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February 27 2014

How the Portuguese Influenced Indian Cuisine

Sorpotel. Photo by Flickr user gcmenezes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Sorpotel. Photo by Flickr user gcmenezes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

The Portuguese established a colony in India at the beginning of the 16th century. Portuguese India was ruled first from Cochin, and then Goa. Over the next four centuries, Portuguese control spread to various parts of India, mostly along the west coast of the country, but also in the northeast in Bengal.

During this time, the Portuguese left their mark on certain Indian cuisines in two ways: by introducing new ingredients to India – including spices that are seen as an essential part of Indian food today – and by introducing Portuguese dishes that then were adapted to Indian culinary techniques and tastes.

The strongest Portuguese influence was of course in Goa, which Portugal ruled until 1961. In particular, Goan Catholic cuisine has a distinct Portuguese flavour. Blogger Hilda Mascarenhas describes the famous Goan dish pork vindaloo:

The name “Vindaloo” is derived from the Portuguese dish “Carne de Vinha d’Alhos” which is a dish of meat, usually pork, with wine and garlic. The Portuguese dish was modified by the substitution of vinegar (usually palm vinegar) for the red wine and the addition of red Kashmiri chillies with spices, to evolve into Vindaloo. The alternative terms are Vindalho or Vindallo. Traditional Goan Pork Vindaloo is intensely flavored with fragrant spices and does not include potatoes. No celebration and festive occasion is complete without the Goan Pork Vindaloo. It is enjoyed with the most popular and loved accompaniment, Goan sannas, which are prepared with toddy! This speciality is served with pride in every Goan home at Christmas, New Year and Easter.

Gavin Harvey adds:

Vindaloo started as a vinegar and garlic based stew made with pork or other meat but when introduced to India it got revamped with various spices and chillies. Potatoes were also added to the dish and “alhos” became “aloo” (Hindi word for “potatoes”) – so soon people assumed potatoes were a necessary ingredient of this dish.

Further down the coast from Goa is the city of Mangalore, and Mangalorean Catholic cuisine has many similarities with Goan Catholic cuisine. A pork dish common to both is sorpotel (or sarapatel), originally from the Alentejo region of Portugal. At the Goan Recipes blog, Glenn writes:

The word ‘sarapatel’ literally means confusion, probably referring to the mish-mash of ingredients of pork heart, liver and even pork blood!

Bandel cheese. Photo by Flickr user Manidipa Mandal (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Bandel cheese. Photo by Flickr user Manidipa Mandal (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Moving to the other side of India, some Portuguese influence can be seen in Bengali cuisine as well. Rangan Datta gives us the history of a special kind of cheese:

Originating from the erstwhile Portuguese settlement of Bandel (about 50 km north of Calcutta), Bandel Cheese is perhaps one of the last traces of Portuguese cuisine in Bengal. The Portuguese influence in Bengal dates back to the late 16th century. Almost a century after Vasco da Gama reached the West Coast of India the Portuguese started making their inroads into Bengal. [...] It was the probably the Portuguese who introduced the art of cheese making in Bengal and in spite of all odds the technique has survived over centuries. The Bandel Cheese introduced by the Portuguese was probably made by the Mogh (Burmese) cooks under Portuguese supervision. [...] This variety of unripened cheese is made from cows milk and comes in two versions plain and smoked. First the the curd is extracted from the cows milk by using lemon juice. The cheese is then shaped and drained in perforated pots. The plain variety is of milk-white colour and comes in disc shapes of about an inch diameter and quarter of inch thickness. The smoked variety comes in the same shape and size but has a crispy brownish crust covering the soft milk-white interior.

Zoe Perrett notes:

The Portuguese influence on Bengal was not pure. Having gone to Goa first, many of the new introductions were delivered with a distinct Western Indian accent, or, indeed, were dishes the Portuguese purloined directly from that small state. The Portuguese also proffered Bengal bounty from travels further afield; fruity beauties like pineapple, papaya, guava, and the lychees from the Orient. Where Goa absorbed the influences, blending Portuguese techniques and dishes with local spices, in Bengal, many of the Portuguese-provided ingredients have retained their own clear identity. Mogh cooks soon mastered Western baking methods; displayed today in Calcutta’s prolific puffs and pastries, and perhaps also in the use of white flour for ‘luchis’ (a Bengali bread).

Kulkuls. Photo by Flickr user Amanda Fernandes (CC BY 2.0).

Kulkuls. Photo by Flickr user Amanda Fernandes (CC BY 2.0).

The Portuguese left a legacy of sweet as well as savoury dishes in India. Kulkuls, or kidyo, are a type of sweet eaten by Goan and Mangalorean Catholics at Christmas. Aparna Balasubramaniam describes them:

Kulkuls are made by deep-frying inch long bits of sweet dough moulded/shaped into small curls (like butter curls) which are often also coated with a sugar glaze which dries out. The kulkuls tend to resemble small worms, hence the name “Kidyo” in Konkani, the language spoken in Goa. If you do not to think of them as “worms” you can think of them as shell-shaped. I like to think that the name Kulkul/Kalkal comes from the rattling sound of these little treats jostling one another when they’re shaken in sugar syrup or maybe in the tin in which they would be stored. Kulkuls are made during Christmas in Goa and are an important item in the Kuswar (a collection of Goan Christmas-time treats), and are distributed to neighbours. They’re also taken along to give away during “obligatory” visits to friends and family. [...] Someone pointed out the Kulkuls are actually a variation of the Portuguese Filhoses Enroladas, which is a roll or curvy noodle-shaped Christmas-time sweet that is deep-fried and sugar-glazed. So it is possible that Kulkuls were brought to India by the Portuguese.

[Photos]: Kolkata’s Street Dog Doctor

Kaushik Sengupta, a self-taught social documentary photographer, is the creator of a photo essay featuring Mr. Sandip Karan of Kolkata, India. Mr. Karan is known in his area as ‘street dog doctor’ because of his caring love for street dogs. Till-to-date, he has rescued and treated around 2500 street dogs in his own locality and adjacent areas. The photo essay can be found in his website, in Galli Magazine and in the Invisible Photographer Asia website.

Savory Momos, Sweet Sel Roti and 5 Other Delicious Nepali Delicacies

Nepal, a land of diverse culture and tradition, has its own unique dishes that leave the taste buds craving for more. The delicacies presented here have been selected from hundreds of mouth-watering recipes originating from the high mountains to the Nepalese plains.

1. Sel roti

The famous Nepali crispy doughnut (sel roti), a must during the Tihar or Deepawali festival, is prepared from rice flour.

See NepaliMom’s instructions to cook the doughnuts:

2. Gundruk

Gundruk, a popular dish among Nepalis, is prepared by fermenting and drying leafy vegetables, namely mustard and radish leaves. The blog Nepali Local Food explains how to cook gundruk ko jhol (soup).

Gundruk ko jhol (soup)
Serves 6 to 8
Gundruk/Sinki 50 g
Onion 1 chopped
Tomato 1 chopped
Dry red chili 2 pods
Turmeric powder 1/2 Tablespoon
Salt 1 Teaspoon
Method: Soak Gundruk/Sinki in water for 10 min. Heat oil and fry chopped onions, tomatoes, chilies. Drain up soaked Gundruk/Sinki and fry, add turmeric powder and salt, and put 2 cups of water. Boil for 10 min, and serve hot with cooked rice.

3. Momo

A typical serving of a plate of Momo with Sesame Yellow Sauce and Red Ginger Chilli Sauce in Nepal. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Kushal Gayal. CC BY-SA

A typical serving of momo with sesame yellow sauce and red ginger chilli sauce in Nepal. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Kushal Gayal. CC BY-SA

Momo, a type of Tibetan dumpling, is so popular among Nepalis that it could be considered the country's top dish. The ubiquitous restaurants selling the dumplings generally stuff it with minced buffalo meat, chicken, mutton or vegetables.

Check out the step-by-step momo cooking guide in the Taste of Nepal blog. Or watch a YouTube video posted by Pucca syanu showing how to cook them:


4. Chhoila

Chhoila, a favourite dish among the Newars of Kathmandu Valley, has become popular throughout the country. Generally made from buffalo meat, the burnt version called “haku chhoila” (black chhoila) is very tasty. Check the We All Nepali blog for details of cooking chicken chhoila.

Watch Babus Cooking demonstrating chhoila preparation:

5. Chatamari

Chatamari, also called Nepali pizza, is a kind of rice crepe made famous by the Newars of Kathmandu Valley. The blog We All Nepali offers details on how to prepare it.

See how chatamari is made in this YouTube video by Marc Wiens:

6. Bagiya

Bagiya is a healthy and delicious dish made from rice flour savoured especially during the Deepawali festival in eastern Terai of Nepal. It is a special to the indigenous Tharus. While Tharus in eastern Nepal prefer flat bagiya with lentils, the Tharus in western Nepal prepare bagiya in a tubular shape without lentils, explains the blog Voice of Tharus.

Learn how to make it via Voice of Tharus:

Soak the rice is soaked in water and mill it in a dheki, the traditional rice milling machine. The taste of the flour ground in a dheki is many times better than the one ground in a rice mill.
Sift the flour and fry it in an iron cauldron (Don't add oil and keep in mind not to burn the flour).
Mix warm water to the flour and knead enough to prepare a tender dough.
Steam lentils and add spices, ginger, mustard oil and salt to it.
Make round dumplings out of the dough. Bore a hole, put the mixture of lentils and spice and flatten it with the palms at the middle and leave both the ends protruding out.
Steam the dumplings over a clay pot of boiling water.
Serve the steamed bagiya with chutney or vegetable curry.

7. Sidhara

Sidhara Cakes. Image via author courtesy Voice of The Tharus blog

Sidhara cakes. Image via author courtesy Voice of The Tharus blog

Sidhara is prepared from taro stem, turmeric, and dried fish. The aroma is pungent and the taste bitter, but still it is one of the delicacies eaten by the Terai dwellers especially indigenous peoples like the Tharus, Danuwars, Musahars and others.

The blog Voice of Tharus details the cooking of Sidhara:

Gather the Dedhna and Ponthi varieties of fish. Both the varieties are found in abundance in the paddy fields and public water sources.
Dry the fishes on sun. It will take few days to dry perfectly.
Gather Kachu (taro – Colocasia) stems and cut them into small pieces. Wash them thoroughly.
Grind or mill the dried fishes, together with the colocasia stem and turmeric, and make small cakes.
Leave the cakes to dry on the sun for 10-15 days and after that it store in a dry place for future use. Your sidhara is then ready to cook and eat.
To cook the sidhara, crumple and break the cakes into tiny crumbs. Fry the pieces of sidhara in mustard oil together with onion, green chillies, radish and spices. Add water and salt to taste.
Garnish the dish with green coriander leaves and serve with puffed and beaten rice.

February 26 2014

Bangladeshis Protest Bollywood Film ‘Gunday’ for Misrepresenting Liberation War

A new Bollywood film, “Gunday“, has people outraged in Bangladesh against the movie's mischaracterizing their country's 1971 war for independence. 

The film begins with a scene of the 1971 India-Pakistan war and ignores the events of 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh. It highlights only the 13 day long India-Pakistan war which occurred at the fag end, ignoring the essential element of the nine month long Bangladesh's struggle for liberation from Pakistan, in which an estimated three million people died.

Bangladeshis took to social media networks to express their anger and demand an apology from the production company behind the film, Yash Raj.

There have been offline protests as well. Several youth groups engaged in Street Protests in capital Dhaka. The government also officially protested.

Poster of Gunday movie. Image courtesy Wikimedia

Poster for the film “Gunday”. Image courtesy Wikimedia

Twitter user Abdullah Al Nadim wrote:

Worldfriend4u questioned the film director's knowledge of history:

Saima Selim tweeted:

Zarin Tasnim Maliha complained:

Facebook user Sedative Hypnotics argued with documents the historic facts of Bangladesh's 1971 war of liberation which the film misrepresented:

৯০ হাজার পাকিস্তানী আর্মি ভারতীয় বাহিনীর কাছে আত্মসমর্পণ করে নি। করেছে বাংলাদেশ-ভারত যৌথবাহিনীর কাছে। এই কপি টা ভারতের প্রতিটা ঘরে ঘরে পৌছায় দেবার দাবি জানাই। প্রথমে ‘গুন্ডে’ মুভির পরিচালকের বাসায়।

90,000 Pakistani army prisoners did not surrender to the Indian army. They surrendered to the Bangladesh-Indian joint force. I demand that this copy of historic facts should reach every Indian house. Firstly, the documents should be sent to the “Gunday” director's home.

Mrityunjay Devrat, who is the director of the film “Children of War” based on the Bangladesh Liberation War has expressed his displeasure for the film in an interview with Bollywood Hungama, questioning the way the war was depicted:

If I am allowed to be honest, then I'd have to say that the makers of Gunday have been factually incorrect. I think it is hugely irresponsible and derogatory to use a sensitive subject such as the Bangladesh war for purely commercial purposes.

Yash Raj films has apologized in a statement on their blog for “any disrespect or hurt” that the film has caused Bangladeshis.

Lahore Brigade Working To Solve Civic Problems

The first meetup of the Lahore Brigade members took place on Sunday, 23 February, in Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). The brigade consists of civic hackers – software developers, designers, urban mappers who will be working to solve civic problems in Pakistan. Code for Pakistan and Technology for People Initiative partnered to launch the Lahore Brigade.

Code For Pakistan blog reports:

All the attendees introduced themselves and also proposed potential solutions to civic problems, pertaining to the areas of health, transportation, education, and governance. Some of the participants expressed interest in some of the projects that had been created at the Lahore Civic Hackathon. The ideas were all captured, followed by a rigorous discussion of them. A couple of Brigade Project Mentors were also present and they, like everyone else, expressed their interest in certain ideas. 6 promising project ideas or areas were agreed upon by the group.

Here is a collection of Tweets on the first meetup. According to the Appjuice, the group will be meeting every two weeks.

February 25 2014

VIDEO: 7 Months Pregnant – And Still Working the Fields

This video report by Sonia Narang for The World originally appeared on PRI.org on February 23, 2014 and is republished as part of a content sharing agreement.

Januka Rasaeli lives in a rural village in Nepal, where women do strenuous chores all day long. Heavily pregnant, she worries her work will put her baby at risk.

In recent years, Nepal has made a big push to improve the health of pregnant women, and the country has seen a drop in the number of women dying during childbirth. Yet expectant mothers often do backbreaking work that can harm their health and that of their unborn children. As she toils all day, Januka Rasaeli, 28, shares her hopes and fears.

This story is part of PRI's The Ninth Month series, a journey through pregnancy and childbirth, across cultures and continents. Join the Ninth Month community on Facebook to share stories about childbirth where you live. Twitter hashtag #ninthmonth

Pakistan, Stay Out of Syria's Civil War

A day after a tiny news items titled, “Saudi Arabia ‘seeking Pakistani arms for Syrian rebels” appeared in Pakistani newspapers, political blogger Ahsan Butt posts a provocative piece warning Pakistan's foreign policymakers against tiptoeing into Syria's affairs.

In “This is not our war (The Syria Edition)” on the Five Rupees Blog, Ahsan writes:

What Pakistan is doing vis-a-vis Syria is one of the dumbest things Pakistan has done in a long time, and that’s really saying something. The Syrian civil war, tragic as it is, has nothing to do with Pakistan. Pakistan has no interests in that conflict. None.

Saudi Arabia is in talks with Pakistan to provide Pakistan-made anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets. Ahsan warns:

Is it wise and advisable to wade into a sectarian civil war two thousand miles away?[...]

Just examine the trajectory of sectarian violence over the last decade.

He explains that any interference in Syria will force the Pakistani state to pay attention to rising sectarian violence in the country:

What are the possible ramifications for such a policy on sectarian violence in Pakistan? Is it likely to exacerbate and make more deadly sectarian cleavages or the opposite?

Ahsan lists four more provocative questions which you can read here.

February 24 2014

10 Reasons Why I Do Not Want Shariah In Pakistan

One of the Taliban negotiators pulled out during a recent talk with the Pakistan government demanding that the agenda includes the strict imposition of Sharia law. Pakistani Blogger and Journalist Beena Sarwar highlights a protest note posted in Facebook titled '10 reasons why I do not want Shariah in Pakistan’ by communities The Traitors of Pakistan (Liberal/Secular Pakistanis against oppression, discrimination, extremism and intolerance) and Pakistan Votes (activist community). Here are some gems:

1. Religion and how I choose to practice it is my business and not that of the State.

2. Enforcing Shariah will not make me a better Muslim nor will it make Pakistan a welfare state. The world’s welfare states are all governed by secular governments.

3. I reject the idea that Shariah in any form can be enforced by those who have raped and plundered my country, blown up schools and mosques and beheaded soldiers. I will not give these criminals the right to dictate to me.

4. I will not give up my civil rights, including freedom of thought and expression, under the guise of Shariah.

Al Qaeda Calls for Jihad in Bangladesh

Screenshot of a video by Ayman al-Zawahiri

Screenshot of a video by Ayman al-Zawahiri

Global militant organization Al Qaeda has called for jihad in Bangladesh via a video released online. The audio message was circulated in a video featuring the leader of the organization, Ayman al-Zawahiri, calling for followers to resist what he called anti-Islamic conspiracies and launch an “intifada” (uprising) in Bangladesh.

He invited Muslims in Bangladesh:

To confront this crusader onslaught against Islam, which is being orchestrated by the leading criminals in the subcontinent and the West against Islam, the Prophet of Islam and the Islamic creed, so that they may turn you into slaves of a despotic and disbelieving system.

Here is a transcription of the video message (PDF).

The entire clip lasting 28 minutes and 58 seconds, titled “Bangladesh: Massacre Behind a Wall of Silence”, features the message from al-Zawahiri along with his image as well as others, such as the Hifazat's rally in May last year. Aaron Y. Zelin, who runs the site Jihadology, reported in an interview to EuroBDNewsOnline.com that he is certain that this voice is of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Bangladesh’s elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) tracked the source of the message and arrested Rasel Bin Sattar Khan for circulating the controversial message from Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri. He is an admin of controversial Facebook page Basherkella and some other militant blogs [bn] believed to be run by extremist operatives. He confessed [bn] that he started spreading this video in Bangladesh, which was first uploaded in a Pakistani website.

Recently in Bangladesh, religious extremist organizations like Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and Hefazat-e-Islam have engaged in a lot of violence. Some netizens have speculated that the call for jihad in Bangladesh is somehow related.

Diaspora legal practitioner Rayhan Rashid (@rayhanrashid) tweeted:

Jamaat, who once worked fought against the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan, had always denied their involvement with militants. However, Mofaqkharul Taufique wrote that Jamaat can no longer deny the truth given this video:

এ বার ভিডিও-বার্তায় প্রকাশ্যেই জামাত-নেতাদের পাশে দাঁড়ালেন আল কায়েদার শীর্ষ নেতা আয়মান আল জাওয়াহিরি। এর পরেও কি কেউ বলবেন যে জমাত জঙ্গী সংগঠন নয় ?

In this video message, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has openly supported Jamaat. Can anyone deny that Jamaat is not a militant organization?

Jamaat and Hefazot both have officially denied any involvement with Al Qaeda.

Activists of Hefajat-e Islam march through as part of its Dhaka siege programme to press home its 13-point demand, near Buriganga Bridge-1. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (5/5/2013)

Activists of Hefajat-e Islam march as part of its Dhaka siege programme to press home its 13-point demand that includes the arrest of atheist bloggers. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (5/5/2013)

Dr. Imran H. Sarker, a blogger and the spokesperson for the Shahbag movement activists, a movement that supports the death penalty for liberation war criminals, wanted to hear reactions from other political parties:

এক ভিডিও বার্তায় জামাত- হেফাজতের আন্দোলনকে সমর্থন করে ধর্মের নামে মানুষ হত্যার কথিত জিহাদের ডাক দিয়েছে আল-কায়েদা প্রধান আয়মান আল জাওয়াহিরি।

জোটবদ্ধ রাজনৈতিক দলগুলোর প্রতিক্রিয়া কি? যুদ্ধাপরাধী, সন্ত্রাসী সংগঠন জামাত-শিবির, হেফাজত কে নিষিদ্ধ করতে আর কতো অপেক্ষা?

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has called for jihad (killing humans for religion) supporting the cause of Hefazot/Jamaat.

What are the reactions of different political parties and alliances? How long will it take to ban anti-liberation and militant organizations like Jamaat, Hefazot?

Abdullah Al Mamun, a reader on Bangla daily Prothom Alo, commented:

এটি বাংলাদেশ নামক রাষ্টের প্রতি সরাসরি হুমকি বা হস্তক্ষেপ। এসব হুমকি আমাদের সবাইকে ভাবিয়ে তুলছে।

This is a direct threat against Bangladesh as a country. This has worried all of us.

Journalist Anjan Roy, however, called for verifying this video:

বাংলাদেশে প্রতিরোধ গড়ে তোলার আহ্বান জাওয়াহিরি- এই ভিডিওটি এখন আলোচনায়, প্রথমত দরকার ভিডিওটির তথ্য সত্যতা যাচাই। সত্য হলেও বিন্দুমাত্র শংকার নাই- আমরা শত্রু এলে অস্ত্র হাতে লড়তে জানি। এটা আফগানিস্তান না, পাকিস্তান না। এটা বাংলাদেশ- আল কায়দাকে কায়দা করতে দেয়ার জন্য আমাদের পিতা আর ভাইয়েরা যুদ্ধ করেন নি। আমাদের মা আর বোনরাও জানেন কিভাবে অনুপ্রেরণা দিতে হয় প্রিয়জনকে যুদ্ধে যাবার।

Al-Zawahiri called for resistance in Bangladesh – this video is a source of a hot debate. First we need to determine whether the video is credible or genuine. We need not worry even if this is true. This is not Afghanistan or Pakistan. We Bengalis know how to fight. Our fathers and brothers did not fight the independence war to let Al Qaeda reign. Our loved ones know how to prepare ourselves for fight.

A K M Wahiduzzaman wrote that this video has another purpose – to spark debate in the political arena:

দেশে-বিদেশে যখন এই বিচার বহির্ভূত হত্যাকাণ্ডের তীব্র সমালোচনা হচ্ছে, এমন কী সভ্যদেশগুলো যখন এই হত্যাকারী বাহিনীর সদস্যদের প্রশিক্ষণ কর্মসূচি বাতিল করছে। তখন ‘বিডি নিউজ ২৪’ গত ১৪ জানুয়ারি আল শাহাব মিডিয়ার তৈরি এবং জিহাদোলজি ডট নেট সাইটে প্রকাশিত একটি ভিডিও বার্তা নিয়ে মাঠ গরম করে বিচার বহির্ভূত হত্যাকাণ্ডের বৈধতা দেবার পাশাপাশি জঙ্গী ইস্যু দিয়ে পশ্চিমাদের মন গলানোর চেষ্টা করছে।

আরে গর্ধবের দল, ওটা সত্যি হলে আরো একমাস আগেই পশ্চিমা মিডিয়া এবং আল জাজিরা লিড নিউজ করতো।

When there are talks in the country about extrajudicial killings of security forces, even some countries have cancelled training for these security forces amidst the controversy. At this very moment, a video released by the Jihadology.net site and made by Al Shahab media is being highlighted by BDNews24.net to harp on militancy issues.

If this was real, international media and Al Jazeera would have made it top news a month ago.

The government is investigating the threat by Al Qaeda, but State Minister for Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal does not see it as a big threat. Security Analyst Major (Retired) Abdur Rashid said in an interview with BBC Bangla that Bangladesh should not take it lightly:

আল কায়েদার শক্তি কমে গেলেও ভাবাদর্শগতভাবে বাংলাদেশে তাদের অনুসারী আছে। তারা উজ্জীবিত হয়ে আল-কায়েদার সহায়তায় কোন নাশকতা করতে পারে। এ আশংকাকে আমি উড়িয়ে দিচ্ছি না।

Although Al Qaeda has been weakened, a number of dedicated followers of them exists in Bangladesh. We cannot rule out any violent activity by them after the support of Al Qaeda.

Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, a retired air force official and a security analyst, commented in an op-ed in the Daily Star:

Those of us who dream of a democratic state, a multi-religious, multi-cultural society, an educated, healthy and prosperous nation, the Zawahiri message, even if it is a hoax, is a stark reminder that we have an enemy at the gate, and only together we can defeat it. We as a nation need to close ranks on the minimum agenda, and on the question of fighting religious extremism there is no other option but a national consensus.

February 23 2014

Traditional Media Conspires Against Facebook

Tech blogger Amitha Amarasinghe alleges that Facebook is being portrayed negatively in mainstream media in Sri Lanka accompanied with saucy headlines like “Student commits Suicide over a Facebook photo”, “Facebook love ends in Death” etc:

All of a sudden, there is a huge increase in number of mass media content highlighting the bad side of Facebook and Social Media. If you look at these stories, the local media is highlighting the “Facebook” part of the story as the ‘news’, but undermine the social, cultural, and political factors leading to those sad incidents.

Indian Blogger Exposes Fuel Pump Cheating With Viral Video

Screenshot from the video uploaded by Kiruba Shankar

Screenshot from the video uploaded by Kiruba Shankar

In India, where fraud at gas pumps is commonplace and many complaints remain unresolved, a blogger's viral Facebook video has helped shed light on the problem.

Kiruba Shankar, a digital entrepreneur, author, teacher, farmer and long-time blogger in Chennai, India, explained how he first discovered the fraudulent practice:

I just caught the staff red-handed at Bharath Petroleum fuel station on Mount Road. They tried stealing Rs.700 worth of petrol. I paid Rs.2000 for the fuel and as the meter reached Rs.1300, one of the guys tried distracting me by asking me for my car number. Immediately, his accomplice manning the fuel pump stopped the pump and quickly reset the meter. As soon as the guy asked me for the number, I smelled a rat and saw the pump just when the guy was resetting it.

This incident took place in the Bharath Petroleum's Mount Road outlet in Chennai. Kiruba uploaded the video to Facebook, and the one-minute, 44-second-long video went viral with more than 6,000 shares and 3,000 likes. Many people shared their similar experiences in the comments section and local media started reporting on it.

Rajesh Murugesan, a commenter on the video, said:

Hey guys why blame only Bharat Petroleum, it happens with all petrol bunks. our Indian officer's just need to fill their pockets and are not worried about others. These officer's to be punished or teased in public.

Yashwanth Vee, another commenter, wrote:

It is a good thing that you came out and posted this on a social network. Hope the responsible person sees this video and takes some kind of action.

Kiruba posted updates on how the authorities reacted:

The social media outrage coupled with the coverage in national dailies has brought this incident right up to the CMD and top management of Bharath Petroleum.

They requested Mr.Kshitij Midha, Area Sales Manager for South Chennai to meet me in person. He is incharge of overseeing 35 fuel stations, including the one where the incident took place. [...]

The BPCL official did an investigation with the owner and staff at Ashwini Automobiles (the franchisee who runs the fuel station). After cross examining, they did find the two men guilty and they have been fired from their jobs. [...]

BPCL has the official complaint numbers displayed in all petrol pumps but most of the customers don’t take the extra effort to lodge a complaint. He encouraged people to complain which will keep the staff grounded.

Blogger Shushant Kulkarni from Pune advised how not to get cheated in a petrol station:

You might be getting fooled if you are not paying close attention. [...] I have noticed this a lot many times, have gotten first hand experience getting cheated a couple of times :), but eventually learned the pattern. You have experienced these or may be you are not paying attention to these.

The Allrounder blog also has similar tips to share. Vinaya Naidu at Lighthouse Insights blog lauded the role of social media in exposing malpractice in the society:

A rampant malpractice at most fuel stations in the country, one that needs to be tackled in these times of high fuel prices. It is interesting to observe how social media can play an important role in eliminating this, if leveraged fruitfully as Kiruba did.

February 22 2014

Thoughts On India's Biggest Blogging Conference

#WIN14, India's biggest blogging conference and awards, hosted by BlogAdda, took place on February 9, 2014. Blogger Dr. Roshan Radhakrishnan, who won the best creative writing blog in India, shares his thoughts and pictures.

February 21 2014

Congratulating The New Prime Minister of Nepal

Nepal’s Parliament has elected Mr. Sushil Koirala (75), the president of the party Nepali Congress, as the new Nepali Prime Minister. Nepali diaspora blogger Indra congratulates the new Prime Minister and thinks that “the gift Mr. Koirala has for empowering others with his humility and sincerity will go a long way”.

Photos from The Fashion Pakistan Week

Fashion blogger Amara Javed posts photos from the ongoing Fashion Pakistan Week in Karachi showcasing the Summer 2014 collections by many Lahore designers.

Social Media Rallies to Help Comatose Pakistani Student in US


Screenshot of Facebook page supporting Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa

Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa, a 21-year-old Pakistani exchange student in the US, has been in a coma since 13 November 2013 when a deer collided with the car he and his friends were riding in outside of the city of Minneapolis. At a local hospital after the accident, Bajwa went into cardiac arrest. Doctors were able to resuscitate him, but he suffered brain damage and has been comatose ever since. 

Just as Bajwa was fighting for his life, another battle was brewing. Bajwa's student visa was set to expire on 28 February, and Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, Minnesota, where he was transferred after the accident, was making plans to deport him to a Pakistani hospital, saying its hands were legally tied. His family feared Bajwa wouldn't survive the flight. 

A student of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Bajwa was also only insured for one semester for the student exchange program with a cap of 100,000 US dollars, not enough to cover the expensive costs of an extended stay in an American hospital.    

As the visa expiration date neared, support on social media for Bajwa began to pour in, and an online campaign to raise funds and to pressure the US to allow the student to stay for treatment quickly spread throughout the web. Finally, after Pakistan’s Ambassador in the US Jalil Abbas Jilani became involved, Bajwa's brother announced on 20 February that US authorities had agreed to extend the student's visa.  

Social media takes up the cause 

Bajwa's medical costs exceeded 350,000 dollars in mid-February and continued to climb. The hospital agreed to absorb the costs and not dip into the insurance money, but warned (before the visa was extended) that it would cease paying on 28 February. Essentia Health also said it would pay the medical evacuation costs, though it threatened to pull the coverage if the family didn't sign off on returning Bajwa to Pakistan, according to his brother Shahraiz Bajwa.  

With the family unable to fund Bajwa's extensive treatment once the hospital pulled its financial support, his brother launched an online fundraising campaign on website gofundme.com, which has collected to date more than 132,000 US dollars of its 300,000-dollar goal.

On Facebook, groups such as “Support For Shahzaib Bajwa“ helped to spread the word about the need for donations. “Inshallah God will help you guys more. People show that humanity still exists in its full context,” one user, Mubarik Hasan, wrote. Other users, A Facebook user like Mohammad Jibran Nasir published statuses urging friends to help.

The peace initiative of the Jang Group of Pakistan and the Times of India, Aman ki Asha, shared a plea on Facebook from someone who had met Bajwa:

From an Indian about a Pakistani: “I request you from the core of my heart if you could help this lovely guy. I met him on my last visit to Pakistan and I've great memories of the time spent with him. I request you to pl help him out of the situation in which he and his family is.”

Meanwhile, an online petition was created on change.org to demand the extension of Bajwa's visa; it has so far received more than 8,000 signatures. Bajwa's family was not hopeful about the quality of treatment he would receive in Pakistan, and his mother feared signing off on the medical flight would be sending her son to his death. 

On the petition, Ivy Vainio from Minnesota wrote:

Shahzaib needs the best medical care that he can receive right now and he will get it where he is at currently. He is one of the most wonderful young men that I have met. Caring and loving to all. Please renew his visa so that he can stay and get the best treatment available to him.

Richard Mienke argued: 

I would rather see such a brilliant student and decent human being be taken care of until full recovery is attained and then give him the means to continue his degree here in the United States. It is not a question of citizenship, it is a question of humanity and doing the right thing. Period.

On Twitter, users pushed the campaign even further with tweets and retweets. Professor of International Relations, Earth and Environment at Boston University Adil Najam wrote:   

Pakistani journalist, artist and documentary filmmaker Beena Sarwar also requested the US extend Bajwa's visa: 

Political analyst and senior TV anchor Nasim Zehra wanted people to show generosity: 

Slow recovery ahead

Bajwa, who suffered severe facial fractures, will eventually need reconstructive surgery. He remains comatose, but can open his eyes, squeeze his mother's hand, shrug his shoulders and has some movement in his legs.

Doctors at the Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center say that it will take at least a few years to determine his chances of complete recovery. With his visa renewed, officials are now making plans to move Bajwa to a long-term facility in the area. 

Thumbnail image: Screenshot of Facebook page praying for early recovery of Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa

February 20 2014

Is Indian Anti-Corruption Leader Arvind Kejriwal's Resignation Clever or Crazy?

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal briefing the journalists. Image by Sarika Gulati. Copyright Demotix (21/1/2014)

Arvind Kejriwal briefing the journalists. Image by Sarika Gulati. Copyright Demotix (21/1/2014)

After a remarkable victory for anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man's Party, abbreviated AAP) in December's Delhi Assembly election, bringing an end to Indian National Congress’ 15-year-rule there, Kejriwal has resigned from his position as chief minister after only 49 days in office.  

As the capital of India waits for its new administrator, speculations are rife about what Kejriwal's resignation bodes for the general elections later this year and how AAP will perform compared to the established political bigwigs.

Some years back, somebody with a really good sense of humour decided to christen India's common man as the “mango” man. The logic is easy to understand. “Aam” in Hindi means “common”, but it could also mean “mango”, depending upon the context. Mango man or mango people has now become a part of popular political jargon in the country, referring to the common people in India.

India's “mango” people were considerably excited when the AAP managed to garner the maximum number of votes during the Delhi elections. However, Arvind Kejriwal's decision to quit from his job has surprised many and raised a number of speculations. His style of governance was unorthodox and publicity stunts like a 33-hour protest against the Delhi police ensured his frequent presence in the news.

Kejriwal had announced that he would resign from his position unless the Delhi Legislative Assembly passed the anti-corruption bill that would introduce the appointment of an anti-corruption ombudsman, the “Lokpal.” The bill would enable official enquiries into corruption complaints involving high-ranking officials. However, following the introduction of the bill in the state assembly, there was a huge uproar from the opposition and the bill could not be passed.

Kejriwal has defended his decision saying that it was one based on principle, but several supporters are disappointed.

In Facebook and Twitter, this particular statement is being shared by several critical citizens who think it is a case of sour grapes for Kejriwal.

In his resignation letter, Kejriwal has accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which represents 32 seats in the 70-member Delhi Assembly, of getting support from billionaire Mukesh Ambani. Kejriwal's AAP had recently filed a police case against Ambani on charges of corruption.

The now ex-chief minister claims that the passage of the anti-corruption bill would have brought even more politicians under the scanner, which is why opposing parties ensured that the bill would stall in Delhi's Assembly. Kejriwal may have made a name for himself as India's foremost troublemaker, but many others, like Anand Pradhan, believe that Kejriwal has “shown the way” towards honest politics:

Amrita Roy commented on a post by Aparna Wanchoo in Youth Ki Awaaz blog:

Well at least he stood by his word! Sure there were issues related to the 49 days his government was in power. Sure he doesn’t know how to deal with parliamentary anarchy. But he stood by what he has always preached. He is one of the very few people who walked the talk. If he hadn’t resigned after the vote against tabling the Lokpal Bill, both Congress and BJP would have called him opportunist. They would have definitely said that Kejriwal wants the power of the seat of the CM and hence isn’t resigning even after his pet agenda was rejected. Now that he has resigned, both these parties have resorted to declaring that he can’t govern. Either way he would be attacked. The only thing that is in his control is to stand by his word. And he did just that.

Kejriwal's move may actually prove to be a strategically potent move for the general elections this year. The AAP has already announced its main candidates for the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, this year.

The run up to the 2014 general elections has begun and the AAP is taking on the big guns in the Indian political scene. Going by the mood, India's mango people definitely seem to have a chance, and they're supporting the one party which, to say the least, appears to be the most honest of the lot.

February 19 2014

Human Waste Scavenging a Reality in India Despite Sanitation Laws

Manual scavenging is illegal in India. Yet, the practice continues to exist in pockets. Image courtesy UNICEF India

Manual scavenging is illegal in India but the practice continues to exist. This lady in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh is carrying human waste for disposal. Image courtesy UNICEF India

Manual scavenging, or the manual removal of human waste from non-flush toilets, continues to exist in pockets of India despite the Indian government's stringent laws agaisnt it [pdf]. A team of bloggers, including a member of Global Voices, visited a few villages in the Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh, India and learned more about this continuing illegal and dehumanizing practice.

The Indian government in partnership with UNICEF India has been actively pushing an ambitious, community-led total sanitation program – the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA), which aims to end open defecation by 2017. An earlier Global Voices post reported how UNICEF India's #poo2loo campaign has been using innovative methods to engage the urban populace and create awareness about the issue of open defecation.

However, apart from influencing cultural norms to end open defecation and building of toilet infrastructure across the country, the NBA program also deals with hygienic methods of solid and liquid waste disposal. And it is in this context that the blogger team learned how traditional “dry toilets” were unhygienic. Plus, given that these areas lacked proper sewage system for waste disposal, these toilets encouraged the illegal waste disposal method – manual scavenging.

A traditional dry toilet in a village of Uttar Pradesh, India, that requires manual scavenging to clean. Image by author

A dry toilet in a village of Uttar Pradesh, India, that needs manual scavengers to clean. Image by Aparna Ray.

The district panchayat officer of Moradabad district in Uttar Pradesh India explained why, according to him, dry toilets (toilets without a flush or wash-away system) were worse than open defecation. He pointed out that open defecation in villages generally took place in open fields and wooded areas away from human habitation, but in traditional dry toilets the waste lays open within the confines of the home, spreading diseases faster within the community (as the waste attracts flies, which then sit on foodstuffs, etc.).

In fact, this was one of the reasons that many families preferred not to have a toilet within the house. Plus, these kinds of dry toilets also require manual scavengers for waste disposal, a job that is “without dignity and illegal”.

Mayank Jain from Youth Ki Awaaz was one of the bloggers on the field visit. He wrote about his experiences:

dry toilet is probably the gravest thing I have encountered in my life. Those who feel shy or don’t want to go out choose this means where they leave their fecal waste in one corner of the house and in the morning, a human scavenger comes to clean it and carries the whole waste on their head to dump it anywhere away from their home. This is done in return for a sum of just 30 rupees for 6 months! This is an inhuman crime being carried out all over the villages and it is a massive source of diseases and health issues. People don’t realize how unhygienic it is to live with their own waste in the house and those who carry on their heads find themselves perpetually ill with diarrhea or poisoning and they still choose to do it for that extra money

Mayank further commented:

The story gets worse once you talk to them about their children and you discover this profession gives birth to huge discrimination and people don’t dare touch them or talk to them nicely because of what they do in the morning. Story of human scavengers brings to light the vicious cycle of poverty and misery but the web is intermingled with shades of caste-ism, religious sentiments, traditions and cultural hierarchies that have grown to this level now.

It is a crime as per Indian law and the women who do it ran away when we tried to talk to them thinking they will be caught or punished and I could only wonder where this country has reached so far.

Three scavenger ladies

Three scavenger women in a village of Uttar Pradesh, India, huddled together, a little away from the rest of the villagers. Image by Aparna Ray

Bloggers Ajay Kapoor from Halabol and Sonal Kapoor from the NGO Protsahan have also blogged and tweeted about what they learned from these manual scavenging women, whom they met on the field trip.

Ajay blogged:

Scavengers from a village. No dignity, no respect and worst of all they get pennies for this humiliating work and some stale food.

And Sonal (@ArtForCause) tweeted:

The women complained that they were ill much of the time but when it was pointed out that it was because of the work they did, they said that they could see no other viable and respectable alternative open to them.

The Indian government, along with organizations such as Sulabh International which are working in the field of sanitation are pushing for societal change a) by trying to get people to convert their traditional dry toilets to a more hygienic option that does away with the need for daily scavenging and b) trying to create alternative livelihoods for these scavengers.

Conversion of traditional dry toilets

The government along with its sanitation partners is pushing for conversion of these unhygienic dry toilets into flush toilets. However, keeping in mind the lack of proper sewerage systems as well as the impracticality of advocating expensive flush systems, especially in poorer or rural areas, they are opting for technologies such as the self-composting, twin-pit pour flush system.

A dry toilet being converted into a twin pit pour flush system. Images courtesy UNICEF India

A dry toilet being converted into a twin-pit pour flush system. Images courtesy UNICEF India

This toilet technology involves building a toilet which is connected to two pits, any one of which is used at a time. Water-flushed waste collects in a pit and when it is filled, the other one is used. The waste gets converted into compost, which can then be used as manure.

Other innovative, alternative sanitation systems are also being explored across India, for example,this ecosan squat toilet system, supported by UNICEF.

A more contemporary format of a waterless flush system was also recently exhibited in India.

Rehabilitating manual scavengers

As more toilets get converted and as opportunities are created for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers by providing them alternative livelihoods, there is cause for hope, though a lot still remains to be done in this area. Be it through the government sponsored “100 days guaranteed work” scheme or self-employment schemes or even NGO-led training and employment generating initiatives, we hope that the manual scavenging community will get reinstated in the mainstream society and be able to live with dignity and dream of a better future for themselves as well as their children.

In this YouTube video, Sulabh International's Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak talks about his organization's initiatives in this direction, saying that the resulting glimmer of change is a “candle in the darkness, a beginning of the beginning”.

In the next post in the series, we will look at how some brave “toilet warriors” are working within their communities to bring about change in attitudes to scavenging, sanitation and hygiene.

February 18 2014

YouTube Chefs Are Cooking Up a Storm in Indian Kitchens

YouTube Chefs are cooking up a storm and gaining celebrity status in India and abroad

YouTube chefs are gaining celebrity status in India and abroad.

Recipes are no longer just about cookbooks or top professional chefs hosting cooking shows on TV. A new breed of Indian culinarians are cooking their way to celebrity – via YouTube. As they demystify Indian cuisine and offer step-by-step guidance to creating mouthwatering Indian dishes, these talented men and women are inspiring a whole host of Indians to pick up their ladles and try out various yummy recipes in their own kitchens.

Move over recipe books, the YouTube chefs are here. No longer does the amateur home chef have to flounder with trying to understand what exactly the recipe instruction meant when it said things like, “the batter should be of pouring consistency”. Now you can see the chef demonstrate on video what exactly “pouring consistency” ought to be like. 

VahChef

Sanjay Thumma, more popularly known as VahChef, is the founder of food website vahrehvah.com. His prolific recipes channel on YouTube, which he launched in 2007, has catapulted him to culinary stardom.

Screenshot of Sanjay Thumma's YouTube channel

Screenshot of Sanjay Thumma's VahChef YouTube channel

Over the years, VahChef Sanjay has put up over 1,100 easy-to-follow videos demonstrating mainly Indian (and some international) recipes. Currently, his YouTube channel has about 234,985 subscribers and has clocked 159,266,645 views. On Facebook too, he has garnered about 164,405 likes. Sanjay is also currently hosting cooking shows on a regional TV channel in India.

Food Blog Wandering Spoon notes:

It’s refreshing to watch someone demonstrate mouth-watering dishes with uninhibited joy, a matter-of-fact globalism and minimal make-up. It helps that I love so many cuisines in India, but what immediately appealed to me is his stance as a teacher.

In the video below, VahChef Sanjay demonstrates how to cook fennel and pepper chicken:

Manjula's Kitchen

Manjula Jain grew up in a North Indian vegetarian family. Though she married and relocated to the US in the late 1960s, her family and she remained vegetarians as they were Jains by religion. Since 2006, Manjula has been blogging recipes and creating cooking videos on YouTube that offer “simple and practical recipes” to authentic Indian vegetarian cuisine. Her recipes include vegan and gluten-free dishes as well.

Manjula's Kitchen website and blog

Manjula's Kitchen on YouTube has 146,873 subscribers and has racked up 73,769,313 views. Her Facebook page has 260,833 likes. Recently, Manjula has also published her first book, ”Manjula’s Kitchen: Best of Indian Vegetarian”which is available on Amazon.

In the video below, Manjula shows us how to prepare a tasty snack which is also a popular street food in Mumbai, India: Batata Vada or Aloo Bonda (fried potato dumplings):

Nisha Madhulika

It's not only English-language recipe videos that are doing well online. Meet 55-year-old Nisha Madhulekha from Delhi. After she retired from a full-time job, Nisha grew restless and turned to her passion for cooking to keep herself occupied. She started posting recipe videos online in Hindi with English subtitles for the non-Hindi audience. With over 800 videos uploaded to date, plus tonnes of recipes on her Hindi website (there is also a subset English version here), Nisha Madhulika is quite a culinary force.

nishamadhulika.com - the Hindi website featuring Indian vegetarian recipes

Hindi website nishamadhulika.com features Indian vegetarian recipes

In the following YouTube video, Nisha shares her story about how she started her journey as a YouTube chef:

As of today, Nisha Madhulika's YouTube food channel has 114,339 subscribers and has nabbed 33,236,034 views. Her Facebook page has close to 40,000 likes.

In the video below, Nisha Madhulika shows us how to make sweet puffed rice balls (somewhat similar to Rice Krispies Treats, but with jaggery instead of marshmallows):

Some of the other popular YouTube home chefs who post videos of Indian and/or South Asian recipes include Bhavna with her “exotic vegetarian cuisine recipes from all around the world with a hint of Indian flavor” at Bhavna's Kitchen (134,091 subscribers, 52,497,677 views) and the Hetal-Anuja team with their “step-by-step and practical approach to South Asian Cooking” at ShowMeTheCurry.com (120,696 subscribers, 65,979,089 views).

Screenshot of India Food Network page

Screenshot of India Food Network page on YouTube

In fact, YouTube video tutorials and recipe demonstrations have become so popular that a group of home chefs and food bloggers got together in 2012 to create the India Food Network on YouTube. According to the description on their Facebook page:

India Food Network is your step by step guide to simple and delicious home cooking. From regional Indian cuisine to popular dishes from around the globe, our focus is to make cooking easy

So next time you want to cook your way into someone's heart, don't reach for a cookbook. Log on to YouTube and let some of these new-age celebrity chefs show you the way.

February 17 2014

Nepal Airlines Plane Crashes Killing All 18 On Board

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Wolfgang Soshin Drechsler. CC BY-SA 3.0

A De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter of Nepal Airlines, similar to the aircraft involved in the accident. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Wolfgang Soshin Drechsler. CC BY-SA 3.0

An ill-fated Twin Otter plane crashed on 16 February 2014 killing all 18 on board in the forests of Masine in mid-western Nepal.

The wreckage of the state-owned Nepal Airlines Corporation plane which went missing after 1 p.m. Nepal Standard Time (NST) on Sunday and was found on Monday morning by local youths who had been there to play with the snow, reports Nepali online newspaper Setopati. The aircraft may have hit a mountain, which caused the crash.

Medico, a medical doctor from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), tweeted:

Sad news. What had to happen, got to know the same. All 18 aboard the Nepal Airlines Corporation plane died.

Journalist Bhabasagar Ghimire tweeted an earlier picture of the plane:

On 24 April 2010 the plane was to ferry a patient to Nepalgunj from Jumla airport.

The plane was 43 years old and was carrying 15 passengers and 3 crew members, blog Mysansar reported. Among them were a Danish national and a child. The aeroplane was scheduled to be decommissioned in 2014.

Rajan Bhattarai from Germany tweeted:

The weather throughout the country was very bad on the day the plane crashed:

The ones who permitted to fly the plane in such weather should be jailed.

Although being old, the plane had had only one incident of slipping on the runway of Jumla airport on 25 June 1992. The plane was also hijacked by Congress workers 40 years ago to loot the 30 lakhs of Indian rupees (about 4,800 US dollars) that the plane was carrying, reported Mysansar.

The Nepalese aviation industry has seen a huge number of accidents in the recent years, with two fatal plane crashes each year from 2010 to 2012. The European Union has banned all airlines from Nepal to fly into the 28 European nations.

Social media was awash with the news about the crash and condolence messages. Former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai tweeted:

Pyasi tweeted:

[They say] a lot of courage is needed to scale Mount Everest. Seems thousand times more courage is needed to travel in a Nepali plane.

Indeed, the air journeys in Nepali skies seem more dangerous with the recent air accidents.

February 16 2014

One Nepalese Doctor's Hunger Strike Wins Action From Officials

After an assurance that Prof Dr Prakash Sayami would be reinstated as the dean of Institute of Medicine following Dr Shashi Sharma's dismissal, senior orthopaedic surgeon Prof Dr Govinda KC is ending his 3rd hunger strike in Kathmandu. Image by Narayan Maharjan. Copyright Demotix (24/1/2014)

After an assurance that Dr. Prakash Sayami would be reinstated as the dean of Institute of Medicine following Dr. Shashi Sharma's dismissal, senior orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Govinda KC is ending his third hunger strike in Kathmandu. Image by Narayan Maharjan. Copyright Demotix (24/1/2014)

Dr. Govinda KC, a senior orthopedic surgeon of Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Nepal who has earned the nickname Crusader KC, ended his fourth fast-unto-death [ne] on 15 February 2014. Dr. KC, who was fighting to end political interference in the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in Nepal, has once again proven that victory can be won without resorting to violence.

The doctor had only ended his third hunger strike for the same reasons on 25 January after officials had assured him they would meet his demands, but he resumed the strike in early February, accusing them of dragging their feet.

He had been demanding to appoint a new dean at the Institute of Medicine (IoM) on the basis of seniority, stop granting affiliation to medical colleges in urban areas, autonomy for IoM and action against Tribhuvan University (TU) vice-chancellor, rector and registrar, who according to him were corrupt and influenced by “medical mafia”.

Medical students taking care of Dr KC during the fast offered juice to him to end the latest eight-day strike, online portal Onlinekhabar reports. An agreement was signed among Dr. KC, the education secretary and the newly appointed Dean of the Institute of Medicine (IoM) Dr. Rakesh Prasad Srivastav, according to The Himalayan Times.

Dr. Sudhamshu KC, a liver specialist, researcher and traveler from Kathmandu, tweeted:

Very happy to know that Dr. KC ended the fast. But the pest of TU [Tribhuvan University] is still to be killed. May the new council of ministers use effective pesticide.

Dr. KC enjoyed widespread support from the public during all of his four fasts-unto-death in 2010, August 2012, January 2014 and February 2014.

One of his fans, Manohar, a graduate of life science and biotechnology, tweeted:

Hey,
Those who say you will eat when it falls,
Those who say you will eat when it dies,
KC won’t feel tired
KC won’t retire
Your palace of black property will surely burn down
KC’s dreams will never burn down.

Popular Nepali blog Mysansar [ne] wrote about the doctor's heroics quoting an earlier write-up on him by journalist Surendra Paudel of Nagarik Daily, who has covered the KC extensively:

It’s been 17 years, he packs his bags with medicines and sets off for the remote villages in Nepal, at least twice a year. He has been to the mountains, hills and terai, to serve his countrymen, free of charge. He has served the needy of 72 districts out of the 75 districts in Nepal. And his journey is continuing.

He has not only served Nepalis but has been a helping hand to the survivors of major catastrophes in recent times. He was in Bangladesh after the devastating cyclone in 1993, in India’s Gujarat after the major earthquake, in Pakistan after the earthquake in 2005, in Myanmar in 2008 after the cyclone, and in Haiti after the disastrous earthquake in 2010. He spent several weeks in these countries treating the survivors.

While he treats, distributes medicines, he doesn’t charge anything. He does not accept donation from organisations. It’s his own hard-earned money that he spends in cure of the needy.

Screenshot from the Facebook page

Screenshot from the Facebook page “Save IOM, Save Dr. Govinda K C”

Dipak Bhattarai discussed on his blog an anecdote shared on his Facebook by Paudel:

Just after resigning from the premiership, the Maoist supremo Prachanda aka Pushpa Kamal Dahal had invited Dr KC for his health check-up. Dr KC rejected the request and said that he has never gone to anybody’s residence for the check-up due to his busy schedule treating the poor and needy at the hospital. The messenger had to give in to Dr KC’s principles. He also had to abide by the rules. Prachanda had to come to the hospital and wait in queue for the check-up. And he had to do away with his entourage of bodyguards, as suggested by Dr KC only three of them came to the hospital.

While many Nepalese were supportive of his strike, some were irritated by his fourth fast.

Jigyasu Mahesh tweeted:

Dr KC’s ways of not letting work amplifies the politics. [They are] collapsing the system.

Ramen Adhikari wrote.

To which Milan Bagale replied:

Hope the mafia loses the battle. From the deepest of my heart. Victory be with us.

With Dr KC’s ending of the fast, the medical fraternity hopes that this will mark the end of the rule of medical mafia and political interference at the IoM in Nepal.

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