Category Archives: Current Affairs

Transforming Ayodhya into the ‘Hindu Vatican’

Ayodhya: Transforming a flashpoint holy city into the ‘Hindu Vatican’

On a brutally cold morning, Yogendra Guru looked adrift in a maze of traffic after visiting the heavily secured makeshift shrine where Hindus believe Lord Ram was born.

Frenzied construction work provided the backdrop in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya – a vast center to welcome pilgrims, arched sandstone gates, and a broad corridor leading to a brand new $217m (£170m) temple for the Hindu deity. A multi-billion dollar makeover has seen swathes of the city bulldozed to turn it into what some Hindu nationalist leaders are calling a “Hindu Vatican”.

Mr. Guru had endured a grueling 14-hour bus journey with two dozen family members who made the pilgrimage to Ayodhya from their village in Morena district in central Madhya Pradesh state.

“I am elated that we are finally getting a new temple. It seems like the Hindus have awakened, experiencing a sense of freedom. I believe we were previously suppressed,” he told me.

Next week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will fulfill a decades-long Hindu nationalist pledge by opening the temple, which replaces a 16th-century mosque that once stood here, on one of India’s most controversial religious sites. In 1992, Hindu mobs tore down the Babri mosque, claiming it was built by Muslim invaders on the ruins of a Ram temple, sparking nationwide riots that took nearly 2,000 lives.

Workers atop the under construction Ram Temple in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India, on Friday, Dec. 29, 2023.
Stretching across 7.2 acres, the three-story shrine, clad in sandstone and anchored by granite, boasts towering pillars

The stormy ownership dispute between Hindus and Muslims ended in 2019 when the Supreme Court granted the site to Hindus, despite explicitly stating that the demolition of the mosque was an “egregious violation of the rule of law”. (The court gave Muslims another plot of land in Ayodhya to construct a mosque.)

Mr Modi opens the Ayodhya temple months before the general elections, with his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) eyeing a record third consecutive term. He says the new temple will “unify the nation”. Senior minister Rajnath Singh believes the shrine would mark “the beginning of India’s cultural revival and restore national pride”.

Critics say the timing of the opening leans more towards political strategy than religious significance, building a Hindu nationalist momentum ahead of the polls. After all, they argue, the movement to build a temple was a major factor in propelling the BJP to a prominent position in Indian politics.

“After enduring life in a tent, Lord Ram has now found a rightful abode. It’s been a test of patience for all of us,” said Satyendra Das, the 86-year-old head priest of the makeshift shrine, where a smaller idol of Ram had been placed for the past three decades.

The new temple is as grand as it gets. Stretching across 7.2 acres in a 70-acre complex, the imposing three-story structure, clad in pink sandstone and anchored by black granite, boasts towering pillars and rests upon 70,000 sq ft (6,503 sq m) of pristine white marble. A 51-inch (4.25-ft) idol of Ram will be placed on a marble pedestal.

When fully complete – Mr. Modi will be opening only the ground floor on 22 January – by the end of the year, the temple will expect to greet a staggering 150,000 visitors per day, seven times the current rate.

Preparation at Maharshi Valmiki International Airport Ayodhya ahead of its inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 29, 2023 in Ayodhya, India
Ayodhya’s makeover includes a shiny new airport…
View of newly built Ayodhya Railway station on December 27, 2023 in Ayodhya, India.
…and a massive new railway station

To make all this happen, Mr Modi’s government is pulling out all the stops to transform Ayodhya, a tranquil pilgrim town on the banks of Saryu, a tributary of the Ganges, to what officials call a “world-class city where people come as pilgrims and tourists”.

The $3.85bn (£3.01bn) makeover includes expanded roads, a shiny new airport, a massive railway station, and a multi-level car park. More than 3,000 homes, shops and “structures of religious nature” have been either completely or partially demolished to facilitate the widening of four main roads, including the newly christened 13km (8-mile) Ram Path, leading to the temple. A lighter yellow paint now gives the buildings a uniform, bland look.

Hotel chains like Radisson and Taj are building new properties; up to 50 new hotels and homestays are planned, while scores of grubby guesthouses are receiving facelifts. Not surprisingly, land prices have already trebled.

“You can’t recognize the place, it’s changed so much now. There’s a bit of shock and awe that all this has happened,” said Valay Singh, author of Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord, who has been visiting the the city since 2016.

There are also plans for additional attractions surrounding the new temple, including a heritage walk featuring 162 murals depicting Ram’s life, a facility on a Saryu river island that offers “insights into the Vedic civilization”, and the creation of a wedding city and developing the place as a naturopathy center.

“We want to create the most beautiful city in the world,” says Gaurav Dayal, Ayodhya’s most senior official.

More than 3,000 homes and shops have been either completely or partially demolished to widen pilgrim corridors
Half of Vishal Pandey’s ancestral six-room house had been demolished for the road widening of a pilgrim corridor

Faith threads its way through every facet of life in Ayodhya, where temples rise like sentinels in an untidy skyline and monks walk the streets. Tens of thousands of pilgrims circumambulate the city at least twice a year. The ubiquitous monkeys still have a free run. Bazaars teem with hawkers selling religious bric-a-brac: flowers, sandalwood, devotional books, and replicas of deities.

Mr. Singh describes it as a “fragile, pilgrim-dependent economy”. On her first visit to the city, Disha Chakraborty, a student of life sciences from Shillong in north-eastern India, told me: “This place is dilapidated, let’s be honest. But it doesn’t matter because people are so devoted. So many have put their collective faith in an idol.”

Yet, in this city of both a few thousand temples, large and small, and 45-odd mosques, and festivals and fairs, a transformation is underway, blending the old with the new.

As well as tattoo parlors and takeout food, Ayodhya has a restaurant called Dark Cloud and a salon called Stylish Chand Men’s Parlour, offering a variety of style cuts. Laser shows light up the sky after the dark. The place swarms with competing YouTubers and Instagram Reel makers, each trying to make the place “trend”.

Shakila Bano, 38 years old, makes a garland of Marigold flowers at her house as the construction site of Hindu Ram Temple is seen in the background, in Ayodhya, India, November 22, 2023. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
Shakila Bano makes a garland of marigold flowers at her house – Ayodhya’s temple economy is dependent on local Muslims

Inspired by faith, tradition, and curiosity, millions of devotees and tourists are now expected to descend on Ayodhya after the new temple opens. Yet, even in its peace, there are rumblings of discontent. The road-widening initiative for pilgrims slices through the city, leaving a trail of homes and shops smashed by bulldozers.

Anand Kumar Gupta, who heads an association of local shopkeepers, said around 1,600 of them have “been displaced and have nowhere to go”. He added that they were paid an average of 100,000 ($1,200) rupees for repairs. “This rebuilding has disturbed us,” he said.

On a pilgrim route being widened, some three dozen homes of people who work in the city’s temples stand partially demolished. The street is overflowing with sewage from leaky pipes. Wobbly bamboo bridges stretch precariously over muddy trenches that scar the ground outside the doors. Owners of the destroyed homes have been given plots at a distance.

Vishal Pandey said that half of his ancestral six-room house had been demolished for the road widening. Despite a compensation close to 700,000 rupees for the affected portion, the toll on their eight-member generational dwelling is irreversible, he added. “There is anger among the locals,” Mr Pandey told me. “But we are also happy that Ram is finally getting a permanent home. He was in a tent for such a long time. Now it’s our turn [to suffer].

“Where there is destruction, there is development. Let’s see what happens.”

Local vendor named Udaikant Jha selling religious items near Dashrath Mahal on December 22, 2023 in Ayodhya, India.
Bazaars in Ayodhya teem with hawkers selling religious bric-a-brac

Kanti Devi, who has lost half of her house, is more trenchant. “We are not happy at all,” she says. “Even the officials come and tell us we are giving you a lot of pain. It’s good that the temple has been made, but how does it help us? Whatever we built, they have razed to get more pilgrims into the town.”

Officials say residents of the demolished dwellings and shops have been compensated with money and new houses under government schemes. “All compensation has been given. It is delayed in some cases because of litigation involving family disputes. There’s nothing left to be done now,” says Mr Dayal.

In many ways, people coming in from outside have shaped the destiny of Ayodhya where Hindus and Muslims have long lived in mixed neighborhoods. This endured despite the demolition and a subsequent attack on local Muslims in December 1992, allegedly leading to the death of 18 Muslims and the torching of their homes. It was a city that became a flashpoint for religious violence.

“We have moved on. However, the events remain a source of pain for us,” said Khaliq Ahmed Khan, a social worker.

Mr Khan believes Hindus and Muslims share warm relations in Ayodhya, rooted in a centuries-old inter-dependence. “Hindu devotion to Ram is intertwined with the support of Muslims, particularly in the temple economy, where their trade plays a crucial role. The two communities are inseparable.”

This sentiment is echoed by Raghuvansh Mani, a local college professor: “The sectarian strife originated from outside; the local people have minimal involvement in that.” Some locals share similar sentiments, feeling that outsiders are determining their fate, as the new temple aims to open Ayodhya to the world.

“Only time will tell,” says Mr Pandey.



100 days since Hamas – Israel War

100 days since Hamas attacked Israel, triggering war in Gaza

Supporters and families react as others hold pictures of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza take part in rally in Tel Aviv
Families of Israeli hostages held in Gaza joined a massive rally in Tel Aviv marking a hundred days of their captivity

One hundred days ago, the previously unthinkable happened in Israel. A state, born out of adversity and war only 75 years ago, woke up to what some have since described as a threat to its very existence.

On Saturday night, in Tel Aviv, the events of 7 October were commemorated by thousands of people. Uppermost on the minds of everyone were the around 130 hostages abducted by Hamas and still being held in Gaza, although some of them may not still be alive.

Just after dawn 100 days ago, thousands of heavily armed Hamas fighters stormed through and over the Gaza border fence in several different places.

They attacked kibbutzim, military bases, and border towns, accustomed to rocket attacks from Gaza but overwhelmed by the scale of the Hamas incursion.

At least 1,200 people were killed along the length of the border as Israeli defenses were caught completely by surprise.

Images of hundreds of young music lovers fleeing for their lives at the Nova festival shook Israel to its core. More than 360 people were killed at the festival site and dozens more were abducted to Gaza.

The number of civilians killed in the Israeli bombardment that followed the Hamas attacks has been huge. More than 23,000 have been killed, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, many of them women and children. Thousands more are believed to be dead under the rubble.

Yossi Schneider
Yossi Schneider’s cousin was kidnapped by Hamas along with her two young children and husband

In Israel on Saturday, among those at the huge commemorative event in Tel Aviv were families of the disappeared, carrying posters and wearing T-shirts featuring the faces of their loved ones.

I spoke to Yossi Schneider – a cousin of Shiri Bibas, who was kidnapped along with her two young children and husband.

“There are 130 people, mainly civilians being held without medicines and the Red Cross is not even being allowed to visit them,” says Yossi, angered that the wider family has received little information on their physical or mental welfare.

“There are three generations of my family that have disappeared. Three generations of my family! And the world is keeping silent and asking us to stay calm. I cannot take it anymore,” he adds, tired but frustrated.

Most people here would say that 7 October was the biggest threat ever faced by Israel and that Israelis have never felt so vulnerable. While the safe return of the hostages is their absolute priority, many also agree with their government’s war aims in Gaza and few voices are calling for tolerance and coexistence.

A man sits in front of the rubble of a house in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip
A man sits in front of the rubble of a house in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip

As Israel’s shaken defense establishment eventually responded to what was happening in the south as Saturday 7 October drew to a close, the Israeli military embarked on an unprecedented bombing campaign in Gaza – its stated goal: the destruction of Hamas and its support structure.

Much of the territory, from Gaza City in the north to Khan Younis in the south, has since been destroyed.

Israel says Hamas has been severely weakened and, according to the Israeli military, rendered almost inoperable as an organized force in northern Gaza.

But the number of civilians killed in the Israeli bombardment has been enormous.

Palestinian officials say that 85% of Gaza’s population has been displaced. While more aid is now getting into Gaza the UN’s humanitarian chief has described the situation as “intolerable”.

Fatten Abu Shahada
Faten Abu Shahada now lives in a plastic tent with her family in Khan Younis

Faten Abu Shahada needs regular kidney dialysis which is one reason why she and her family have been forced to move south. Home for Faten and the kids is now a plastic tent in Khan Younis – the sound of an Israeli drone overhead is their constant companion.

“Gaza has been destroyed. There’s no Gaza left – no hospitals, no education,” says Faten. “Our children have lost their school year, Gaza is no longer alive.”

Israel is coming under increasing international pressure to consider a ceasefire or pause in Gaza, such is the scale of the civilian suffering.

Even its closest ally the US, which consistently defends Israel’s right to self-defense and to prevent a repetition of 7 October, has repeatedly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the civilian death toll is “far too high”.

President Biden has spoken of Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing”, which he said meant the country was losing support around the world.

Gideon Levy
Columnist Gideon Levy says the war in Gaza will last as long as the Americans allow it

Gideon Levy is a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and a frequent critic of Mr Netanyahu. I asked him if this war – already Israel’s longest since 1948 – would soon conclude.

“The war in its current shape will last as long as Americans will allow Israel (to do it),” says Levy.

He adds: “I don’t think it will be many weeks more. But that doesn’t mean that the war is over because nobody has thought about the day after.

“If Israel doesn’t pull out of Gaza, there will be resistance. And if there is resistance there will be retaliation.”

As Israeli troops continue to attack Hamas positions in central and southern Gaza, ending the war seems to be far from Mr Netanyahu’s intentions.

Israel says the fighting will not end until Hamas is completely defeated. The immediate future across the region, and especially for thousands of civilians living in appalling conditions in Gaza, looks particularly bleak.


Pakistan says children killed in Iranian strike

Pakistan says children killed in Iranian strike

An Iranian missile launcher
Iranian missiles – seen here during a training drill – have hit Pakistan, Iraq and Syria in recent days

Pakistan says two children were killed and three others injured in strikes by neighboring Iran on Tuesday.

Iran said it targeted two bases linked to the militant group Jaish al-Adl, according to a news agency affiliated with the country’s military.

But Pakistan rejected this, calling it an “illegal act” that could lead to “serious consequences”.

Pakistan is the third country, after Iraq and Syria, to be hit by an Iranian attack within the last few days.

A missile attack by Iran on Pakistan is near-unprecedented. Tuesday’s strike hit a village in the vast south-western province of Balochistan, which borders the two countries.

In a strongly worded statement, Pakistan’s foreign ministry strongly condemned the “unprovoked violation of its airspace by Iran”.

It called the incident “completely unacceptable”, adding that it was “even more concerning that this illegal act has taken place despite the existence of several channels of communication between Pakistan and Iran”.

Pakistan has protested with a “concerned senior official” in Iran’s foreign ministry in its capital city Tehran, adding that “this blatant violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and that the responsibility for the consequences will lie squarely with Iran”.

Iran had late on Monday launched ballistic missile strikes against targets in Iraq’s northern city of Irbil, prompting condemnation by the US.

The Iranian strikes come amid heightened tensions across the Middle East since the war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Iran-backed Palestinian group Hamas began on 7 October.

Iran has declared that it does not want to get involved in a wider conflict, but groups in its so-called “Axis of Resistance” have been carrying out attacks on Israel and its allies to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement has exchanged cross-border fire with Israeli forces; Shia militias have launched drones and missiles at US forces in Iraq and Syria; and Yemen’s Houthi rebels have attacked ships in the Red Sea.

Israel has reportedly carried out strikes that killed a Hamas leader in Lebanon and a Revolutionary Guards commander in Syria, while the US has killed an Iraqi militia leader in an air strike in Iraq and bombed Houthi targets in Yemen.

Pakistan and Iran have fought armed separatist groups, including Jaish al-Adl, for decades in the sparsely populated region.

Security on either side of their shared border, which runs for about 900km (559 miles), has been a long-running concern for both governments.

Tehran has linked the group with attacks last month close to the border, which killed over a dozen Iranian police officers.

At the time, Iran’s interior minister Ahmad Vahidi said the militants responsible had entered the country from Pakistan.

Jaish al-Adl is the “most active and influential” Sunni militant group operating in Sistan-Baluchestan, according to the office of the US Director of National Intelligence.


Source:- ttps://

KKR to invest next $10 billion in India

KKR to invest next $10 billion in India faster than before, very impressed with what government has done: Founder Henry Kravis

KKR to invest next $10 billion in India faster than before, very impressed with what government has done: Founder Henry Kravis

KKR to invest next $10 billion in India faster than before, very impressed with what government has done: Founder Henry Kravis© Provided by The Times of India

KKR & Co., one of the world’s largest private equity firms, is set to deploy another $10 billion in India, according to Henry Kravis, one of the company’s founders. In an interview with ET, Kravis expressed his admiration for India’s economic development and highlighted the country’s potential for growth. He emphasized that India is a high priority for KKR, as it serves as the anchor for their Asia-Pacific investments.

“India is a high priority for us, it is the anchor for our Asia-Pacific investing. Japan’s an important part of what we have too. We’re not pulling out of China —and so those are the pillars. But India is probably the most important of it and the biggest opportunity,” he said.

To capitalize on the expanding size of the country and its growing economy, there is a plan to invest more aggressively. Infrastructure, a recently added focus for KKR, has shown rapid development in the past five years. According to Kravis, the existing credit business will be expanded, and there are considerations for increased involvement in real estate. Additionally, the commitment to the growth equity and private equity sectors remains strong, indicating a continued investment strategy in these areas, he said.

Kravis praised the improvements in India’s infrastructure and the pro-business attitude of the current government. “Obviously, it matters who’s elected. I have to say I’m impressed, very impressed, with what this government has done,” he said.

He commended the government’s efforts in simplifying red tape and implementing the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which has had a significant impact on the country’s productivity. Kravis also expressed confidence in the growth potential of India’s equity markets, noting that although some companies may be trading at high multiples, their earnings can be improved significantly.

Having visited India regularly since 1989, there’s a noticeable positive trend now, noted Kravis. The significant improvement in infrastructure and the increasingly prevalent can-do attitude in the country are noteworthy. This conducive environment sets the stage for further engagement. There are no plans to adopt a passive approach in the initial six months; instead, active pursuit of live opportunities already in the pipeline is on the agenda, he said.

“I meet with government people here every time I come, and what I’m hearing is very positive. From being pro-business, pro-growth, the Narendra Modi government is also about pro-help, lifting the poor in this country and then simplifying a lot of red tape. GST is a phenomenal thing that happened in this country. The productivity of that alone is just huge,” he said.

Overall, Kravis sees India as a crucial market for KKR and believes that the country’s economic growth, coupled with improvements in infrastructure and government policies, will continue to attract overseas investment.

Source:- TOI

Over 24.8cr people moved out of multidimensional poverty in India in 9 years: NITI report

Over 24.8cr people moved out of multidimensional poverty in India in 9 years: NITI report

NEW DELHI: A recent report by NITI Aayog revealed that a staggering 24.82 crore individuals have escaped multidimensional poverty in India between 2013-14 and 2022-23.

Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh have shown the most significant decline.

As stated by the report, multidimensional poverty is determined by improvements in healthcare, education, and living standards.

The NITI discussion paper highlighted that India’s multidimensional poverty has decreased from 29.17% in 2013-14 to 11.28% in 2022-23. The trend signifies the upliftment of 24.82 crore people from this bracket during the specified period.

“Uttar Pradesh registered the largest decline in the number of poor with 5.94 crore people escaping multidimensional poverty during the last nine years followed by Bihar at 3.77 crore, Madhya Pradesh at 2.30 crore and Rajasthan at 1.87 crore,” according to the report.

NITI Aayog’s approach to measuring multidimensional poverty involved considering 12 indicators aligned with the sustainable development goals. These indicators encompass crucial aspects such as nutrition, child and adolescent mortality rates, maternal health, educational attainment, access to basic amenities like clean cooking fuel, sanitation, safe drinking water, electricity, housing, and possession of assets and bank accounts.

“Significant initiatives covering all dimensions of poverty have led to 24.82 crore individuals escaping multidimensional poverty in the last 9 years. As a result, India is likely to achieve its SDG target of halving multidimensional poverty well before 2030,” the statement said.

“The government’s persistent dedication and resolute commitment to enhancing the lives of the most vulnerable and deprived have been instrumental in this accomplishment,” it added.


About Lakshadweep

About Lakshadweep

Lakshadweep is one of the smallest union territory out of all the seven union territories that are there in India. ‘Lakshadweep’ means ‘a hundred thousand islands’ in Sanskrit and Malayalam. It was formerly known by various names such as Laccadive, Minicoy, and Aminidivi Islands. Kavaratti is the capital of Lakshadweep.

Lakshadweep Islands

It is a platoon of 36 islands and is also the principal town of the Union Territories in India. The beauty of this place is popularly known for the enticing and enlivening beaches and lush green landscapes. Hence, because of a number of beaches in its account, most of the population of Lakshadweep is engrossed in fishing and cultivation of coconut.

Out of 36 islands in the group, only 10 have inhabitants namely Amini, Kiltan, Chetlat, Kadmat, Bitra Kalpeni, Agatti, Kavaratti, Kiltan, Andrott and Minicoy. The place appears more of a Muslim’s Union Territory because almost 93% of the population are Muslims. Also, the people there are very quiet and have a much laid back attitude. The area is virtually crime free.

Brief History of Lakshadweep

The group of islands of Lakshadweep are aboriginal and, hence, there are a number of speculations that have been made about the advent of inhabitation on Lakshadweep. Amongst all, one of the earlier references that is worth mentioning, is about the region being in the Periplus of the Eritrean Sea by some anonymous author.

Vasco Da Gama was the first westerner to visit the islands but it was only the Englishmen who explored it further. The Lakshadweep islands have also been greatly mentioned in Ibn-e-Batuta which is a story of an Arab traveler. The islands have been ruled by various powerful rulers such as Tipu Sultan in 1787, Chirakkal family of Cannanore and later on ultimately by the Britishers, who attached the Malabar district of the Madras Presidency.

It was only in 1956 that these islands were segregated from the main administrative units and were formed it into a new union territory by combining all the islands, under the States Reorganization ActClick here for more information on history of Lakshadweep

Geography of Lakshadweep

About Lakshadweep Tourism

Lakshadweep islands spreads up to about 32 square kilometers in area and is an amalgamation of 36 different islands, out of which 26 islands are untouched by human inhabitancy. The lush green islands are rich in vegetation and the beautiful combination of islands are also called as Emerald islands.
It is located in the Arabian Sea and is at a distance of approximately two hundred and twenty four to four hundred and forty kilometers away from the city situated along the coast of the southern state of Kerala, Kochi. Lakshadweep is probably one and the only chain of coral islands in the sub-continent. Click here for more on geography on Lakshadweep

Climate of Lakshadweep

The temperature of the tropical paradise pretty much depends upon its latitudinal positioning and geography on the earth.

In the summers, the temperature ranges from 22 to 35 degrees whereas in the winters the temperature is more or less similar ranging from 20 degrees to 32 degrees. No matter the temperature is a bit on a higher side, the islands have a very pleasing atmosphere whole around the year and manages to lure a large amount of tourists.

The chief rainy season is the Southwest monsoon which starts from late May and extends up to early October. The precipitation is more evenly distributed in the southern islands as compared to the northern islands.

Lakshadweep Tourism

Facts About Lakshadweep Islands

Tourism in Lakshadweep is one of the biggest industry as far as income and employment of the islands is concerned. The tourism of the place is dependent on its physical characteristics, from its vast marine life to its flora and fauna. The tourist department of the islands has paid a lot of attention towards its infrastructure, conservation of its beaches and monuments and construction of newer hotels.

It has a long stretch of coastline which provides a lot of scope for expansion in the field of adventure tourism. It has emerged as one of the most potential water sports destination in India. The department has also established a few water sports institute which offers a facility of sports like canoeing, kayaking, surfing, water skiing, scuba diving, etc.

Major Tourist Attractions in Lakshadweep

  1. Agatti island, Kavaratti
  2. Minicoy island, Minicoy
  3. Lighthouse, Minicoy
  4. Museum, Agatti
  5. Lagoon, Agatti
  6. Urja Mosque, Kavaratti
  7. Kadmat island, Bangaram
  8. The lighthouse, Androth
  9. Juma Masjid, Minicoy
  10. Amini beach, Amini

Shopping in Lakshadweep

This tropical paradise does not guarantee you a big shopping mall or hi-fi shopping complexes for having a retail therapy if the scenic beauty is too less for you. In spite, you will find several roadside stalls which offer you a wide range of souvenirs, vintage coral shells and exciting knick-knacks. Apart all these items, one can also shop for breath taking coconut shell curios, marvelous seashell artefacts and other local handicrafts that you can hardly find anywhere else on the planet.

Moreover, if you are someone who is a marine-life enthusiast, then you might end up carrying some of the colorful fishes back home from the aquarium stores in Lakshadweep.

Kalpeni is among the best place for shopping of souvenirs to take back with you. There is a local handicraft store behind the Koomel resort which sells various wood work items. The most famous is the model of boats using coconut and shrub barks. Also shop for t-shirts from the hosiery unit on the eastern side of island. Click here for more shopping information in Lakshadweep

Lakshadweep Festivals

During the Muslim festivals, Lakshadweep showcases an exuberant culture and tradition. However, there are a number of tribal festivals that are also celebrated with a lot of zeal and energy. The most appropriate place to witness such festivity are the numerous mosques which are present all over the islands. Id-ul-Fitr which is celebrated after Ramadan, is one of all the festivals that is celebrated by everyone present on the island.

Even though you being a tourist, you will find yourself irresistible to be able to be a part of all the exhilarating celebrations going around. The sudden transformation from a calm and peaceful locality into a jubilant and cheerful loud place will surely sweep your feet off the ground.

Food in Lakshadweep

All About Lakshadweep

If you are someone who is a big time fanatic when it comes to sea food, Lakshadweep is the right place for you. You would find a combination of ample of coconut along with the sea food. The island has to offer a number of mouth-watering dishes from a spicy non vegetarian food to healthy vegetarian food.

Since, the island is in close proximity to Kerala, the cuisine of the islands is highly influenced by it. The people of the island have a great inclination towards the coconut water as it is the most abundant aerated drink of the place. Apart from specializing in local food, the restaurants of that place also serve a series of inter-continental dishes such as Chinese, Thai and Korean cuisines.

How to Reach Lakshadweep

About Lakshadweep Islands

The islands are very well connected by the means of sea and air. The administration of the islands operates ships from Kochi to Lakshadweep, having standard voyages. The journey lasts up to 18 to 20 hours. The ships are well-equipped and offer a range of modern accommodation and amenities.
The Agatti Island of the territory is also connected through regular flights from Kochi International Airport. The Kochi airport is connected to all major cities of India. You can also find helicopter services from Agatti to Kavaratti and takes about a time of one and a half hour.

Quick facts about Lakshadweep

Government- District Magistrate
Population as per 2011 census-
Metropolis- 64 Thousands
Density-2,149 per sq km
Area- 32 sq km
Time zone- IST
STD code- 04896
Official language- Hindi, English and Malayalam





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US and UK hint at military action after largest Houthi attack in Red Sea

US and UK hint at military action after largest Houthi attack in Red Sea

Two figures stand in a room of the HMS Diamond, looking out at a fiery scene
The UK’s Ministry of Defence shared images of the HMS Diamond deploying Sea Viper missiles and guns

The US and UK have hinted they could take military action against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, after they repelled the largest attack yet on Red Sea shipping.

Carrier-based jets and warships shot down 21 drones and missiles launched by the Iran-backed group on Tuesday night.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution on Wednesday demanding an immediate end to the Houthi attacks.

The text endorsed the right of UN member states to defend their vessels. The Houthis reacted scornfully to it.

Their spokesman Mohammed Ali al-Houthi called the resolution a “political game”. They claim to be targeting Israeli-linked vessels, in protest at Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

The UN resolution demanded “that the Houthis immediately cease all such attacks, which impede global commerce and undermine navigational rights and freedoms as well as regional peace and security”. Eleven nations voted for it, but Russia, China, Mozambique and Algeria abstained.

Earlier, the US and several allies warned of “consequences” for the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Asked about potential strikes in Yemen, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Watch this space.”

The International Chamber of Shipping says 20% of the world’s container ships are now avoiding the Red Sea and using the much longer route around the southern tip of Africa instead.

The Houthis said they targeted a US ship on Tuesday providing support to Israel. It was the 26th attack on commercial shipping in the Red Sea since 19 November.

The US military said Iranian-designed one-way attack drones, anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles were launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen at around 21:15 local time (18:15 GMT).

Eighteen drones, two cruise missiles and one ballistic missile were shot down by F/A-18 warplanes from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower, which is deployed in the Red Sea, and by four destroyers, the USS Gravely, USS Laboon, USS Mason and HMS Diamond.

HMS Diamond shot down seven of the Houthi drones using its guns and Sea Viper missiles, each costing more than £1m ($1.3m), a defence source said.

No injuries or damage were reported.

Later, Houthi military spokesman Yahya al-Sarea confirmed its forces had carried out an operation involving “a large number of ballistic and naval missiles and drones”.

“It targeted a US ship that was providing support for the Zionist entity [Israel],” he said.

“The operation came as an initial response to the treacherous assault on our naval forces by the US enemy forces,” he added, referring to the sinking of three Houthi speed boats and killing of their crews by US Navy helicopters during an attempted attack on a container ship on 31 December.

He added that the rebels would “not hesitate to adequately deal with all hostile threats as part of the legitimate right to defend our country, people and nation”.

Mr Sarea also reiterated that the Houthis would continue to “prevent Israeli ships or ships heading towards occupied Palestine from navigating in both the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea until the [Israeli] aggression [on Gaza] has come to an end and the blockade has been lifted”.

A spokesperson for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “very concerned” because of the risks the situation posed to global trade, the environment and lives, as well as the “risk of the escalation of the broader conflict in the Middle East”.

File handout photo showing HMS Diamond (14 October 2020)
The UK’s HMS Diamond and three US warships helped shoot down the Houthi drones and missiles

Mr Shapps warned on Wednesday that the UK and its allies had “previously made clear that these illegal attacks are completely unacceptable and if continued the Houthis will bear the consequences”.

“We will take the action needed to protect innocent lives and the global economy,” he added.

Later, the defence secretary said in a TV interview that Iran was “behind so much of the bad things happening in the region” and warned the Islamic Republic and the Houthis that there would be “consequences” if the attacks on shipping did not stop.

Asked if there could be Western military action against Houthi targets in Yemen, or even targets inside Iran, he replied: “I can’t go into details but can say the joint statement we issued set out a very clear path that if this doesn’t stop then action will be taken. So, I’m afraid the simplest thing to say [is] ‘watch this space’.”

He was referring to a statement put out a week ago by the UK, US, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore, who launched “Operation Prosperity Guardian” last month to protect Red Sea shipping.

They said the attacks posed “a direct threat to the freedom of navigation that serves as the bedrock of global trade in one of the world’s most critical waterways”.

It may not have had the bravado of Mr Shapps’ “watch this space” warning, but US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was also clear in his condemnation of the incident.

A map showing the Bab al-Mandab strait, which sits between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea on the African coast

Speaking to reporters at an airport in Bahrain during a Middle East tour, he was pressed by BBC North America correspondent Anthony Zurcher about whether it was time that talk of consequences turned to US action.

Mr Blinken responded that he did not want to “telegraph” a US military move, but that he had spent the past four days in the region warning the Houthis to cease their aggression.

They have not only refused, but after this latest strike have claimed they are specifically targeting US ships.

Almost 15% of global seaborne trade passes through the Red Sea, which is linked to the Mediterranean by the Suez canal and is the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

The fear is that fuel prices will rise and supply chains will be damaged.

The Houthis say they have been targeting Israeli-owned or Israel-bound vessels to show their support for the Iran-backed Palestinian group Hamas since the start of the war in Gaza in October.

Formally known as the Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), the Houthis began as a movement that championed Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority.

In 2014, they took control of the capital, Sanaa, and seized large parts of western Yemen the following year, prompting a Saudi-led coalition to intervene in support of the international-recognized Yemeni government.

The ensuing war has reportedly killed more than 150,000 people and left 21 million others in need of humanitarian assistance.

Saudi Arabia and the US have accused Iran of smuggling weapons, including drones and cruise and ballistic missiles, to the Houthis in violation of a UN arms embargo. Iran has denied the allegation.




Swedish alarm after Defense chiefs’ war warning

Swedish alarm after defense chiefs’ war warning

A soldier from the Swedish Amphibious Corps is pictured on board the CB90-class fast assault craft, as they participate in the military exercise Archipelago Endeavor 23 on Mallsten island in the Stockholm Archipelago on September 13, 2023The warnings from Sweden’s defense leaders are being seen as a wake-up call

A warning to Swedes from two top defense officials to prepare for war has prompted concern and accusations of alarmism.

Civil Defense Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin told a defense conference “there could be war in Sweden”.

His message was then backed up by military commander-in-chief Gen Micael Byden, who said all Swedes should prepare mentally for the possibility.

However, opposition politicians have objected to the tone of the warnings.

Ex-prime minister Magdalena Andersson told Swedish TV that while the security situation was serious, “it is not as if war is just outside the door.”

Children’s rights organisation Bris said that its national helpline did not usually receive calls about the possibility of war. But this week, it had seen an increase in worried calls from youngsters who had seen news reports or posts on TikTok talking about it.

“This was well prepared, it wasn’t something blurted out,” Bris spokeswoman Maja Dahl told the BBC. “They should have provided information meant for kids when they come out with this kind of information for grown-ups.”

Despite the starkness of the messaging, the remarks from the civil defence minister and military chief are being seen as a wake-up call.

Sweden's Commander-in-Chief Micael Byden speaks during his talk at today's program at the Society and Defense Conference in Salen
Gen Micael Byden said Swedes on an individual level had to prepare themselves mentally

After more than two centuries of peace, Sweden is a few steps from joining the Nato defensive alliance, waiting for a green light from Turkey’s parliament and then from Hungary.

The commander-in-chief said his remarks were nothing new.

He visited Ukraine’s eastern front a month ago and Sweden is one of a group of countries training Ukrainian pilots. Stockholm is also said to be considering sending advanced Gripen fighter jets to Ukraine.

“My ambition with this is not to worry people; my ambition is to get more people to think about their own situation and their own responsibilities,” Gen Byden later told Aftonbladet newspaper.

Finland has already joined Nato, and Russian officials have suggested it will be “the first to suffer” if tensions with Nato escalate.

Sweden’s civil defence minister said his aim was not for people to lose sleep, but to gain awareness of what was really going on. He appealed to local authorities, emergency planners and individuals to respond.

“If there is one thing that keeps me awake at night, it is the feeling that things are moving too slowly,” Mr Bohlin told the Society and Defence conference on Sunday.

Sweden's Minister for Civil Defence Carl-Oskar Bohlin
Civil Defence Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin told his audience there could be war in Sweden

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Sweden during the conference to work with his country and others to manufacture weapons and “get stronger together”.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson added that in 2024, Sweden would meet Nato’s target of spending 2% of economic output (GDP) on military defence, doubling its spending since 2020.

Defence specialist Oscar Jonsson said the tone of the warnings from defence chiefs was something of a storm in a teacup and that 90% of what had been said arose from frustration that too little was being done to build civil and military defence.

“Time is limited and it was aimed at being a wake-up call for agencies, individuals and departments,” he told the BBC.

“The Swedish armed forces are incredibly competent, but the scale is nowhere near. The latest defence bill says we should set up 3.5 brigades, whereas Ukraine had 25 when the war started.”

Gen Byden’s warning to prepare mentally for war comes hard on the heels of a warning a month ago from the head of Poland’s National Security Bureau (BBN), Jacek Siewiera, who said that “to avoid war with Russia, countries on Nato’s eastern flank should adopt a three-year time horizon to prepare for confrontation”.

He said a German Council on Foreign Relations report suggesting Germany and Nato should prepare their armed forces to be able to fend off a Russian attack in six years was “too optimistic”.

Oscar Jonsson, a specialist from the Swedish Defence University, said that while war was a possibility, it would require several factors to fall into place: Russia’s war in Ukraine coming to an end, its military having the time to rebuild and rearm its fighting force and for Europe to lose US military support.

All of which were within the realms of possibility, he added.





How some Indian hospitals are cutting cancer drug costs

How some Indian hospitals are cutting cancer drug costs

People waiting at Cachar Cancer Centre in Assam, India.
People waiting at Cachar Cancer Centre in Assam, India

Scores of patients quietly fill a modest tin shed which serves as a waiting area at a cancer hospital in Silchar, in north-eastern India.

Over the last few months, Cachar Cancer Centre in the state of Assam has seen an unusually high number of patients from nearby towns and villages.

The reason: a quiet revolution that is making cancer drugs more affordable.

The hospital is part of the National Cancer Grid, a group of treatment centres that have clubbed together to bulk buy drugs and bring down costs by more than 85%.

It is a modest start but, literally, a lifesaver for some of the country’s poorest people.

Expensive, protracted treatments often put families under immense financial strain or are simply out of reach.

For example, breast cancer treatments can extend for over 10 cycles and cost more than $6,000 (£4,719). In a country where the average monthly salary is less than $700, that is beyond many household budgets.

Cancer patient Baby Nandi.
Baby Nandi has been receiving chemotherapy to treat breast cancer

Baby Nandi, 58, is waiting for her next chemotherapy session at the Cachar hospital clinic. Previously, she had to travel 2,000km (1,242 miles) for breast cancer treatment. The drugs alone cost $650 for one treatment cycle. She needed six cycles. Along with the travel and accommodation costs, her family’s finances were pushed to the brink.

Thanks to the new initiative, those drugs are now available in her home city, Silchar, at a third of the cost.

Baby’s husband Narayan Nandi said: “We don’t have so much money at a go. I had to sell land and borrow from my relatives to take her to Chennai. At least now we can afford her full treatment and be home.”

Nearly two million cancer cases are reported a year in India, but consultancy firm EY says that the actual figure could be up to three times as high.

Most people in India have to pay for healthcare themselves. Even for those with insurance or on government schemes, cancer care costs are often not fully covered.

Amal Chandra, the owner of a small shop in rural Assam, knows the problem well. Last year his wife’s government health card, which covered $1,800 of health expenses, expired midway through her breast cancer treatment. “I had to borrow $250 to pay for her remaining chemotherapy injections,” he told the BBC.

Amal and his wife are now back at the hospital as her cancer has returned but at least now the whole cost of her treatment is covered after the prices of drugs was brought down.

Oncologist Dr Ravi Kannan, who leads the Cachar Cancer Hospital's operations.
Oncologist Dr Ravi Kannan leads the Cachar Cancer Hospital’s operations

A major issue is that most of India’s cancer patients live in towns and rural areas, while the bulk of healthcare resources are in larger cities. This means that patients, like Mrs Nandi, and their families face the added burden of having to travel long distances to access treatment.

Healthcare experts say that getting cancer drugs to these parts of the country is one of the healthcare system’s biggest problems. Cachar Cancer Hospital, the only facility of its kind in India’s North-eastern hills, is trying to meet that challenge.

It treats 5,000 new patients a year and manages the ongoing treatment of another 25,000 people, who are mainly low-paid workers unable to afford the cost of cancer treatment and travel.

The intense pressure this puts on the not-for-profit organisation’s funding means it faces a budget deficit of more than $20,000 a month.

Oncologist Dr Ravi Kannan, who leads the hospital’s operations, told the BBC that the initiative to cut cancer drug prices has helped him to buy quality medicines and treat more patients for free.

It has also helped hospitals in smaller towns avoid another serious problem – running out of cancer drugs. Previously, drug supplies outside large urban centres were erratic due to the low numbers of patients and limited funds.

“Now smaller hospitals don’t have to get into the negotiation table at all. The price is already decided and comes with a commitment to supply to all hospitals at par,” Dr Kannan said.

A woman collects a prescription.
A woman collects a prescription

The initiative to bulk-buy drugs is led by the country’s largest cancer centre, Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) in Mumbai. The initial list had 40 common off-patent generic drugs, covering 80% of their pharmacy costs, saving the group $170m.

The success of the scheme has attracted interest from hospitals and state governments across the country.

The next round will expand to over 100 drugs, while broader cancer care purchases like supplies, diagnostics and equipment are also being considered. However, more expensive patented treatments are currently not part of the plan.

“I think what pharmaceutical companies need to understand is in a market like India, unless you bring costs down, you’re not going to get the volumes and it’s a chicken and the egg phenomenon,” according to Dr C S Pramesh, Director of TMH and the Convenor of National Cancer Grid.

Dr Pramesh also says that with around 70% of global cancer deaths projected to be in lower and middle income countries, like India, initiatives similar to the National Cancer Grid could be key to helping patients around the world.



Pakistan commission rejects Imran Khan’s bid to overturn election ban

Pakistan commission rejects Imran Khan’s bid to overturn election ban

Former prime minister is barred from standing in elections after being jailed for unlawfully selling state gifts while in office

Pakistan’s election body has rejected former prime minister Imran Khan’s nomination to contest the 2024 national elections in two constituencies, officials and his party’s media team said on Saturday.

The 71-year-old former cricket star has been embroiled in a tangle of political and legal battles since he was ousted as prime minister in April 2022. He has not been seen in public since he was jailed for three years in August for unlawfully selling state gifts while in office from 2018 to 2022.

Khan was disqualified from contesting the national elections scheduled for 8 February because of the corruption conviction, but he nevertheless filed nomination papers for the elections on Friday, his media team said.

In a list of rejected candidates from Lahore, the election commission of Pakistan said Khan’s nomination was rejected because he was not a registered voter of the constituency and because he was “convicted by the court of law and has been disqualified”.

His media team said the commission had also rejected his nomination to contest the elections in his home town, Mianwali.

Khan, who is widely seen as the country’s most popular leader, says he is being targeted by the military, which wants to keep him out of the polls. The military denies this.

Last week, a high court refused to suspend Khan’s disqualification from contesting the elections.

In addition to Khan, the election commission has also rejected nomination papers submitted by other senior party members, including Shah Mahmood Qureshi, vice-chairman of Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Meanwhile, the election commission accepted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s nomination from two constituencies for the 2024 elections, weeks after a court overturned two graft convictions.

But Sharif still needs a life ban on holding any public office to be removed to qualify to stand, so it was not immediately clear how his nomination was accepted. A hearing on that ban will be held in January.

Sharif was banned from running in elections in 2017 by the supreme court, which declared him dishonest for not disclosing income from a company owned by his son.

Sharif, who arrived back home in October from four years of self-imposed exile in Britain, is bidding for a fourth premiership in the February elections. His biggest challenge will be to wrest back his support base from Khan.