Crazy dream: the former Delhi IT worker in the race to land on the moon

TeamIndus is one of four teams competing to win Googles Lunar XPrize for the first ever private moon landing, worth $20m

To this day, Rahul Narayan doesnt know why he said yes, except that it was the very last day to sign up, and if he didnt agree to it, then there would be no Indian teams in the running. He threw together a proposal and clicked submit.

Perhaps it was the dullness of his day job in IT services, or a last-ditch effort to recapture some adolescent Star Trek-themed fantasy; but once the idea got into his head, it stuck.

And so it was decided Rahul Narayan would send a spacecraft to the moon.

Sitting in his office now, three years since his moon mission started, Narayan talks through the complexities of lunar expeditions. Sometimes, people ask him why he, a software engineer from Delhi, and a complete outsider to the space industry would attempt a lunar landing, a feat that only three countries have successfully achieved so far.

The real answer to that, Narayan says, is that if you were an insider youd never attempt something like this.

If he succeeds, Narayan and his company TeamIndus will be the first private company ever to land on the moon.

But competition is stiff. Three other teams are competing to win Googles Lunar XPrize for the first ever private moon landing, worth $20m. When Narayan signed up, at the end of 2011, there were 30 teams in the running. The competitions elimination rounds have whittled it down to four.

TeamIndus is now racing against MoonExpress, led by Indian-American dot-com billionaire Naveen Jain; SpaceIL, set up by three Israeli engineers, and an international team called Synergy Moon, all planning to launch their spacecrafts in December this year. A fifth team, Japan-based Hakuto will send a rover on TeamIndus spacecraft which will be launched on a government-owned rocket in Chennai, and reach a top speed of 10.3km a second.

After landing at Mare Imbrium, the Sea of Showers, a four-wheeled, solar-powered, aluminium rover, one of the lightest ever to roam the moons surface will beam HD images back to earth as it makes a 500m journey.

If it completes all this successfully and before the other teams, TeamIndus will have done enough to win the Xprize. Money however, is tight. The project has raised only $16m of the $70m it will need. Private investment from friends, family members and Indian entrepreneurs make up part of the pot, selling payload on the spacecraft, corporate sponsorship and crowdfunding, the company hopes, will make up the rest of it.

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A model of the moon lander to be used by Indian company TeamIndus.

Narayan started working on the moon mission in 2012, mostly in the evenings and on weekends in Delhi. After a year of juggling between his IT company and his new obsession with the moon, he decided it had to be one or the other, and so left the company, and moved his family to Bangalore, Indias tech capital, and the headquarters of Indias space industry. His wife didnt object. She knows what Im like, he says.

TeamIndus is the only company from a developing country to attempt the moon landing. If we could pick this as a problem statement and solve it, I think we could solve any complex engineering problem, says Narayan.

The company has vague plans to start a satellite programme or develop solar powered drones after the moon mission. But the real ambition, says Narayan was to prove the impossible can be done. I dont think anybody starts something to inspire people, but because what were doing is exceptionally difficult, I think the impact is very clearly cultural and social, he says.

The new space race

Narayans mission appears a long way from the heady days of the 60s and 70s when the US and then USSR spared no expense to explore space. The last few decades have seen some of those dreams die amid severe cuts.

But now, with the rise of China and India in the past two decades a new race for technological ascendancy began. The 37-year hiatus in lunar landings was broken by the China National Space Administration in 2013, when the Change 3 sent back soil samples to earth after successfully performing the first soft landing on the moon in decades.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) plans its own first lunar landing with the launch of Chandarayaan II planned in the next few years. The Indian companys landing however, if successful, could beat its own government to the punch, and make India the fourth nation ever to land on the moon.

Vishesh Vatsal, an aerospace engineering graduate joined TeamIndus when the company only had a handful of employees. He was hired as an intern by Narayan, despite failing technical interviews, and is now responsible for the team working on the spacecrafts lunar descent system, one of the trickiest parts of the entire journey.

Were not the most elite group of Indian engineers that have come together. A lot of people used to laugh at us, he says, recalling one of his first weeks on the job, when Narayan pushed him in front of some executives during a company review. I gave the silliest answers possible. We got ridiculed in subtle ways, he says.

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A diagram of the moon lander to be used by Indian company TeamIndus Photograph: TeamIndus

The criticism didnt deter them. In January 2015, TeamIndus became the last of four teams to qualify for the XPrize award.

After that, Indias space scientists started taking them seriously. A number of veteran Isro engineers signed up to help the moon landing. Some like 72-year old PS Nair had even worked on Isros first satellite launch in 1975, and shaped the national space mission from its infancy.

[The] goal is not going to the moon, he says. The goal is to empower industry and the country to do what big, giant organisations have done earlier, and thats the goal of the XPrize too, to popularise hi-tech activity and take it out of the control of big organisations like Nasa or Isro. Thats the real motivation for many of us.

Indias space programme is hugely controversial, especially in the west, with some campaigners arguing millions of pounds of British aid money was being misspent in India.For many, the space mission is a symbol of neglect towards Indias most impoverished citizens, while its delusional elites reach for superpower status.

Sheelika Ravishankar, head of marketing and outreach, argues the countrys ventures are a huge source of national pride. Different parts of India care about what were doing in different ways, she says, recalling an auto rickshaw driver who donated a part of his salary to TeamIndus after one of the companys employees told him about the moon mission on his way to work, or a man who left a board meeting to donate 2m rupees (23,800) when the cash-strapped company urgently needed to test its spacecraft.

Folks are coming forward to say this is architecting a new India, which is technologically advanced, which is bright, which is not the last stop of IT services where you backend to the cheapest country. This is the front of technology.

As the launch deadline draws closer, teams are working faster than ever to test and enhance their models. A misplaced particle of dust or a simple electronic malfunction could derail the whole mission.

Many see TeamIndus as underdogs in the moon race, up against teams with vast resources.

But Ravishankarsays being in the race, and in it to win, puts India on the map.

This proves that you can get state of the art technology coming out of India. It is proof, that you dont have you be a huge team of rocket scientists with the deepest pockets to do research. Its also for the rest of the world to see that anybody can put together a crazy dream. I mean, how much crazier can you be than to look at the moon and say, hey, Im going there?

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/20/lunar-xprize-moon-landing-former-delhi-it-worker-crazy-dream

BBC apologises for ‘what is the right punishment for blasphemy?’ tweet

Broadcaster says it never intended to imply blasphemy should be punished and said the tweet was poorly worded

BBC Asia has apologised after it posted the question what is the right punishment for blasphemy? on its Asian Network Twitter account.

The tweet was intended to promote a debate about about blasphemy on social media in Pakistan with presenter Shazia Awan.

In an apology, the network said it never intended to imply that blasphemy should be punished and said the tweet was poorly worded.

BBC Asian Network (@bbcasiannetwork)

Apologies for poorly worded question from #AsianNetwork yday. Q was in context of Pak asking FB to help we shd have made that clear 1/2

March 18, 2017

BBC Asian Network (@bbcasiannetwork)

We never intend to imply Blasphemy should be punished. Provocative question that got it wrong 2/2

March 18, 2017

It emerged this week that Pakistan has asked Facebook and Twitter to help identify Pakistanis suspected of blasphemy so it can prosecute them or pursue their extradition.

Under the countrys blasphemy laws, anyone found to have insulted Islam or the prophet Muhammad can be sentenced to death.

The interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said an official in Pakistans Washington embassy had approached the two social media companies in an effort to identify Pakistanis, either within the country or abroad, who recently shared material deemed offensive to Islam.

He said Pakistani authorities had identified 11 people for questioning over alleged blasphemy and would seek the extradition of anyone living abroad.

The BBCs tweet prompted anger and disbelief on social media. Human rights campaigner Maryam Namazie said the tweet was disgraceful.

Maryam Namazie (@MaryamNamazie)

Disgraceful that @bbcasiannetwork @ShaziaAwan would ask what ‘punishment’ should be for blasphemy. You know people get killed for it.

March 17, 2017

Malcolm Wood (@Askrigglad)

@BBCNews We could inform the BBC’s Asian Network there should be NO punishment for blasphemy. We’re not living in the Middle Ages

March 18, 2017

Clive Norman (@Clive752)

@bbcasiannetwork The fact that it appears that BBC Asian network has not roundly condemned punishment for blasphemy. One has to conclude you support it!!

March 18, 2017

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/mar/19/bbc-apologises-for-what-is-the-right-punishment-for-blasphemy-tweet

Myanmar may be seeking to expel all Rohingya, says UN

Special rapporteur on human rights calls for investigation into rights abuses following bloody crackdown against the Muslim minority

Myanmar may be seeking to expel all ethnic Rohingya from its territory, a UN rights expert has said, pushing for a high-level inquiry into abuses against the Muslim minority community.

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said a full purge could be the ultimate goal of the institutional persecution and horrific violence being perpetrated against the Rohingya.

The evidence indicates the government may be trying to expel the Rohingya population from the country altogether, Lee told the UN rights council.

The army launched a bloody crackdown against the Rohingya in October in the northern Rakhine state following attacks by militants on several border posts.

UN investigators say that during the military operation women were gang-raped by soldiers and Rohingya babies were slaughtered.

Lee wants the rights council to establish the UNs highest-level probe, a Commission of Inquiry (COI), to investigate that crackdown as well as violent episodes in 2012 and 2014.

The council could set up the commission before its session ends later this month, but key players including the European Union have not yet backed Lees call because of concern that a damning UN investigation might threaten the countrys fragile democracy drive.

Speaking to reporters after her council appearance, Lee said she believed support for a Commission of Inquiry was tepid, including within the EU.

Countries wont say they are not going to support your call, but I do hear … (countries) say that maybe Aung San Suu Kyi needs more time, Lee said, referring to the Nobel peace laureate who leads Myanmars civilian government.

Suu Kyis government, which took charge last year after decades of oppressive military rule, has rejected Lees bid to set up a Commission of Inquiry and insisted its own national probe can uncover the facts in Rakhine.

Lee conceded to reporters that a full international probe could have a destabilising affect in that it may implicate the military in crimes against humanity, but she insisted it was in the governments interest to get the facts out.

She also told the council that the governments internal probe had already been proved inadequate.

Representatives from the EU, The Netherlands and Britain all avoided the question of a Commission of Inquiry during Mondays discussion.

Britains envoy to the council, Julian Braithwaite, said the international community needed to engage (Myanmar) without damaging the delicate civilian/military balance.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/14/myanmar-may-be-seeking-to-expel-all-rohingya-says-un

BJP landslide in Uttar Pradesh a boost for India prime minister Narendra Modi

Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata partys emphatic victory in the countrys most populous state is being seen as a broad endorsement of Modis policies

Indias ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) has won control of the countrys most populous and influential state by an unexpectedly large margin, cementing Narendra Modis dominance of Indian politics and putting the prime minister on track for re-election in 2019.

Final results released by the Indian election commission on Saturday showed the BJP had won 311 of 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh, enough to form a rare majority government in the north Indian state of 220 million people.

Its chief rival, a coalition between the Congress and the incumbent Samajwadi party, had won just 54 seats and was leading in one more.

As the scale of the victory became clear, Modi tweeted that he was overjoyed his party had received unprecedented support from all sections of society.

Narendra Modi (@narendramodi)

Every moment of our time, everything we do is for welfare & wellbeing of the people of India. We believe in the power of 125 crore Indians.

March 11, 2017

Narendra Modi (@narendramodi)

Thank you. Long live democracy! https://t.co/hJoGsO5lGA

March 11, 2017

His partys president, Amit Shah, said the win was the biggest in Uttar Pradesh in the countrys modern history, coming off the 47 seats the party had won at the last state poll in 2012. People have given us historic mandate and raised the partys responsibilities, he told a party conference.

Party workers and supporters chanted the prime ministers name in raucous celebrations outside BJP headquarters in Delhi and the state capital Lucknow which many said would continue throughout the spring festival of Holi, which starts this weekend.

Rajnath Singh, the Indian home minister who may be parachuted into the state parliament to lead the new government, said the victory had changed [the] political picture of the country.

The decisive win was interpreted as a broad endorsement of Modis decision last November to invalidate 86% of all currency in circulation as part of an anti-corruption drive.

The execution of demonetisation was botched, with cash shortages persisting in parts of the country, but Modi successfully framed the policy as a decisive strike against the untaxed hoards of black money accumulated by the countrys wealthy elites.

That strategy appears to have paid off, helping to broaden the BJPs appeal beyond its traditionally base of upper-caste Hindus and merchants, and sustaining the extraordinary personal popularity Modi continues to enjoy among the Indian public nearly three years since his election.

Saturdays result also raised questions over the viability of one of Modis few national rivals, Rahul Gandhi, the scion of a family that has ruled India intermittently for nearly 70 years and whose patriarch, Jawaharlal Nehru, guided the country to independence in 1947.

In the opposition, there is no one else with Modis personality, character and credibility, said Prabhakar Kumar, the head of CMS Media Labs, a research group that analyses media and political trends.

BJP
Bharatiya Janata supporters in Delhi celebrate their partys major victories. Photograph: Tsering Topgyal/AP

There are no dents to his image, no corruption. Whether or not people agree with his way or working or his policies, there is a perception that this person works 24 hours a day and has boundless energy.

Such a decisive victory in the Hindi-speaking heartland confirms the BJP as Indias premier political force, with around 80% of the country now residing in states governed by the party, Kumar added.

The BJP, whose manifesto explictly casts India as a Hindu nation, in contrast to the archly secular principles on which the country was founded, appeared also to have swept heavily Muslim areas. Among them was Muzaffarnagar, where more than 60 people were killed in Hindu-Muslim riots in 2013.

These wins came in spite of the party not running a single Muslim candidate in the state and some party members making Hindutva appeals, trying to stoke a pan-Hindu identity among a faith group traditionally riven by caste distinctions.

Modi himself drew flack in February for telling an election rally that if electricity is given uninterrupted in [the Muslim feast of] Ramzan, then it should be given in [the Hindu festival] Diwali implying the Samajwadi party had been favouring Muslim communities over Hindus.

Kumar said religious polarisation definitely added value for the BJP, but noted that all parties in the diverse state had sought to carve up the electorate along caste and religious lines.

Every single party, the whole discourse of the mainstream media, was about caste and religion, he said. There was hardly any serious discussion on the basis of development. The main focus was polarisation and all parties contributed to that.

Akhilesh Yadav, the states chief minister, accepted his partys defeat on Saturday and wished the new government well. Gandhi used Twitter to also congratulate Modi and the BJP.

Four other states announced election results on Saturday the BJP winning comfortably in Uttarakhand, and battling Congress in close polls in Manipur and Goa. Congress decisively won the Punjab contest.

The Aam Aadmi party, born out of an anti-corruption activist movement in 2013 and which controls the capital, Delhi, suffered a setback to its hopes of establishing itself as the third force in Indian national politics.

The party struggled to win any seats in Goa and, late on Saturday, falling well short of Congresss total in Punjab.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/12/bjp-landslide-in-uttar-pradesh-a-boost-for-india-prime-minister-narendra-modi

Sunny Pawar in Lion: He was just a normal boy; now a Hollywood star lives in our area

The eight-year-old actor received a heros welcome as he returned home to a slum from the Oscars. His family are dealing with the fame from his role in Lion

Its 11am and the Pawar family are dressed to impress. The women have put on sparkling saris and the men are in clean, ironed shirts. The man of the moment, eight-year-old Sunny, the child star of the Oscar-nominated film Lion, is inside the house, getting his face aggressively powdered by an aunt, while an uncle sprays him with perfume and adjusts his oversized jacket. Ive come at a bad time, clearly, but the family are polite enough to invite me to stay as they prepare for a photo op with a local politician.

The domestic chaos is a stark contrast to the glitzy, star-studded life Sunny has led for the past three months while touring America to promote the film. Sunny plays a young Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his biological mother aged five before being adopted by Australian parents. The film, based on Brierleys autobiography, A Long Way Home, has received international acclaim, including six Academy Award nominations and two Bafta wins.

Sitting outside his family home in the Kunchi Kurve Nagar slum near Mumbais airport, Sunny recalls being whisked around the world with an international film crew. It was like a dream, he says. Neither he nor his father had left India. First Kolkata, then Indore, then Australia and then America for three months.

The whirlwind journey ended last week after the Oscars, where a beaming Sunny was lifted into the air by the host Jimmy Kimmel, as The Lion Kings title track played in the background. Some have criticised Kimmel for using Sunny as a prop in a racist joke, but Sunny doesnt see it that way. It was fun. I loved it, he says.

Sunny and his father returned to India on a flight that landed at 2am on Wednesday. A swarm of local news crews and journalists greeted them at the airport along with a mob of relatives. He has brought a good name to our whole family, says Raviraj, a distant relative who was there. We all went and nobody knew where the arrival gate was, so all of us were squashed in that airport lift, going up and down until we found him.

They beat drums, they set off fireworks, says Dilip, Sunnys father. They brought flowers and covered him with garlands. The reporters crowded around him, Sunny look here, Sunny do this. They even came back to our house with us, and they stayed until 4am. They wouldnt leave until Sunnys grandfather shouted at them for harassing the kid, he says.

In Mumbai, home to the worlds most prolific film industry, making it into the movies is the epitome of success. Thousands of people travel to the city from small towns and villages around the country every day, hoping to be cast in a Bollywood blockbuster. But with a tightly knit, powerful film fraternity that rarely embraces outsiders, successes like Sunnys are few and precious. He was selected from over 2,000 children, says Dilip. They came to his school to do auditions, and the director says he was a natural in front of the camera.

Sunnys family are from humble origins. His father used to sweep streets, but was fired for having too many days off to take Sunny to auditions. For the past two years, he has been Sunnys business manager, touring the world and helping him practise lines on set. I never, ever thought Id reach this point in my life, says Dilip. My first son, and he has made me so proud.

The film has turned Sunny into a local hero. Posters slapped on the slums walls read: Congratulations Sunny on your achievement. Outside the house, the family have set up a stage, carpeted in red and covered in confetti left over from a welcome home ceremony. There is a floor-to-ceiling photo montage of Sunny meeting American celebrities, as well as Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Children from the slum who wander past after school point excitedly at the pictures, whispering, Thats Sunny meeting the Rock, referring to the WWE wrestler-turned-actor, Dwayne Johnson. All of them claim theyve watched Sunnys film, though its easy to call their bluff as none of them recognises Dev Patel, the films lead actor, who also starred in Slumdog Millionaire. He must be some singer or something, says one child. No, hes Sunnys acting coach, says another.

He was just a normal little boy, says Vasu, Sunnys mother. Now everybody says, Oh, a Hollywood star lives in our neighbourhood. Overnight, Ive become the mother of a movie star. She admits she hasnt seen the film yet. I was waiting for Sunny and his dad to come home so we could watch it together, as a family. But Im so proud.

Sunny was only five when he started auditioning for the role of Saroo. Between travelling to locations for shoots, he attends the government-run Air India Modern school where, he says, he gets none of the benefits of being a movie star. None of the kids treat me differently. Its exactly the same as before. They havent even seen the film, he says.

The role has given Sunny new ambitions. I want to work in Hollywood, Bollywood, everything, he says. Ive learned so much, like the sign language of the director for example. When he signals, I know I have to be sad, he says. Its hard work. You have to follow all their instructions and you have to try to show real emotion, from the heart.

Nobody ever taught him to act. He learned it on his own by watching TV, says Dilip. He loves watching Rajinikanth, he says, referring to a south Indian actor whose film release dates have been declared holidays by companies in an effort to avoid hundreds of staff requests for leave.

I like his action scenes, says Sunny, jumping in. I hope I can work in an action movie like that one day.

Though Dilip and Sunnys tour of America coincided with Donald Trumps arrival in the White House, they remained oblivious to rising anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping the country. We got there when Obama was still president so we didnt have any visa troubles like I know others have, Dilip says, in reference to Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian film-maker who could not travel to America to receive his Oscar because of Trumps travel ban. We did not feel for a second like foreigners there. The people there have done so much for us, says Dilip. When you go to work, they give you so much respect and love. The whole public is appreciating Sunny, they made him a suit to wear, they took him to the Oscars. They treated us like we were members of their family, really. There was no question about race or religion.

Despite their new fame, the family still live in their same small house. I ask naively to see Sunnys bedroom. Dilip laughs. This is chawl, madam. There are no bedrooms here, he says, referring to labourers accommodation. He shows me a brightly coloured room with peeling paint and bare walls, except a Ganesh-themed calendar. Here we roll out mattresses and sleep.

Outside, in a metal cupboard, the family keep their valuables. Perfumes and jewellery are pulled out, tested and replaced, as they rush to get ready to visit the local politician who has asked to meet Kunchi Kurve Nagars new star. I ask how many people live under the same roof. Its our whole extended family, Dilip says. Ive never counted but it must be more than 50 of us.

Sunnys family were initially reluctant to let him work in the film. One of Sunnys aunts had cancer, she was very sick. At that time, we were trying to sort out all his passport, visas, so he could travel. Then she died, and in our tradition, you have to spend a month in mourning. So we were going to pull out of the whole thing, Dilip recalls. I had told the producers no, we cant come. But then the family really supported us. They said, no you have to go, its such a big opportunity for Sunny. And he really wanted to do it. So we went.

Two taxis pull up outside the house and the family pile in. The politician is waiting, one relative says, hinting that our interview has concluded. I ask Dilip what he plans for Sunnys future, and whether he will go back to work. Lets see, he says. For now, all our days are filled with doing interviews and meet-and-greets. Sunny will go back to school, he will take his exams. But maybe he will get more film work. Who knows? We havent planned anything.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/04/lion-sunny-pawar-hero-return-mumbai-child-star

Knights of Malta condom scandal stretches from Myanmar to the Vatican

Split in lay order after senior official was dismissed over distribution of free prophylactics and the Holy See hierarchy sought to intervene

The Knights of Malta, the ancient Catholic lay order, is refusing to cooperate with a Vatican investigation into the sacking of a senior official over a condom scandal and is warning its members to toe the line if they choose to speak with investigators.

In a statement on Tuesday the Knights called Pope Franciss investigation legally irrelevant and aimed at limiting its sovereignty. It insisted that the ouster of its grand chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, was an act of internal governance that in no way involved religious superiors.

The order told its members that if they spoke with Vatican-appointed investigators they must not contradict the decision of the orders leadership to replace Boeselager.

Boeselager was suspended on 8 December after he refused a demand by the top Knight, Matthew Festing, to resign over revelations that the orders charity branch distributed tens of thousands of condoms in Myanmar under his watch.

Church teaching forbids the use of artificial contraception; Boeselager has said he didnt know about the condom distribution programme and eventually stopped it when he learned of it.

Albrecht
Albrecht von Boeselager was dismissed after a Knights of Malta charity distributed tens of thousands of free condoms in Myanmar. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Boeselager has said Festing in the presence of conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke indicated that the Holy See wanted him to quit. But the Vaticans secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has since said the pope wanted no such thing.

Burke, who is a top critic of Francis but also the pontiffs ambassador to the Knights of Malta, is a hardliner on enforcing church teaching on sexual morals.

As a result the dispute in some way reflects the broader ideological divisions in the Catholic church that have intensified during Franciss papacy, which has emphasised the merciful side of the church over its doctrinaire side.

In a more narrow sense, though, the scandal within the ancient aristocratic Catholic group is about a power struggle and the possibly questionable application of promises of obedience within a religious order.

As a second-class knight Boeselager promised obedience to his superior. But Boeselager has said church law doesnt require him to obey an act that violates the Knights own constitution. He maintains that Festing committed a series of legal and procedural errors in demanding his resignation that violated the orders constitution.

Festing and Burkes allies have justified the ouster by arguing that Boeselagers refusal to obey Festing was disgraceful and that the condom scandal represented an irredeemable breach.

The conservative, anti-abortion Lepanto Institute, for example, compiled a detailed dossier of United Nations reports that showed the orders Malteser International group distributed thousands of condoms through anti-HIV and family planning programs.

Members sympathetic to Boeselager have denounced what they consider a coup and reminded Festing that he, too, took a vow of obedience: to the pope. They welcome the Vaticans investigation but canon lawyers have cautioned that the sovereign nature of the Knights of Malta makes Vatican intervention problematic.

The Order of Malta employs many trappings of a sovereign state. It issues its own stamps, passports and licence plates and holds diplomatic relations with 106 states, the Holy See included.

But in its 22 December announcement of its investigation, the Vatican cited its status as a lay religious order that is at the service to the faith and the Holy Father.

The Order trace its history to the 11th century with the establishment of an infirmary in Jerusalem that cared for pilgrims of all faiths. It now counts 13,500 members and 100,000 staff and volunteers who provide health care in hospitals and clinics around the world.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/11/knights-of-malta-condom-scandal-stretches-from-myanmar-to-the-vatican

Indian police accused of raping women in restive Chhattisgarh state

Countrys human rights watchdog says it has identified 16 cases in which security forces grossly violated victims rights

The Indian governments human rights watchdog has accused police of raping and beating at least 16 women from tribal communities in Chhattisgarh, a central state racked by a 50-year Maoist insurgency.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said there were 20 alleged attacks still to be investigated, but that in 16 cases the human rights of the victims have been grossly violated by the security personnel.

It was investigating a report published in the Indian Express that police had committed abuses against women in several villages in Bijapur district during an operation against rebels in October 2015.

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), an advocacy group whose members met the alleged victims, told the newspaper police had committed violence on a mass scale.

Around 40 women have said that they were forced to strip, sexually harassed and assaulted, one WSS member said. They allegedly included a 14-year-old girl who was grazing cattle when she was said to have been raped by several officers.

The NHRC said it believed eight women had been raped, six sexually abused and two physically assaulted. It asked the Chhattisgarh government to show why the women should not be paid compensation of up to 300,000 rupees (3,600).

The investigation had turned up more complaints of sexual violence committed by security personnel in Bijapur and other districts in the state, the watchdog added.

Chhattisgarh, around 1,000 miles from Delhi, is part of a red corridor stretching from Andhra Pradesh to West Bengal where thousands of armed communist fighters have waged a 50-year rebellion against the government.

Thousands of civilians, mostly members of poor and remote tribes, have been killed in the fighting, which the Maoists claim is over jobs and rights for farmers and landless labourers.

Indian security forces are regularly accused of committing extrajudicial killings, arson and rape in the affected regions. The Maoists have also been implicated in civilian deaths, including by sabotaging a crowded passenger train in West Bengal that crashed and killed 100 passengers.

Kishore Narayan, who represents 14 of the victims the NHRC has identified, told Agence France-Presse that the human rights agency had backed its claims and accused the police of deliberately shielding the culprits.

The victims gave the names of the policemen involved in the barbarity, but nothing has happened. They carried out a sham investigation and are trying to obfuscate the case, Narayan said.

He said they had filed a petition in the Chhattisgarh high court demanding an investigation by a special police team from outside the state.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/10/indian-police-accused-of-raping-women-in-restive-chhattisgarh-state

Abdul Sattar Edhi honoured with Pakistan state funeral

Humanitarian and founder of one of the countrys largest public welfare charities died in his early 90s on Friday

Abdul Sattar Edhi, the founder of one of Pakistans largest public welfare charities, has become the first Pakistani in more than a quarter of a century to be honoured with a state funeral.

Edhi, believed to be in his early nineties, died of kidney failure in a Karachi hospital on Friday night having become increasingly frail in recent years.

The pomp and military ceremony of his funeral at Karachis national stadium on Saturday was in stark contrast to the famously humble style of the man who only owned two sets of clothes and lived in a windowless room next to his small office in a Karachi slum.

From there, Edhi and his family ran a massive nationwide enterprise that relies almost entirely on public donations to sustain hundreds of medical centres, maternity wards, orphanages and womens shelters.

More than 1,200 minivan ambulances ply the countrys roads, always seeming to reach the scene of the countrys frequent terrorist attacks within moments, while thousands of people owe their lives to the Edhi Foundation taking in abandoned babies who otherwise would have been left to die.

Nawaz Sharif, Pakistans prime minister, said the country had lost a great servant of humanity.

Pakistani
Pakistani soldiers carry the coffin containing Edhis body. Photograph: Fareed Khan/AP

He was the real manifestation of love for those who were socially vulnerable, impoverished, helpless and poor, he said. This loss is irreparable for the people of Pakistan.

Sharif announced a national day of mourning and a state funeral, the first time anyone has been so honoured since General Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator who died in a plane crash in 1988.

If anyone deserves to be wrapped in the flag of the nation he served, it is him, Sharif said.

Although the prime minister remained in London following heart surgery last month, the funeral was attended by most of Pakistans ruling elite.

Edhis body was wrapped in Pakistans green and white flag and honoured with a gun salute by the army. Afterwards he was due to be buried at the Edhi Village, a shelter on the outskirts of the city for the mentally ill, older peaople and abandoned women.

In a final act of modesty, his family said he had insisted on being buried in the clothes he died in. He offered his organs for donation, although only his cornea was healthy enough for transplantation.

As a young man, Edhi first moved to Karachi from Gujarat in India just six days after Pakistan was formed as an independent, Muslim-majority state.

It was in the port city that his charity empire first emerged in the 1950s when, appalled by the suffering he saw around him, he established small drug dispensaries.

In 1957, his efforts shifted up a gear when he established a makeshift hospital to take care of the victims of flu epidemic that had ripped through the city.

He bought his first ambulance in 1965 in the wake of a war with India in which Karachi was bombed. He took it upon himself to collect up body parts of dead civilians and organise dozens of funerals.

My heart became so hard after that, he told the Daily Times in 2009. I made humanity my religion and devoted my life to it.

Despite its scale and complexity, Edhi and his wife, Biquis, always remained at the helm of the lightly managed organisation, often answering emergency calls himself or heading out in one of his ambulances to the scene of disasters.

Pakistani
Pakistani officials, along with tens of thousands of civilians, attend the funeral of Abdul Sattar Edhi. Photograph: Rehan Khan/EPA

So revered did he become that the armed groups and gangsters that plague Karachi would spare his vehicles emblazoned with the red Edhi lettering.

The nation was shocked in October 2014 when armed men robbed his office while he was in bed. The 400,000 of stolen cash was soon replaced by donations.

In a country increasingly afflicted by sectarianism and religious intolerance, Edhi won praise for caring for anyone who needed help, with many Pakistanis arguing he should have been recognised with a Nobel prize.

His open-mindedness earned him the distrust of some hardliners and militant groups that have increasingly sought to set up their own welfare organisations modelled on the Edhi Foundation.

In a 2015 interview with the Guardian, Edhi dismissed his critics on the religious right who have smeared him as an infidel who will not be granted access to heaven. I will not go to paradise where these type of people go, he said. I will go to heaven where the poor and miserable people live.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/09/abdul-sattar-edhi-honoured-with-pakistan-state-funeral

Bangladesh pizza chef mistakenly killed by police during restaurant attack

New details also reveal security agencies in Bangladesh misread online warnings of an impending attack before seige on restaurant that left 20 hostages dead

Bangladesh police shot dead the pizza chef of the Dhaka restaurant seized by Islamist militants last week, mistakenly thinking he was one of the gunmen, police and government officials said on Tuesday.

New details from interviews with the officials and the first information report registered at a Dhaka police station also revealed that security agencies misread online warnings of an impending assault and were slow to react when the attack came.

This was the first time in Bangladesh such a thing had taken place. Nobody was prepared for it. They did not realise the gravity of the situation initially, HT Imam, a political adviser to prime minister Sheikh Hasina, told Reuters in an interview. Initial response was slow.

Bangladesh authorities who monitor social media saw several messages on Friday posted on Twitter saying there would be an attack, he said.

But the police thought any attack was more likely to target embassies and major hotels and restaurants, Imam said. Police closed major hotels and eateries in and around hotel Westin, about 1 km (0.62 mile) from the Holey Artisan Bakery and OKitchen, the restaurant that was attacked, he said.

[Police] didnt think at all it can be this place, Imam said. It is to be investigated whether there was an intelligence failure.

The attack, claimed by Islamic State, marked a major escalation in the scale and brutality of violence aimed at forcing strict Islamic rule onto Bangladesh, whose 160 million people are mostly Muslim.

Police named five Bangladeshi gunmen who stormed the restaurant: Nibras Islam, Rohan Imtiaz, Meer Saameh Mubasheer, Khairul Islam and Shafiqul Islam. Several other people have been arrested.

The attackers separated foreigners from locals, and most of the dead were foreigners, from Italy, Japan, India and the United States. But survivors told local television that Muslims who could not recite the Koran were also killed.

The targeting of foreigners has unsettled the countrys $26bn garment export industry, with some foreign retailers suspending all business travel to the country.

The bodies of the nine Italian victims were flown to Rome on Tuesday. Investigators there are looking into whether Italians were specifically targeted, a judicial source said.

Foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni, who went to Romes Ciampino airport for the planes arrival, said he was committed to making sure the victims received state assistance in line with Italian law, which also provides for their families.

Islamic State and al-Qaida have claimed a series of killings of liberals and members of religious minorities in Bangladesh in the past year. The government has dismissed those claims, as it did Islamic States claim of responsibility for Fridays attack.

Police believe Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh an outlawed domestic group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, played a significant role in organising the privileged, educated, young attackers.

Confusion over exactly how many gunmen were involved was at least partly cleared up on Tuesday, when police named Saiful Islam Chowkidar, a pizza maker at the Holey Artisan Bakery, as among the six people security forces killed when they stormed the building to end a 12-hour standoff.

He may not be involved, Saiful Islam, a police official investigating the attack, told Reuters, adding Chowkidars death was still being investigated.

An employee at the cafe, shown a photo of a man killed at the eatery and wearing a chefs outfit, identified him as Chowkidar, and said he had worked there for 18 months.

In the police filing, seen by Reuters, Chowkidars name was included among 21 hostages killed by attackers armed with knives, guns and explosives.

At least three Bangladeshis were also murdered during the assault. One was a Muslim woman, a regular at the restaurant who did not wear the Islamic veil, whose throat was slashed when she refused to recite the Koran, Imam said. Two police officers were killed outside the restaurant.

The police report showed that police made an initial attempt to enter the restaurant after the attackers stormed in, but facing gunfire and grenades they held off any action for more than eight hours. The terrorists kept firing and throwing grenades at us every time we moved forward, the report said.

Between 30 and 35 policemen were wounded when the attackers threw grenades at a force stationed to the west of the cafe, forcing police to wait for reinforcements. Eventually, the police raid was launched after daybreak.

Imam said police repeatedly sent messages asking what the attackers wanted, initially thinking they sought a ransom. The fear was the hostages would be killed if the police forced their way in, he said.

The way the police and the RAB acted in the early hours raises questions that need to be looked into, Imam said, referring to the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite counter-terrorism unit.

At least three of the gunmen were from wealthy, liberal families who had attended elite Dhaka schools, in contrast to the usual Bangladeshi militants path from poverty and a madrassa education to violence.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/05/bangladesh-cafe-chef-mistakenly-killed-police