Sakshi Malik: Hurt by Indian PM Modi’s silence on wrestlers’ protests

Sakshi Malik
Image caption,Top Indian wrestler Sakshi Malik spoke to the BBC about the protests

By Divya Arya

Rohtak, Haryana

Indian wrestler Sakshi Malik says she is “hurt” that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not yet commented on the allegations of sexual misconduct against the outgoing wrestling federation of India (WFI) chief.

“When we won medals, he [Mr Modi] invited us home for lunch, he treated us with so much love and respect. It does hurt that he is now silent over this issue,” Malik, the first Indian woman to win an Olympic wrestling medal, told the BBC.

She is among a group of top Indian wrestlers who have been protesting for months, demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is also an influential MP from Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Mr Singh denies all the allegations against him.

Delhi police have opened two cases against the MP based on the testimonies of seven athletes who accuse Mr Singh of harassing them for years. As one of the complaints is from a minor, police have invoked the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act. Mr Singh has said that the law was being misused. He has been questioned by police but not arrested yet.

Malik and other top wrestlers temporarily suspended their agitation last week after they met Sports Minister Anurag Thakur who promised to complete the investigation against Mr Singh by 15 June.

“Depending on how strong the charges against him are, we will decide our next course of action. But our fight for justice is far from over,” Malik said.

“Mr Modi should definitely get involved and ensure that the police investigation is impartial. All we really want is a fair and proper investigation,” she added.

The government has also promised that neither Mr Singh, nor any of his close associates, would have a role in the new wrestling federation which will be elected by 4 July. But the wrestlers say he’s an influential man and only his arrest would stop him from interfering in the federation’s affairs.

The wrestlers first began protests in January but called it off the same month after India’s sports ministry stripped Mr Singh of his administrative powers for a few weeks and the government promised to investigate their complaints.

But the protests restarted in April, with the wrestlers calling for his arrest.

Last month, the protest site was cleared and several wrestlers were briefly detained as they tried to march to India’s new parliament. The police also filed cases including of rioting against them.

Visuals of the athletes being dragged and carried off in buses went viral, sparking criticism from top athletes and opposition politicians. The International Olympic Association also weighed in, calling for an impartial probe.

On 30 May, the wrestlers threatened to dump their medals into the Ganges – India’s holiest river – following which a delegation of protesters met Home Minister Amit Shah at his residence last week.

Malik said it was hurtful to watch the prime minister do nothing throughout this period: “We were on the streets for about 40 days… There was nothing even though he was well aware of what we were protesting about.”

Last week, Indian media reported that the minor athlete had withdrawn her allegations against Mr Singh.

Malik said she was not in touch with the complainant, but believed that “the player was pressurised into withdrawing the charges”.

“Even if charges under Pocso are not applicable, there are still plenty of complaints against Mr Singh for which he should be arrested. But it seems that laws are not equal for everyone,” she added.

Biparjoy: India, Pakistan evacuate thousands ahead of cyclone

Rising tide at Dwarka Gomti Ghat in Gujarat
Image caption,Heavy rains and high tides have been forecast in several coastal districts in Gujarat

By Meryl Sebastian

BBC News

Tens of thousands have been evacuated in India and Pakistan as parts of the countries brace for an extremely severe cyclone to hit on Thursday evening.

Biparjoy – a cyclone over the Arabian Sea – is forecast to make landfall in Kutch in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

In Pakistan, the storm is expected to hit the coast of Sindh province and affect parts of Karachi city.

Seven people have died in India amid heavy rains.

The Gujarat government said it has evacuated nearly 38,000 people to safety from its coastal districts. The weather office has warned people of blackouts and floods.

Trains in the region have been suspended while the ports of Kandla and Mundra – two of the largest in the country – have stopped operations, authorities said.

The Indian Coast Guard said it evacuated 50 workers from an oil rig off the Gujarat coast on Tuesday.

People have been told to avoid visiting beaches and fishermen have been asked to not venture into the sea.

The Indian Coast Guard preps
Image caption,Authorities in Gujarat prepare as the state braces for Cyclone Biparjoy

Three people were killed in Kutch and Rajkot districts as heavy rains and strong winds hit Gujarat’s coastal areas, uprooting trees and resulting in a wall collapse, authorities said.

As the cyclone drew closer to the coast on Wednesday, our correspondent on the ground Tejas Vaidya reported high tides in the Dwarka region.

In Kutch, strong waves swept away several tents located on Mandvi beach – a popular tourist destination.

Authorities are evacuating everyone within 10km (6.2 miles) of the area, BBC Gujarati correspondent Roxy Gadkegar reports.

Teams from the army, navy and state and national relief forces are helping with the evacuation efforts.

Several parts of neighbouring Maharashtra state have also witnessed heavy rain and high tidal waves.

Four boys, who went missing after venturing into the Arabian Sea off Mumbai’s Juhu area, were found dead on Monday evening, police said.

In Pakistan, the national disaster management authority had moved around 65,000 people from the coasts of Sindh to safer locations by Wednesday morning.

The country’s National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) says the cyclone is only 300km away from the coastal area of Kati Bandar.

Residents evacuate from a coastal area of Keti Bandar before the due onset of cyclone Biparjoy, in Thatta district of Pakistan's Sindh province on June 13, 2023.
Image caption,Thousands have been evacuated to relief camps in Pakistan

The weather office forecast heavy rains and squalls for the Karachi, Hyderabad, Tando Allayar, Shaheed Benazirabad, and Sanghar districts.

Pakistan is still reeling from the aftermath of the devastating 2022 floods which submerged large parts of the country and killed almost 1,700 people.

India students facing Canada removal over fake documents get reprieve

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Sean Fraser speaks during a press conference in Ottawa, Canada on October 26, 2021
Image caption,Canadian Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said “genuine applicants” will be allowed to stay in Canada.

By Jessica Murphy

BBC News, Toronto

Canada has offered a temporary reprieve for a group of Indian students facing removal from the country over alleged fake college admission letters.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says “genuine students who are the victims of fraud” will be allowed to stay in Canada after investigations.

The students say they were unaware of the forgeries and were duped by an immigration agency in India.

They have been holding protests to bring attention to their situation.

A number of international students have come forward in recent months in Canada to say they received removal orders after one of the documents – their college admission letter – was found to be fraudulent.

Any pending removals will now be halted while the federal government sets up a task force to conduct case-by-case analysis of all students facing a removal order, Mr Fraser said at a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.

“Our goal here is to offer a fast, fair and final resolution for people who have been impacted,” he said. “We understand the toll that this process has taken on your mental health and the challenges that you’re dealing with and we want to provide a solution.”

The minister said he expects the process will take a few months.

“It’s good news for us but until we get everything on the paper we are still going to wait for that moment,” student Chamandeep Singh, who came to Canada in 2019, told the BBC.

Mr Fraser said some students have already been removed from Canada and “they will have access to the same remedies as those who are here”.

There are no clear figures on how many students in Canada may have been affected, but the immigration minister said there are “a few dozen people who have been subject to removal orders”. He added there may be more cases that will come to light and the numbers could “potentially be in a few hundred”.

At least some of the students the BBC spoke to had their files flagged by immigration officials when they tried to apply for permanent residency in Canada, which would allow them to live and work in the country after they complete their studies.

The students say they were the victims of fraud themselves, duped by an immigration consultation agency run in Jalandhar, a city in the Punjab region of India.

In March, Canadian broadcaster CBC reported that Indian authorities had arrested one of the men behind the agency.

Some students had been in the country for years and were working towards earning their degree.

Based all over Canada, including British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, they found each other on social media and have been organising protests in the Toronto-area.

Chamandeep Singh
Image caption,Chamandeep Singh, who came to Canada in 2019, studied web development.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has previously confirmed to the BBC that there are “a number of cases of misrepresentation, including those related to study permits” but offered no further comment due to an ongoing investigation.

Mr Fraser said the federal government will also be working over the longer term to establish a stronger system to better detect fraud in cases like these.

India sends the highest number of applicants on the foreign students visa programme and, like all foreign students, they pay nearly four to five times compared to Canadians.

Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh: India’s wrestling chief charged with sexual harassment

Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh

By Geeta Pandey

BBC News, Delhi

India’s outgoing wrestling chief has been charged in court after months of protests by the country’s top wrestlers who accuse him of sexual harassment.

Police have charged Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh with stalking, harassment and intimidation as well as making “sexually coloured remarks”.

Mr Singh, an influential MP from the ruling BJP party, denies the charges.

However, police have suggested dropping charges involving a minor, which would have made his arrest imminent.

“No corroborative evidence” was found in allegations by the minor after a detailed investigation in the case, the prosecution lawyer said on Thursday.

The protests had made headlines globally, especially after the police detained the wrestlers as they tried to march to India’s new parliament building in the capital Delhi.

Footage of the Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia and two-time world champion medallist Vinesh Phogat being dragged in the streets and carried off in police vans went viral, sparking criticism from top athletes and opposition politicians.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also condemned the way the wrestlers were being treated and called for an impartial inquiry into their complaints.

The wrestlers, who had been sitting on protests since April, agreed to pause their protests earlier this month after meeting Home Minister Amit Shah and Sports Minister Anurag Thakur.

Mr Thakur had assured them that charges would be filed against Mr Singh by 15 June.

Seven female wrestlers, including the minor, had filed complaints with the police accusing Mr Singh of molesting and groping them at training camps and tournaments. In the case of the minor, police had invoked the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act.

Mr Singh, who has denied all the allegations, accuses the wrestlers of being “politically motivated” and recently said he would “hang himself even if a single allegation is proved” against him.

On Thursday, Delhi police submitted two separate sets of documents in two different courts – a 1,000-page charge sheet detailing their investigation into the overall allegations and a second shorter one in the case of the minor complainant.

In the past few days, reports said the minor had withdrawn her allegations amid reports that she had been “pressurised into withdrawing the charges”. Mr Singh had refused to comment on the allegations, saying “let law take its course”.

Legal experts say now it’s up to the judge to decide whether to accept the recommendation and close the case or not. The case will be heard on 4 July.

On Thursday, as details of charges against Mr Singh began to be revealed, legal experts and analysts said most of them were bailable offences – which means Mr Singh is unlikely to be arrested soon.

The wrestlers held their first protest in January but called it off after Mr Singh was stripped of his administrative powers by the sports ministry and the government promised to investigate their complaints. After the government did not reveal the findings of the oversight panel that investigated their allegations, the wrestlers resumed their protest in April, also calling for his arrest.

Last month, they threatened to throw their medals into the Ganges – India’s holiest river. But leaders of an influential farming group, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), persuaded them not to do so just yet, saying they would launch nationwide protests if Mr Singh was not arrested.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticised for not acting strongly or swiftly enough against Mr Singh as he’s a member of the governing party. The government has denied the charge and said law will take its course.

Cyclone Biparjoy: India, Pakistan evacuate more than 170,000

Gale force winds and heavy rains are lashing coastal parts of north-west India and southern Pakistan as a powerful cyclone makes landfall.

More than 170,000 people in the two countries were evacuated to safety before the arrival of Cyclone Biparjoy.

Forecasters say it could be the area’s worst storm in 25 years and warned it threatens homes and crops in its path.

The cyclone is due to barrel through parts of India’s Gujarat state and Sindh province in Pakistan.

Cyclone Biparjoy – meaning “disaster” in Bengali – is forecast to hit the coast near Jakhau port, between Mandvi in Gujarat and Keti Bandar in Sindh.

Pakistan’s disaster management agency warned of storm surges as high as 3-4m (10-13ft) along the coastline from Karachi to Gujarat.

Alok Pandey, the official in charge of relief operations in Gujarat, said earlier that the cyclone’s intensity had reduced but that wind speeds were still expected to be at “very dangerous” levels of around 110-125 km/h (68-78mph) at the time of landfall.

The Indian armed forces and coast guard have kept ships, helicopters and aircraft on standby for rescue and relief operations.

Gujarat’s health minister, Rushikesh Patel, asked people to avoid travelling. “Our aim is to ensure zero casualties,” he said.

At least seven deaths were reported amid heavy rains in India earlier this week. The victims included two children crushed by a collapsing wall, and a woman hit by a falling tree while on a motorbike, AFP news agency reported.

A woman next to baby's crib at a cyclone shelter in Mandvi
Image caption,More than 170,000 people in India and Pakistan have been evacuated to shelters and temporary camps

In Pakistan, the storm is expected to strike the coast of Sindh province. Authorities have evacuated 81,000 people from the south-eastern coast and set up 75 relief camps at schools.

Ms Rehman said that Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city with a population of more than 20 million, was not under immediate threat but emergency measures were being taken.

Meteorologists warned that high tides could inundate low-lying areas along the coasts.

Mandvi and other parts of coastal Gujarat have witnessed heavy rains and high winds since Wednesday. Local media outlets shared videos that showed debris flying amid heavy rain.

Gujarat state officials said that 94,000 people had been evacuated from coastal areas.

Indian people arriving at school converted into temporary shelter
Image caption,The cyclone is expected to make landfall on Thursday evening local time

A number of train services have been suspended in Gujarat, while the ports of Kandla and Mundra – two of India’s largest – have stopped operations, authorities said.

Fishing has been suspended along the Gujarat coast, while fishermen in Pakistan’s coastal region have also been warned to stay ashore.

The Gujarat government has also set up control rooms to monitor the safety of Asiatic lions in the Gir forest and coastal areas, BBC Gujarati reported. The Gir forest is the only natural habitat of the Asiatic lion.

Eighteen national disaster relief teams and 12 state disaster relief teams have been deployed in key areas of Gujarat for relief work. They will focus on ensuring that essential services remain unaffected or at least restored soon, depending on how strong the cyclone is.

The India Meteorological Department expects Biparjoy to “fall in intensity” as it moves inland. caption,

Ben Rich looks at Cyclone Biparjoy’s expected impact as it makes landfall

Cyclones, also known as hurricanes in the North Atlantic and typhoons in the north-west Pacific, are a regular and deadly phenomenon in the Indian Ocean. Rising surface temperatures across the Arabian Sea in recent years due to climate change have made the surrounding regions even more vulnerable to devastating storms.

Cyclone Tauktae in May 2021 was the last severe cyclone that struck in the same region. It killed 174 people.

The evacuations for Biparjoy brought back grim memories from 25 years ago when another cyclone hit the Gujarat coast, leaving a trail of death and destruction. Official figures put the death toll at around 4,000 but unofficially, locals say the number was much higher.

“We have seen cyclones in the past, but this time it looks very bad,” said 40-year old Abbas Yakub, a fisherman sheltering at a primary school in Mandvi. He was among 150 people at the temporary shelter.

“Our home is right at the coast, waves already touched our house yesterday morning. We don’t know what we will go back to,” he said.

At another shelter – a school shielding around 300 people – the youngest inhabitant, Ishaad, was just three days old. His mother Shehnaz, said she was anxious about their future.

“If anything happens to my house, how will I manage with my baby? What will I go back to?”

Maharashtra: The Indians taking on giant Saudi-backed refinery

Manasi Bole
Image caption,Manasi Bole is among protesters who do not want the refinery in Ratnagiri

By Nikhil Inamdar

BBC News, Barsu

“We don’t want this chemical refinery. We will not allow dirty oil from an Arab country to destroy our pristine environment,” says Manasi Bole.

She is among thousands of people protesting plans to acquire an expansive laterite plateau – flanked by cliffside fishing villages, mango orchards and ancient petroglyphs – to build the world’s largest petrochemical refinery in western India’s ecologically fragile Konkan belt.

In late April, angry protests erupted in Ratnagiri district of the western Indian state of Maharashtra when authorities began testing the soil for the mega project to be built by a consortium of Indian state-run oil majors and global giants Saudi Aramco and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).

Thousands of villagers, led by women, braved the intense summer temperatures and lay on the roads to prevent officials from entering the site. Many others shaved their heads and went on a hunger strike to mark their dissent.

Click here to watch a video about the protests

When talks with the villagers proved unsuccessful, police imposed a curfew on their movement and used batons and teargas to disperse the protesters. Women protesters and anti-refinery activists were detained, some for several days.

Across the region, there’s now simmering discontent over what villagers allege were “undemocratic and coercive” tactics by authorities to saddle them with a mammoth industrial project they’ve vehemently opposed for nearly a decade.

Mounting opposition

Across the villages we travelled to, there was anxiety about the refinery.

“They say the plateau is a barren wasteland, but it’s a source of water for our springs, a place where we go to forage for berries, and grow vegetables” Ms Bole said.

Imtiaz Bhatkar
Image caption,Fisherman Imtiaz Bhatkar said he worried about losing his livelihood every day because of the proposed refinery

Aboard his trawler boat, fisherman Imtiaz Bhatkar said he was worried about losing his livelihood every day because of the proposed refinery.

“We won’t be allowed to fish in a 10km (6.2 mile) radius because the crude tankers will be moored at sea,” Mr Bhatkar said. “Nearly 30,000 to 40,000 people – local and from outside – depend on fishing in just this one village. What will they do?”

Mango growers in the region – famed for the prized Alphonso mangoes – told us the slightest air pollution and deforestation would severely damage their yields given how sensitive the Alphonso variety is to the vagaries of wind and weather patterns.

Mired in politics

Successive state governments in Maharashtra have been expedient in their stance on the refinery. They have supported it when in power and challenged it when in opposition.

Initially planned as a $40bn (£31.6bn) venture, the size of the 60m-tonne-per-annum project has had to be cut by a third because of the long delays in getting it off the ground.

The project was first announced in 2015 to be built in Nanar village, a few kilometres away from the current site in Barsu village in Ratnagiri. The plans were scrapped after it met with stiff opposition from the residents of Nanar, its village council and environmental groups.

The state’s previous chief minister Uddhav Thackeray revived it last year, proposing Barsu as the new site.

But out of power now, he has changed his view in support of the locals.

Protesters lying on the roads to prevent police
Image caption,In April, protesters braved intense summer temperatures and lay on the roads to prevent police from entering the site

The present-day government – which comprises of a splintered faction of Mr Thackeray’s party and the BJP – says resistance to the project is politically motivated

“This is a non-polluting green refinery. As the industries minister, it is my job to clear the misunderstandings of people who are being misled by external forces,” Uday Samant, a state minister told the BBC.

Contrary to widespread claims, there will be no damage to the petroglyphs – or rock carvings – in the region which are now part of UNESCO’s tentative world heritage list, he said.

Mr Samant also claimed the government has already acquired 3,000 of the 5,000 acres of land on which the refinery will be built.

What the BBC saw on the ground, however, belied some of his assertions.

The soil testing for the project, f or instance, took place barely a few metres away from some of the 170 petroglyphs on the plateau. Letters of objection from at least six local village councils were brushed aside by authorities, saying people from these hamlets didn’t own the land on which the refinery would come up.

But locals say they were conned into selling land parcels at throwaway prices to investors – some of which included politicians, police officials and civil servants – without being informed that it would be given away for a refinery project.

“The government is allowing the fate of this region to be decided by 200 investors rather than by its people,” said Satyajit Chavan, an anti-refinery activist who spent six nights in jail for social media posts urging residents of the region to join in the protests.

Ecology vs economy

Divisions over the refinery have been drawn on several lines in this tropical idyll, including geography, class and ideological leanings.

Away from the rural interiors, in the town of Rajapur, Suraj Pednekar, a small business owner, insisted the project will vastly improve the fate of Ratnagiri district, an industrial laggard in the country’s richest province.

The government’s own estimates suggest Maharashtra’s GDP will get a 8.5% boost.

Petroglyphs in Barsu
Image caption,Petroglyphs – or rock carvings – in the region are part of the UNESCO’s tentative world heritage list

“Entire generations of young men and women have to go to Mumbai and Pune every year to make a living,” Mr Pednekar said. “Villages are being emptied out because there are no jobs. If we get the refinery here and it employs 50,000 people, the population will go up and it will help local businesses. Why should we resist that?”

His views are echoed by several others in the bigger towns whose traditional livelihoods will not be directly affected by the project. But they are drowned out by villagers.

“These so-called jobs will go to educated graduates, not the local fishermen. We don’t need such jobs,” said Mr Bhatkar.

According to Ms Bole, even if the locals are given work, it will be lower level jobs of sweepers or watchmen.

Across the state, there appears to be growing support for this people’s fight.

At a meeting in Pune city recently, local writers, poets, activists and resistance groups vowed to galvanise massive crowds to mount pressure on authorities to scrap the project.

“Our campaign will focus on urging people to not vote for politicians or political parties who are in favour of the refinery,” Mr Chavan told the BBC.

From Enron in the 1990s to an attempt by the French to construct a now stalled nuclear power plant here in the early 2000s to various major industrial proposals by Indian conglomerates like the Reliance Group and the Tata Group, over the years, local resistance groups have made several behemoths retreat from the Konkan.

Whether or not the proposed refinery meets the same fate remains to be seen. But crowd after crowd of local villagers told us they will fight till their very last breath till it goes away.

Yet again, it appears, this region has become a faultline between India’s economic ambitions and the ecological sensitivities of its people.

Kedarnath: ‘Survivors took refuge in trees – and died of hunger’

Kedarnath floods
Image caption,Ram Karan Beniwal lost his wife and five other family members in the floods

On 16 June 2013, a cloudburst in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand caused devastating floods and landslides that destroyed several villages and towns. Thousands of people were swept away, and many bodies were never recovered. Ten years after the disaster, Ram Karan Beniwal – who was in the temple town of Kedarnath, one of the worst-affected areas – recalls the day the floods tore apart his family.

On 9 June 2013, my wife and I and five others (my two brothers, their wives and one more relative) left for Kedarnath from our home town of Jodhpur in Rajasthan. My children were busy with studies and work and decided not to join us.

My wife Chhota Devi and I had already visited three of the four main Dhams (the four Hindu pilgrimage sites of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri) earlier. Kedarnath was the only one left.

On 16 June, we reached the holy Kedarnath temple. After praying there, we headed down to Rambara (a small village that serves as a resting place for devotees). On our way there, it started raining heavily. We reached Rambara at 17:00 local time (11:30 GMT) and decided to spend the night there.

Click here to watch Ram Karan Beniwal narrate his story

Late in the night, we were sitting by the Alaknanda river (on the foothills of the Himalayas), chanting the name of Lord Ram. Suddenly, I heard loud noises from the river and rocks nearby.

It felt like the mountain began to tremble. It was pitch dark, so we couldn’t see clearly. Then huge boulders started rolling down, sweeping people into the violently flowing river.

I saw my wife and one of my sisters-in-law being swept away, followed by my elder brother. I couldn’t see my other relatives. I ran and stood by a large boulder, which protected me from the avalanche of rocks coming from the top.

Kedarnath floods
Image caption,Mr Beniwal and his wife, Chhota Devi

I noticed that the hills with large trees on them weren’t crumbling as quickly as the ones that were rocky and barren. I quickly ran up one of these hills and clung on to the branch of a tree. From a distance, I saw an entire mountain dissolve into the river in front of my eyes.

That is when my mind went numb. I couldn’t process what I just saw. It was freezing cold, and my clothes were wet. There were other people around me, also holding on to trees. But no one spoke a word. Everyone was gloomy and desolate. I dislocated my shoulder while hanging on to the tree, but I just put it back into place. It hurts even today.

I sat on the tree for the next four days as the floods and landslides continued. I saw people around me who had huddled near trees die of starvation, dehydration and the cold. All the mobile towers had washed away. There was no communication with the outside world. In my mind, I was convinced that there was no way I would survive. Only god could help me now.

On 20 June, a rescue helicopter arrived. The crew would rescue five people at a time, as and when the weather permitted. The helicopter took me to Guptkashi (a town near Kedarnath) where I changed choppers to reach Dehradun (capital of Uttarakhand). There, I was admitted to a hospital.

I was very weak after days of staying wet with no food and water. My skin was damaged and peeling off. I finally managed to contact my daughter, who hung up the phone the moment I told her that I was the only one left. A day later, my brother-in-law and nephew came to Dehradun to pick me up.

Kedarnath floods
Image caption,The floods destroyed many villages and towns in Uttarakhand

No one can replace the void a mother leaves, but my children were glad that at least I was back home. The bodies of my wife and the others were never found.

Initially, my children were in denial, thinking that their mother may have survived somehow. They were still hopeful that she would return home one day. But I was convinced of what I had seen, and my children also came to terms with reality over time.

Ten years later, I look back at the destruction and loss of life and property that happened. So many tourists, pilgrims and locals lost their lives. I still remember the parking lot in Gaurikund (the starting point of the trek to the Kedarnath shrine) where almost 5,000 cars were parked, including ours with all our belongings. We lost everything.

It was a natural disaster and god’s will. I think of it as a train journey where everyone chats through the journey, but has to get down when the station arrives. Maybe Kedarnath was my wife’s final station.

I now spend my time meditating and chanting god’s name to distract myself. If you ask me whether I would go to Kedarnath again, the answer would be an emphatic yes. There is no point in living with fear, and there is no fear now. In fact, I would take my children there as well.

Cyclone Biparjoy: At least two people dead as storm hits India

At least two people have been killed and 22 injured after Cyclone Biparjoy made landfall in western India near the Pakistan border.

The storm weakened after hitting the Gujarat state coast on Thursday night, but is still moving across the state bringing strong winds and rains.

It has uprooted trees, ripped out electricity poles, and damaged roads in some districts.

The full extent of the damage is still yet known, say authorities.

Pakistan’s Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman said the country was largely spared the full force of the cyclone.

Coastal areas of the Sindh province were inundated because of high sea levels “but most people had been evacuated to safe ground,” she said.

In India, the Press Trust of India reported two cattle farmers in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar city- a father and son – were swept away as they entered a flooded ravine to save their goats.

Not a single life was lost after the cyclone’s landfall on Thursday night, the country’s national disaster management agency chief said.

More than 170,000 people in the two countries had been evacuated from the coastal regions before the arrival of the cyclone.

Makeshift shelters were also set up in school auditoriums and other government buildings in both countries.

Cyclone Biparjoy, which means “disaster” in Bengali, first hit India’s port city of Jakhau in Gujarat on Thursday packing winds up to 125 km/h (78mph).

The India Meteorological Department has since reduced the classification of the storm from “very severe” to “severe”.

Authorities had, however, been unable to start rescue operations due to heavy rains and strong winds in Gujarat’s Mandvi district, the district chief told the BBC.

India’s weather office said heavy rainfall is expected to continue in the neighbouring Rajasthan state till Saturday as the cyclone moves northwest.

Gujarat officials said around 99 train services would remain cancelled as the storm barrels across the state.

Cyclone Biparjoy was classified as a category one storm, the least severe on a scale of one to five, but forecasters had said it could be the area’s worst storm in 25 years.

Cyclones, also known as hurricanes in the North Atlantic and typhoons in the north-west Pacific, are a regular and deadly phenomenon in the Indian Ocean. Rising surface temperatures across the Arabian Sea in recent years due to climate change have made the surrounding regions even more vulnerable to devastating storms.

At least 33 deaths were reported in Pakistan last week due to heavy rains, while seven deaths were reported in India this week amid downpours.

Leela Row Dayal: The first Indian woman to win a match at Wimbledon

Row seen on a tennis court wearing a t-shirt and shorts
Image caption,In 1931, Leela Row won her first All India Championship title

By Meryl Sebastian

BBC News

A writer, dancer, playwright, mountaineer and a national tennis champion, Leela Row – the first Indian woman to win a tennis match at the Wimbledon – was as prolific as they come.

In his 1966 book My Contemporaries, art critic Govindraj Venkatachalam recalls meeting Row as a young girl.

“Timid and nervous, she was shy of strangers,” he wrote. “Little did we realise then that this slip of a girl, would at an early age, become an all-India figure and one of the world’s champion tennis players.”

Born in December 1911, Leela Row was the daughter of Raghavendra Row, a renowned physician, and Pandita Kshama Row, one of the foremost Sanskrit scholars of her time.

Row was raised in India and educated at home by her mother. The family would go on to travel in England and France, where Row also studied the arts.

She began learning classical Indian dance at the age of three to improve her physical strength after a bout of malaria.

Venkatachalam met Row through mutual friends of their family and described her as “very versatile”. As a young girl, she was trained in violin by a master in Paris and had a passion for the stage.

It was from her mother that Row inherited her love for tennis.

European sports had gained popularity among Indian women as part of a broader movement for emancipation, Boria Majumdar and JA Mangan write in their book Sport in South Asian Society.

In the 1920s, Kshama Row was among the first few women tennis players in the country – she won the singles title at the Bombay Presidency Hard Court Championships in 1927.

Row soon followed in her mother’s footsteps, dominating the tennis circuit in the country as a singles player while also playing doubles matches with her mother.

Tennis Players Helen Jacobs and Dorothy Rand leaving the courts after Rand defeated Jacobs in the Wimbledon finals on July 10, 1934.
Image caption,Dorothy Round (right) won the woman’s singles tennis title at the 1934 Wimbledon Championships

In 1931, she won her first title at the All India Championship. She went on to win six more in the following years.

Through the 1920s and 1930s, Row frequently made news for winning matches at championships across the country.

In 1934, she became the first Indian woman to win a match at the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon with a 4-6, 10-8, 6-2 victory over Gladys Southwell of Britain. She lost to France’s Ida Adamoff in the next round.

Row was back at the tournament the next year but lost in straight sets to Britain’s Evelyn Dearman in the first round.

It would be 71 years before another Indian woman – Sania Mirza – would compete in the senior ladies’ draw at the Wimbledon.

“She lived the kind of elite Indian life that could have only taken place in the years between the two World Wars, when the highest echelons of Indian society could simultaneously keep one foot firmly planted in the country of their birth, but another just as firmly, in the broader international networks of the British empire,” writer Sidin Vadukut wrote of her in 2018.

In 1943 , Row married Harishwar Dayal, a civil servant who had represented India at the UN and was then the deputy at India’s embassy in Washington DC.

Row continued to play exhibition tennis matches during her time in the US.

But by the late 1940s, she had turned to her other love – writing about and documenting art.

he English Wightman Cup tennis players at Wimbledon, London, 11th June 1936. From left to right, Freda James, Dorothy Round, Mary Hardwick (1913 - 2001), Evelyn Dearman, Nancy Lyle and Kay Stammers. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Image caption,Row returned to Wimbledon in 1935 but lost to Britain’s Evelyn Dearman in the first round (fourth from left)

From her mother, who was considered a pioneer of modernism in Sanskrit, Row had also inherited her love for the language. She adapted several Sanskrit poems written by her mother for the stage.

While she was not a professional dancer, she wrote several books in English and Sanskrit on Indian classical dances.

Her book Natya Chandrika delved into the art of Indian dance and drama, while another one, titled Nritta Manjari delved into the dance sequences of Bharatanatyam.

Natya Chandrika was the first book by an Indian author to be archived by the US Library of Congress, the LA Times reported in 1958.

She also wrote a book on the origins and techniques of the Manipuri dance form, which one reviewer called “a charming introduction” to a “rich and varied treasure of classical Indian dance”.

By the late 1950s, she had spent 20 years researching Indian dance forms and written five books on them. For some of these, she’d posed for the illustrations to demonstrate the form and movement.

“I want to bring out in drawings what my ancestors did in sculpture in the temples of Southeast Asia,” she told the Windsor Daily Star.

In 1963, Row published a children’s book she wrote by hand and bound herself. The book told the story of the mystic poet Meerabai and was based on a Sanskrit poem written by her mother. Row illustrated the story with delicate line drawings in black.

A senior librarian at Singapore’s National Library called it “one of the most treasured possessions in the Asian Children’s Literature collection”, which has some of the oldest and rarest children’s books from Asia.

Row and her husband were “passionately fond of the high mountains,” she wrote in volume 26 of the Himalayan journal. So the couple were happy when Dayal was posted as India’s ambassador to Nepal in 1963.

During her time there, she’d write about the country’s art and architecture.

Row would often go on treks to the mountains, sometimes with her husband or alone.

“It was always some political crisis which prevented us making the trips or returning earlier than expected,” she wrote.

On a trek in the Khumbu region of Mount Everest, Row writes of visiting the Thyangboche monastery – “the first visit of an Indian woman” – and the pleasure of seeing Mount Everest every day.

She called trekking up the Taboche ridge “the biggest thrill of my life”.

“My life’s dream has been fulfilled,” she wrote in the journal.

Dayal died in 1964 while the couple was on another trip to the Khumbu region.

There is little information on how and where Row spent her last years and on her surviving family members.