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.

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.

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?

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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

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Parody of Robert Kelly’s BBC interview imagines how a woman would have coped

Comedy duo produce spoof in which a female interviewee feeds her child, cleans a toilet, cooks dinner and defuses a bomb

A video has emerged parodying the BBCs viral hit which featured a professor interrupted by his children during a live interview, re-imagining how the scene would have unfolded if a woman had been in the hot-seat.

Last week the video of university professor Robert Kelly became world-famous after his four-year-old daughter Marion barged into the room mid-interview, followed by his eight-month-old son James and finally his panicked wife Jung-a Kim.

The New Zealand comedy show Jono and Ben released their spoof on Thursday night, with a woman as the interviewee. The Facebook video has been watched 32m times.

During the one-minute clip the woman is first interrupted by a young child in a yellow jumper. She seamlessly continues answering complex political questions about South Korea while pulling the child onto her lap and feeding her a bottle.

Next, a baby totters into the room with a walker, and the woman continues answering questions, her eyes never leaving the camera, whilst holding the child in her lap, and entertaining the baby with a rattling ball.

As the child wanders out of the room the mother reaches off-camera and pulls out a roast chicken dinner, sniffing it to check if it is ready.

The BBC interviewer observes You do look rather busy there, we can reschedule … but the woman ignores him, reaching for a shirt to de-lint while she speaks, and, a moment later, scrubbing a toilet bowl that appears on her left.

The interview continues as a bomb squad in flak-jackets burst into the room, and the woman defuses a bomb; Oh my god, is that a bomb? asks the interviewer.

As the interview draws to a close a man in bare feet speaking in a broad New Zealand accent rushes into the study, flapping a sock at the womans back.

I cant find my missing sock, I have looked everywhere, I have looked in the sock drawer! he says, panicked.

The BBC presenter thanks the woman for her time, calling the interview interesting. The woman smiles warmly, her eyes finally leaving the camera. OK, lets find this sock then! she says cheerfully.

The Jono and Ben version of the video was greeted with a decidedly mixed response. Some female commentators called the video hilarious and said it was an accurate and amusing reflection of a working mothers life. However many others, both male and female, labelled the parody sexist and said it was a classic example of man-bashing.

The original video became a global hit, making Kellys family overnight internet stars.

While the candid video was mostly embraced as a charming and spontaneous moment of family life interrupting a professional interview, some viewers were critical of the professors reaction, saying he should have responded to his children instead of ignoring them.

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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.

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John McCain tells Trump: present wiretapping evidence or retract the claim

Senior Republican calls on president to prove extraordinary allegation that his predecessor tapped phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign

Senior Republican John McCain has told Donald Trump to either present evidence proving Barack Obama was involved in wiretapping his phones or retract the claim.

McCains demand came after the House intelligence committee asked the president for evidence that phones at Trump Tower were tapped during the campaign.

I think the president has one of two choices: either retract or to provide the information that the American people deserve, because if his predecessor violated the law, President Obama violated the law, we have got a serious issue here to say the least, McCain said.

Trump asserted in a tweet last week: Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism! He continued the allegation against Obama in other tweets but offered no evidence.

The committees request for evidence by Monday was made in a letter sent to the justice department by the House committee chairman, Republican Devin Nunes, and the panels ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, a senior congressional aide said on Saturday. The aide wasnt authorised to discuss the request by name and requested anonymity.

Obamas director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has said that nothing matching Trumps claims took place. Despite the denial, Trump has asked Congress to investigate.

During the past week, Schiff said the committee would answer the presidents call to investigate the claim. He also said he would ask the FBI director, James Comey, directly when he appears later this month before the full committee, which is investigating Russian activities during the election.

On Sunday, Schiff said he doubted there was any evidence of wiretapping but that Comey and others called to testify at the upcoming hearing would be in a position to have to know.

I think on March 20 if not before well be able to put this to rest, Schiff told George Stephanopoulos on ABCs This Week. I dont think anyone has any question about this, George. The only question is why the president would make up such a thing.

McCain said Trump could clear this up in a minute if he were to call the director of the CIA, director of national intelligence and say, OK, what happened?

The president had an obligation to provide evidence that Obama broke the law or retract his claim, the Arizona Republican said.

I do believe on issues such as this, accusing a former president of the United States of something which is not only illegal, but just unheard of, that requires corroboration. Ill let the American people be the judge, but this is serious stuff, McCain said on CNNs State of the Union.

Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to the president, said on Sunday on Fox News Channels MediaBuzz that the House and Senate intelligence committees had agreed to investigate and well make a comment after those findings are complete.

Nunes has said that so far he has not seen any evidence to back up Trumps claim and has suggested the news media were taking the presidents weekend tweets too literally.

The president is a neophyte to politics hes been doing this a little over a year, Nunes told reporters this past week.

Other lawmakers also have asked for evidence.

Declaring that Congress must get to the bottom of Trumps claim, senators Lindsey Graham and Sheldon Whitehouse asked Comey and the acting deputy attorney general, Dana Boente, to produce the paper trail created when the justice departments criminal division secures warrants for wiretaps.

Associated Press contributed to this report

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I went to jail for handing out feminist stickers in China | Li Maizi

The backlash is painful, but it coexists with progress as women activists manage slowly to bring about a change in attitudes

I often think of the day I was detained in Beijing. On the night of 6 March 2015, the police knocked on my door and took me to the station, where I was questioned nonstop for 24 hours. Later I was sent to a detention centre, where I was held for 37 days.

I was not alone. Four other female activists were also arrested. Though we had planned to hand out stickers on the Beijing subway to raise awareness about sexual harassment, we hadnt expected our actions to attract the attention of thePublic Security Bureau.

Fellow Chinese feminists quickly responded to our detention: they bravely took to the streets with our pictures in the hope of showing the public that we were in danger. Thanks to their efforts, Free the Five became an international campaign. While communist China has officially always promoted gender equality, this incident reveals a different story.

Two years later, is there any hope for the Chinese feminist movement? Definitely, yes. Since my arrest, there has been both progress and a backlash against womens rights. On the one hand, the first legislation against domestic violence was passed in December 2015, an event of huge significance. Women who have been beaten by their husbands or partners now have the law on their side.

On the other hand, state surveillanceof NGOs and feminist activists is increasing, and those who have tried to hold the government to account on human rights abuses have faced crackdowns.

An example of how progress and backlash can coexist is what happenedafter a well-publicised allegation of sexual abuse. When a young girl called Xiao Zhu in Jiangxi province revealed on Xinlang Weibo a social media platform often comparedto Twitter that she had been sexually assaulted by her father for four years there was an outpouring of sympathy and outrage. Two womens rights groups, Women Awakening Network and Yuanzhong Gender Development Centre, gave herlegal support.

Local government officials found theattention from activists intolerable and, in less than a week, control of the case was taken over by the local branchof the Communist Youth League. The father faces up to three years in prison if found guilty, but the priority ofthe authorities is not justice for victims but social stability.

However, despite the pushback against grassroots organisations, and thanks to womens issues becoming more prominent on social media, women are becoming more active in the fight against gender discrimination. When I was released from detention, I faced a tough decision: should I continue my activism, or give up? I chose to continue. What I do is for the rights of women all over the world. But I cant help but be especially concerned about China. My own experiences, and the experiences of my friends in China, have had a profound effect on me.

Feminism is facing a backlash all over the world. In the US abortion rights are threatened. In Russia, some forms of domestic violence have been decriminalised. In Turkey, the murder oftransgender activist Hande Kader shows that hate crime against marginalised communities is rife.

On International Womens Day, it is important to remember the struggles of all women. Women all over the world expressed solidarity with the Stanford University sexual assault survivor, posting photos and spreading the hashtag #Solidarity4StanfordSurvivor when she read her brave victim impact statement in court last year. When Irish activist and China scholar Sagh Kehoe told me about the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution which equates the life of the unborn child with that of the mother, seriously restricting access to abortion across Ireland I offered my support.

Because of Chinas two-child policy, abortions are readily available. If you get pregnant with a third child, abortion is compulsory. But I dont see our free access to abortion as a sign of progress, as reproductive rights only apply to married women. If you are unmarried, it is illegal to give birth and you will face heavy fines. Some NGOs are calling on the government to grant single women their reproductive rights.

In the era of the one-child policy, the reproductive rights of single women were denied as a means of controlling population growth. But now, even as propaganda encourages straight couples to reproduce, the state continues to discriminate against single women.

Until recently, single Chinese womenover 27 were described as leftover women. In 2007, the All-China Womens Federation (ACWF), the government body dealing with womens issues, called on women to marry as soon as possible. This year, however, the ACWFs newspaper China Womens News urged the media to stop referring to women as the leftover, a remarkable shift that I believe can be credited to feminist activism.

For activists such as me, it is difficult to work out where the boundaries are. Last month the Weibo account Feminist Voices was suspended for 30 days, because posts in support of the international womens strike and opposition to Donald Trump were said to have broken the law. Our first reaction was to make a big noise so the authorities would feel our rage about this censorship.

The Beijing government continues to push back the boundaries of acceptable resistance to the point where there is little room left, but at least womens issues are being discussed. Thats why there is hope for feminism in China.

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Donald Trump says nuclear threat from North Korea has entered ‘new phase’

US president told Japanese PM he is 100% with Tokyo as US moves Thaad missile defence system into South Korea following Pyongyang missile launches

The threat posed by North Korea to the US and its allies has entered a new phase, Donald Trump said on Tuesday, a day after the regime test-launched four ballistic missiles towards Japan.

In phone talks on Tuesday, Trump told Japans prime minister, Shinzo Abe, that the US stood 100% with Tokyo after three of the intermediate-range missiles landed in the sea off Japans north-west coast.

President Trump told me that the United States was with Japan 100%, and that he wanted his comments to be communicated to the Japanese people, Abe told reporters at his residence. He said he wanted us to trust him as well as the United States 100%.

Japan and the United States confirmed that the latest missile firing by North Korea is a clear challenge to the region and the international community, and that its threat has entered a new phase.

The comments came as the US said the first elements of its controversial missile defence system had arrived in South Korea on Tuesday. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-missile system is meant to intercept and destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles during the last part of their flights, the US Pacific Command said in a statement.

Continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterdays launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy Thaad to South Korea, US Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris said.

China has denounced Thaads deployment, saying its powerful radar would compromise its security.

South Koreas Yonhap news agency, citing military sources, said the system could be operational as early as April, well ahead of schedule.

Trump and Abe spoke as the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, declared the launches a success and warned that they were part of a training exercise for an attack on US military bases in Japan, home to almost 50,000 American troops.

The four ballistic rockets launched simultaneously are so accurate that they look like acrobatic flying corps in formation, the state-run Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim as saying. The regime also released images of the missile launches, with a smiling Kim in attendance.

Jon Passantino (@passantino)

North Korea releases new photos of what it says is yesterdays missile launch with Kim Jong Un in attendance

March 7, 2017

The launches were seen as a protest against the start of joint military exercises involving South Korea and the US that Pyongyang regards as a rehearsal for an invasion of North Korea.

A day after operation Foal Eagle began last Wednesday, North Koreas army, deploying the same vitriolic language it reserves for the annual drills, warned that it was ready to immediately launch its merciless military counteractions if South Korean or US forces fired even a single shell into waters near the divided Korean peninsula.

North Koreas ambassador to the UN, Ja Song-nam, said the joint exercises were driving the region towards nuclear disaster. It may go over to an actual war, Ja said, adding: Consequently, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is again inching to the brink of a nuclear war.

Abe said that Trump, who was diplomatically wrong-footed by a North Korean missile launch last month, had reaffirmed Washingtons unwavering commitment to Japans security.

The leaders agreed that Mondays launches were in violation of UN resolutions banning Pyongyang from developing ballistic missile technology. Washington and Tokyo have requested a meeting of the UN security council on Wednesday.

Abe said he had told Trump that Japan was willing to take on a large role and responsibility to enhance the deterrence provided by the Japan-US alliance.

Trump has yet to state how he intends to address the growing North Korean threat from ballistic missiles, amid evidence that the regime is edging closer to acquiring the ability to marry a miniaturised nuclear warhead with a long-range missile capable of striking the US mainland.

The UN has imposed six rounds of sanctions since the North conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, but they have failed to dent the regimes quest to build what it claims is a defensive nuclear arsenal.

Trump has not publicly commented on Mondays missile launch, but his ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said on Twitter that the world wont allow North Korea to continue on its destructive path.

Choi Kang, an analyst at the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said the launch was a warning to Tokyo. North Korea is demonstrating that its target is not just limited to the Korean peninsula any more but can extend to Japan at any time and even the US, he said.

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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.

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Angela Merkel urged to ban Erdoan over jailed German journalist

Chancellor under pressure to stop Turkish president from entering country while reporter is held in Istanbul prison

Angela Merkel is facing calls to ban the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, from entering Germany while a German journalist continues to be held in an Istanbul prison.

Erdoan, who campaigned in Germany in 2011 and 2014, was rumoured to be planning a political rally to secure the symbolically important diaspora vote before Aprils referendum in Turkey on giving him greater powers.

But Merkels government is under increasing pressure from German coalition and opposition parties to stand up to the Turkish president after the Turkey correspondent of Die Welt newspaper, Deniz Ycel, last month became the first German citizen to be arrested as part of Erdogans crackdown on the press.

Ralf Jger, the interior minister of North-Rhine Westphalia and a member of the Social Democratic party that forms a coalition with Merkels CDU, called on the government to ensure that such rallies take place neither in North-Rhine Westphalia or elsewhere in Germany. Stephan Mayer, of the Bavarian party CSU, said a Turkish president who imprisoned German journalists was not welcome as a guest in Germany.

Sevim Dadelen, a Left party MP with Kurdish origins, said Merkel had a political duty and the legal means to stop the Turkish head of state from campaigning on German soil for the abolition of democracy and the introduction of the death penalty.

Austria has already told Erdogan he is not welcome to campaign for votes amongst the Turkish diaspora in the country, with foreign minister Sebastian Kurz saying in a statement that we clearly reject bringing the Turkish campaign and polarisation to Austria.

But on Wednesday Merkels spokesman said a ban would send the wrong signal.

Steffen Seibert said: The German government deplores the fact that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are currently limited in Turkey to an unacceptable degree.

If we deplore this in another country, then we should be even more alert to make sure that freedom of speech is respected, within the framework of the law, in our own country. We should demonstrate what we demand from others.

Niels Annen, the Social Democrats foreign policy spokesman, praised the governments decision to rule out a ban but said the current diplomatic crisis was a result of the German chancellor letting the refugee swap deal between Turkey and the EU influence her dealings with Erdoan. Merkel is no longer a believable advocate for democracy and the rule of law in Turkey, he said.

In the referendum on 18 April, the Turkish public will vote on proposed changes that would boost the powers of the president, allowing Erdoan to scrap the post of prime minister, control budgets, appoint more judges and stay in office for two more terms.

The support of the Turkish diaspora in Germany, a community of about 1.4 million people, holds an important symbolic significance to Erdoans party. Pictures of German stadiums filled with pro-Erdoan supporters allow the AKP to project itself back to Turkey as the one party that protects Turks around the world, said Alexander Clarkson, a researcher on the interaction between German politics and migrant communities at Kings College London.

In reality, he said, the impression of overwhelming support for Erdoan among Turks living in Germany is a statistical card trick. Clarkson added: Of those with Turkish roots entitled to vote at the last election, only 40% turned out to the polling booth, of which 60% voted for Erdoan. Many diaspora Turks in Germany are indifferent to Turkish politics, if not actively hostile to the current president.

TGD, an association that represents a large part of the Turkish community in Germany, has announced that it will campaign for a no vote in the referendum, stating in a resolution that it rejects all attempts to turn the country into a one-man regime.

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‘Open the doors’: the Catholic churches hiding targets of Dutertes drug war

Despite the climate of fear in the Philippines, a growing number of churches have opened their network of safe houses to people at risk of being killed

The Catholic church in the Philippines is operating a network that hides addicts and others targeted in president Rodrigo Dutertes bloody drug war, priests have told the Guardian.

More than 7,000 people have been killed by Philippine law enforcement officers and vigilantes in Dutertes crusade against alleged addicts and dealers, often in hit-and-run style attacks by gunmen on motorcycles.

Victims are occasionally tipped off in advance that they are on a kill list and attempt to flee into hiding.

At his church in Quezon City on the outskirts of Manila, one of the few to have provided sanctuary is Father Gilbert Billena, despite admitting that he voted for Duterte in the election last year.

Even me, I was in favour of the war on drugs but I didnt expect this outcome, he said.

Many Filipinos support the executions, believing their neighbourhoods are safer, while others are afraid to speak out for fear that they will be accused of collaboration.

Despite the fear, a growing number of churches have opened their doors and their network of safe houses to people at risk of being targeted.

In one hideaway is an 18-year-old who asked for anonymity. In December, he survived a deadly vigilante-style shooting at a house party in one of the Philippines major cities. Seven people, most of them teenagers, were killed. He suffered a bullet in his abdomen.

The young man lives in fear, afraid the shooters may want to finish the job. There were rumours that there was a survivor and it was me the ones who did this would think theres a witness, he said.

Immediately after the slaughter, he sought sanctuary from the only institution that would take him in.

The church has helped him find temporary work, which he says he enjoys, but he worries about being exposed to strangers. Fireworks frighten him and he suffers from nightmares and insomnia.

These are the people who have been targeted by the cops, says Billena, the spokesman for Rise Up, a multifaith movement founded to resist the drug war. We offer the church to them on the condition that they should be serious about changing [their lives].

Father Gilbert Billena at a church in Quezon City, Manila. Photograph: Poppy McPherson

Despite mounting casualties, the senior leadership of the church in the majority-Catholic Philippines was initially silent on the lethal campaign. Many within its ranks were initially proponents.

But faced with growing numbers of dead, attitudes are changing. Sermons written by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and read out at Sunday services all over the country earlier this month labeled the anti-drug crusade a reign of terror.

The numbers of churches actually taking action against the campaign are still fairly few. Within Billenas diocese, there are only five or six, he says, despite an instruction from Antonio Tobias, Bishop of Novaliches, to give help to those in need.

He told me personally: Give them sanctuary. Open the doors of the churches, Billena says. Many also are not doing perhaps because they are afraid. They do not know how to do it.

The concept of providing sanctuary has a long history within Christian tradition. During the early years of the religion, fugitives were legally entitled to shelter in churches if they could get one body part inside the building or simply clasp the rings on the doors. Though the official right to sanctuary was phased out by the end of the 1600s, the practice has continued informally.

It has far more recent precedent in the Philippines during the Marcos era when churches harboured journalists, senators and other intellectuals declared enemies of the state by the regime. One of the most famous is the Baclaran, or the Redemptorist church, which runs several safe houses.

Us Redemptorists, weve been in more difficult situations before, says Brother Jun Santiago.

One 18-year-old in hiding witnessed a massacre in his neighbourhood. Photograph: Poppy McPherson

The Baclarans outspoken response to the drug war has made it a target for criticism. In a speech last year, Duterte singled out a photographic exhibition put on by the church that displayed the dead bodies of victims.

Although the drug war has slowed since Duterte announced a temporary pause in late January, the killings continue. The president has called in the army to take over from the police.

And Dutertes allies still pursue his critics, with police arresting a senator on Friday who has been the most high-profile voice of dissent. Senator Leila de Lima insisted she was innocent of the drug trafficking charges that could see her jailed for life, saying they were put forward to silence her.

Last month, we had two visitors straight from Malacaang, from the palace, says Santiago, referring to the residence and workplace of the president. They were our friends but they gave us some indicators that you are under watch.

The local police are aware of the presence of drug addicts protected by the church.

Nevertheless, the church continues to offer sanctuary and helps raise funds for families who cannot afford to bury their dead.

If we were intimidated, that would be the end of the role of the church, says Santiago, adding that at least 20 people he knows have been given sanctuary, some of them moved from place to place to ensure their safety.

Recently, he helped a woman whose sister was selling shabu, or methamphetamines, after losing her job at a beauty salon.

Masked men came into the house and dragged the woman away, telling her family to go to the local police station if they wanted answers. They later found her body in a nearby alley.

Her sister got a text from a number she believes belongs to a local police officer saying she would be next. We have eyes that watch over you, it read.

The 32-year-old and her three small children tried to shelter with neighbours but they were too scared to take her in. Eventually she found her way to the Baclaran, which found them somewhere to stay.

She says that after her sisters burial, she decided to kick her own habit. I thought: Im also going to bury my vice, she says. I want to regain myself and retaliate later on.

This whole thing the war on drugs it is only the small-time people being targeted, she says. Normally we look at the tree and cut the roots, and end things, but this time its the other way around cut the branches and the roots still remain.

Additional reporting by Rica Concepcion.

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