India PM Modi app sparks social media furore

Indian PM Narendra Modi’s official mobile application has been criticised for sending personal user data to a third party without their consent.

A security researcher had tweeted that the app was sending personal user data to a third-party domain that was traced to a US company.

Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has denied the allegation.

The party said the data was being used only for analytics to offer all users the “most contextual content”.

  • Narendra Modi app is ‘like Tinder for good governance’
    • Narendra Modi app: Humour and praise on Twitter

      The researcher, who tweets under the pseudonym Elliot Alderson, posted a series of tweets on Saturday stating Mr Modi’s app was sending personal user data to a third party.

      Skip Twitter post 2 by @fs0c131y

      After a quick search, this domain belongs to an American company called @CleverTap. According to their description, “#CleverTap is the next generation app engagement platform. It enables marketers to identify, engage and retain users and provides developers" pic.twitter.com/Ikqp9GbCDm

      — Elliot Alderson (@fs0c131y) March 23, 2018

      Report

      End of Twitter post 2 by @fs0c131y

      Skip Twitter post 3 by @fs0c131y

      .@narendramodi, I know privacy is not your thing but any thoughts about sharing the personal data of your users without their consent to a third-party company?

      — Elliot Alderson (@fs0c131y) March 23, 2018

      Report

      End of Twitter post 3 by @fs0c131y

      Rahul Gandhi, the chief of the the main opposition Congress party, took to Twitter on Sunday to criticise Mr Modi.

      Skip Twitter post by @RahulGandhi

      Hi! My name is Narendra Modi. I am India's Prime Minister. When you sign up for my official App, I give all your data to my friends in American companies.

      Ps. Thanks mainstream media, you're doing a great job of burying this critical story, as always.https://t.co/IZYzkuH1ZH

      — Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 25, 2018

      Report

      End of Twitter post by @RahulGandhi

      The BJP responded swiftly, saying Mr Gandhi was trying to divert attention.

      Last week India’s law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said there were “numerous reports” of the Congress party’s connections with controversial data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

      He asked Mr Gandhi to “explain” the company’s role in his social media outreach.

      The opposition party has denied the charges.

      Cambridge Analytica is embroiled in a storm over claims it exploited the data of millions of Facebook users.

      Skip Twitter post by @BJP4India

      Rahul Gandhi is in sublime form these days. After MRI & NCC, today he exposes his great knowledge about technology. He is so rattled by the Cambridge Analyitca expose that he daily tries to divert attention from it, yesterday it was the judiciary and today it is Namo App.

      — BJP (@BJP4India) March 25, 2018

      Report

      End of Twitter post by @BJP4India

      The party said the data from Mr Modi’s app was being used for analytics:

      Skip Twitter post 2 by @BJP4India

      This ensures that a user gets the best experience by showing content in his language & interests. A person who looks up agri-related info will get agri related content easily. A person from TN will get updates in Tamil and get an update about an important initiative about TN.

      — BJP (@BJP4India) March 25, 2018

      Report

      End of Twitter post 2 by @BJP4India

      The security researcher later posted a new tweet on Sunday saying Mr Modi’s app had been “quietly” updated its privacy policy.

      Skip Twitter post 4 by @fs0c131y

      After the NaMo #android app exposé yesterday, the privacy policy of @narendramodi has been change quietly. The cached version is accessible here https://t.co/K7Uz5mUsR1

      — Elliot Alderson (@fs0c131y) March 25, 2018

      Report

      End of Twitter post 4 by @fs0c131y

      Mr Modi launched his official app in 2015, adding another platform to his massive social media presence.

      He is among the five most popular politicians on Twitter with 41.4 million followers.

Alphons Kannanthanam: India minister’s ‘naked’ visa claim criticised

An Indian minister has sparked a social media storm with his comments on the country’s controversial biometric identity scheme.

Alphons Kannanthanam said Indians had no problem “getting naked” for a US visa, but object to the Aadhaar scheme over privacy concerns.

It is not clear what he meant exactly but he may be referring to airport strip searches.

Since Aadhar’s inception, critics have been worried about its data safety.

In January, an Indian journalist said she was able to access citizens’ personal details on the Aadhaar website after paying an agent 500 rupees ($8; £6). The government called it a data breach at the time.

“But when the government of India, which is your government, asks you your name and your address, nothing more, there’s a massive revolution in the country saying it’s an intrusion into the privacy of the individual.”

He added that the biometric data collected under the scheme was safe with the government.

  • Aadhaar: Are a billion identities at risk on India’s biometric database
  • Aadhaar data leak: Edward Snowden backs India reporter over expose

    The comment by the minister comes a week after the Indian Supreme Court extended its deadline on ruling whether Aadhaar needs to be mandatorily linked to avail various services, including welfare schemes, bank accounts and phone numbers.

    Mr Kannanthanam added that he had to fill out a 10-page form to apply for a US visa.

    “Ten pages of data which you have never even confessed to your wife or husband ever, that is passed on to the white man. We have no problem,” he said.

    However, many on social media were quick to point out the differences between the two scenarios he put forward:

    Skip Twitter post by @MangoBwoy

    Is applying for US visa voluntarily mandatory for every Indian citizen? Do you guys understand consent, privacy and things like that?

    — শেখর (@MangoBwoy) March 25, 2018

    Report

    End of Twitter post by @MangoBwoy

    Skip Twitter post by @mehraan_1989

    But 1.6 billion people doesn't apply for US Visa. Weird argument to defend privacy theft #databreach

    — Mehraan Laigroo (@mehraan_1989) March 25, 2018

    Report

    End of Twitter post by @mehraan_1989

    Skip Twitter post by @ankur2smart

    Not everyone goes to US and those who do, do it by choice. How do you guys even manage to be such high profile minister.

    — Ankur Goel (@ankur2smart) March 25, 2018

    Report

    End of Twitter post by @ankur2smart

    Skip Twitter post by @Retributions

    This going naked for a US visa is not only factually incorrect but plainly disingenuous: countries treat citizens/non-citizens differently. US may ask for all sort of biometrics for a visa but doesn’t ask any for a social security number. Can find better defense of #aadhaar

    — Rohit Pradhan (@Retributions) March 25, 2018

    Report

    End of Twitter post by @Retributions

    Skip Twitter post by @chetan_cbe

    @alphonstourism you should realize that us visa is voluntary. Can you assure me that #Aadhaar is voluntary too?
    And no I don't have a us visa but I was forced to get an #Aadhaar

    — chetan shah (@chetan_cbe) March 25, 2018

    Report

    End of Twitter post by @chetan_cbe

    Skip Twitter post by @bombaywallah

    Naked? For a US visa? Things have certainly changed https://t.co/7aNLYuWSQ5

    — Sidharth Bhatia (@bombaywallah) March 25, 2018

    Report

    End of Twitter post by @bombaywallah

    India’s biometric database is the world’s largest. The government has collected fingerprints and iris scans from more than a billion residents – or nearly 90% of the population – and stored them in a high security data centre.

    Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that citizens have a fundamental right to privacy in a landmark judgment. The ruling, experts said, had significant implications for the government’s vast biometric ID scheme.

India PM Modi app sparks social media furore

Indian PM Narendra Modi’s official mobile application has been criticised for sending personal user data to a third party without their consent.

A security researcher had tweeted that the app was sending personal user data to a third-party domain that was traced to a US company.

Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has denied the allegation.

The party said the data was being used only for analytics to offer all users the “most contextual content”.

  • Narendra Modi app is ‘like Tinder for good governance’
    • Narendra Modi app: Humour and praise on Twitter

      The researcher, who tweets under the pseudonym Elliot Alderson, posted a series of tweets on Saturday stating Mr Modi’s app was sending personal user data to a third party.

      Skip Twitter post 2 by @fs0c131y

      After a quick search, this domain belongs to an American company called @CleverTap. According to their description, “#CleverTap is the next generation app engagement platform. It enables marketers to identify, engage and retain users and provides developers" pic.twitter.com/Ikqp9GbCDm

      — Elliot Alderson (@fs0c131y) March 23, 2018

      Report

      End of Twitter post 2 by @fs0c131y

      Skip Twitter post 3 by @fs0c131y

      .@narendramodi, I know privacy is not your thing but any thoughts about sharing the personal data of your users without their consent to a third-party company?

      — Elliot Alderson (@fs0c131y) March 23, 2018

      Report

      End of Twitter post 3 by @fs0c131y

      Rahul Gandhi, the chief of the the main opposition Congress party, took to Twitter on Sunday to criticise Mr Modi.

      Skip Twitter post by @RahulGandhi

      Hi! My name is Narendra Modi. I am India's Prime Minister. When you sign up for my official App, I give all your data to my friends in American companies.

      Ps. Thanks mainstream media, you're doing a great job of burying this critical story, as always.https://t.co/IZYzkuH1ZH

      — Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 25, 2018

      Report

      End of Twitter post by @RahulGandhi

      The BJP responded swiftly, saying Mr Gandhi was trying to divert attention.

      Last week India’s law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said there were “numerous reports” of the Congress party’s connections with controversial data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

      He asked Mr Gandhi to “explain” the company’s role in his social media outreach.

      The opposition party has denied the charges.

      Cambridge Analytica is embroiled in a storm over claims it exploited the data of millions of Facebook users.

      Skip Twitter post by @BJP4India

      Rahul Gandhi is in sublime form these days. After MRI & NCC, today he exposes his great knowledge about technology. He is so rattled by the Cambridge Analyitca expose that he daily tries to divert attention from it, yesterday it was the judiciary and today it is Namo App.

      — BJP (@BJP4India) March 25, 2018

      Report

      End of Twitter post by @BJP4India

      The party said the data from Mr Modi’s app was being used for analytics:

      Skip Twitter post 2 by @BJP4India

      This ensures that a user gets the best experience by showing content in his language & interests. A person who looks up agri-related info will get agri related content easily. A person from TN will get updates in Tamil and get an update about an important initiative about TN.

      — BJP (@BJP4India) March 25, 2018

      Report

      End of Twitter post 2 by @BJP4India

      The security researcher later posted a new tweet on Sunday saying Mr Modi’s app had been “quietly” updated its privacy policy.

      Skip Twitter post 4 by @fs0c131y

      After the NaMo #android app exposé yesterday, the privacy policy of @narendramodi has been change quietly. The cached version is accessible here https://t.co/K7Uz5mUsR1

      — Elliot Alderson (@fs0c131y) March 25, 2018

      Report

      End of Twitter post 4 by @fs0c131y

      Mr Modi launched his official app in 2015, adding another platform to his massive social media presence.

      He is among the five most popular politicians on Twitter with 41.4 million followers.

Who sent the wedding gift bomb that killed this newlywed?

A “wedding bomb” that killed a newly-married software engineer and left his wife grievously wounded has shattered the peace of a small town in India. Nearly a month after the incident, the police have made no headway. Soutik Biswas travels to the eastern state of Orissa to piece together the story of a killing that has riveted India.

On a bright summer afternoon on 23 February, five days after their marriage, Soumya Sekhar Sahu, a 26-year-old software engineer, and his 22-year-old wife Reema, were pottering around in the kitchen at his newly-built family home in Patnagarh, a drowsy, nondescript town in Orissa.

They were planning to grill eggplant and make some lentil soup for lunch when Soumya heard the clanging of the latch of their metal gate. A delivery man stood outside, holding a parcel addressed to him.

A fraying sticker on the box said it had been sent by SK Sharma from Raipur, some 230km (142 miles) away.

Reema remembers her husband opening the box in the kitchen, and finding a parcel covered in green paper with a white thread sticking out of it, while his 85-year-old grand-aunt Jemamani Sahu came up from behind to see what the parcel contained.

‘Surprise gift’

“This looks like a wedding gift,” Soumya Sekhar told his wife. “The only thing that I don’t know is the sender. I don’t know anyone in Raipur.”

As he pulled the thread, there was a flash of light and a huge explosion rocked the kitchen. The three were knocked off their feet, and collapsed on the tiled floor, bleeding profusely. The blast had ripped the plaster off the ceiling, blown apart the water purifier, sent the kitchen window flying into an adjacent field, and cracked the green painted walls.

The three writhed in pain on the blood-splattered floor. Jeemamani Sahu was on fire. “Save me. I think I am dying,” Soumya Sekhar groaned before losing consciousness.

That was the last time Reema heard her husband speak.

The burns stung her face and arms. With smoke filling her lungs, she struggled to breathe. Her eardrum had punctured, so she barely heard the hum of panicky neighbours rushing in and asking whether the cooking gas cylinder had exploded. Her vision was blurring as debris clogged her eyes.

Still Reema managed to crawl to the bedroom, and pick up the phone to call her mother-in-law, a principal in a local college. She passed out before she could make the call.

Video footage from the house minutes after the blast shows distraught neighbours carrying away the three wounded residents in bed-sheets to a waiting ambulance. Soumya Sekhar and Jemamani Sahu, who both suffered from 90% burns, died as they were being moved to hospital. Reema is recovering slowly in a cramped room in the burns ward in a government hospital.

  • Deadly Texas parcel bomb attacks ‘linked’
  • India groom killed in Odisha after wedding gift explodes

    More than a month after the horrific murder, no one appears to have the faintest idea who killed Soumya Sekhar, described as a “genial and god fearing young man who worshipped a guru” by relatives and friends.

    “We are simple people with simple lives. I have no enemies. My daughter has no enemies. My son-in-law had no enemies. I don’t suspect anybody, and I don’t know who could have done this,” Sudam Charan Sahu, Reema’s father, told me.

    Their families had introduced them, and the two had been engaged for a little more than a year. Reema’s father, a garments trader, adopted her from his younger brother because he wanted a daughter after his two sons, and his brother had three daughters. The cheerful and pretty girl went to a local college and graduated with an Oriya language degree.

    Soumya Sekhar’s parents were both college teachers – his father taught zoology. He had studied computer science and worked with info-tech companies in Mysore and Chandigarh, before joining a Japanese electronics firm in Bangalore two months ago.

    “They met a few times before the marriage in presence of their families. They were a happy couple. Why would someone want to kill him?” Soumya Sekhar’s father, Rabindra Kumar Sahu, 57, said.

    The only indication of something amiss seems to be one mysterious call that Soumya Sekhar received when he was in Bangalore.

    “The call came last year,” Reema told me. “We were talking on the phone, and he said there was a call coming in. And I vaguely remember he put me on hold, and later told me, ‘I got a threatening call. A man on the line told me not to marry.'”

    He didn’t mention any more calls, and by the time the marriage happened, “we had completely forgotten about the call”.

    Two dozen investigators have questioned more than 100 people – friends and relatives of the couple mainly – in four cities in connection with the killing. They have scoured mobile phone records, and scanned laptops and phones belonging to the couple.

    Hopes were raised when cyber sleuths found the parcel had been tracked online twice from a private computer institute in Kalahandi district, some 119km away, leading to speculation that the killer may have been following it. But eventually they found it was the courier company itself that had been tracking the consignment.

    Crude bomb?

    The only thing the police know for sure is that the parcel was sent from Raipur, under a false name and address. The killer, who paid 400 rupees ($6.14; £4.35) for the delivery, had chosen the courier company carefully: there were no CCTV cameras in their office, and the parcel was not scanned.

    The parcel then made a 650km journey on three buses and passed through four pairs of hands before reaching Patangarh on 20 February. The delivery man made a run the same evening to Soumya Sekhar’s residence, but returned without delivering the package because “he saw a big marriage reception going on at the place”, Dilip Kumar Das, the local manager of the courier company, explained. Three days later, the man finally delivered the parcel at the gate.

    Forensic experts are still trying to ascertain how sophisticated the bomb was. On the face of it, investigators say, it appeared to be a fairly crude device wrapped in jute thread which spewed white smoke after the blast.

    The lack of strong leads means that the investigators are contemplating several motives behind the killing.

    Was it the work of a spurned or scorned lover? The police still have no clue, but say they are investigating why Soumya Sekhar deleted his Facebook account weeks before his marriage and opened a new one.

    Was the killing related to a property dispute in the Sahu family, where Soumya Sekhar was the only son and the natural heir? Investigators say they need to question more family members before coming to any conclusions.

    Did the murder have anything to do with a feud that Reema had in her secondary school, when a classmate harassed her and her parents had to lodge a complaint with the principal? It seems highly unlikely because the incident happened nearly six years ago.

    Also, how did the sender of the bomb manage to get his hands on an explosive and pack and send it to the target so easily? Was it a contract killing? “This is a fiendishly complex case,” Balangir’s senior police official Sashi Bhusan Satpathy said. “This was the work of a fairly knowledgeable person well-versed in the arts of bomb making.”

    Reema is still in hospital, and her tragedy became a spectacle on Monday when a family member whipped out his mobile phone and recorded her breaking down after she discovered from an old newspaper in her room that her husband had been killed in the blast. For nearly three weeks, her family hadn’t broken the news to her. Now, she was crying inconsolably.

    “You lied to me, you didn’t tell me the truth,” she wailed at her father, as he broke down. By the evening, the video of this private moment of grief was showing on local TV.

    “We thought maybe this would move the government to step up the investigation and arrest the culprit soon,” her father said.

    “That’s all we want.”

Who sent the wedding gift bomb that killed this newlywed?

A “wedding bomb” that killed a newly-married software engineer and left his wife grievously wounded has shattered the peace of a small town in India. Nearly a month after the incident, the police have made no headway. Soutik Biswas travels to the eastern state of Orissa to piece together the story of a killing that has riveted India.

On a bright summer afternoon on 23 February, five days after their marriage, Soumya Sekhar Sahu, a 26-year-old software engineer, and his 22-year-old wife Reema, were pottering around in the kitchen at his newly-built family home in Patnagarh, a drowsy, nondescript town in Orissa.

They were planning to grill eggplant and make some lentil soup for lunch when Soumya heard the clanging of the latch of their metal gate. A delivery man stood outside, holding a parcel addressed to him.

A fraying sticker on the box said it had been sent by SK Sharma from Raipur, some 230km (142 miles) away.

Reema remembers her husband opening the box in the kitchen, and finding a parcel covered in green paper with a white thread sticking out of it, while his 85-year-old grand-aunt Jemamani Sahu came up from behind to see what the parcel contained.

‘Surprise gift’

“This looks like a wedding gift,” Soumya Sekhar told his wife. “The only thing that I don’t know is the sender. I don’t know anyone in Raipur.”

As he pulled the thread, there was a flash of light and a huge explosion rocked the kitchen. The three were knocked off their feet, and collapsed on the tiled floor, bleeding profusely. The blast had ripped the plaster off the ceiling, blown apart the water purifier, sent the kitchen window flying into an adjacent field, and cracked the green painted walls.

The three writhed in pain on the blood-splattered floor. Jeemamani Sahu was on fire. “Save me. I think I am dying,” Soumya Sekhar groaned before losing consciousness.

That was the last time Reema heard her husband speak.

The burns stung her face and arms. With smoke filling her lungs, she struggled to breathe. Her eardrum had punctured, so she barely heard the hum of panicky neighbours rushing in and asking whether the cooking gas cylinder had exploded. Her vision was blurring as debris clogged her eyes.

Still Reema managed to crawl to the bedroom, and pick up the phone to call her mother-in-law, a principal in a local college. She passed out before she could make the call.

Video footage from the house minutes after the blast shows distraught neighbours carrying away the three wounded residents in bed-sheets to a waiting ambulance. Soumya Sekhar and Jemamani Sahu, who both suffered from 90% burns, died as they were being moved to hospital. Reema is recovering slowly in a cramped room in the burns ward in a government hospital.

  • Deadly Texas parcel bomb attacks ‘linked’
  • India groom killed in Odisha after wedding gift explodes

    More than a month after the horrific murder, no one appears to have the faintest idea who killed Soumya Sekhar, described as a “genial and god fearing young man who worshipped a guru” by relatives and friends.

    “We are simple people with simple lives. I have no enemies. My daughter has no enemies. My son-in-law had no enemies. I don’t suspect anybody, and I don’t know who could have done this,” Sudam Charan Sahu, Reema’s father, told me.

    Their families had introduced them, and the two had been engaged for a little more than a year. Reema’s father, a garments trader, adopted her from his younger brother because he wanted a daughter after his two sons, and his brother had three daughters. The cheerful and pretty girl went to a local college and graduated with an Oriya language degree.

    Soumya Sekhar’s parents were both college teachers – his father taught zoology. He had studied computer science and worked with info-tech companies in Mysore and Chandigarh, before joining a Japanese electronics firm in Bangalore two months ago.

    “They met a few times before the marriage in presence of their families. They were a happy couple. Why would someone want to kill him?” Soumya Sekhar’s father, Rabindra Kumar Sahu, 57, said.

    The only indication of something amiss seems to be one mysterious call that Soumya Sekhar received when he was in Bangalore.

    “The call came last year,” Reema told me. “We were talking on the phone, and he said there was a call coming in. And I vaguely remember he put me on hold, and later told me, ‘I got a threatening call. A man on the line told me not to marry.'”

    He didn’t mention any more calls, and by the time the marriage happened, “we had completely forgotten about the call”.

    Two dozen investigators have questioned more than 100 people – friends and relatives of the couple mainly – in four cities in connection with the killing. They have scoured mobile phone records, and scanned laptops and phones belonging to the couple.

    Hopes were raised when cyber sleuths found the parcel had been tracked online twice from a private computer institute in Kalahandi district, some 119km away, leading to speculation that the killer may have been following it. But eventually they found it was the courier company itself that had been tracking the consignment.

    Crude bomb?

    The only thing the police know for sure is that the parcel was sent from Raipur, under a false name and address. The killer, who paid 400 rupees ($6.14; £4.35) for the delivery, had chosen the courier company carefully: there were no CCTV cameras in their office, and the parcel was not scanned.

    The parcel then made a 650km journey on three buses and passed through four pairs of hands before reaching Patangarh on 20 February. The delivery man made a run the same evening to Soumya Sekhar’s residence, but returned without delivering the package because “he saw a big marriage reception going on at the place”, Dilip Kumar Das, the local manager of the courier company, explained. Three days later, the man finally delivered the parcel at the gate.

    Forensic experts are still trying to ascertain how sophisticated the bomb was. On the face of it, investigators say, it appeared to be a fairly crude device wrapped in jute thread which spewed white smoke after the blast.

    The lack of strong leads means that the investigators are contemplating several motives behind the killing.

    Was it the work of a spurned or scorned lover? The police still have no clue, but say they are investigating why Soumya Sekhar deleted his Facebook account weeks before his marriage and opened a new one.

    Was the killing related to a property dispute in the Sahu family, where Soumya Sekhar was the only son and the natural heir? Investigators say they need to question more family members before coming to any conclusions.

    Did the murder have anything to do with a feud that Reema had in her secondary school, when a classmate harassed her and her parents had to lodge a complaint with the principal? It seems highly unlikely because the incident happened nearly six years ago.

    Also, how did the sender of the bomb manage to get his hands on an explosive and pack and send it to the target so easily? Was it a contract killing? “This is a fiendishly complex case,” Balangir’s senior police official Sashi Bhusan Satpathy said. “This was the work of a fairly knowledgeable person well-versed in the arts of bomb making.”

    Reema is still in hospital, and her tragedy became a spectacle on Monday when a family member whipped out his mobile phone and recorded her breaking down after she discovered from an old newspaper in her room that her husband had been killed in the blast. For nearly three weeks, her family hadn’t broken the news to her. Now, she was crying inconsolably.

    “You lied to me, you didn’t tell me the truth,” she wailed at her father, as he broke down. By the evening, the video of this private moment of grief was showing on local TV.

    “We thought maybe this would move the government to step up the investigation and arrest the culprit soon,” her father said.

    “That’s all we want.”

Who sent the wedding gift bomb that killed this newlywed?

A “wedding bomb” that killed a newly-married software engineer and left his wife grievously wounded has shattered the peace of a small town in India. Nearly a month after the incident, the police have made no headway. Soutik Biswas travels to the eastern state of Orissa to piece together the story of a killing that has riveted India.

On a bright summer afternoon on 23 February, five days after their marriage, Soumya Sekhar Sahu, a 26-year-old software engineer, and his 22-year-old wife Reema, were pottering around in the kitchen at his newly-built family home in Patnagarh, a drowsy, nondescript town in Orissa.

They were planning to grill eggplant and make some lentil soup for lunch when Soumya heard the clanging of the latch of their metal gate. A delivery man stood outside, holding a parcel addressed to him.

A fraying sticker on the box said it had been sent by SK Sharma from Raipur, some 230km (142 miles) away.

Reema remembers her husband opening the box in the kitchen, and finding a parcel covered in green paper with a white thread sticking out of it, while his 85-year-old grand-aunt Jemamani Sahu came up from behind to see what the parcel contained.

‘Surprise gift’

“This looks like a wedding gift,” Soumya Sekhar told his wife. “The only thing that I don’t know is the sender. I don’t know anyone in Raipur.”

As he pulled the thread, there was a flash of light and a huge explosion rocked the kitchen. The three were knocked off their feet, and collapsed on the tiled floor, bleeding profusely. The blast had ripped the plaster off the ceiling, blown apart the water purifier, sent the kitchen window flying into an adjacent field, and cracked the green painted walls.

The three writhed in pain on the blood-splattered floor. Jeemamani Sahu was on fire. “Save me. I think I am dying,” Soumya Sekhar groaned before losing consciousness.

That was the last time Reema heard her husband speak.

The burns stung her face and arms. With smoke filling her lungs, she struggled to breathe. Her eardrum had punctured, so she barely heard the hum of panicky neighbours rushing in and asking whether the cooking gas cylinder had exploded. Her vision was blurring as debris clogged her eyes.

Still Reema managed to crawl to the bedroom, and pick up the phone to call her mother-in-law, a principal in a local college. She passed out before she could make the call.

Video footage from the house minutes after the blast shows distraught neighbours carrying away the three wounded residents in bed-sheets to a waiting ambulance. Soumya Sekhar and Jemamani Sahu, who both suffered from 90% burns, died as they were being moved to hospital. Reema is recovering slowly in a cramped room in the burns ward in a government hospital.

  • Deadly Texas parcel bomb attacks ‘linked’
  • India groom killed in Odisha after wedding gift explodes

    More than a month after the horrific murder, no one appears to have the faintest idea who killed Soumya Sekhar, described as a “genial and god fearing young man who worshipped a guru” by relatives and friends.

    “We are simple people with simple lives. I have no enemies. My daughter has no enemies. My son-in-law had no enemies. I don’t suspect anybody, and I don’t know who could have done this,” Sudam Charan Sahu, Reema’s father, told me.

    Their families had introduced them, and the two had been engaged for a little more than a year. Reema’s father, a garments trader, adopted her from his younger brother because he wanted a daughter after his two sons, and his brother had three daughters. The cheerful and pretty girl went to a local college and graduated with an Oriya language degree.

    Soumya Sekhar’s parents were both college teachers – his father taught zoology. He had studied computer science and worked with info-tech companies in Mysore and Chandigarh, before joining a Japanese electronics firm in Bangalore two months ago.

    “They met a few times before the marriage in presence of their families. They were a happy couple. Why would someone want to kill him?” Soumya Sekhar’s father, Rabindra Kumar Sahu, 57, said.

    The only indication of something amiss seems to be one mysterious call that Soumya Sekhar received when he was in Bangalore.

    “The call came last year,” Reema told me. “We were talking on the phone, and he said there was a call coming in. And I vaguely remember he put me on hold, and later told me, ‘I got a threatening call. A man on the line told me not to marry.'”

    He didn’t mention any more calls, and by the time the marriage happened, “we had completely forgotten about the call”.

    Two dozen investigators have questioned more than 100 people – friends and relatives of the couple mainly – in four cities in connection with the killing. They have scoured mobile phone records, and scanned laptops and phones belonging to the couple.

    Hopes were raised when cyber sleuths found the parcel had been tracked online twice from a private computer institute in Kalahandi district, some 119km away, leading to speculation that the killer may have been following it. But eventually they found it was the courier company itself that had been tracking the consignment.

    Crude bomb?

    The only thing the police know for sure is that the parcel was sent from Raipur, under a false name and address. The killer, who paid 400 rupees ($6.14; £4.35) for the delivery, had chosen the courier company carefully: there were no CCTV cameras in their office, and the parcel was not scanned.

    The parcel then made a 650km journey on three buses and passed through four pairs of hands before reaching Patangarh on 20 February. The delivery man made a run the same evening to Soumya Sekhar’s residence, but returned without delivering the package because “he saw a big marriage reception going on at the place”, Dilip Kumar Das, the local manager of the courier company, explained. Three days later, the man finally delivered the parcel at the gate.

    Forensic experts are still trying to ascertain how sophisticated the bomb was. On the face of it, investigators say, it appeared to be a fairly crude device wrapped in jute thread which spewed white smoke after the blast.

    The lack of strong leads means that the investigators are contemplating several motives behind the killing.

    Was it the work of a spurned or scorned lover? The police still have no clue, but say they are investigating why Soumya Sekhar deleted his Facebook account weeks before his marriage and opened a new one.

    Was the killing related to a property dispute in the Sahu family, where Soumya Sekhar was the only son and the natural heir? Investigators say they need to question more family members before coming to any conclusions.

    Did the murder have anything to do with a feud that Reema had in her secondary school, when a classmate harassed her and her parents had to lodge a complaint with the principal? It seems highly unlikely because the incident happened nearly six years ago.

    Also, how did the sender of the bomb manage to get his hands on an explosive and pack and send it to the target so easily? Was it a contract killing? “This is a fiendishly complex case,” Balangir’s senior police official Sashi Bhusan Satpathy said. “This was the work of a fairly knowledgeable person well-versed in the arts of bomb making.”

    Reema is still in hospital, and her tragedy became a spectacle on Monday when a family member whipped out his mobile phone and recorded her breaking down after she discovered from an old newspaper in her room that her husband had been killed in the blast. For nearly three weeks, her family hadn’t broken the news to her. Now, she was crying inconsolably.

    “You lied to me, you didn’t tell me the truth,” she wailed at her father, as he broke down. By the evening, the video of this private moment of grief was showing on local TV.

    “We thought maybe this would move the government to step up the investigation and arrest the culprit soon,” her father said.

    “That’s all we want.”

A day in the life of India’s ‘tuberculosis warrior’

On world tuberculosis (TB) day, public health specialist Chapal Mehra describes the work of Dr Zarir Udwadia, who has been working tirelessly to fight the disease in its often untreatable forms.

When Dr Udwadia, an acclaimed pulmonologist, wrote in a medical journal in 2012 about a virtually untreatable form of TB, the ordinary Indian did not know who he was.

But the letter set off a frenzy in the medical community and eventually made him one of India’s best known doctors, and a man who reminded the country of its growing epidemic of TB and drug-resistant TB (DR TB) – a type of tuberculosis which is unresponsive to at least two of the first line of anti-TB drugs.

India is is the global TB epicentre – the country records 2.8 million new tuberculosis cases annually, of which more than 100,000 are multi-drug resistant (MDR), according to the World Health Organization.

The disease kills 400,000 Indians every year, and costs the government around $24bn (£19.2bn) annually.

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    Why is TB diagnosis a challenge? “Because India continues to rely heavily on outdated diagnostic techniques, some of which miss about 50% of all TB cases,” says Dr Udwadia, who is based in the western city of Mumbai, India’s financial capital.

    He believes India needs to adopt newer technologies such as the GeneXpert, a molecular test that detects the presence of TB bacteria.

    “We need to scale up the GeneXpert and make it the first test for everyone like they do in South Africa.” 

    Dr Udwadia is often termed the miracle worker or the saviour by his patients. The most critical patients, often those with virtually no hope, and their families, crowd his free clinic, waiting with files of records and X-rays. Many wait overnight hoping to be seen by him.

    Even though the government once found his findings questionable, it has more recently discovered in him an enabling critic who is helping India’s fight against the deadly infection.

    “TB is much more than just a medical affliction caused by a specific bacterium,” says Dr Udwadia. “It is a strange, terrible and fascinating entity. Every death from TB is an avoidable tragedy. It is our task to reverse the tide.” 

    Though treatable, TB kills an Indian every minute and is an engine of poverty, debt and suffering. It remains India’s severest health crisis- one which needs urgent action.

    “Normal TB is really easy to treat, four drugs over six months at a cost of $5 will almost always cure you,” says Dr Udwadia.

    But, he adds, if patients are given the wrong drugs or incorrect doses, or are irregular with their medication, the TB bacteria becomes resistant to the drugs.

    This drug-resistant TB takes far longer – up to two years – and thousands of dollars to treat. It requires many more drugs – 250 injections and 15,000 pills, to be precise.

    “When stacked up [the pills] equal a 30-storey tower,” says Dr Udwadia. And the drugs that are toxic can have severe side effects, he adds. “They can make you deaf, blind, give you kidney failure and leave you psychotic.”

    Drug-resistant TB

    • Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB) is caused by a bacteria that is resistant to at least isoniazid and rifampin, the two most potent TB drugs.
    • Extensively drug resistant TB (XDR TB) is a rare type of MDR TB that is resistant to isoniazid and rifampin, plus any fluoroquinolone and at least one of three injectable second-line drugs, such as amikacin, kanamycin, or capreomycin).

      “Every now and then, I come across patients who are virtually untreatable,” he says.

      Dr Udwadia describes MDR-TB, which is resistant to multiple drugs, as a “ticking time bomb” that could reverse the progress India has made so far in its battle against the infection.

      “In our crowded communities, each MDR patient infects 10-20 others with the same deadly strain ensuring the epidemic amplifies relentlessly.”

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        He recalls one of his patients, Salma, a poor woman who lived in Dharavi, a sprawling slum that lies at the heart of Mumbai. Nearly a million people are estimated to live in an unending stretch of narrow lanes, open sewers and cramped homes.

        It is “an incubator of TB by virtue of its poverty and overcrowding”, according to Dr Udwadia.

        Salma, he says, had spent five years trying to cure herself of her TB infection. She had travelled for more than 1500km (932 miles), visited at least four government TB clinics, seen 12 private physicians and received multiple drugs in various combinations.

        “What could be more soul destroying than taking five years of treatment but finding yourself getting worse, not better?” asks Dr Udwadia.

        Salma, who was resistant to every single TB drug, died four days after a surgery.

        “So who killed Salma? Who let her down? We did! drug-resistant TB is a collective indictment of us all.”

        In the last year alone, Dr Udwadia says, 10 million people across the globe have got sick with TB, two million have died of it and about 150,000 patients of drug-resistant TB in India are desperate for a cure.

        “All they get is delays, disruptions and disillusion,” he says.

        Referring to India’s launch of its first bullet train project in September 2017, he adds, “forget your bullet trains, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and just help our patients get on this one.

        “Give us the new drugs we need to treat, give us the labs and tests to diagnose early, give us more funds, not more cuts in the TB budget, and give us social change, because TB is the perfect expression of an imperfect civilisation.”

        Photographs by Shampa Kabi.

Did the British Empire resist women’s suffrage in India?

The US took 144 years to give equal voting rights to women. Suffragettes in UK took nearly a century to win the vote. Women won the vote in some cantons of Switzerland as recently as 1974. But Indian women got the right to vote the year their country was born.

Ornit Shani, author of an excellently researched new book on how India received universal adult franchise in 1947, says the move was a “staggering achievement for a post-colonial nation” in the midst of a bloody partition that killed up to a million people and displaced 18 million others.

In independent India, the number of voters leapt more than five-fold to 173 million people – nearly half of the total population – and included 80 million women. Some 85% of them had never voted before. (Unfortunately, 2.8 million women voters had to be excluded from the rolls because they failed to disclose their names.)

But, as Dr Shani’s book, How India Became Democratic: Citizenship at the Making of the Universal Franchise, shows women’s suffrage, unlike under colonial rule was not questioned.

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    British officials had unfailingly argued that the universal franchise was a “bad fit for India,” says Dr Shani. Elections in colonial India were exercises in restricted democracy with a limited number of voters casting their ballots in seats allotted along religious, community and professional lines.

    In the beginning, Mahatma Gandhi did not support women gaining the vote, and urged them to help men fight the colonial rulers. But, as historian Geraldine Forbes writes, Indian women’s organisations fought hard to demand voting rights for women.

    In 1921, Bombay (now Mumbai) and Madras (now Chennai) became the first provinces to give the limited vote to women. Between 1923 and 1930, seven other provinces allowed women franchise.

    The House of Commons ignored demands for voting rights by a number of Indian – and British – women’s organisations, writes Dr Forbes, in her engaging book, Women in Modern India.

    Women who lived in the purdah (female seclusion) appeared to be a convenient excuse for this denial.

    “Obviously, the British promise to safeguard the rights of minorities meant only male minorities. In the case of women, the majority were denied rights because the minority lived in seclusion,” writes Dr Forbes.

    Colonial administrators and legislators – both Indian and British – resisted moves to expand the franchise. Opponents of the vote, according to Dr Forbes, “talked of women’s inferiority and incompetence in public affairs”.

    Some said giving women the vote would result in the neglect of husbands and children; “one gentleman even argued that political activity rendered women incapable of breast feeding,” she writes.

    A suffragette, Mrinalini Sen, wrote in 1920 that although women were subject to “all the laws and rules of the land exercised by the British government” and had to pay taxes if they owned property, they could not vote. “It was as if the British were telling women not to go to the courts for justice but rather seek it at home,” she said.

    Under the The Government of India Act, 1935 – the last colonial legal framework for India – suffrage was extended to a little more than 30 million people or about a fifth of the adult population. A small number of them were women.

    The government of the province of Bihar and Orissa (the two states made up a single province at the time) attempted to reduce the number of voters and take away voting rights from women. The government, writes Dr Shani, also believed that a “woman’s name should be removed from the electoral roll if she is divorced, or if her husband dies or loses his property”.

    But when officials came across a matriarchal community – as they did in the Khasi hills in India’s northeast – where women held property in their names, they saw this as a “pretext for an exception”.

    Provinces also made their own rules over enrolling women. In Madras, a woman could qualify to be a voter only if she was a pensioned widow or the mother of an officer or soldier or her husband was a tax-payer, implying that he owned property.

    So a woman’s eligibility to vote largely depended on her husband – and his qualifications and his social position.

    “The notion of conferring the right to vote and bringing women genuinely into the electoral roll was beyond the purview of the bureaucratic colonial imagination,” says Dr Shani.

    “It was also consistent with the colonial government’s lack of faith in India’s illiterate masses and their negative attitudes towards enfranchisement of people at the margins of the franchise, such as the poor and rural, illiterate people.”

    Things changed when independent India decided to give the universal franchise to its people.

    Work on preparing the draft electoral roll began in November 1947. By the time India had her own constitution in January 1950, the “notions of universal franchise and electoral democracy were already grounded,” says Dr Shani.

    But there were problems when the preparation of the draft electoral roll began in 1948.

    Officials in some provinces said the recording of women’s names presented difficulties. Many women refused to give their names, introducing themselves as the wife, daughter or widow of a man. The government made it clear that this was not permissible, and that women had to register as individuals.

    Contrary to the earlier colonial practices, the government had made it clear that women had to be registered as individual voters and not as relations of others. The government began media publicity to encourage women to register by their names. Women’s organisations also appealed to women to register as voters so that they could send their representatives to safeguard their interests.

    A candidate who contested a parliamentary seat in the first elections – held between October 1951 and February 1952 – in a rural constituency in Madras reported that “rural voters, men and women, waited patiently for hours and cast their ballots. Veiled Muslim women, he reported, had exclusive booths to themselves.”

    This was a major triumph.

    Of course, the fight continues. A bill to reserve 33% of the seats in the lower house of India’s parliament for women has been stuck since 1996 in the face of stiff opposition.

    Even though more women are voting than before and sometimes even outnumbering men, this is not translating into parliamentary seats for women. A 2017 UN report ranked India 148 among 190 countries for the number of women in its parliament – they accounted for just 64 seats in the 542-member lower house.

    Ornit Shani’s book How India Became Democratic: Citizenship and the Making of the Universal Franchise, is published by Cambridge University Press. The South Asia edition is with Penguin Random House.