, Joe Storey, had attacked her and that she feared for her life.

"Should I have phoned the police?" Annie says. "Yes, of course I should have done - but I didn't know they were words that were meant.

"I just thought it was a statement, a figure of speech."

In January 2017, Storey beat Kerri so badly he broke every bone in her face. She died from her injuries.

He was sentenced to 24 years in prison after being convicted of murder.

"I've asked myself so many times, 'what if?'" Annie says.

"I suppose I've felt guilty at times, although I've been reassured not just by friends and family but by Kerri's mum there's nothing I could have done to prevent what was going to happen."

Empowering clients
An official report, known as a domestic homicide review, into Kerri's death concluded that although the police, the probation service, the CPS and social services had acted, they had all missed opportunities to keep her safe.

Annie Reilly says she still wonders whether she could have done more to help protect Kerri
It also made a number of recommendations, including the suggestion of an awareness campaign aimed at hairdressers and beauticians as potential confidants of domestic abuse victims.

Now 250 of them have benefited from a conference, run by Norfolk County Council, aiming to give them the tools and confidence to know what to do if they suspect a client is in trouble.

"If you're doing somebody's nails and you can see some are being broken off, it's about being curious, asking those questions," one of the speakers tells them.

But it is also about knowing how to empower clients to call the police or when the hairdressers and beauticians themselves should contact the authorities, the council's domestic abuse change coordinator, Christen Williams, says.

The campaign has the full support of Kerri's family.

Her mother, Lesley McAuley, says that while she and her daughter were always "very open" with one another, perpetrators of domestic abuse often coerce and control their partners "so they don't talk to their family and they don't talk to their close friends".

"That's what he did to my daughter," she says. "He threatened her family and friends if she spoke out to them."

Lesley hopes the council's initiative will mean other families do not have to go through the same pain of losing a loved one.

"That day when he murdered my daughter, he may as well have taken me with her," she says.

"The rest of my family are totally torn apart - the whole family. He didn't just murder my daughter that day - it was like he killed us all."

Kerri's mother Lesley says her family has been "torn apart" by her death

One of those attending the training - Chris Warr, a hairdresser of 30 years - says two of her clients have been murdered by their partners.

"We're really good at keeping secrets and we would never do anything unless someone wanted us to," she says.

"But when we've listened to someone who is in trouble and we have gained their trust, the moment may come where they ask for that little bit of extra help and we'll be there and know what to do."

Lesley says the campaign has also allowed her daughter to have "two legacies".

"One of them is her two sons, and the other is to raise as much domestic violence awareness as we can, to get help out there for these women, children and also men being abused."

(Source: BBC)

IAF Mirage-2000: Why IAF chose the jet that turned Kargil War in India's favour for surgical strikes 2.0

Here’s all you need to know about the French-made Dassault Mirage-2000 fighter jets used by IAF for strike on PoK.

In the early hours of Tuesday, 12 Indian Air Force Mirage-2000 fighter jets, made by Dassault Aviation, the French company who also manufactures the Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircrafts, entered Pakistani airspace and dropped 1,000-kg laser-guided bombs on Jaish-e-Mohammed terror launch pads across the Line of Control. While India has many new-age fighter jets like the Sukhoi Su-30MKI and MiG 29, apart from the indigenously developed Tejas LCA in its arsenal, it was again the Mirage-2000 jet, which was used in the Kargil war, that was used for the unprecedented cross-border strike. Indian government sources told CNN-News18 that there were over 200 casualties in the strike, which targeted the biggest JeM hideout in Balakot in a counter-terrorism operation. 

An Indian Air Force Mirage-2000 aircraft lands on the Agra-Lucknow
expressway during a drill on October 24, 2017. (REUTERS/Pawan Kumar)
Here’s all you need to know about this Dassault Mirage-2000 fighter jet!

The Mirage-2000 is undoubtedly one of the Indian Air Force's (IAF) most versatile and deadliest aircraft and it was first commissioned in 1985. Soon after inducting the Mirage, IAF gave it the name – Vajra – meaning lightening thunderbolt in Sanskrit. It was developed by Dassault Aviation and took its first flight in 1978 and was inducted in the French Air Force in 1984. India had placed an initial order of 36 single-seater Mirage-2000 and 4 twin-seater Mirage 2000 in 1982 as an answer to Pakistan buying US-made F-16 fighter jets by Lockheed Martin.

The Mirage-2000 played a decisive role in the 1999 war of Kargil and turned it in India’s favour. 

Seeing the success of the jets, the government placed an additional order of 10 Mirage-2000 planes in 2004, taking the total tally to 50 jets. Then in 2011 a contract was signed to upgrade the existing Mirage-2000 jets to Mirage 2000-5 Mk, increasing the life of the jets that are now ready to serve till 2030. Dassault built an estimated 580 Mirage-2000s over a course of 30 years before replacing it with the Rafale MMC jets.

The Mirage-2000 uses a single shaft engine that is light and simple as compared to other fighter jet engines and is called SNECMA M53. The engine was first tested in 1970 and was not made initially for the Mirage jets. In 1974, Dassault Aviation conducted flight tests of the M53-2 version using its Mirage F1E testbeds. The majority of the Mirage 2000 is powered by the SNECMA M53-P2 engine.

The Mirage is ideally designed to seat a single fighter pilot, but can be made into a twin-seat jet depending on the armed forces' requirements. It has a length of 14.36 metre and a wingspan of 91.3 metre. The plane weighs 7500 kg (dry) and has a total takeoff weight of 17000 kg. The Mirage 2000 has a maximum speed of Mach 2.2 (2336 kmph) and can travel 1550 km with drop tanks. The flight height is capped at 59000 ft (17km).

In comparison, Indi'as other fighter and more advanced fighter jet - the Russia made Sukhoi Su30MKI has a speed of 2120 kmph (Mach 2), slower than the Mirage-2000 and is heavier too. This gives the Mirage-2000 an advantage in quick operations. 

The Mirage 2000 has a fly-by-wire flight control system and has a Sextant VE-130 HUD, which displays data related to flight control, navigation, target engagement, and weapon firing. In terms of the armament, the Mirage 2000 can carry laser guided bombs, air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles and has a Thomson-CSF RDY (Radar Doppler Multi-target) radar on board.

File photo of Mirage air crafts. (Image: AFP PHOTO)
Countries using Mirage 2000
Apart from India, Dassault sold the Mirage 2000 to 8 other countries, including the home country of France, Egypt, UAE, Peru, Taiwan, Peru, Greece and Brazil. While Brazil has retired the Mirage 2000, other counties are still using this jet. A total of 583 Mirage-2000 fighter jets were built over a course of 30 years and its successor Rafael has already been ordered by the IAF.

Not only is the Mirage-2000 a trusted partner in India's previous success in Kargil, it is also immensely capable to carry out Surgical Strikes and attacks whenever possible, thanks to its load-carrying capacity, precision, Laser Guided Bombs and latest technology updates!

(Source: News 18)

Sheela-na-gigs: The naked women adorning Britain's churches

For hundreds of years carvings of naked women have sat provocatively on churches across Britain. But who created them - and why?

Look at these, my child-bearing hips
Look at these, my ruby red ruby lips...
Sheela-na-gig, Sheela-na-gig
You exhibitionist

The year is 1992 and the singer-songwriter PJ Harvey is performing Sheela-Na-Gig, the most successful single from her critically acclaimed album Dry.
This sheela-na-gig at Oaksey in Wiltshire boasts "pendulous breasts" and a
vulva "extended almost to her ankles"
But unless you're a fan of late 20th Century indie music, or an expert in Norman church architecture, there's every chance you've not been exposed to the sheela-na-gig - or have walked past one without even realising it.

Hidden in plain sight, these sculptures of squatting women pulling back their labia have for nearly a millennium sparked intrigue, shame and even anger.

Often overlooked, or perhaps ignored, by vicars and congregations, the figures can be seen in dozens of British churches.

The UK's "poster girl for sheela-na-gigs" can be found at the Church of St Mary
and St David in Kilpeck, Herefordshire
For the past 20 years John Harding, from the Sheela Na Gig Project, has covered thousands of miles tracking down sightings of them across the country.

His obsession began following a visit to a church in Shropshire in 1998.

After finding very little information online, he decided to post something himself and was inundated with possible sightings.

"They are not quite as rare as the yeti but they're not common," he says.

"You get pockets of them. In Shropshire they are all within about 10 miles of each other and they're all different - but they're all naked women, basically."

Ireland has the largest concentration of sheela-na-gigs, while in the UK there are about 60 known figures with "more popping up all the time", according to Mr Harding.

"Sheela is the Irish form of the Norman name Cecile, and 'gig' is actually English slang and it means a woman's bits," he explains.

A sheela-na-gig was found face down in a Llandrindod Wells church's coal pile

But why these stone carvings were displayed in Norman churches across Britain, Ireland, France and Spain has divided opinion.

Some suggest the figures depict a pre-Christian deity, others that they are a fertility symbol or a protection against evil.

Dr Barbara Freitag, author of Sheela-na-gigs: Unravelling an Enigma, believes they were made by local carvers for country churches to promote a successful birth.

"Generally sheelas are carved in the birthing position and are presented with their vulva in the desired physiological state before, during or after birth," she says.

"The emaciated upper half of these figures was meant to appease the dead mothers or grandmothers who were thought to bear a grudge against the newborn."

Two-time Mercury Prize winner Polly Jean Harvey drew inspiration from the
sheela-na-gig for one of her best-loved songs
For Georgia Rhoades, author of Decoding the Sheela-na-gig, the "nude and bald" women represent the Crone or Earth Goddess.

"They were pagan goddess figures, emblematic of the Earth Goddess who births us and takes us back into her at death," she explains.

"In some places, brides were required to look at and perhaps touch the sheela before weddings, which seems to suggest their role in fertility rites."

Mr Harding, however, thinks the explicit church sculptures were meant to warn people against the sin of lust.

"Sheelas in this country are cartoonish and not very attractive generally, but in Ireland some are downright monstrous and scare the willies out of you."

He adds: "There's one in Haverfordwest [in Pembrokeshire] in the cloisters, holding its dress up.

"The only people who would have seen it would have been clerics and monks, so it's obviously to do with sin."

The sheela at St Mary's in Easthorpe, Colchester, was deemed too obscene to remain at the
church and was given to a museum
In the UK the "poster girl for sheela-na-gigs" can be found on Kilpeck Church near Hereford, according to Mr Harding.

However, it is the sheela at the parish church in the Wiltshire village of Oaksey, with her "pendulous breasts" and "hugely exaggerated vulva", which is his favourite.

"When you see the Oaksey sheela, most people's reaction is 'good God'," he says.

"It's the most kind of in-your-face and it's the breasts as well - the Kilpeck sheela just has nipples, but here you've got all the womanly attributes."

Positioned next to the main door of the church, a small lead roof has been installed above the carving to protect it.

Since starting the Sheela Na Gig Project as a hobby, John Harding has become so
knowledgeable he was invited by Encyclopaedia Britannica to write the entry

But not all congregations have been keen to embrace these X-rated sculptures.

In the Essex village of Easthorpe, a sheela was deemed too obscene to keep and so was given to a museum after serving time in the vicarage garden rockery.

Some have been found in rivers with "marks of burning on them", Mr Harding says, while others were removed, hidden or destroyed by red-faced clergyman and shocked churchgoers.

In 2004, a topless figure which had been in a chapel in Buncton in West Sussex since the early 1100s was attacked, despite having "no obvious genitals on display".

"It wasn't a very well known one, it was an inoffensive thing," says Mr Harding.

"I put it up on the website and somebody went in at night and chiselled it off the wall."

A common reaction to seeing the sheela-na-gig at Oaksey in Wiltshire is "good God",
according to Mr Harding
And it's not just the full-frontal brashness of the sheela that has outraged sensibilities.

Phallic figures found on the corbels [wall brackets] in churches are thought to have come under attack by the Victorians.

"In Kilpeck there are a number of corbels missing, and there's a story that an old chap said he was ordered by the vicar's wife to chop some of the corbels off," Mr Harding says.

A male in a "state of arousal" can even be found alongside a female figure at one Wiltshire church, as Mr Harding explains.

"At St John in Devizes they're on the same piece of stone - a female exhibitionist showing her bits and a male figure which appears to be masturbating."

At the church of St Mary and St Andrew in Cambridgeshire, a sheela can be seen next to a naked male figure.

"You've got this animalistic man with this massive erection and this sheela na gig which is quite plump and fecund with her legs held apart and he's crawling towards her," he says.

This pair, she with a "clearly visible" vulva and he clutching his damaged penis,
were discovered at the church of St John in Devizes in 2006
In the roof of Avening Church in Gloucestershire an "acrobatic type" can be seen
with his head between his legs and a penis in his mouth
In Bristol, graphic artwork can be spotted in the 1,200 roof bosses [carved decorations] at St Mary Redcliffe.

Among a number of exhibitionist figures there is a contortionist "showing their bottom with all their other bits", a naked couple, and a man with "his trousers down - having a poo".

And if that wasn't enough to make a choirmaster blush, high in the roof beams of Avening Church in Gloucestershire an "acrobatic type" can be seen jutting out from the wall with his head between his legs and a penis in his mouth.

"Penis swallowers are basically a monstrous head swallowing their own penises," explains Mr Harding.

"Sometimes they're playing instruments and it looks very suggestive, but in Avening Church if it is bagpipes, he's not holding it. So it's fairly self-supporting, shall we say."

For the Church of England, the presence of stone genitalia in places of worship is all part of the "rich tradition of church decoration" over the centuries.

A sheela can be seen next to a naked male figure in Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire
"As with other gargoyles and grotesques, it is sometimes surprising to modern eyes to encounter them in a religious context," a spokesman says.

"But they reflect the diversity of architectural ornament found on churches up and down the country."

And even though the experts might not think alike as to what purpose sheela-na-gigs served, many do agree on one thing.

"In this country a lot of them seem to be smiling and are quite cheerful-looking," says Mr Harding.

Ms Rhoades agrees that many sheelas "are clearly enjoying themselves".

"My favourite is at Oaksey, where the sheela's vulva is extended almost to her ankles," she says.

"We don't know exactly what her message is, but she's joyous and it's clear where the message is coming from."

(Source: BBC)

Wednesday 27 February 2019

Page three celebrities will post propaganda for cash

A CobraPost video shows Sunny Leone, Jackie Shroff, Sonu Sood and others offering to share political content as personal views – for fees running into crores.

Dozens of Mumbai stars, just short of the Bollywood A-list, have been caught on camera offering to post political propaganda in exchange for payments in cash, ahead of the 2019 national elections.

The subjects of the undercover string are star actors – Sunny Leone, Jackie Shroff, Sonu Sood, Amisha Patel, Rakhi Sawant, Mahima Chaudhry, Shreyas Talpade, Puneet Issar, Tisca Chopra, Rohit Roy, Minissha Lamba, Vivek Oberoi – the playback singers Abhijeet Bhattacharya, Kailash Kher, Mika Singh and Baba Sehgal; the comedians Raju Srivastava, Sunil Pal and Rajpal Yadav; and the choreographer Ganesh Acharya.

Last year, CobraPost conducted a similar exposé of large media houses, which agreed to propagate pro-Hindutva programming for a price. Many of the subjects of the new sting, titled ‘Operation Karaoke’, are media powerhouses in their own right. Their online followings run into millions – Sunny Leone alone has a Twitter following just short of four million.

The fees they demanded for political promotions, Cobrapost said, ranged Rs 2 lakh to Rs 50 lakh per message. “Some even quoted a fee of Rs 20 crore for an eight-month contract,” said Cobrapost chief Aniruddh Bahal.

Many artists asked to be paid in cash. Bahal said the new sting, coming six years after the portal investigated black money in Bollywood, proved nothing has changed in the entertainment industry.

Four notable exceptions – actors Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi, Raza Murad and Saumya Tandon – refused to take the bait or post content to mislead fans about their genuine beliefs.

(L-R) Shreyas Talpade, Rakhi Sawant, Jackie Shroff, Sunny Leonne and Kailash Kher were all named in the Cobrapost exposé.

New side gig for the B-list
Cobrapost said its reporters approached 36 celebrities posing as employees of a public relations firm, representing three major parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party. In most cases, they approached the star artists through their official agents or managers.

The reporters asked if the celebrities would be willing to promote a political party discreetly on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. “Almost all of the above celebs concurred to do it for a fee,” said Bahal. “Some of them even tweeted, without having been paid, to show their eagerness to our reporters.”

They also offered to personally tweak the content to make it look more like their own genuine opinion.

The celebrities offered to “defend the government even on controversial issues,” Cobrapost said, and to “sign a dummy contract for endorsement of products to disguise the real nature of the proxy political campaigning”.

The portal said not only did these celebrities offered to keep the entire exercise a secret, they also offered “promote the political party in their press briefings during the promotion of a film or an event”.

Many stars wanted only cash
Some stars, like actor and model Minissha Lamba, TV personality Aman Verma and actor Shakti Kapoor, allegedly asked to be paid the entire amount in cash – a way of avoiding any tax liability on their fee.

Lamba was allegedly disappointed when she learned that at least 20% of her fee would be in white. “Lekin aapne mujhe bola tha ki saara cash hoga (But you had told me payment will be made entirely in cash),” she said.

Verma was caught on camera saying “I would love all-in-cash.”

Shakti Kapoor, who hailed demonetisation as a historic move, also asked to be paid in black, saying: “Number one mein daalo mat (Don’t pay in number one).”

Actor Mahima Chaudhary asked to be paid Rs one crore, saying: “BJP toh kuchh bhi de sakti hai (The BJP can afford anything), they can give one crore a month.”

Likewise, actor Sonu Sood asked for Rs 20 crore for his services. He insisted that his “messages will be very, very strong and nice.”

Rehearsing communal lines
Cobrapost said many artists also revealed their true attitudes on communal issues.

Bhattacharya allegedly used the opportunity to abuse Muslims, and endorsed the statement of a BJP MLA from Hyderabad, Raja Singh, in September 2016:

“Usne bola tha na, Rohingya ko itna kyon de rahe ho seedha goli maar do… Toh wo attitude hona chahiye … nahi main boloonga Rohingya ko goli maar do, jo support karte hain unko goli maar do – pehle unko maaro baad mein unko maaro (He said why give the Rohingya any shelter, why not just shoot them. This should be the attitude … No, I say shoot the Rohingya, and shoot those who support them. First kill their supporters and then them.)”

Other artists were willing to mislead their fans by promoting the paid content in a surreptitious manner.

Choreographer Ganesh Acharya offered to discuss dancing in all his messages while reaching out to millions of his followers. “Dekho kya hai na mera jo hai na … baat karni hai na dance ke liye tweet maroonga na toh lakhon tak pahunchati hai, karodon tak pahunchati hai (You see what happens … if I have to talk about dance and tweet about it, it reaches millions of people),” he said.

Actor Vivek Oberoi also referred to the `ripple effect’ his message would have due to the large following on social media.

Agreeing to the Cobrapost reporters’ proposition, he boasted, “Saare platform milaakar apne kareeb 25-30 lakh direct followers hain aur unka jo retweet aur ripple effect aata hai wo kareeban do-dhai karod ke kareeban aata hai. Ten times aata hai … toh hum kar sakte hain … iski frequency kya hogi? (I have 25-30 lakh direct followers in all platforms and their retweets make a ripple effect that goes to about 2–2.50 crore. About 10 times … so I can do that … with is its frequency?)”

The portal said Oberoi has about three million followers across platforms. Bhattacharya has over two million, Amisha Patel about six million, Mika Singh ten million – and Sunny Leonne more than 26 million followers.

Taking the higher road
Cobrapost made time to acknowledge the celebrities who refused to play ball.

“When we tried to brief Saumya Tandon, the Bhabi Ji Ghar Par Hain star, over the phone, she outright rejected the idea,” said Bahal. Tandon said affiliating with a political party for personal gain was against her principles.

Likewise, no amount of persuasion worked on veteran actor Raza Murad, who brushed off the reporters, saying he did not have a Twitter account and rejecting the idea of surreptitiously boosting a political party.

Arshad Warsi, through his manager, responded clearly that he would not engage in a political campaign.

The unscrupulous promotion of political parties by celebrities, Bahal said, misleads the public and affect the fair exercise of their electoral franchise. He urged the Election Commission to move to regulate proxy campaigning by celebrities on social media, by making such transactions an offense, on the lines of paid news.

(Source: The Wire)

Isis slave escapes caliphate with 5-year-old son after five failed attempts

Faryal was kidnapped along with thousands of other Yazidi women and forced into sexual slavery

One of the Yazidi women abducted by Isis in 2014 has escaped the caliphate with her five-year-old son after spending four years as an Isis slave.

“He was terrified,” she said, recounting their escape this month. “I held his hand and we just kept walking.”

The walk to freedom lasted 53 hours, and the little boy cried all the way. It wasn't their first escape attempt – Faryal had tried five times before to flee Isis – but they would be shot on the spot if the militants caught them now.

They passed corpses in the darkness, and when exhaustion overwhelmed them, they huddled together and slept on the dusty path. Faryal whispered reassurances to her five-year-old son, telling him that his grandparents were waiting and that, after four years as prisoners of Isis, they were finally going home. He wouldn't believe her.

As members of Iraq's Yazidi minority, a largely Kurdish-speaking religious group, the pair had escaped what the UN has called a genocide.

Isis militants kidnapped thousands of Yazidis on a single day in August 2014, massacring the men and dumping them in mass graves, and forcing the women into sexual slavery.

Women and children flee the Islamic State’s last holdout of Baghouz which is surrounded by US-backed forces ( DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images )
During her captivity, Faryal said she had six different owners, at times being passed on when a fighter wanted a new sexual partner or simply to settle a debt. “Monsters who treated us like animals,” is how she described them.

The atrocities committed against the Yazidis had initially prompted the US to launch airstrikes against the militants and begin a military campaign to roll back Isis's caliphate that now, four years later, could end within days. US-backed forces have the last Isis holdouts surrounded in the eastern Syrian hamlet of Baghouz.

In photographs, taken by aid workers on the night of her escape, a male companion hides his face but Faryal looks straight out at the camera. Her hazel eyes are fixed in a quiet stare. Her son's face is wet with tears, and he is sobbing. “I can't put into words how I was feeling at that moment,” she said. “All I could think was: 'Please, take me away from here.' ”

Faryal, 20, told her story last week in the northern Syrian town of Amuda after being transferred there by the US-backed Kurdish forces that rescued them. Throughout the interview, she kept a watchful eye on Hoshyar, her son, pulling him close as he cried and then trying, without success, to make him laugh.

 Details of her account were corroborated by members of her family in northern Iraq and through a team of Yazidi activists that had communicated with her secretly for months before the escape in attempts to smuggle her to safety.

The day before Faryal's life changed forever in 2014 had dawned like any other in the Iraqi village of Tel Banat. She pottered around the house looking after her infant son Hoshyar, she recalled. By midday, the sun was roasting, and although rumours had swirled for weeks that Isis forces were drawing closer, few in Tel Banat were aware of the coming storm.

The Islamist militants arrived at dusk.

“We couldn't run fast enough,” Faryal remembered, describing how she and 10 members of her extended family had piled into a car and joined an epic exodus. Yazidi towns and villages around Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq emptied within hours as more than 100,000 people fled to higher ground. Faryal and her husband, Hashem, made it only a few miles before militants blocked their path.

Yazidis have long faced persecution from more powerful religious groups for their beliefs, in part because of a false but commonly-held impression that they worship the sun, or the devil. There are fewer than one million Yazidis worldwide, and according to the UN, Isis had intended to entirely wipe out those within their reach.

Yazidi men and boys who had reached puberty were separated from the women and other children and often shot dead at roadsides. Women were bused to temporary holding sites and then sold to Isis fighters at slave markets.

Isis clerics had decided that having slaves was religiously sanctioned, institutionalising sexual violence across their caliphate. Women have reported being tied to beds during daily assaults. They were sold from man to man. Gang rape was common.

Many women and girls committed suicide in the opening months of captivity, according to Yazidi rights groups. Others harmed themselves to appear less appealing to fighters who might consider buying them.

Faryal recalled that an Isis fighter who was Iraqi and called himself Abu Kattab was her worst abuser. Hoshyar was abused, too, Faryal said. Abu Kattab beat him so badly there were hand prints on his face. Another had forced the boy's arm onto a hot plate.

“He was so small, but for some reason the fighters hated him,” Faryal said. “I could never explain to him why.”

As the boy sat beside his mother last week, his eyes moved slowly from side to side as if scanning the room for threats. His blond hair was cut in jagged chunks. He did not speak and he did not smile.

At its height in 2014, Isis's self-proclaimed caliphate covered territory in Syria and Iraq the size of Britain, and the movement drew recruits from around the world. In the intervening years, thousands of Yazidi women fled the territory held by the militants, but Faryal couldn't escape.

With each unsuccessful attempt to escape, the punishment grew harsher, she said. By 2017, she said, she had given up. Keeping her head down and accepting the abuse seemed the only way to keep Hoshyar alive, and the child was fraying badly. Their owners starved him and often forbade him to go to the toilet.

“I knew that if I fought back, they would take him from me forever,” she said. “They did that to so many women.”

There was one final act of resistance, though: a tattoo of her husband's name, inked in kohl and water on the back of her right hand. It took five days to complete, and the pain lasted even longer. It was, she sometimes told herself, a reminder of a life that could still be hers. At other times, she lost all hope.

In its final months, as the caliphate shrank to a sliver, her captors were moving weekly to outrun US airstrikes. But the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were closing in.

Food supplies ran so low that Faryal said she sometimes went days without eating, spending her money instead on small sandwiches for Hoshyar.

When the pair was struck by shrapnel in the Syrian hamlet of Baghouz in January, no medical care was available. The village clinic had been abandoned, left littered with empty drug packets and syringes.

“We were pushed out onto the street, still bleeding. There were no drugs left, and we saw people in the road being left for dead,” she said.

Their chance to escape came when several Isis fighters grew desperate and plotted to use Faryal and Hoshyar as their ticket out. After years of abusive behavior, the militants decided to style themselves as the Yazidis' guardians and surrender to the forces surrounding their last stronghold.

At 2.30pm one afternoon, they all set out from their tent in Baghouz. An Uzbek fighter and his family pushed the young mother out in front of them as they started down the dusty path. They walked for two days in the cold, following the only path out of what had once been the caliphate.

At 8pm on the second day, they heard shouting. Beams from flashlights bounced off the sky. It was the US-backed soldiers.

Isis fighters raised their hands above their heads and cried out for mercy. They claimed that they were helping a Yazidi escape and had kept her safe, according to someone present at the screening point that night. The appeal fell on deaf ears, and the men were detained as Faryal and Hoshyar carried on walking.

It took three days for the pair to finally believe they might be free. They still fear that the extremists will come back for them.

“As long as I'm alive, I'll be scared of them,” Faryal said, tensing her shoulders as she gripped her tattooed hand with the other. “My spirit might be strong, but my mind will never rest.”

(Source: The Independent)

Serena Williams’s Nike ad was the best thing about the Oscars

From Olivia Colman’s speech to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performance, the 2019 Oscars had a few somewhat unexpected emotional moments. But the most moving one came not from the telecast itself, but from an ad during a break in the show — courtesy of Serena Williams.

Photo: Nike
The greatest athlete of all time headlined a new Nike ad that premiered during the ceremony, paying tribute to female athletes and highlighting icons like gymnast Simone Biles, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, and, of course, Williams herself. The ad, titled “Dream Crazier,” takes aim at dismissive descriptions of female athletes, and particularly at the word “crazy.”

“If we show emotion, we’re called dramatic,” Williams says in the ad. “If we want to play against men, we’re nuts. And if we dream of equal opportunity, we’re delusional. When we stand for something, we’re unhinged. When we’re too good, there’s something wrong with us. And if we get angry, we’re hysterical, irrational, or just being crazy.”

Williams, who has long been the subject of racist and sexist criticism, seems to be directly addressing the way she’s been treated as a woman in sports. In September 2018, she was penalized for showing her rage at the U.S. Open final, and was fined $17,000 after she broke her racket in anger and was accused of “verbal abuse” toward a chair umpire — all things people have cited to accuse her of being “crazy.”

But what else is “crazy,” according to Williams? The feats that female athletes have accomplished, like boxing, dunking, competing in a hijab, and, as she did, “winning 23 grand slams, having a baby, and then coming back for more.”

“So if they want to call you crazy, fine,” she says. “Show them what crazy can do.”

(Source: The Cut)

Canada will be hit with life-threatening -70°C wind chills in this March

Canada is under extreme cold weather warnings and could face wind chill temperatures dipping as low as -60 C and -65 C.

Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold weather alert for cold weather in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, “biting cold” in Ontario and “teeth-chattering cold” across the Prairies.

Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold weather alert forKugaaruk, Nunavut, which currently sits right in the heart of the polar vortex. People have been advised to stay indoors, especially younger children, older adults, individuals with chronic illnesses and outdoor workers due to high risks of hypothermia and freezing.

Cold stuff is just going to come and come and come,Environment Canada has issued that the period from February 23 to March 20 would likely be “the coldest part of the winter” for many parts of Canada.

Atlantic Canada
Get your boots ready, you have a snowy, but mild, winter ahead. Expect above-normal amounts of snow in the southwest areas (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and  Prince Edward Island), and slightly below-normal amounts in the northwest (Newfoundland and Labrador, Northeastern Quebec). Your coolest temps will hit in late February and early-mid Marcg , and April and May will also be cooler than usual.

Canada’s southern regions may not have it as bad but are still affected to a significant degree. Parts of Manitoba are going to face with wind chills as low as -34 C, while northern Ontario and northern Quebec are going to see temperatures of around -45 C and -60 C, next month.

Southern Quebec
Expect a cooler and snowier winter, with the coldest periods stretching from early winter into the first beginning of February. The snowiest periods will take place in end of February until March.

Southern Ontario
This winter will see average temperatures, but there will be slightly above-normal precipitation and snowfall. The coldest periods will be mid and late February, with the heaviest snowfall periods, and early-to-mid-March. (Also, you may want to get mentally ready for the cooler and rainier summer predicted this year.)

The Prairies
We don’t want to be the ones to break the news, but next month winter will likely be colder, with more precipitation and snowfall. Be ready for colder temps in mid to late February, and extra coldest temperatures in March, then up until mid-to late April.  Maybe consider a 4-month getaway?

Southern British Columbia
You’re in for a pretty mild winter when it comes to temperature, but expect a slightly above-normal precipitation and snowfall. But good news, the snow won’t fully kick in until early January, Your coldest periods will take place in late February until March. Also, be ready for a cooler and rainier April and May.

Northwest Territories
This upcoming winter will be colder than normal with above-normal precipitation and snowfall for the entire season. April and May will also be cooler and rainier than usual with an average amount of snowfall.

Northern Ontario , is under extreme cold weather warnings and could face wind chill temperatures dipping as low as -60 C and -65 C, providing “some of the coldest temperatures this winter,”next month.

Just like their neighbours to the West, Yukon’s in for a colder than normal winterwith above-normal precipitation and snowfall. The coldest periods will start in late February and last until early March, while the biggest snow storm will start to fall heavily in February and last until March (and still lightly continue until May). Thankfully, the summer is predicted to be warmer (and rainier) than normal.

(Source: Canada Eh?)

Saudi trolls hijacking dead people's Twitter accounts to amplify Riyadh propaganda

When an American TV weatherman started tweeting support for the Saudi regime, people started asking questions. Not least because the meteorologist had been dead for two years...

While not many of us outside the United States will know David Schwartz, the Weather Channel meteorologist was well-known enough for The New York Times to report on his tragic death from cancer in July 2016.

Saudis checking out a Dubai tech show. Riyadh is infamous for its 'troll army' [AFP]

Despite his passing, many of his fans have been upset to discover that his Twitter account has been posting pro-Saudi propaganda from beyond the grave.

Like many TV personalities, Schwartz had a Twitter account that he used to interact with his many followers. However in 2018, two years after his death, some people noticed that his Twitter account was again active. The name on the account had changed, but the Twitter handle (the unique username for every account) remained the same; @twcdaveschwartz

What's more, it was retweeting information specifically about Saudi Arabia. Whoever ran the account had changed the name to Al Qassim Events فعاليت القصيم. Some of the tweets were about events being held in the Saudi governorate of Al Qassim.

Fox Business News analyst Sheyna Steiner's account lost its 'blue-tick'
verification after it started tweeting Saudi propaganda

Angered when they discovered this, meteorology student and Twitter user @spectrumaots wrote to whomever had taken over the account, asking them to "give up ownership of the account because it's disrespectful to dishonor someone who died of cancer".

Shattering the sanctity of blue-tick verification
Despite a number of people complaining to Twitter about the phenomenon, Schwartz's account remains verified - though all tweets have been deleted - raising questions about Twitter's security and verification process.

The blue tick verification badge was originally designed to let people know the account was authentic and of public interest. The blue badge has come to be associated with a mark of credibility and legitimacy. In an age of fake news and fake accounts, it lets people know that your account is real.

There are no longer any tweets on Shwartz's account; the last to be deleted was a lone retweet from March 2018 originally posted by the Saudi poet Ziyad bin Nahit. Bin Nahit was briefly imprisoned for taking a video of himself criticising the Saudi media's onslaught against Qatar during the outbreak of Gulf crisis.

Upon his release, he issued an anti-Qatar poem. It was rumoured that his release was contingent upon him criticising Qatar, and toeing the Saudi government line.
It is not clear why that retweet would remain on the account after all others had been deleted - although it would appear that whomever was in control of the dead man's account had been tweeting "at" the Al Qassim account to praise the region of Al Qassim, and its governor, Prince Faisal bin Mishal Al Saud.

This has led to some speculation that the account may have, at some point, belonged to the Saudi prince himself.

Not just the one account
David Schwartz is not the only person to have his verified Twitter account hacked by pro-Saudi entities.

Sheyna Steiner, an American financial analyst who has appeared on Fox Business News (among other things), had her account hijacked by a pro-Mohammed bin Salman troll.

The new account, going by the name Abd al Aziz al Harthi, was incredibly active until last week, mainly tweeting pro-Saudi regime hashtags and praise for MBS.

Motivational speaker Jeff Emmerson also had his account hijacked by Saudi advocates attacking anyone critical of Riyadh's treatment of political prisoners.

Emmerson's account was screenshotted retweeting Saudi-user @Fayez_101, saying "We demand that the French authorities release immediately 1500 French citizens and give them an amnesty, as its Christmas".

Fayez_101 was responding to the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs' official Arabic Twitter account, which had just called on the Saudi authorities to pardon human rights activist Raif Badawi on the occasion of Ramadan.

As if that wasn't enough, Nicole Jade Parks, a former Olympic skier who competed at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics also had her account hacked. While there are no tweets on her timeline (at the time of writing), many of her followers appear to be pro-Saudi bots or trolls, with patriotic banner profile and display pictures.

Other accounts tweeting Saudi regime propaganda
Although it is alarming that verified Twitter accounts are being hijacked to promote the agenda of Saudi-based entities, this only appears to be the tip of a much wider problem. I recently identified a number of people who had their accounts hijacked by people who have subsequently tweeted on topics reflecting the Saudi regime's views on domestic and foreign policy.

Tanner Chidester, an American fitness guru, had his account hijacked by someone contributing to a viral hashtag criticising Qatar. One of these hashtags was "Hey donkeys it's a boycott not a blockade". Another user had their account hijacked by someone tweeting in Arabic on a hashtag protesting against women in Saudi being given the right to drive.

Soon after I wrote about this strange phenomenon last week, Sheyna Steiner and another account I identified, @N20, lost their verified status. Nicole Jade Parks and David Schwartz remain verified. Other than this, it is not exactly clear what Twitter are doing about the problem.

The fact that a number of the compromised accounts remain verified suggests they either don't know (unlikely), don't care, or more worryingly, are unable to verify the apparent hacking.

The hijacking of accounts, combined with the increasing weight of evidence pointing to gross Saudi-sponsored manipulation of Twitter, should worry those concerned about fake news, propaganda, and digital security.

Propaganda and fake news on Twitter has become so endemic that people in the region use the term "electronic flies" to describe the scourge of Twitter bots promoting (mostly) pro-Saudi propaganda. The report of a Saudi mole within Twitter's San Francisco HQ has also increased concerns that somehow the regime has been able to manipulate the social media platform on multiple levels.

While Twitter clearly have much to do in terms of combating propaganda and disinformation, the least they should do is respect the memory of David Schwartz, a man beloved by many - and certainly someone who does not deserve to have legacy tainted by self-promoters and propagandists.

(Source: The New Arab)

Dye another day: Why more and more Indian women are embracing their grey hair

Women from different backgrounds explain why they shunned hair colour in defiance of social expectations.

f the woman wishes to have long and black hair, take a green lizard and having removed its head and tail, cook it in common oil. Anoint the head with the oil,” advises The Trotula, a medieval compendium on women’s medicine.

Throughout history women have used pollen, henna and sometimes even reptiles to change the colour of their hair. None of these methods, though, were invented with the specific purpose of covering greys. It was only after French chemist Eugenè Schueller invented commercial hair dye in 1909 that grey hair begin to garner negative associations, particularly for women.

The advertising and media industry soon began leveraging fear to convince women that they would lose friends, admiration and lovers if they chose grey over a perceived idea of youth. An egregious example of this was an advertisement for Goldman’s Hair Colour Restorer in 1926. “Are grey-haired women honest?” the ad asked, insinuating that women who claimed that “grey hair cannot be helped” were obviously lying.

In the hierarchy of prejudices, sexism prevailed over ageism. While grey-haired men were often called silver foxes or described as distinguished, women with grey hair were boxed into stereotypical narratives by popular culture. In an Indian commercial in the 1990s for hair dye, a teenage boy referred to a young woman with greys as aunty, until she dyed her hair – after which, she was dubbed a less offensive didi.
Hema Gopinath Sah. | Zahra Amiruddin
Perceptions began to shift only recently, with conversations around body positivity gaining ground. Online spaces representing grey-haired women today encourage others to accept and flaunt their natural hair. One such platform is the popular Instagram handle @grombre. “A radical celebration of the natural phenomenon of grey hair”, with 90.9K followers, the handle shares photos of contributors in various stages of greying.

Thanks to these efforts, grey hair is no longer associated with shame, and women, including in India, are increasingly embracing their natural greys as early as in their teens. Silver was a hair colour trend in 2018, and even cosmetic brands are changing their stance.

Celebrities from Zosia Mamet to Rihanna have dabbled in grey colour, displaying a host of possibilities, including silver streaks, frosted grey tips, metallic hair extensions, global lilac-ombres and other variations on the look, turning what was once called the #GrannyHair trend into a glamorous sought-after look. Ironically, even L’Oreal, the company that built its foundation on persuading women to cover their greys, now offers everything from silver shampoo and toner to tutorials on how to get the right shade of grey. spoke to a few women of different ages and backgrounds who wear their greys with pride about how it feels to defy stereotypes. Edited excerpts:

Ratna Pathak Shah
Age: 61

Ratna Pathak Shah. Photo credit: Zahra Amiruddin.
When did you see your first grey and what made you stop colouring?
In my early 30s, the greys began to [appear] but weren’t sufficient [enough] for any action to be taken. I only started colouring in my mid- to late-30s, [following] the usual route – mehendi for a bit, and then colour. It was my husband who made me stop. He’d been talking to me about it for a long time, and I could see he had a point. You have to accept how you’re going to look as you grow older.

How did you handle the transition of growing back your grey roots?
Actually that’s what put me off for a long time. I kept saying I’ll wait for a part in which I’ll shave my head but that [acting] part never came. The tough part is when the white starts showing and the black dye hasn’t gone off. So I went to Mad O Wot for a haircut, and they did a really great number on me. I got a really interesting haircut – it was wonderful, [and] the grey grew out naturally.

Does your hair tend to get you typecast into certain roles? How do you deal with that?
In fact, I’ve got more work after my decision to stop dyeing my hair. More than hair [colour], [it’s the] lack of imagination that has to do with being typecast – even Deepika Padukone is typecast. The Hindi film industry isn’t terribly imaginative. I got lucky because they were writing parts for women like me, who were not old enough to be the weepy mother and not young enough to be the attractive heroine. I’m lucky I happened to be there.

Grey hair has stereotypical gender representations – did you ever have a female role model who made you feel unencumbered about being yourself?
I have met dozens of role models, male and female, who stand for what they are regardless of what they look like. My mother was a gorgeous woman, but that wasn’t everything about her, what she was doing was more important to her. So many other women I met as I was growing up – teachers, even actors – were striking-looking people, but not concerned about the way they looked. I wanted to be part of the category of people [who were] focused on what they were doing. Acceptance of age comes more easily to people who are sure of themselves. People [who are] less confident hold on to more crutches for longer.

What positive reactions have you encountered after choosing to go back to your greys?
Lots of people said positive things. Women always annotate “your grey looks fabulous” with “I wish I could do it”. And I think to myself – so why don’t you?

Lubaina Plumber
Age: 28
Child Rights Lawyer

Lubaina Plumber. Photo credit: Zahra Amiruddin.
When did you spot your first grey and how did you feel?
I was really young…I think in my teens. I remember I didn’t care too much.

Do friends and family sometimes pressure you to colour your greys?
I did have a lot of conversations about colour. I got lowlights [done] recently, but I was clear I didn’t want to touch my roots. It had nothing to do with my greys. I’ve, quite honestly, thought about colouring, but I know I’ll have to keep doing it, so I’ve chosen not to right now. And I’m blessed with thick hair, so it doesn’t matter [to not] colour the strands of grey I have.

What has convinced you to keep your natural greys?
My mother used to colour her hair a lot and really care for it. One day she got sick and she had chemotherapy, but even when her hair grew back, she was equally concerned about it. She would colour it, style it – in fact throughout chemotherapy she had a wig. She was very particular about the way she looked. But when her cancer came back, she told me, “I have made crazy mistakes in my past, and I wouldn’t want you to do that.”

My perceptions of beauty were shaped by that experience. I saw my mother being extremely concerned about her appearance, and I saw it all go. So, for me, physical beauty became just another thing one could lose. So my outward persona isn’t as important as other things in my life.

Have you had second thoughts?
Actually no. At work, I meet a lot of women who are strong. They handle themselves differently, and they all have short hair, and it’s pretty and grey. But I used to see these women abroad with so many hair colours and I realise it [dyeing hair black] is a South Asian fixation. And there are people who admire my dark black hair with its streaks of grey.

Hema Gopinath Sah 
Age: 45

Hema Gopinath Sah. Photo credit: Zahra Amiruddin.
When did you notice your first grey?
I noticed it after I delivered my first baby after 24 hours of difficult labour. I hadn’t noticed any before that, so it was at [age] 27. [At that point] I felt the first strands of grey were a memento.

Why have you chosen not to go down the colouring path?
My greys don’t bother me as much as they do others. I don’t look at myself so much, I don’t see myself differently in the mirror. They stand out to others, not me.

But does it bother people around you?
It bothers everyone. People now think at 45, it’s okay to have greys. But earlier, on average, one person every day would comment. [The] so-called well-wishers would say, “You’d look so good if you coloured your hair”, “Are you trying to make a statement?”, “Is this a feminist statement?” It would set people off somehow.

As someone who has sported grey hair for nearly 15 years, do you feel the current perception is different?
There has been a shift. Now if I go to salons, they want to experiment with my hair. Girls ask me, “What colour have you used?” Hairstylists want to work with my greys. It seems to me that we are claiming our bodies back. It was meant to happen and it is. Young girls now tell me, “I can’t wait to get older and have greys.”

What about friends and family?
I suppose my son doesn’t like that I stand out. I think he will grow out of it. But for a brief second, to make life easier for him, I considered colouring my hair. But ultimately, I have a healthy head of hair at 45 today because I’ve never used chemicals.

Manu Ghose 
Age: 50

Manu Ghose. Photo credit: Zahra Amiruddin.
When did you spot your first greys? Why have you chosen not to colour them?
I started greying 10 years back. I never coloured my hair because I like myself the way I am.

Have you ever been tempted to change your look?
Someone told me if you do it once, you’ll have to keep doing it. I like this black and grey – it looks great. All my friends do it, but I never wanted to. I’ve never wanted to change my look. I’m very simple – if I have to dress up, I wear kajal, lipstick, jewellery and keep my hair in a bun. This has always been my hairstyle. I don’t change my style.

What about friends and family – did they encourage you to dye your greys?
My husband told me, “Why don’t you colour your hair?” I told him – this is how I am, this is how I will be.

What’s the best part of not having to colour your hair?
Time. I really don’t have the time to keep doing it.

Hetal Ajmera 
Age: 38

Hetal Ajmera. Photo credit: Zahra Amiruddin.
When did you spot your first grey? How did you feel about it?
In my mid-30s. But I felt nothing until I was made to feel about conscious about it, that’s when I really acknowledged it.

Have you ever considered colouring?
Yes, many times.

Why have you decided to stay natural at the moment?
Because I like the colour white, and I am not conscious of my age. Also, I don’t think I can commit to going to the parlour every month. But if I would colour, it would just be to change my look temporarily. Maybe out of boredom.

Any role models who inspire you to stay grey?
I see a lot of youngsters these days who support whites and are not afraid to keep it that way. That is encouraging. I think this article itself is a [form of] positive motivation.

What are your personal opinions on women who’ve kept their natural greys?
Hats off to them. We need more women to accept greys and believe in themselves. Also, I think we need to embrace ageing gracefully and not fight against it.

Pooja Dash 
Age: 25

Pooja Dash. Photo credit: Zahra Amiruddin.
How did you choose the colour grey for your hair?
It was grey, now it’s almost white. I always wanted to colour my hair, but I didn’t want a standout colour. I wanted something monochromatic. As a designer, you have [a] strong sense of what you do with your body.

A lot of international celebrities and influencers are colouring their hair grey, with hues of purple and silver. Was there anyone in particular who inspired you?
I follow the artist Sarah Naqvi on Instagram and I loved her hair. I got the confidence by just looking at how she pulls it off. There’s an awareness about not being sold on media portrayals and creating our own beauty standards. In fact, I watched a fashion documentary called Advanced Style and found all these older women quite amazing, particularly Iris Apfel. I was inspired and impressed by what a badass she is.

As a designer with an understanding of colour, you picked grey. What does grey mean to you?
Maturity. I want to be taken more seriously. I feel proud when someone tells me I look older. I see myself as levelheaded, so the grey represents that for me. But at the same time, it also looks unique and interesting.

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