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No Convictions in India despite Child Labor Ban | Love Story | New Timing | Pak Offensive | Discrimination Banned | Aid Reaches Lanka | Gurkha Celebrations | Economy Recovering?

No Convictions in India despite Child Labor Ban

An unidentified boy mistaken to be child laborer cries as his mother, in blue, holds him in New Delhi.

India is failing to enforce a ban on child labor, with not a single conviction almost three years after the law came into effect, leading child rights activists said.

More than 12 million children below the age of 14 are working as domestic servants or other jobs such as in stone quarries, embroidery units, mining, carpet-weaving, tea stalls, restaurants and hotels, according to government data.

A law prohibiting employing children in homes and in the hospitality industry came into effect in October 2006. There have only been 1,680 prosecutions and not a single conviction.

“Since the law came into effect, the government has only found 6,782 child workers in jobs like domestic service and roadside restaurants,” said Kailash Satyarthi of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement).

Children working in lower-end restaurants and highway food stalls are a common sight in many parts of India, and many urban middle-class households hire young boys and girls from poor families as servants.

The law -- where violators face a jail term of up to two years and a maximum fine of 20,000 rupees ($420) is an extension of a previous 1986 ban prohibiting children from working jobs deemed too “hazardous” for minors such as in factories and mines.

Child rights campaigners say like the previous ban, the 2006 law has never been properly implemented or enforced.

“There are serious discrepancies at every stage in process of dealing with child labor issues in India,” said Satyarthi.

“First, the government numbers are underestimated, then authorities do not carry out comprehensive inspections on establishments employing children,” he said.


Love Story

The return to India of Kashmir Singh after 35 years in a Pakistani prison is in many respects a powerful love story, reports the BBC.

Singh and his wife were reunited at the border

His devoted wife, Paramjit Kaur, never lost hope over the decades that she would once again see the father of her three children.

Little wonder then that when the couple was finally reunited—along with one of their children - their collective bear hug lasted perhaps a little longer than is socially acceptable in conservative South Asia.

Overwhelmed by a sense of disbelief and the moment itself, the 67-year-old Indian tightly clutched a plastic bag containing his meager belongings.

He waved goodbye to Pakistan and signaled his gratitude to a people who had long condemned him to the terrible solitude of a death row cell but in the end also became his liberators.

Lustily cheered by the thousands who came to welcome him home, the short balding man sporting grey stubble took a moment to touch the earth then straightened up to greet them.

After struggling alone for 35 years, his wife Paramjit Kaur and son Shishpal had been camping at the border check post in anticipation of Singh's imminent return.

Border officers present said it was a “highly emotional moment, as they cried and laughed all at the same time.”

Referring to his spouse using the honorific, “begum,” Singh said that when he last saw her she was a pretty young woman.

“She is still beautiful but has grown old now,” he laughed.


New Timing

Bangladesh set clocks forward by an hour June 19, turning 11 pm into midnight, to better utilize daylight and save electricity.

“This means Bangladeshis would practically begin their work an hour earlier than usual. Many establishments that run till sundown would actually close before sundown and thus reduce pressure on power demands,” The Daily Star newspaper said on the enforcement of a government decision taken last month.

Bangladesh joins several other countries across the globe in this energy-saving measure. With the clock running an hour ahead, the country on Friday night became GMT+7 from GMT+6.

It will be a 103-day cycle beginning midnight Friday till October 1, when the clock will be pulled back by an hour. The move will impact the day-to-day routine, especially in the cities.

Prayer times for Muslims would advance by an hour while timings of offices, schools and other institutions would remain unchanged. Shops and malls that traditionally remain open till 8 pm would now get one extra hour of daylight. These would now use less electricity.

However, there is yet to be an estimation of how much energy would be saved.

“It cannot be precisely forecasted how much energy can be saved by this measure but the energy ministry expects a five percent reduction in the national power demand, which would be equivalent to 200 MW of power during the evening peak hour of 7 pm to 8 pm,” said the newspaper.

The country experiences between 1,000 MW and 2,000 MW of load shedding during peak hours daily as power demands swing from 4,800 MW to 5,800 MW against a supply of around 3,800 MW.


Pak Offensive

People who are displaced from Pakistan's troubled areas of Swat and Buner due to fighting between the government forces and Taliban militants, build a room at a camp in Swabi, Pakistan.

Ground troops moved into Taliban-controlled areas June 19 and engaged in the first gun battle of a new offensive in northwestern Pakistan, as an aerial and artillery bombardment pounded other targets.

Officials said the action did not represent the start of a full-scale operation in the tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan, but that most troops were now in place for when the orders came.

The coming operation in South Waziristan, along with one winding down in the northwestern Swat Valley, could be a turning point in Pakistan's yearlong and sometimes halfhearted fight against militancy.

It could also help the war effort in Afghanistan, because the tribal belt is believed to house key bases of al-Qaida and Taliban militants accused of launching attacks on Western and government forces in Afghanistan.

Washington strongly supports the operations, which are seen as a test of nuclear-armed Pakistan's resolve against an insurgency that has expanded in the past two years.

The Swat offensive has been generally welcomed in Pakistan, but public opinion could quickly turn if the government fails to effectively help more than 2 million people displaced from their homes by the fighting, or if civilian casualties mount.

South Waziristan government official Nematullah Khan said ground troops had started taking up positions around strongholds of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who is blamed for a series of suicide attacks in Pakistan that have killed more than 100 people since late May.

“Troops have entered Mehsud's areas” for the first time, Khan told The Associated Press.

Nearby, fighter bombers and artillery pounded suspected militant targets, flattening at least three suspected training facilities and killing or wounding several insurgents, two senior intelligence officials said.


Discrimination Banned

File photo shows Nepalese Hindu priests reading a holy book in Kathmandu. Nepal's Supreme Court has ordered a school for Hindu priests to accept students from all castes.

Nepal's Supreme Court has ordered a school for Hindu priests to accept students from all castes, an official said, ending a decades-old practice of admitting only high-caste Brahmins.

Hindu priests are traditionally all drawn from the Brahmin caste but the judges ruled that the school's practice was discriminatory and ordered it to take students from all backgrounds.

“The supreme court judges ordered the Pashupati Vidhyapeeth to allow admission to all students, irrespective of their caste,” court official Hemanta Rawal told AFP.

“The court has ruled that there should be no caste-based discrimination.”

Majority-Hindu Nepal outlawed caste discrimination in 1963 but the practice remains widespread.

In many rural areas, people from the lowest Dalit caste are banned from entering temples or drinking from communal wells.

The school, established in Kathmandu in 1974, takes children from as young as nine for instruction in Hindu rituals and Sanskrit, the language used for religious ceremonies.

It is linked to one of the world's biggest Hindu temples, Pashupatinath, which attracts thousands of pilgrims to the capital every year.

The case against the Pashupati Vidhyapeeth was brought three years ago by a lawyer who argued its admissions policy was unconstitutional and illegal, said Rawal.

School head Madhab Dhungel said he would respect the court's verdict.

“We were just following the centuries-old tradition of producing Hindu priests for the performance of rituals from high-caste Brahmins,” he told AFP.

“We will develop a new admission system from next year so that all interested students can apply.”


Aid Reaches Lanka

A young Tamil boy and elderly man sit out the front of their temporary shelters at the Manik Farm refugee camp located on the outskirts of the northern Sri Lankan town of Vavuniya.

Humanitarian aid is getting into Sri Lanka's war displacement camps, but very few of the 280,000 people they house are being allowed out, the top United Nations aid official said June 19.

U.N. emergency relief coordinator John Holmes said survivors of the brutal civil war that Colombo declared over in May needed to be permitted to resume normal lives in order to ease tensions in the country's northeast.

Aid vehicles carrying food, health and other supplies are now gaining access to the camps which were closed to trucks in the first days after the 25-year fighting stopped, Holmes told a news conference in Geneva.

“We do have pretty much full access to those camps at the moment,” he said, noting that problems with overcrowding and inadequate water and sanitation facilities with the onset of disease-spreading monsoon rains were gradually being overcome.

“What is more worrying is the nature of the camps themselves. They could be described as internment camps in some respects, in the sense that people are not allowed to move freely in and out of them for the moment,” Holmes continued.

Sri Lanka has said it is in control of the refugee situation and blasted Western governments for their attempts at the United Nations to shine a light on reported transgressions during and after its war against the separatist Tamil Tigers.

Sri Lanka's government has said it aims to have 80 percent of the population back to their villages of origin by the end of the year, and will work to give ethnic Tamils a strong political voice in the majority Sinhalese nation.


Gurkha Celebrations

Actress Joanna Lumley joined thousands of people to celebrate the Gurkhas being given the freedom of the Kent town where they are based.

About 10,000 people lined the streets of Folkestone to witness a parade by 630 members of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles.

The regiment returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan six weeks ago.

Lumley, whose father was an officer in the Gurkha regiment, fronted their campaign to gain U.K. settlement rights.

Addressing the crowds of supporters, she said: “I just wanted to say how thrilled I am to be here today, celebrating giving the freedom of your town to these remarkable men and their families.

“This is a wonderful day for Britain. You are the spearhead today for how this country can welcome people, it can recognize and honor.”

She added: “The debt of honor has been repaid to them.

“The fact that they can now stay and settle here should have happened a long time ago, but the thing is, it's happened now on our watch.”

Crowds cheered and clapped as the soldiers, who are based at the Shorncliffe Barracks, marched along the Leas promenade before being presented the Freedom of Folkestone by town mayor Janet Andrews.


Economy Recovering?

There are fresh hopes the Indian economy could be recovering. India's industrial output rose unexpectedly in April, driven by a rise in domestic demand, fuelling hopes that a recovery may be in sight.

Output rose 1.4 percent from a year earlier, after a 0.8 percent fall in March, and better than a forecast fall of 0.2 percent.

Before the April rise, industrial output had fallen in three of the four previous months.

Stock markets around the world have been buoyed in recent days by a string of positive data.

Sales and jobs data from the U.S. added to hopes that the global economy may be recovering.

“[Indian] output growth almost certainly bottomed on a year-on-year basis in March and we are looking for a healthy upward trend to develop from here,” said Robert Prior-Wandesforde, an economist at HSBC.

“It also fits in with our theory that the rebound in industrial production is due to domestic demand, the same case as with China,” he said.

Nikhilesh Bhattacharyya, an analyst at Moody's, said: “Demand for the industrial sector's consumer goods appears to remain weak, but this has been offset by government infrastructure and construction projects.”



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The Warrior Gentlemen:
Samurai Exhibit

The Asian Art Museum in SF takes an intimate look at the lords of the warrior class of feudal Japan, circa 1300-1860. A Siliconeer report.

A Poet and A Rebel:
A Tribute to Ved Vatuk

Scholars, friends and admirers gathered in May for a special tribute to poet and activist Ved Prakash Vatuk, writes Kira Hall.

Double Whammy:
The Onslaught Against Adivasis

Adivasis in southern Chhattisgarh are caught between the violence of the Maoists and the state. write Somnath Mukerji, Umang Kumar and Garga Chatterjee.

EDITORIAL: Samurai Exhibit
TRIBUTE: Ustad Ali Akbar Khan
SUBCONTINENT: Obama Fatigue?
COMMUNITY: Himachal Day
MEDIA: Ethnic Media Growing
REMINISCENCE: Trip to the Fair (Part II)
TRAVEL: Atlanta: Coke, CNN and Aquarium
AUTO REVIEW: 2009 Dodge Challenger
BOLLYWOOD: Review: Kal Kissne Dekha
RECIPE: Gulab Sandesh Cake
TAMIL CINEMA: Maasilamani
COMMUNITY: News Briefs

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