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A General Interest Monthly Magazine for South Asians in the U.S.

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Cricket Scandal Takes Down Shashi Tharoor | India Urban Size to Double, Could Face Chaos | Nepal May Allow Same-sex Marriages | Sex Scandal Guru | Troops Guard Water | SIM Cards Blocked | Mutineers Sentenced | Cross-border Spouses | Ruling Party Gains | India, Pakistan to Meet

Cricket Scandal Takes Down Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor, India's junior foreign minister and a one-time candidate for the post of U.N. secretary-general, has resigned amid allegations of corruption in the auction to add a new team to the lucrative Indian Premier League cricket tournament.

Last month, a group of investors Tharoor helped put together made a successful bid of more than $330 million to bring a team to Kochi, a port city in southern Kerala state, part of which he represents in Parliament.

Premier league chief Lalit Modi later questioned why a 25 percent share in the franchise, which is now part of the Twenty20 cricket league, was given to a group that included a friend of Tharoor's. It was alleged the friend's shares were really intended as a hidden gift to Tharoor.

Opposition politicians demanded Tharoor resign, but the politician initially defended himself, saying there was no reason for the investors to bribe him since his ministry has nothing to do with the league, and he had no way of influencing the auction.

He said he only helped put together the winning bid because he wanted to bring a team to Kerala.

Tharoor was U.N. undersecretary-general for communications and public information under former Secretary-General Kofi Annan. His name was among those considered for the top U.N. post in 2006, when Ban Ki-moon was voted in. In 2009, Tharoor won a seat in India's Parliament.


India Urban Size to Double, Could Face Chaos

Dharavi, Asia's biggest slum, in Mumbai.

India's city population will nearly double to close to 600 million people by 2030, requiring huge investment to avoid urban "chaos,” a report by global consultancy McKinsey warned.

India must invest 1.2 trillion dollars for core urban infrastructure in its cities over the next 20 years, equivalent to 134 dollars per capita a year, the report said — almost eight times current spending in per capita terms.

"The need for change is urgent. India's current approach to urbanization is likely to result in urban gridlock and chaos," said Ireena Vittal, one of the report's authors.

India's urban population is projected to soar to 590 million from around 340 million now as a huge number of people migrate to cities from rural areas, said the report entitled "India's Urban Awakening."

By 2030, India will have 68 cities of more than one million people, 13 cities with more than four million people, and six megacities with populations of 10 million or more, the report forecast.

At least two of these cities — Mumbai and New Delhi — will be among the five largest cities in the world by 2030.

"India is urbanizing at a scale and pace it has never before experienced," the report said.

In transportation, India needs to build 350 to 400 kilometers (220 to 250 miles) of metros and subways every year, more than 20 times it has achieved in the past decade.

In addition, between 19,000 and 25,000 kilometers of road lanes need to be built every year — including lanes for bus-based rapid transit systems — nearly equal to the road lanes constructed over the past decade.


Nepal May Allow Same-sex Marriages

Trekkers walking through snow at Mugu, Nepal, which may become the first Asian nation to allow same-sex marriages.

Nepal's Mount Everest could soon play host to same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.

Nepal looks set to become the first Asian nation to allow same-sex marriages and couples are even planning to promote civil ceremonies on the top of Mount Everest to encourage more tourism to the country.

It’s a dramatic turnaround for Nepal which up until 3 years ago, listed homosexuality as a crime. However, the country’s minister for tourism spoke out in a recent interview with a British newspaper to explain that Nepal is a changed nation and it wants to display this to the rest of the world.

To reflect this change in the country and its newfound tolerance of same-sex relationships, Nepal’s constitution is being re-written and will add elements which will safeguard the rights of homosexual individuals. The government is in the process of introducing a same-sex marriage bill.

It is hoped that the move will help encourage tourism to the country. Currently 400,000 holidaymakers visit Nepal every year, but tourism bosses want to see that figure more than double to reach 1 million visitors annually.

As well as promoting civil ceremonies on Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, Nepal also wants to cater for honeymooning couples by introducing elephant safaris.


Sex Scandal Guru

Nithyananda Swami

Police in India say a controversial Hindu holy man facing charges of obscenity has been arrested.

Nithyananda Swami was detained in Himachal Pradesh where police said he had been hiding.

The guru stepped down earlier as head of a religious organization based in Bangalore.

His announcement came after a video apparently showing him engaging in sexual acts with two women. He says he is innocent and the video is a fake.

Nithyananda Swami has a huge following in southern India and his mission has branches in several countries, including the U.S. and Europe.

"Nithyananda Swami was arrested at Solan [in Himachal Pradesh] along with his associate Gopal Seelam Reddy and they would be brought to Bangalore soon," the city's director general of police, DV Guruprasaad, said.

The authorities also raided the swami's sprawling centre near Bangalore.

Nithyananda Swami, 32, stepped down as leader of the global Dhyanapeetam (Knowledge Centre) organization soon after the police inquiry was launched.

"I have decided to live a life of spiritual seclusion for some indefinite time," the guru said in a statement.

"If required, I will return and talk about all that had happened as an independent witness to my conduct with a clean heart and pure soul and in a less prejudiced atmosphere."

The video shocked his devotees and angered locals — his ashram near Bangalore was vandalized after TV channels broadcast the video.

The guru's followers allege the video was created and distributed by a jealous resident of the ashram in a bid to defame him.


Troops Guard Water

A water shortage in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka is so acute that troops have been called in to guard water pumps in parts of the city.

The city of more than 13 million people experiences a water shortfall every year during the peak dry season in April and May, but this year it is particularly bad, the United Nations said.

Soldiers were called in to help coordinate water distribution after protests by residents, angry at the worsening situation, said the U.N.'s Integrated Regional Information Networks).

Two factors have exacerbated the shortage this year: Lack of rain has caused groundwater levels to drop. And regular power outages have made it difficult for officials to pump what is needed.

The city's water supply authority has 545 water pumps but only 293 generators, IRIN said. In addition, the city needs 2.2 billion liters of water a day, but can only produce 1.9 billion.

As a result, people are relying on surface water that is often contaminated. And hospitals throughout the city are experiencing a spike in water-borne diseases.

A World Health Organization assessment of sanitation and drinking water this year found that more than 30 million people in the south Asian country do not have access to safe drinking water.

Over the last decade, ground water levels have been declining by up to three meters (9 feet) a year, the U.N. said. At the current rate of urbanization, access to clean potable water could get worse, it said.


SIM Cards Blocked

In an attempt to curb the use of cell phones in terrorist activities, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has blocked 10.2 million SIM cards as the identity of their users were not verifiable.

During a meeting with the Senate Standing Committee, PTA officials said that the 10.2 million SIMs have been blocked as the identity of users could not be verified, while 78 million SIM cards have been verified.

An online news agency quoted the officials as saying that all unregistered SIM that were being used for terrorist activities have been deactivated and the mobile phone companies have been directed to set up a complaint center to assist the police and other investigation agencies.

The suggestions to allow the police to gain access into the consumer data along with the setting up of legislation to prevent crimes through mobile or land line phones were made during the meeting.

Inspector General of Islamabad Syed Kalim Imam, who was present in the meeting, said that police face difficulties in taking action against the culprits due to the mobile phone companies’ reluctance to divulge data of their customers.

During the meeting, PTA officials told the committee that under the new system SIM cards will be activated only after prior verification of the applicant's identity.


Mutineers Sentenced

Bangladeshi army soldiers stand guard at the main gate of the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Dhaka.

A court in southwestern Bangladesh sentenced 56 border guards to prison terms of up to seven years for their role in last year's mutiny over pay disputes and other grievances that sparked violence that killed 74 people.

The sentencing followed similar verdicts earlier on 57 defendants in eastern Bangladesh, and verdicts earlier this month on 79 defendants in northern Bangladesh. Only mutiny charges have been dealt with so far, and those accused of crimes such as murder and arson in the uprising will be tried separately.

The guards from the Bangladesh Rifles — the country's border security force — said they revolted over alleged discrimination and demands for parity in pay and other perks enjoyed by the army officers who command them.

The two-day revolt in February of 2009 erupted with violence at the forces' headquarters in the capital, Dhaka, and then spread across the country. Fifty-seven army officers were among those killed. The killings occurred only at the headquarters.

A special court in the southwestern district of Sathkhira sentenced 56 guards to prison terms ranging from four months to seven years. Twenty-four defendants received the maximum, Judge Maj. Gen. Mainul Islam said. An additional 32 received sentences ranging from four months to five years, he said.

Islam said four were acquitted. None of the 56 were accused of slayings.

Islam said the convicted guards found guilty of taking up arms, firing, driving their army commanders out of offices and homes and blocking a road during the Feb. 25-26 uprising.

The mutiny occurred just two months after the country's powerful military, which has backed 21 coups in the country's 38-year history, relinquished power to a civilian government under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.


Cross-border Spouses

Love knows no boundaries and many Indians who wouldn't mind going the Sania Mirza way.

Just like the tennis star, they are game for a spouse in Pakistan, Nepal or Sri Lanka, and fundamentalists who oppose such marriages be damned.

According to a survey, "Love Across Boundaries,” by matrimony site Shaadi.com, 61.2 percent people don't mind looking for their spouses in Pakistan followed by 28.9 percent and 26.4 percent people voting for Nepal and Sri Lanka respectively.

Gourav Rakshit, business head of shaadi.com, says the findings of the survey were "surprising" as well as "pleasant."

"It truly was a revelation to us that people are genuinely open to having cross-border marriages and we were pleasantly surprised to learn how broadminded South Asians have become," said Rakshit.

"At the same time, compatibility is still the primary focus. So while cross-border interaction is on the rise, success in finding a compatible partner across borders is still restricted only to a small percentage of candidates," he added.

Though it may seem hunky-dory on the outside, getting married to a Pakistani national has its share of problems. Due to the political tensions between the two countries, couples prefer to migrate to a neutral country where they are not bothered by visa issues.

The best example of this is the newlywed Sania Mirza and Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, who much before their wedding announced that they would move to Dubai.

But cross-border romance is not new. Indian woman golfer Nonita Lal Qureshi made news when she tied the knot with Pakistani golf champion Faisal Qureshi 18 years ago.

"When I married Faisal, there were no issues except bureaucratic ones like visa problems. It was very clear that I would continue to play for India while Faisal played for Pakistan. I played for India for years after my marriage, till 1999, to be precise," she told a tabloid recently in an interview.


Ruling Party Gains

Sri Lankan Special Task Force soldiers patrol after voting ended in Nawalapitiya, Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Veteran politician Dissanayake Mudiyansalage Jayaratne took the oath of office as Sri Lanka's 20th prime minister after the ruling party won a large parliamentary majority.

Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance increased its parliamentary gains to 144 seats in a 225-member Parliament after new voting but fell short of the two-thirds majority it sought to make constitutional changes.

A revote was held in some areas affected by fraud and other seats were allocated.

Jayaratne, 79, has been in politics for nearly 50 years and has overseen several key ministries. A Cabinet will be sworn in later.

He was first elected to Parliament in 1970 and is a founding member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the second-largest in Sri Lanka and the main party in the ruling coalition.

Jayaratne will play a limited role under Rajapaksa, who is the country's executive president. Rajapaksa has the power to appoint ministers, justices, military brass and police chiefs, or to sack them. The prime minister is largely a figurehead who heads the government in Parliament.

The parliamentary victory follows Rajapaksa's re-election in presidential polls three months ago.

The final results mean the ruling party can form a government with a simple majority, but it is six seats short of its goal of a two-thirds majority, which Rajapaksa had asked for in order to make unspecified changes to the constitution.

Government officials have speculated the planned changes may include electoral reform and provisions against promoting separatism after the government's military victory against the Tamil Tiger rebels last year.

The UPFA already secured 117 seats after the April 8 election.


India, Pakistan to Meet

Leaders of India and Pakistan are likely to meet in Bhutan's capital as their nuclear-armed rivalry overshadows a summit of South Asian nations to discuss trade and environment.

India halted peace talks with Pakistan after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed and which India has blamed on Pakistan-based groups.

A meeting between the leaders is seen as crucial because it could help keep alive the idea of engagement between two players whose battle for influence in Afghanistan has a direct bearing on Western efforts to stabilize a region with 1.8 billion people.

"It is an opportunity (to meet) and both sides will take advantage of it," said a senior Indian government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said there was "as of now" no offer of a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousaf Raza Gilani, but did not completely rule out the possibility of one.

The two sides have been tentative about engaging since their top diplomats met in New Delhi in February but failed to achieve a breakthrough. That meeting, nonetheless, was seen as a small step towards repairing ties.

Differences over the nature of talks have held up a further meeting — Pakistan wants India to restart the peace process; India wants to go slow until Islamabad acts against the Mumbai attack planners.

The United States has been urging the two sides to reduce tension so that Pakistan can focus better on fighting the Taliban on its western border with Afghanistan.



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