‘We are the village’s shining stars’: hockey is giving India’s rural women new status

Hosting the World Cup in the Indian state of Odisha has transformed playing the game into a respectable career choice

In a small mud room, Elisaba Lakra hurriedly cooks lunch for her husband. It is 11am and she only has two hours before her eight-year-old twin girls return from school. As captain and coach of Khamarimunda village hockey team in India’s Sundargarh district, she needs to fit in practice before they do.

Lakra, 27, first picked up a hockey stick aged five and by 13 was playing for the Odisha state junior team. She was selected for a place at a training academy in Rourkela, host to the recent Hockey World Cup, about 70 miles (112km) from her village.

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‘Who are you to stop me?’: the hip-hop group speaking up for India’s women

Rappers Wild Wild Women use their searing lyrics to highlight the treatment of their sisters in a socially conservative country

It’s not easy being a wild woman in India – as members of what is believed to be the country’s first female rap group can testify.

The eight members of the Wild Wild Women collective have had to deal with knockbacks from the men who dominate the music industry and press. They have had to cajole and fight their parents for permission to play and travel to gigs – once they’ve convinced them that hip-hop is suitable for women to perform. And they have to juggle full-time jobs with their music.

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Sea ‘a graveyard’ as number of Rohingya fleeing Bangladesh by boat soars

UN figures show number of those attempting to escape horrendous conditions in refugee camps increased from 700 in 2021 to over 3,500 in 2022

The number of Rohingya refugees taking dangerous sea journeys in the hope of reaching Malaysia or Indonesia has surged by 360%, the UN has announced after hundreds of refugees were left stranded at the end of last year.

Rohingya in Bangladesh refugee camps have warned that human smugglers have ramped up operations and are constantly searching for people to fill boats from Myanmar and Bangladesh headed for Malaysia, where people believe they can live more freely.

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‘A lifeline’: mental health camps bring peace of mind to thousands in rural Assam

India’s severe shortage of mental health professionals and treatment funding leaves many patients without options. But a pioneering programme is working to get lives back on track

It is Saturday morning, and some 40 people on foot, bikes and rickshaws begin trickling into Kuklung village. They take a seat outside a single-storey building and wait to see the psychiatrist at a monthly treatment camp for people with mental health conditions.

The camp is providing a lifeline to this remote, impoverished community in Assam, in northeastern India.

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Banks and countries pledge over $9bn to rebuild Pakistan after catastrophic floods

International funders join Pakistan PM and UN secretary general in Geneva to agree recovery plan following ‘monsoon on steroids’

The international community has promised more than $9bn (£7.4bn) to help Pakistan rebuild after last summer’s catastrophic floods, described by UN secretary general António Guterres as a “monsoon on steroids.”

The pledges were made on Monday at the International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan in Geneva, Switzerland, hosted by Pakistan’s prime minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and Guterres.

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Pakistan sends back hundreds of Afghan refugees to face Taliban repression

About 250,000 Afghan asylum seekers have arrived in Pakistan since August 2021, but a migrant crackdown has left many of them in fear of being jailed or deported

More than 600 Afghans have been deported from Pakistan in the past three days, and hundreds more face expulsion in a renewed crackdown on migrants.

On Saturday, 302 people were sent back to Afghanistan from Sindh province and 303 on Monday, including 63 women and 71 children. A further 800 people are expected to be deported in the coming days.

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Afghan aid at risk from Taliban ban on women, warns United Nations

Standoff between UN and Taliban may lead loss of billions in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan

The UN’s lead humanitarian coordinator has said UN-supplied aid cannot continue if the Taliban do not lift their ban on women working for humanitarian aid agencies in Afghanistan.

Martin Griffiths, the head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is due to visit Kabul shortly to discuss the impasse.

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‘Our sisters deserve better’: Afghan men quit university jobs after ban on female students

A Taliban decree against higher education for women – called a ‘betrayal of the nation’ – has led to male lecturers and student walkouts in solidarity

Baktash Amini loved his job as an assistant professor in the physics faculty at Kabul University. As well as having a passion for teaching, he took pride in helping his students pursue careers in physics, setting up partnershipswith the International Centre for Theoretical Physics and Cern, among others.

But his efforts to further scientific education in Afghanistan seemed futile when the Taliban announced that women would be banned from university education. “The night [the] Taliban closed the doors of universities to Afghan women, I received many messages and calls from my students. I cannot find the words to describe their situation. I am an academic and the only way I could express protest was by [leaving] a system that discriminates against women,” he says. He resigned from his “dream job” on 21 December.

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Faint hopes that Taliban will relax ban on NGO women after UN condemnation

Security council’s rare display of unity adds pressure after most aid groups in Afghanistan suspend services

Faint hopes exist that the Taliban may relax its ban on all women working for the non-governmental aid agencies in Afghanistan after the UN security council condemned the ban in a rare show of unanimity.

Almost all the large NGO aid agencies operating in Afghanistan have suspended almost all their work while talks continue to persuade the Taliban to rescind or clarify their decision. Tens of thousands of aid workers – many of them the chief breadwinners for the household – have been told to stay at home during the suspension, as the UN seeks to persuade the Taliban of the consequences for ordinary people in Afghanistan.

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Taliban stop women from working for aid organisations

Female employees of NGOs told to stop coming to work in latest move to curtail women’s freedoms in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s Taliban-run administration has ordered all local and foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to stop female employees from coming to work, according to a letter from the economy ministry.

The letter, the contents of which were confirmed by economy ministry spokesperson Abdulrahman Habib, said female employees of NGOs were not allowed to work until further notice.

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‘Being a girl is a heavy crime’: Afghan women in despair over university ban

Taliban prohibit female higher education indefinitely amid international condemnation

It was late evening in Kabul, and Sabra*, a fourth-year medical student, saw a WhatsApp message appear on her phone. In a university chat group for 38 classmates, a friend had shared a news report suggesting the Taliban had banned women from higher education. “Girls, what’s going on here?” the friend wrote. “Is it true?”

On Tuesday, Afghanistan’s ministry of higher education issued a letter to all government and private universities, ordering an indefinite ban on university education for women. The country’s hardline Islamist rulers had already banned most female Afghan teenagers from secondary school education.

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Acid attack survivors demand ban on online sales after girl targeted in Delhi

Women’s groups and activists call on authorities to toughen laws after two men threw corrosive liquid at a schoolgirl on a street last week

Hundreds of acid attack survivors are demanding stricter laws against the sale of chemicals, after two men on a motorbike threw a corrosive liquid on a 17-year-old girl on her way to school in Delhi last week.

According to investigators, the main attacker, a boy under 18, bought the acid online. The video of the incident captured by a CCTV camera was widely shared and caused outrage in India, leading to a new campaign to tackle online sales.

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‘Dark days in Qatar’: Nepali workers face bitter legacy of World Cup debts

For thousands of low-paid workers, this year’s games brought back only memories of abuse and exploitation

On a huge billboard in front of Kathmandu’s international airport, is a picture of five migrant workers with the words: “Meet the hardest working team in Qatar. Wouldn’t it be great if they were compensated for it?”

Just metres away, hundreds of young men board flights to Qatar and other Gulf states every day, hoping to earn enough to look after the families they leave behind. About 400,000 Nepalis work in Qatar and many toiled for years on its preparations for the World Cup.

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Back to brown: how a shift away from refined white rice could cut diabetes

The secret to a healthier diet has been around for centuries: a return to unprocessed grain in its natural state. And in Asia, the health benefits could be huge

A plan to develop a new breed of iron-rich rice that could ward off disease was swiftly abandoned by Dr Sirimal Premakumara after he ventured into the countryside of Sri Lanka – and found it already existed.

The secret to injecting more nutrition into the common diet, he discovered, were already there in the varieties of rice the country’s farmers had been growing for centuries.

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‘We are all exposed to it’: the human face of India’s asbestos timebomb

Experts say country’s vulnerability to asbestos-related diseases is putting the health of millions of people at risk

For 40 years, Mohammad Younus worked at a factory that manufactured asbestos sheets in the southern Indian city of Coimbatore. By the time he was in his 50s, his body started giving up.

Asbestos dust had clogged his lungs, doctors told his family. Younus had tuberculosis and lung cancer. He died in 2021, aged 59. His wife and two sisters, who lived with Younus in a company apartment at the factory, have been diagnosed with asbestosis.

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