TIME India

Death Toll in India’s Intense Heat Wave Soars to Over 1,100

Heat wave in Bangalore
Jagadeesh NV—EPA An Indian farmer sits in his dried-up land in Gauribidanur village, near Bangalore, India, on May 26, 2015

Temperatures in parts of the country have neared 122°F (50°C)

India’s heat wave has now claimed over 1,100 lives, with spiking temperatures melting roads in the capital, New Delhi, as the country awaits the arrival of the annual monsoon rains.

More than 850 people have succumbed in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where extreme temperatures claimed more than 200 lives in one district alone. In neighboring Telangana state, at least 266 people have died, officials say. Deaths have also been reported in the eastern states of Odisha and West Bengal, and in Gujarat on the country’s western coast. With temperatures in parts of the country nearing 122°F (50°C), most of the deaths have been reported over the past week.

In New Delhi, where temperatures have been hovering around the 113°F (45°C) mark, the local Hindustan Times newspaper carried a picture on its front page on Tuesday of the disfigured white stripes of a pedestrian crossing as the asphalt on a city road melted in the extreme heat. Twitter users posted similar images.

Most of the victims of the heat wave sweeping across the country were elderly, homeless or construction workers forced to work outside even as temperatures climbed, the paper said.

Annual monsoon rains that are expected to hit southern India in the coming days will bring some relief — although it will take some time for the rains to reach northern India, Agence France-Presse reports. Even as the rains are forecast to arrive in the south of the country, meteorologists expect above normal temperatures in north and central India until the weekend, the Economic Times newspaper reports. In New Delhi, substantial relief is only expected to arrive in early June.

“The heat wave is likely to subside marginally on Thursday and Friday, when stray dust storms or thundershowers are expected. But maximum temperatures will not fall substantially,” B.P. Yadav, the director of the India Meteorological Department, told the Times of India.

As the country awaits the annual rains, authorities in Andhra Pradesh have stepped up efforts to stem the rise of heat-related deaths.

“The state government has taken up education programs through television and other media asking people not to venture outside without a cap, to drink water and take other measures,” Tulsi Rani, the state’s special commisioner for disaster management, said. “We have also requested NGOs and government organizations to open up drinking-water camps so that water will be readily available for all the people in the towns.”

TIME Bangladesh

Bangladesh Bans a Hard-Line Islamist Group Suspected of Killing Atheist Bloggers

INDIA-BANGLADESH-BLOGGERS-PROTEST
DIBYANGSHU SARKAR—AFP/Getty Images An Indian student looks from behind a poster with pictures of recently killed Bangladeshi bloggers during a protest meeting organized to pay homage in Kolkata on May 16, 2015.

Move comes days after 150 prominent writers from around the world released a joint letter condemning the killings

Authorities in Bangladesh have banned a radical Islamist organization suspected of involvement in the murder of three secular bloggers who were hacked to death in the majority-Muslim South Asian nation earlier this year.

The attacks on Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman, who were murdered in the country’s capital city, Dhaka, in February and March, respectively, and Ananta Bijoy Das, who was killed earlier in May in northeastern Bangladesh, sparked domestic and international concern about the rise of fundamentalist violence in the country.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the murder of Roy, a Bangladesh-born U.S. citizen who was hacked to death by masked men carrying machetes while he was returning with his wife from a book fair, a “shocking act of violence” that was “horrific in its brutality and cowardice.”

Rahman and Das were killed in similar attacks by machete-wielding men.

On Monday, Bangladesh’s Home Ministry responded by banning Ansarullah Bangla Team, a radical group that is suspected by the Bangladeshi police of being involved in the three killings. Members of the group had previously been charged with the murder of the blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in 2013, AFP reports.

“The [Junior Home Minister] today signed a government order, outlawing the militant organization Ansarullah Bangla Team,” Sharif Mahmud, a Home Ministry spokesman, told the news agency.

The move comes days after the writers’ organization PEN International released a letter signed by 150 prominent writers from around the world — including Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh, Karl Ove Knausgaard and Salman Rushdie — condemning the murder of the bloggers and calling on Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed to ensure that the attacks are not repeated.

TIME India

Hundreds Are Dying in a Blistering Heat Wave Sweeping Across India

INDIA-WEATHER-HEAT
Noah Seelam—AFP/Getty Images An Indian resident sleeps in the shade on a tricyle at the roadside in Hyderabad on May 22, 2015

Temperatures are highest in the southeast of the country

An intense heat wave that has driven daytime temperatures as high as 118°F (48°C) in parts of India has claimed over 400 lives.

The toll is the highest in the southeastern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, according to the Hindustan Times newspaper, which cited an official from Andhra Pradesh’s disaster-management department, who said the state had recorded nearly 250 deaths between Wednesday and Sunday.

In Telangana, state authorities reported 186 heat-related deaths since mid-April, with most being reported in recent days as temperatures spiked across the region. The highest reading was in Telangana’s Khamman district, where the temperature rose to 118°F on Sunday.

“Almost all the victims are old. Inquiries reveal that most of them were working and were exposed to the heat. Dehydration and heat stroke caused the deaths,” B.R. Meena, a senior Telangana state official, told the Indian Express newspaper.

“Elderly people, laborers, beggars and people living on the streets are worst hit,” K.E. Krishna Murthy, revenue minister in neighboring Andhra Pradesh, told the paper.

The mercury has also climbed in the country’s capital, New Delhi, where temperatures soared to 110.3°F (43.5°C) on Sunday.

TIME India

Mother Posts India’s First Gay Marriage Advert to Seek Groom for Her Son

A participant holds a placard during Delhi Queer Pride Parade in New Delhi
Adnan Abidi—Reuters A participant holds a placard during Delhi Queer Pride Parade, an event promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, in New Delhi on Nov. 30, 2014

Homosexuality is illegal in the South Asian nation

On the face of it, the matrimonial ad placed by 57-year-old Mumbai resident Padma Iyer in an Indian tabloid on Tuesday followed the usual form of such notices in a country where many marriages are still arranged by parents: seeking a suitable partner for her son, she listed his age, height and occupation in the ad in the city’s Mid-Day newspaper.

But instead of a girl, Iyer sought a suitable boy for her gay son — a 25-to-50 year old “well-placed, animal-loving GROOM,” according to the ad, the first such notice in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

The ad soon went viral on Facebook and Twitter, generating accolades for Iyer for challenging a widespread social taboo against homosexuality.

Writing on the website of a local news channel, her son — the prospective groom, Harish — said that the ad only made it into Mid-Day after being rejected by other newspapers, including the country’s leading English-language daily, The Times of India, which reportedly turned down the ad on legal grounds.

“I think it’s absolutely normal for any mother to wish for her son to settle down. My mother is no different. She’s 57, and fears I’ll be alone after she’s gone,” Harish, who is a leading LGBT rights activist, wrote, saying he had already received six responses to the ad.

“Last week, she asked me a question any mom would ask her 36-year-old son: ‘Are you dating someone? Are you fond of someone?’ And when my answer was in the negative, my mom did what any Indian mother would do — she decided to place an ad in a newspaper.”

India’s Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality in late 2013, when it upheld a British colonial-era law that punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” with up to 10 years in prison. The judgement was widely criticized by human-rights groups, with the then U.N. human-rights chief Navi Pillay saying the ruling by India’s top court represented a “significant step backwards” for the country. “The Supreme Court of India has a long and proud history of defending and expanding protection of human rights. This decision is a regrettable departure from that tradition,” Pillay added.

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan Welcomes First International Cricket Tour Since 2009 Lahore Attack

Policemen pass by a Pakistan cricket fan outside Gaddafi Stadium while the Zimbabwe team practice ahead of the cricket series between Pakistan and Zimbabwe in Lahore
Mohsin Raza—Reuters Policemen pass by a Pakistan cricket fan outside Gaddafi Stadium while the Zimbabwe team practice ahead of the cricket series between Pakistan and Zimbabwe in Lahore, Pakistan, May 19, 2015

Eight people were killed nearby the same stadium six years ago

Thousands of security personnel have been deployed in the Pakistani city of Lahore to protect Zimbabwe’s cricket team as it prepares for the first top-level international cricket matches in the South Asian nation since an attack on a convoy carrying Sri Lankan sportsmen in Lahore in 2009.

Zimbabwe became the first Test-playing team to set foot on Pakistani soil in six years when 16 cricketers from the African nation landed at Lahore’s Allama Iabal International Airport early on Tuesday morning, along with nine team and five cricket board officials. The touring group is scheduled to play two Twenty20 and three regular one-day internationals at Lahore’s Gaddafi stadium between May 22 and 31, before departing on June 1.

“We are so grateful to the Zimbabwe cricket board for sending their team and for trusting us. We will ensure tight security for every player of the Zimbabwean team.” Subhan Ahmed, the chief operating officer of the Pakistan cricket board, told the Guardian as the team arrived in the country.

Pakistan has not hosted any major international teams since March 3, 2009, when a dozen gunmen armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers attacked the Sri Lankan team’s convoy en route to same stadium, killing eight people, and wounding several Sri Lankan players. The incident sent shockwaves around the cricketing world.

Ahead of the Zimbabwe team’s arrival, speculation was rife that the African nation might cancel the tour after an attack on a bus in Karachi earlier in May that killed 45 people and the bombing of two churches in Lahore shortly before Easter. The International Cricket Council (ICC) refused to send any officials for the upcoming matches citing security concerns.

Tickets for Friday’s Twenty20 match — a short-form of cricket in which each side plays one innings each of a maximum of 20 six-ball overs — in Lahore been sold out and officials say they are leaving no stone unturned to ensure the security of the visiting crickets and spectators. “Whatever resources we have available here in Pakistan we will utilise them to ensure a peaceful tour for the Zimbabwean team,” Shuja Khanzada, the home minister of Punjab, told the Guardian.

TIME India

Indian Nurse Who Spent 42 Years in Coma Following Brutal Rape Has Died

The 68-year-old had been a pivotal figure for the South Asian nation's debate over euthanasia

Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug, a former nurse who spent over four decades in a vegetative state after being raped at a Mumbai hospital in 1973, died Monday morning after a heart attack following a bout of pneumonia. She was 68.

“She was recovering and all her other medical parameters were fine. Today she suffered a sudden attack and could not be saved,” Dr. Ahmad Pazare, head of medicine at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial hospital (KEM), told the Indian Express.

Shanbaug began working as a junior nurse at KEM in the early 1970s, after moving to the city from the southern Indian state of Karnataka. On Nov. 27, 1973, she was brutally attacked by a hospital sweeper named Sohanlal Bhartia Valmiki, who tied her to a dog chain and sodomized her. The incident left her in a vegetative state owing to serious brain injuries. For the past 42 years, she had been confined to ward No. 4 of the same hospital.

In March 2011, Shanbaug became the face of the debate on euthanasia in India after the country’s Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by the writer Pinki Virani that sought permission for a “mercy killing.” Virani’s move was opposed by the nurses and doctors at the hospital who had looked after Shanbaug since she was attacked.

Her rapist served seven years in prison after being convicted of robbery and attempted murder.

TIME Nepal

Rescue Efforts Resume After Second Nepal Earthquake Amid Landslide Fears

The upcoming monsoon could affect the already volatile region, experts say

Rescue operations gradually resumed in Nepal on Wednesday amid periodic aftershocks and fears of landslides, one day after a second major earthquake within three weeks rocked the Himalayan nation.

Thousands of Nepalis spent the night in the open after the fresh temblor on Tuesday afternoon, while several have still not returned home after the larger earthquake on April 25 that ripped through the country and claimed over 8,000 lives.

Tuesday’s earthquake measured 7.3 on the Richter scale against the 7.8 magnitude of the previous one, and left 65 dead and around 2,000 injured, reports the BBC. The epicenter was in Namche Bazaar, a popular town on the route to Mount Everest about 76 km from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, but its impact was felt as far as India, where 17 people died in the eastern state of Bihar, and Tibet, where one person was killed in a landslide.

Landslides are an increasing possibility in the still volatile mountain region, and the onset of the monsoons in subsequent months only heightens the potential risk.

“It’s not safe here,” Ram Tamang, a resident of Jure village who lost his wife, mother and three children in a landslide last August, told Reuters. “Last night it was raining hard the whole night and I couldn’t sleep. I’m always worried another landslide will come.”

Hundreds of Nepali troops gathered in the country’s northeastern Charikot district, meanwhile, searching for a U.S. Marine helicopter that went missing on Tuesday while delivering aid to a local village. The UH-1Y Huey helicopter had six Marines and two Nepali soldiers on board, and was reportedly heard talking about fuel problems.

“The info we have is that it is down in one of the rivers, but none of the choppers has seen it yet,” Major Rajan Dahal, second in command of the Barda Bahadur Battalion, told Reuters. “There are 400-plus of our ground troops looking for it also,” he said, in addition to the six other helicopters conducting an aerial search. “By this evening, we might get it.”

TIME Pakistan

43 Shi‘ite Muslims Have Been Killed in a Sectarian Attack in Southern Pakistan

Security officials cordon off the area at the scene of an attack on a bus in Karachi
Akhtar Soomro—Reuters Security officials cordon off the area at the scene of an attack on a bus in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 13, 2015

More than a dozen others were injured after six gunmen opened fire

Gunmen attacked a bus carrying members of a religious minority in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi on Wednesday, killing 43 and injuring about a dozen.

Provincial police chief Ghulam Haider Jamali said the bus was headed to a place of worship for Ismaili Shi‘ite Muslims when the attackers boarded it and began firing, the Associated Press reported.

About 60 people were reportedly on board the bus when the six gunmen climbed aboard. The assailants reportedly used 9-mm pistols to execute their victims.

The Pakistani Taliban and other Sunni Muslim groups that have a presence in cities like Karachi have long targeted Shi‘ites, believing that they are apostates, although no one has yet claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack.

“That’s the probability, that some section of the Taliban or some other extremist sectarian organization carried out this attack,” Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani political scientist and analyst, tells TIME.

Rizvi added that the attack is most likely a message to the government and the Pakistan army, which has recently stepped up its crackdown on extremist groups. “It’s a pre-emptive strike, it looks like an action to deter the army and Rangers [a border security force] from taking any firm actions against these militant groups,” Rizvi says. “But they will not be deterred by this kind of action, I expect some major action in two or three days time by the military and paramilitary forces.”

TIME China

Why China and India Just Can’t Get Along

India's PM Modi presents a bouquet to China's President Xi before their meeting in Ahmedabad
Amit Dave—Reuters India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, presents a bouquet to China's President Xi Jinping before their meeting in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad on Sept. 17, 2014

A stunning dearth of fraternal ties exist between the two Asian superpowers

In the 7th century, a Chinese monk traversed a ribbon of the Silk Road, through the forbidding Taklamakan desert and over the mighty Tianshan peaks, to India. The Buddhist cleric’s name was Xuanzang, and he spent 17 years abroad before returning home with a cache of sutras and religious relics.

On Thursday, Narendra Modi will make his first visit to China as Prime Minister of India. One of his first stops will be the Wild Goose Pagoda in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, which, legend has it, was originally built to store Xuanzang’s Buddhist treasures from India. With China’s President Xi Jinping at his side — a rare instance in which a Chinese leader will greet a foreign leader outside of Beijing — Modi is expected to pay respects to one of the first devotees of globalization. It’s no small irony that an ancient Buddhist pilgrim will bring together a Hindu nationalist and a Communist princeling.

Yet for all the feting of Xuanzang, India and China’s relations remain tenuous. The world’s two most populous nations comprise more than one-third of humanity. Yet bilateral trade hovers around $70 billion, less than half the dollar figure of commercial ties between China and Australia. Memories of border battles — the most recent in 1962 — fester, and the 4,000-km frontier, which cuts through disputed territory, remains tense. “The bilateral relationship cannot be very good unless the border dispute is solved,” says Zhao Gancheng, a South Asia expert from the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

Imagine: there is not a single direct flight between two of Asia’s financial capitals, Shanghai and Mumbai. Between Beijing and New Delhi, nonstop flights only run three times a week. In 2013, 175,000 Chinese went on holiday in India, according to the Indian Ministry of Tourism. Thailand, meanwhile, attracted 4.6 million Chinese visitors last year.

Ahead of his China trip, Modi joined Weibo, the Chinese social-media service that has flourished partly because Twitter is blocked by Chinese censors. Modi may be a Twitter rock star, with 12.2 million followers, but he has attracted fewer than 50,000 fans on Weibo. By comparison, Apple CEO Tim Cook garnered 300,000 Weibo acolytes within 3½ hours of joining the Chinese microblogging network this week. Modi’s Weibo feed was seized upon by Chinese nationalists who demanded that India return “South Tibet,” as they refer to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. “South Tibet belongs to China,” went one comment. “Give it back to us. Otherwise we will take it back by force sooner or later.”

Such incendiary rhetoric notwithstanding, Modi spoke on the eve of his China trip of resetting the Sino-Indian relationship, focusing on economic pragmatism over troublesome politics. “I look forward to working out a road map for qualitatively upgrading our economic relations and seek greater Chinese participation in India’s economic growth,” he told Chinese media in New Delhi, “especially in transforming India’s manufacturing sector and infrastructure.”

MORE: Exclusive Interview With Narendra Modi: ‘We Are Natural Allies’

Still, the stumbling blocks are hard to budge. China’s historic friendship with Pakistan hasn’t helped, nor has India’s decades-long hosting of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whose political counterpart Modi invited to his inauguration last year. Asked to comment on Sino-Indian ties, several India experts from leading Chinese universities refused to talk to TIME, citing the sensitivity of the bilateral relationship.

The Global Times, a daily affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, published an editorial on Monday accusing Modi of “playing little tricks over border disputes and security issues, hoping to boost his domestic prestige while increasing his leverage in negotiations with China.” The editorial, written by an academic at the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, went on to criticize the “Indian elites’ blind arrogance and confidence in their democracy,” as well as “the inferiority of [India’s] ordinary people.”

When Xi visited India last September, the trip was hailed as groundbreaking — the first time a Chinese President had stepped on Indian soil in eight years. Yet Xi’s visit resulted in an underwhelming $20 billion in promised Chinese investment over a five-year period. By contrast, Xi vowed $46 billion in infrastructure spending for ally Pakistan during a trip there last month. (India’s trade deficit with China reached $45 billion last year.) The bonhomie of Xi’s India trip was also marred by a strategic joust by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which reportedly dispatched hundreds of soldiers past the Line of Actual Control to a remote section of the India-China frontier.

Fourteen centuries ago, Xuanzang so impressed his countrymen that his travels inspired one of the most treasured classics in the Chinese literary canon, Journey to the West. Later during Modi’s China tour, in Shanghai, the Indian PM is slated to preside over the signing of a movie project celebrating Xuanzang’s life that will be jointly made by Chinese and Indian film studios.

But it’s also worth remembering that Xuanzang’s journey west was forbidden by the Chinese Emperor, who was battling Turkic nomads on the Middle Kingdom’s periphery and had therefore banned most Chinese from venturing abroad. By the time Xuanzang returned to China, his spiritual exploits trumped any imperial embargo. Still, even China’s most celebrated pilgrim was, for a time, an outlaw for visiting India.

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME Bangladesh

Another Bangladeshi Blogger Hacked to Death, Third Such Murder in Three Months

BANGLADESH-UNREST-RELIGION
Munir uz ZAMAN—AFP/Getty Images Bangladesh police escort two men accused in the murder of blogger Washiqur Rahman for a court appearance in Dhaka on March 31, 2015

Ananta Bijoy Das was a banker by profession but also an online crusader against religious extremism

A Bangladeshi blogger was killed by knife-wielding attackers in the country’s northeast on Tuesday, the third such murder in less than three months and further evidence of spiraling religious fundamentalism and intolerance of free speech in the South Asian nation.

Ananta Bijoy Das was set upon by four assailants with machetes in Sylhet district, a local police official told Reuters. The 33-year-old, who worked as a banker, was a blogger who advocated secularism through his writing.

Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country liberated from Pakistan by the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, has seen a sudden increase in attacks by Islamic fundamentalists against writers and intellectuals speaking out against religious extremism. The country is also in the midst of larger political unrest, with violent clashes between supporters of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her political rival opposition leader Khaleda Zia claiming dozens of lives this year. At least 64 people have been killed by law enforcement since January, the head of a Bangladeshi human-rights organization told al-Jazeera America.

“These are only the deaths that we know about,” Sultana Kamal of the organization Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) said. “Usually, they go unreported.”

The rise of religious fundamentalism is worrying. Das’ assassination is similar to those of fellow writers Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy, killed by the same method on March 30 and Feb. 26, respectively. Das was also a contributor to Mukto-Mona or “Free Mind,” a well-known secular blog that Atlanta-based Roy founded, according to the local newspaper Daily Star.

Roy’s wife Rafida Ahmed, who was with him when he was killed and was seriously injured in the February attack, called it a “global act of terrorism” and criticized the Dhaka authorities for their lackluster response. “What almost bothers me more is that no one from the Bangladesh government has reached out to me,” she said in an exclusive interview with Reuters published Monday. “It’s as if I don’t exist, and they are afraid of the extremists,” she said. “Is Bangladesh going to be the next Pakistan or Afghanistan?”

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