NEW DELHI: Residents of Agra, home to India’s most famous monument Taj Mahal, have renamed some of the city’s housing complexes to “stinking town” and “gutter colony” in a protest against unhygienic living conditions.
The northern city, which is one of the country’s biggest tourist destinations, was in 2016 included in the Indian government’s Smart Cities Mission to develop physical, institutional, social and economic infrastructure to improve the quality of life.
But in some parts of Agra, residents say no improvement has materialized since.
Those living in over 20 housing complexes of the colonies of Shahganj, Jagdishpura, Panchsheel, Navneet Nagar and Mansarovar blame unfinished roads in the area for causing waterlogging resulting in a foul smell.
“For a long time, we have been asking the authorities to complete the unfinished roads, but no one has bothered to address it. As a result, the broken road now has turned into a filthy lake, and we have to cross this stinking water-filled road every day to go out of the colony,” Raj Pal Singh, a retired air force officer from Mansarovar colony, told Arab News.
The road construction began in 2009, but works soon stopped and never resumed, despite promises from local authorities.
“Our local legislator and parliamentarians gave us assurances many times, but nothing has worked so far,” Singh said. “In anger, we decided to name the colony as ‘gutter colony.’”
The protest in which residents repainted street boards and changed the names of their neighborhoods began in early October.
In Panchsheel colony, which is now “smelly colony,” retired banker Bahuran Singh sees what he and others have been facing since 2009 amounts to “inhuman” treatment.
“In the rainy season, the whole area gets waterlogged and no guests, no taxis, not even ambulances can come to these colonies,” he said. “The idea of changing the name is to draw the attention of the authorities and politicians and shame them.”
But local authorities say the neighborhoods were built without securing all the necessary permits.
“These are illegal colonies and don’t fall under our jurisdiction,” Chakreshwar Jain of the Agra Development Authority told Arab News. “We don’t have the mandate to address the illegal colonies.”
The residents are confused over the legality issue as for the past 25 years lawmakers would regularly visit them to secure their votes.
“If we are illegal colonies, then why are we counted as voters here and why do politicians come to seek our votes and assure us to address the problem?” said Lata Sharma, a resident of Mansarovar.
Singh said local legislators and parliamentarians have failed them, adding: “In the next elections, we will teach them a lesson.”
NEW DELHI: When she started preparing to draw at once 15 portraits of India’s most important anti-colonial leaders, Noor Jahan Ansari knew she was up to something big, but the social fame she has since received was not expected.
Last week, the 15-year-old artist from Vijay Nagla village of Badaun district in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, released a short clip showing her cast a 15-window wooden frame with 15 pencils onto a big canvas.
As seconds passed in the timelapse video, 15 faces emerged, including the leader of the nationalist movement against the British rule of India, Mahatma Gandhi; Queen Lakshmi Bai, who led India’s first war of independence; Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who led the drafting of the Constitution of India; and the nationalist revolutionary Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
Tens of millions of people have watched the clip as it made the rounds on social media. Prominent industrialist and car manufacturer Anand Mahindra shared the two-minute video on Twitter saying it was a “miracle.”
But the young artist does not see it this way.
“It’s not a miracle but lots of hard work,” she told Arab News.
“There has been constant attention on me from the media and public in general ever since people saw the video on social media.”
Some questioned the credibility of Ansari’s achievement as they doubted the possibility of painting 15 portraits simultaneously in such a short time.
Yet the time was not short. The process shown in the girl’s two-minute video, in reality, took her months.
“The social media video shows me finishing the project in two minutes, but the fact is that I have been practicing it for the last year, and it took me over two months to finish the simultaneous portraits of 15 people,” she said.
“Through practice and effort, I managed to achieve the feat…I want to make India proud through my artwork.”
Known as Noor Jahan Artist in her village, she has been supported by her parents who run a tailoring shop in Vijay Nagla and encourage her to pursue her passion.
The inspiration to create simultaneous portraits came from a video she saw on the internet in which a painter drew five portraits at the same time.
The viral 15 portraits were not her first entry into the art scene, and her skills had already been noticed earlier this year by the India Art Federation, an online organization that gives a platform to budding artists.
“In January this year, I participated in a competition organized by the India Art Federation, which connected me with this platform. Since then, it has been a good journey,” Ansari said.
“The online platform commissions me to do some paintings and I get money for doing that, which helps me support the family and supplements my father’s income.”
Demand for Ansari’s work has jumped since last month.
Jyoti Rawal, co-founder of the India Art Federation, told Arab News the platform has been receiving calls from India and abroad with queries about the price of the 15 simultaneous portraits.
“We are holding back the decision to sell those portraits,” she said, adding that Ansari has broken all records with her video receiving over 38 million views.  
“Noor Jahan has got a path now to follow, and she can choose her way. It’s up to her to grow now. She has a platform where she can shine and excel.”
CATANIA, Sicily: The captain of a charity-operated migrant rescue ship refused Italian orders to leave a Sicilian port Sunday after authorities conducted a medical selection of the passengers and did not allow 35 to get off, acting under directives from Italy’s far-right-led government.
The Humanity 1 was ordered to vacate the port of Catania after disembarking 144 rescued migrants. They included women with children, more than 100 unaccompanied minors and people with medical emergencies.
The captain refused to comply “until all survivors rescued from distress at sea have been disembarked,” said SOS Humanity, the German charity that operates the ship. The vessel remained moored at the port as of mid-afternoon.
Humanitarian groups and two Italian lawmakers who traveled to Sicily protested the selection process as both illegal and inhumane. The procedure was part of directives ushered in by new Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi as Italy again targets non-governmental organizations it has long accused of encouraging people trafficking in the central Mediterranean Sea.
“Free all the people, free them,” Italian lawmaker Aboubakar Soumahoro said in an emotional appeal directed at Premier Giorgia Meloni from the Humanity 1 rescue ship, calling her government’s new policy “inhuman.”
The passengers have faced ”trauma, they have faced everything that we can define as prolonged suffering, a hell,” Soumahoro said.
Italian authorities completed the process of identifying vulnerable migrants on the Humanity 1 overnight and asked the Geo Barents charity ship, which entered Italian waters with 572 rescued migrants, to proceed Sunday to Catania for the same vetting.
Two other boats run by non-governmental organizations remained at sea with no immediate change in status.
The charity ships have reported rescue people sleeping on floors and decks, the spread of fever-inducing infections and scabies, and food and medical supplies nearing depletion. Some migrants have been on the ships for more than two weeks.
The Humanity 1, carrying 179 rescued passengers, entered the Sicilian port at midnight Saturday. Two Italian doctors began identifying people needing urgent medical care after the ship’s doctor refused, said SOS Humanity spokesman Wasil Schauseil.
SOS Humanity considers all of the passengers vulnerable by definition after being rescued at sea, and deserving of a safe port under international law.
“Just like the already disembarked people, the survivors remaining on board the Humanity 1 are in an emergency condition,” the charity said. “They fled inhumane conditions from Libya and have since had to endure over two weeks at sea.”
Authorities allowed three women and a baby off the ship first, then one family followed by unaccompanied minors, who numbered over 100, Schauseil said.
“As we feared, not everyone was allowed to disembark,’’ Schauseil said.
“The doctors declared 36 people not in an emergency. After receiving the news, one person collapsed and lost consciousness and had to be taken by an ambulance,” Schauseil said.
“You can imagine the condition of the people. It is very devastating,” he said.
The Norway-flagged Geo Barents, carrying 572 migrants, arrived in Catania on Sunday afternoon. It entered Italian waters east of Sicily over the weekend to seek protection from storm-swollen seas.
“Once we get there, we will see what they mean by vulnerable people and if the other people can get off or not. Because if it is not like this, it would be an illegal action,’’ Riccardo Gatti, the search and rescue team leader on the Geo Barents, said.
Two other ships carrying rescued migrants remained at sea.
The German-run Rise Above, carrying 93, sought a more protected position east of Sicily due to the weather, but spokeswoman Hermine Poschmann said Sunday that the crew had not received any communication from Italian authorities.
Poschmann described cramped conditions on the relatively small 25-meter ship.
The Ocean Viking, operated by the European charity SOS Mediteranee, with 234 migrants on board, remained in international waters, south of the Strait of Messina, and did not receive instructions to proceed to a port, a spokesman said Sunday. Its first rescue was 16 days ago.
The confrontational stance taken by Meloni’s government is reminiscent of the standoffs orchestrated by Matteo Salvini, now Meloni’s infrastructure minister in charge of ports, during his brief 2018-2019 stint as interior minister.
Italy’s new government is insisting the countries whose flags the charity-run ships fly must take in the migrants.
In a Facebook video, Salvini repeated his allegations that the presence of the humanitarian boats encourages smugglers.
Nongovernmental organizations reject the government’s interpretation, saying they are obligated by the law of the sea to rescue people in distress and that coastal nations are obligated to provide a safe port as soon as feasible.
While the humanitarian-run boats are being denied a safe port, thousands of other migrants reached Italian shores over the last week, either on their own or after being rescued at sea by Italian authorities. They account for 85 percent of all arrivals, according to Italy.
LONDON: Immigration officials in the UK have ramped up visits to religious centers in an effort to crack down on illegal migration, The Independent reported.
As part of the “hostile environment” strategy, launched in 2012 under former home secretary Theresa May, authorities have overseen a four-fold increase in visits to mosques, temples and churches since 2019 with the aim of targeting illegal immigrants.
The strategy was launched to make staying in the UK illegally as difficult as possible, with the government encouraging people to leave the country voluntarily.
In at least three cases this year, immigration authorities — the Home Office’s National Community Engagement Team — directly escorted people from religious sites to airports and aboard flights leaving the country.
The department carried out more than 400 visits to religious centers over the past three years, targeting illegal migrants and failed asylum-seekers.
A freedom of information request by The Independent shows the dramatic increase in the number of visits each year.
In 2019, 46 took place, compared with 167 in 2021. From January to July this year, 137 visits had already been carried out, suggesting that the end-of-year figures could represent a record high.
Home Office guidelines on the visits say: “Some communities, as well as faith communities, may be unwilling to assist police/immigration in carrying out operations. Reasonable steps must be taken to seek advice from the communities concerned.
“You must ensure and provide evidence that all other avenues of investigation have been exhausted. Scheduling a religious premises operation should be the last resort.
“This sensitive type of operation will involve large numbers of police officers, intelligence officers and, in some instances, offenders.
“Operations at religious premises must be authorized at deputy director level and the minister for immigration must be informed. Such sensitive cases may require the home secretary to be informed.”
Policy adviser for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants Mary Atkinson criticized the practice.
“Immigration enforcement has no place in faith spaces — the government must immediately stop running these workshops and scrap the hostile environment so that everybody can access essential public services,” she said.
“Faith spaces of all kinds are essential places for reflection, community and spirituality.
“They are often even more important for migrants who, because of this government’s anti-migrant obsession, face discrimination and are barred from the most essential services.
“That’s why it’s so shocking to see the Home Office breaching the sanctity of these spaces and using them to pursue worshippers.”
Shakila Taranum Maan, of domestic abuse charity Southall Black Sisters, said: “Many of our clients are being duped and misinformed about what these surgeries are for.
“We’ve spoken to people who thought they were going along to get help, but instead they are being advised it’s better to leave the UK and they’re told, ‘this is how much you’ll be given.’
“The Home Office officials aren’t identified clearly enough, so people are giving out all their personal information, not knowing who they are giving these details to.
“Our clients feel this is a violation of the grounds of worship — people go there because they are in turmoil, to search and look for peace. People often go there for food at the community kitchen.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our community engagement surgeries allow people to seek information from immigration officials on their stay in the UK or receive practical support to return home voluntarily.
“These surgeries are conducted with the permission of community leaders, and are held in conjunction with faith-based and community locations in order to have conversations with individuals without the fear of arrest.
“These are clearly advertised as government-run, and officials identify themselves as being government employees.”
COTABATO, Philippines: A homemade bomb went off in a bus and killed a passenger and wounded 10 others in a southern Philippine city on Sunday in an attack authorities suspect may be part of an extortion attempt, officials said.
The bus with an unspecified number of passengers was approaching a transport terminal in Tacurong city in Sultan Kudarat province when the bomb went off at the back of the vehicle shortly before noon, police said.
Investigators were trying to determine if the attackers were from the same armed group that had staged similar bombings in past years to extort money from the Yellow Bus Line, which operates in key southern cities, military and police officials said.
Regional army commander Maj. Gen. Roy Galido said the bus company “has been constantly receiving extortion messages.” The military and police have been working with the bus owners to capture the extortionists, who may have been angered by the bus company’s refusal to pay off, Galido said.
Police have blamed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a small rebel force that has aligned itself with the Daesh group, for similar bus bombings in the past.
The group broke off years ago from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front when the latter entered into peace talks with the government and embraced an offer of Muslim autonomy in a five-province region in the south of the largely Roman Catholic nation.
CHICAGO: For President Joe Biden, a Democrat, the midterm elections are crucial and challenging. Traditionally, the party that controls the White House at this stage usually loses control of the House and the Senate. Now the Republicans are perched to take both from the Democrats in Tuesday’s elections.
Arab and Muslim Americans will play an important role in helping to define the outcome, reinforcing congressional seats they now control while expanding their community’s role in local state and municipal offices.
Here is an overview of some of the important contests to watch:
In Pennsylvania’s US Senate race, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a Muslim TV medical personality of Turkish heritage, is the Republican candidate. He faces Democrat John Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor since 2019. Polling shows Oz leading Fetterman in the election, although Fetterman this week received an endorsement from TV powerhouse Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey originally helped Oz launch his own career as a TV personality when he first appeared on her show in 2004. Oz began hosting “The Dr. Oz Show” in 2009.
If Oz wins, he will become the first Muslim US senator. Five Arab Americans have served in the US Senate. All five are of Lebanese heritage although one was part Palestinian, and three Republicans.
According to the US Census, there are at least 84,472 residents who identify as Arab who come from Egypt, Iraq and Morocco, and 83,817 who identify as Muslim from the Arab world and Asia. Pennsylvania is one of six states including Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin and Nebraska that Donald Trump won in 2016 but that flipped for Biden in 2020.
Arab and Muslim Americans will have a strong say in Tuesday’s elections in races for Congress, state legislator and local municipal contests.
Since the 1950s, there have been 28 Arab Americans who have or continue to serve in the US House of Representatives. The majority have been Lebanese.
In California’s new 48th District, Republican incumbent Congressman Darrell Issa faces a challenge from newcomer Democrat Stephen Houlahan. Issa is expected to retain his seat. Issa served from 2001 until 2019 but came out of retirement to win the office, defeating fellow Arab American Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in 2020.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who is Christian Assyrian, is seeking reelection in California’s new 16th District. She faces a challenge from Republican Rishi Kumar.
In Michigan, Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, elected in 2019, is facing a minor challenge in the newly drawn 12th District from Republican Steven Elliot and Working Class Party candidate Gary Walkowicz. Tlaib is Palestinian.
As Michigan has the second-largest concentration of Arab Americans, voter excitement will be focused on local state legislative and municipal contests. They include several candidates running for the Michigan State House including several Democrats, Alabas Farhat in the 3rd District, Ghassan (Gus) Tarraf in the 4th District, Bilal Hammoud in the 15th District, Abraham Aiyash in the 9th District and Aisha Farooqi in the 57th District. The 3rd, 4th and 15th districts include parts of Dearborn. Aiyash is seeking reelection and is the first American of Yemeni origin to hold a legislative seat there.
Pollster and political consultant Dennis Denno is running with the backing of the Democratic Party for a vacancy on the eight-member Michigan State University board of trustees. There are also many school board candidates including Nadia Berry and Hassan Beydoun for full terms, and Danielle Elzayat and Hassan Nasser for partial terms on the Crestwood school board.
In Illinois, Republican Congressman Darin LaHood, who is Lebanese American, is expected to easily hold his seat in the new 16th District against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Haderlein.
Harvard graduate Abdelnasser Rashid defeated a veteran Democratic incumbent to win the party nomination for the 21st House District which covers the influential southwest suburban region of Chicago, which has one of the largest concentrations of Palestinian Americans. Democrat Nabeela Syed is running for the Illinois House 51st District legislative seat and is being challenged by Republican Chris Bos.
 In Iowa, Democrat Sami Scheetz is running to become the state’s first Arab American state representative, in the 78th District.
In Minnesota, Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar in the 5th District and Betty McCollum in the 4th District, some of the most effective voices in championing Arab and Muslim American issues in Congress, are not expected to easily defeat their challengers. Omar is being challenged by Republican Cicely Davis, and McCollum is being challenged by Republican May Lor Xiong.
However, recent polling shows Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison may lose his reelection bid to his Republican challenger Jim Schultz. Ellison is the state’s first Muslim attorney general and first to win a statewide office there.
In Louisiana, Congressman Garret Graves, a Republican of Lebanese heritage, is seeking reelection in the 6th District, challenged by Republican Brian Beizer and Libertarian Rufus Craig. No Democrat is running.


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