Archive | August, 2016

Fire up the barbecue for chicken tikka, Karachi-style, with crispy flatbreads, green chutney

Posted on 31 August 2016 by admin

In Sumayya Usmani’s hometown of Karachi, Pakistan, chicken tikka is grilled over red-hot coals. The bird is quartered and the meat, still on the bone, skewered and scored. Smothered in a marinade of chilies and spices, the flesh takes on its characteristic reddish hue.

“It has a lovely char-grilled flavour,” Usmani says. “And it’s really quite simple. You can do the whole thing on the barbecue or on a griddle.”

Her recipe for the South Asian favourite joins more than 100 others in her cookbook, Summers Under The Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan (Frances Lincoln, 2016).

Now based in Glasgow, Scotland, Usmani’s goal was to shine a light on her often-overlooked native cuisine. To share the stories, flavours and techniques of the dishes and style of cooking she grew up with.

She says that when she first moved to the U.K. ten years ago, she noticed that despite a large population, Pakistani cuisine “hadn’t found its individual voice.”

“It’s so unexplored by this part of the world – it all gets thrown into one bucket and labelled as one kind of cuisine,” Usmani says. “So I think there is definitely a big gap there. The flavours of Pakistan are so unique; I just felt that they needed representation.”

Bordered by Afghanistan to the west, India to the east, Iran to the southwest and China to the northeast, the food of Pakistan reflects a multitude of influences.

The culture and cuisine of the region has been coloured by invasions and migrations over centuries – Greek, Arab, Mughal and Sikh Empires, and more recently, the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, when Pakistan was created.

“The ancient influences of these settlers can still be felt, as well as that of the immigrants who arrived in the newly formed Pakistan from India and beyond, bringing their own sophisticated cuisines with them,” Usmani writes.

Summers Under The Tamarind Tree includes some delicious examples: Afghani lamb pulao with sweet-sour raisins and carrots, Persian-influenced nutty saffron rice, and coal-smoked Bihari beef kebabs (Bihar is an Indian state, bordering Nepal).

“There’s a whole hot-bed of flavour there,” Usmani says. “I grew up in the south, in the province of Sindh, which is where the Indus Valley Civilization formed many, many centuries ago. And the food there is extremely rich and spicy. It’s not always about heat from chilies, (rather) layers of different spices.

“And if you go to the borders of the country with India – the Pakistani Punjab where Lahore is one of the biggest cities – there’s a lot of strong, Mughal influence in their food. It’s very rich with saffron. So there’s definitely a huge, huge array of different influences.”

Usmani learned how to cook at the side of her mother, grandmothers and aunts, “unknowingly learning cooking styles and recipes steeped in Muslim heritage from the women in my family.”

The concept of ‘andaza’ – an Urdu word meaning cooking using your senses, or estimation – is the foundation of Pakistani home cooking, Usmani says.

“A lot of the techniques and recipes that I learned were taught to me without ever being written down. So I learned everything by ‘andaza.’

“And even though I write my recipes specifically for how they should be made, nobody should be a slave to a recipe. (People) should really try to make it their own.”

Usmani was taught to use whole spices, using ground only when freshly home-ground. She lists her nine go-to spices in the book, alongside traditional family recipes for masala (spice mix) blends.

If some of the spices are unfamiliar, she encourages easing into it and taking a playful approach – it’s through experimentation, she says, that you will be able to find your own Pakistani flavour.

“If you’re doing something that’s curry-based, try to get just the base of the curry – the onion, ginger and garlic – cooked and then, start with a spice that’s familiar to you. If you only have cumin, start with that. And if you only have ground spices, start with that.

“Even though I’m not a big advocate of ground spices, just start with what you have. And then start to explore with other flavours, other spices from there. There’s no (reason) why you can’t create a very authentic flavour with whatever you’ve got in your store cupboard.”

The book’s titular tamarind tree grew in Usmani’s grandmother’s garden, where she spent many a summer’s day in the shade of its branches. The umami quality of the fruit’s sticky, sweet-sour flesh is now central to her Pakistani cooking.

The attributes she appreciates most about the fruit – its versatility, and “Midas touch” flavour-enhancing qualities – are highlighted in recipes such as Usmani’s mother’s dahi baras (soft lentil dumplings topped with yogurt and tamarind), lasan ki chutney (garlic, tamarind and red chili), and a spiced tamarind drink.

She also walks readers through how to make homemade tamarind pulp and sauce using store-bought blocks of dried tamarind (find it at South Asian stores, some spice shops and online).

“It’s such an unfamiliar ingredient for many people. (But it’s an important ingredient) in Asian cuisine as a whole – not just South Asian but Far Eastern as well,” she says.

Through exposing the depth and diversity of Pakistani cuisine, Usmani hopes that people will see her homeland in a new light. And for Pakistanis living abroad, that they might gain some insight into their culture and heritage.

“What I’d like people to see is beyond everything that comes in the media. To see that there’s a whole beautiful culture of food, of celebration, of hospitable people,” she says. “We’ve got an incredible cuisine to offer the world.”

“There are two things I would never do without,” Usmani says. Here are her essential kitchen tools.

1. Tawa:
A tawa is a flat griddle pan used to make flatbreads. “We use it to make chapatis and parathas. All unleavened flatbreads are made on a tawa; any bread that’s cooked on the stove top rather than in the oven or tandoor. I also use it for making pancakes. And now that I live in Scotland, I make tattie scones, which are Scottish scones with potatoes and flour. So I make everything on that pan,” she says with a laugh.

2. Tadka pan:
“I absolutely love my little tempering (tadka) pan, which is a tiny little frying pan. But it’s not flat – it’s got a rounded base and it’s made of really nice, heavy-duty steel,” she says. “When you heat ghee or oil to temper a daal or something like that – to make a tadka (spices heated in oil, used as a seasoning) – it’s really nice because it heats the oil evenly. And then when you add the spices and sizzle them up, everything gets evenly heated through.”

Recipes excerpted from Summers Under The Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan by Sumayya Usmani (Frances Lincoln, 2016).


DADI’S PURIS with poppy seeds and green chili

 “This is my Dadi’s (paternal grandmother) recipe – it has a delicate poppy seed, green chili and ginger paste stuffed into a puri flatbread. It’s best eaten with chutney, and is perfect at any time of day.”
Preparation: 25 minutes + 24½ hours soaking and resting | Cooking: 20 minutes

2 tbsp (30 ml) white poppy seeds
2 tbsp (30 ml) black poppy seeds
2–3 green chilies
2.5-cm/1-inch piece ginger, peeled
1 tbsp (15 ml) cumin seeds, dry-roasted before grinding
500 g (4¼ cups) unbleached whole wheat flour (atta) — you can buy this in Indian shops
Salt, to taste
Scant ¼ cup (about 50–60 ml) water
1 tsp (5 ml) ghee
Scant ¼ cup (50 ml) vegetable oil, for frying

1. Soak the poppy seeds in a bowl of water for 24 hours, then drain and put into a small wet grinder or food processor. Add the green chili, ginger and dry-roasted cumin seeds and grind until smooth.
2. Mix the whole wheat flour and a pinch of salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in enough water to make a dough. Knead for 3–4 minutes until it forms a soft to firm dough. Add ghee, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for about 15–30 minutes.
3. Divide the dough into golf ball-sized portions then roll out with a rolling pin to make a small, thick round. Add the poppy seed mixture, bring the sides together and carefully close it up making sure that the mixture cannot escape. Roll out again into small, thin 10×10-cm/4×4-inch rounds.
4. Heat the oil in a large wok-style pan over a high heat to 180°C (350°F), or until a cube of bread sizzles in 30 seconds, then reduce the heat to medium-low (do this before you roll out the puris, so that the oil is sufficiently hot, then turn down the heat to maintain temperature).
5. Pop the puris, one by one, into the hot oil, pressing the puri down with a ladle into the oil, then quickly turn over and allow to cook well for 2–3 minutes. A sign to know when it’s done is when the puri floats to the top and are very pale brown and crispy. Remove the puris with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Serve immediately.
Makes: 5–8


KARACHI-STYLE CHICKEN TIKKA on the bone with red chili masala

 “As night descends on Karachi, the air is weighty with the day’s humid heat and wafts of coal smoke tempting anyone nearby with an aroma of red chilies and spices. Who can resist a fresh, hot chicken tikka? These are perfect with puri breads and green chutney.”
Preparation: 10 minutes + 50 minutes soaking and marinating | Cooking: 25 minutes

5–6 dried red chilies
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) salt
1 tsp (5 ml) each of garlic purée and grated ginger
Juice of 1 lime
½ tsp (2.5 ml) freshly ground pepper
½ tsp (2.5 ml) ground turmeric
1 tbsp (15 ml) brown sugar
½ tsp (2.5 ml) dry-roasted coriander seeds
½ tbsp (7.5 ml) tamarind paste
1 tsp (5 ml) dry-roasted cumin seeds
1 tbsp (15 ml) sunflower or corn oil
1 whole chicken, without skin, quartered

1. Soak the chilies in warm water for 20 minutes, then drain. In a mortar and pestle, grind the red chilies with the salt. Add the remaining ingredients, except the chicken, and grind to make a marinade. Put the marinade in a bowl, add the chicken and turn until the chicken is coated. Cover and marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes, or overnight.
2. Light a barbecue or preheat a griddle pan. Remove the chicken from the marinade and cook for 20–25 minutes (you can do this on skewers if you like, or until the chicken is cooked through then serve.
Makes: 4 servings


GREEN CHUTNEY coriander, coconut and chili

 “This is a classic green chutney, aromatic and exotic, and with many uses. You can make it as dip, side sauce or marinade, or with fish dishes — if you want a lighter, less spiced option, just mix with 2–3 tablespoons of plain yogurt.”
Preparation: 5–7 minutes

1 large bunch of coriander (cilantro) leaves
10–12 mint leaves
1 small green chili, deseeded (optional)
½ tbsp (7.5 ml) brown sugar or jaggery
½ tsp (2.5 ml) ground turmeric
1 tsp (5 ml) dry-roasted cumin seeds
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
2 tbsp (30 ml) unsweetened desiccated (dry) coconut
Juice of ½ lime
4 tbsp (60 ml) water

1. Blitz all the ingredients in a blender until it is smooth. This is best used immediately but can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4–5 days.
Makes: about 2/3–scant 1 cup (150–200 ml)

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Close the wage gap by creating a province-wide child care program

Posted on 31 August 2016 by admin

The directive couldn’t have been clearer. Two years ago Premier Kathleen Wynne ordered Labour Minister Kevin Flynn and Women’s Issues Minister Tracy MacCharles to work together to “develop a wage gap strategy that will close the gap between men and women.” There were no ifs, ands, or buts. The premier seemed to mean business.

Now a committee the two ministers struck last fall to find ways to close the 29-per-cent gulf between men’s and women’s pay in Ontario has reported.

Its No. 1 recommendation? Ontario must commit to an affordable and publicly funded geared-to-income child-care program if it hopes to make a dent in the pay gap.

That’s a tall order for a provincial government facing a $4.3-billion deficit — especially given that Ottawa’s plans to invest in child-care remain unclear. But it’s something Wynne should pursue anyway for several important reasons.

First is the task force’s clear and compelling conclusion that out of all the steps necessary to close the wage gap, providing licenced child-care spaces is the one that would have the biggest impact. Women who don’t have access to affordable day care take on more of the unpaid child care than men and have less time for paid work, the task force found.

Second, getting women out into the work force is important not just for women. The whole province benefits. The task force found that every dollar invested in child care adds $2.47 to the Ontario economy. Indeed, a Royal Bank study estimated personal incomes would be $168 billion higher each year in Canada if women had the same labour market opportunities as men.

Third, early childhood education pays off for kids — and reduces spending on social programs down the road. A 2014 report by the Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development says it reduces inequalities that result from poverty and decreases the number of children in special education classes by identifying problems and intervening early.

And a 2014 study from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada argued that not having an early childhood education program in place actually put the health and well-being of children at risk. More than a quarter of Canadian children currently start kindergarten vulnerable in at least one area of development, the college says. That’s something that could affect them for the rest of their lives.

Nor would Wynne be going out on a limb if she were to invest more in a province-wide child care program. Quebec, for example, invests 1.2 per cent of its gross domestic product on early childhood education, while Ontario only spends 0.6 per cent. (The task force report recommends Ontario commit to 1 per cent.)

Wynne has proven she is not afraid to take on big projects. Consider her vow to create an Ontario pension plan from scratch when the Harper government wouldn’t commit to boosting the federal pension plan. That gambit pressured the Trudeau government to step in where its predecessor would not. An Ontario child-care initiative could have the same effect.

Wynne has already given encouraging signs that she is committed to increasing the availability of early childhood education. Last week she created a new child-care cabinet portfolio, and appointed Indira Naidoo-Harris to the post. “Access to high-quality, affordable child care is essential to Ontario families,” Wynne said then.

She’s right. Wynne should redouble her bold commitment to close the wage gap by following her committee’s top recommendation this fall.

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Trudeau Visits China: 6 Things To Watch

Posted on 31 August 2016 by admin

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives in his first official visit to China, Canada’s second-largest trading partner, here are six things to watch.

How warm a welcome?

When Stephen Harper first went to China in 2009, the prime minister received a frosty reception and was famously chastised by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao for not visiting sooner.

And that was when journalists were still in the room.

A senior official quipped afterwards that the reception was so frosty, icicles nearly formed on the mirrors in the room at the Great Hall of the People.

Trudeau has been critical of the Harper government’s handling of the relationship.

“Over the past government’s mandate, unfortunately, relationships with China were somewhat inconstant. They went from hot to cold depending on the issue, depending on the day, it seemed,” Trudeau said Monday.

By all accounts, Trudeau should receive a much different welcome.

“The name Trudeau is almost as good as being [revered Canadian doctor Norman] Bethune, because it was, after all, Pierre Trudeau who took the step to recognize China in 1971,” said former diplomat Colin Robertson, who at one point was posted in Hong Kong.

Robertson noted Justin Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping also have something in common: they are both sons of famous fathers.

“So he starts off well past first base, whereas Stephen Harper was still working his way to first base even when he got there.”

Progress on a free trade deal?

As Canada’s biggest trading partner behind the United States, China would like a free trade agreement with Canada.

The previous Conservative government produced studies on the idea that were positive, but not much has been done since.

What will Canada agree to during this visit? Exploratory talks? Or more study?

Robertson said he doesn’t think the Trudeau government has decided yet, and that could be a problem as officials get ready to sit down with the Chinese.

“When you negotiate with the Chinese, despite the tea and buns, they are much more dragon than panda.”

Canadian investment in Asian infrastructure

Beyond free trade, China would also like Canada to invest in its $100-billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The AIIB was created to support the development of infrastructure in China. Countries that invest in the bank give their country’s firms preferential access to projects funded by the AIIB.

Canadian firms are keen to get a piece of this business and are hoping Trudeau will send a positive signal during this visit, said former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day, now a vice-president with the Canada-China Business Council.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity for Canadian firms; large firms, mid-size firms. We’re very well acquainted with issues related to developing infrastructure in cold weather and in extreme climates. We’ve got so much to offer there,” Day said.

David Mulroney, Canada’s former ambassador to China, disagrees.

“I actually think we made the right decision in not joining,” said Mulroney, who’s now president of the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto. “China is, in my view, far from ready for hosting a major multilateral financial institution.

“As they were announcing the launch of the bank they were shutting down the website for Reuters, which is one of the premier financial media outlets in the world.”

Asked about potential investment in the bank, senior Canadian government officials would only say, “We will have more to say on the trip.”

Human rights and global security

Trudeau has promised to balance economic interests with human rights.

“What we want to do is set a very clear and constructive relationship with China that yes, looks at the potential economic benefits of better trade relationships, while at the same time ensuring that our voice is heard clearly on issues of human rights, of labour rights, of democracy, environmental stewardship,” Trudeau said.

He will get a chance to raise thorny issues like human rights, canola exports and the espionage case of Canadian Kevin Garratt when he meets with the Chinese premier and president Wednesday in Beijing.

Day accompanied Harper on two of his visits to China, and he has no doubt Trudeau will raise these issues as well, in the appropriate way, behind closed doors.

“You can make headway sitting down around a table, eyeball to eyeball, and without trying to make political points,” Day told CBC.

Mulroney adds the Chinese are very used to foreign leaders raising these issues.

“You want to address it in a non-confrontational way because you want the conversation to continue. And you want to nudge and move the Chinese system into a direction that’s going to be helpful for Canada,” he said.

Canada and the G20

China has promised to ratify the Paris Accord to fight climate change in advance of the G20 summit in Hangzhou, which begins Sept. 4.

There are media reports the U.S. will also sign, with China, two days before the international summit.

Canada has promised to ratify the accord by the end of the year. There have been no such reports it plans to do so in China.

Canadian officials are also expected to talk with European delegations about the Canada-EU free trade deal.

Reasonable expectations

The general advice for Trudeau seems to be to not rush into anything with China, but rather to focus on building a long-term relationship.

Day said both parties have an “assured sense” they’ll be dealing with each other for at least the next several years, “so it gives some opportunity to build some types of relationships and decision-making that can have long-term effects and prosperity for Canadians.”

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Liberals Considering Allowing Temporary Foreign Workers For LNG Projects

Posted on 31 August 2016 by admin

The federal labour minister was told earlier this year to give a positive signal to liquefied natural gas companies on the use of temporary foreign workers, but only if Canadians were considered first for jobs.

Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk’s officials told her in February that it was inevitable that companies would need temporary foreign workers to proceed with energy projects in Western Canada.

In a Feb. 1 briefing note, Mihychuk’s officials write that the federal government can speed up how quickly it processes applications for temporary foreign workers, but couldn’t waive requirements for liquefied natural gas projects.

The briefing note, prepared ahead of Mihychuk’s meeting with David Keane, president of the BC LNG Alliance, recommends “signal support” for temporary foreign workers “on the condition that Canadians are considered first for available jobs … and only used as a measure of last resort.”

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the briefing note under the Access to Information Act.

In an interview, Keane said Mihychuk didn’t give any indication of how the government would decide on the issue of foreign workers involved in projects. He said the message Mihychuk provided was that the government wanted to review the temporary foreign worker program.

He didn’t want to speculate about what the message from department officials may mean for the fate of projects that require federal approval.

Thousands of temporary foreign workers are expected to be needed to work on any of the 20 separate liquefied natural gas projects being reviewed in British Columbia, including the Pacific Northwest LNG project that the federal cabinet has to decide on this fall.

The briefing note says unions are unlikely to speak out publicly about the use of temporary foreign workers because they know the majority of jobs will go to union members and that Canadians will be first in line for jobs.

Keane said the plan is to hire a workforce derived from local aboriginal communities and provincial residents before looking across Canada.

“There will be probably a requirement, and I think everybody recognizes this, for temporary foreign workers to be able to build this industry, but we have a plan in place and are developing the plan and refining the plan to make sure that we look at Canadians first before we bring in temporary foreign workers,” Keane said.

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Dialogue Must Start between India and Pakistan

Posted on 31 August 2016 by admin

 Dr. Hasan Askari

 There is a feeling in many political circles in Pakistan and India that these two countries should have normal relations as neighboring states. In reality, they have problematic relations more often. Currently, there are serious problems in their relations and there are little prospects of normalization of their relations.

 The present phase of their troubled relations began in August 2014, two months after Narendra Modi assumed the office of Prime Minister. India objected to Pakistan’s High Commissioner (ambassador)’s meeting with the Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders and postponed the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries of two countries. Since then the efforts to revive the bilateral dialogue have not succeeded for one reason or another.

 The interesting aspect of the difficult relations between India and Pakistan is that the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan talk to each other on phone from time to time and Narrender Modi made a sudden and personal visit to Nawaz Sharif’s Lahore residence on December 25, 2015. It seems that they have a normal personal relations but this normalcy does not reflect in the relationship between the two states.

 The latest controversies in the relations between Pakistan and India started with the Prime Minister Modi’s Independence Day speech in which he talked about his concerns about the political situation in Gilgit-Balltistan, Azad Kashmir and Balochistan. He raised the issue of human right violations in Balochistan. Pakistan took a strong exception to the negative mention of Balochistan in his speech. Pakistan also rejected Modi[s claim that there were political troubles in Gilgit-Balitistan and Azad Kashmir.

 The government of Pakistan responded to Modi’s reference to Balochistan in two ways. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman rejected Modi’s remarks and expressed strong Pakistani disapproval of what he said in the Independence Day speech. However, Pakistan sent a letter to India asking for resumption of the dialogue on Kashmir and other issues at the level of Foreign Secretaries. Prime Minister made one statement on Modi’s comments but avoided criticizing him directly.

 India’s response to Pakistani letter was not surprising. It said that it could hold talks only on cross-border terrorism. It refused to accept Pakistan’s statement that suggested talks on all contentious issues—Kashmir and other issues. India’s response was in line with its policy since 2013, more so after Modi assumed power in India towards the end of May 2014. It wants a single issue agenda: terrorism and how can Pakistan make sure that there is no terrorist entering from Pakistan into Kashmir and India. It also demands that Pakistan should restrain the political activities of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar.

 India wants Pakistan to satisfy India on the terrorism issue and that it must fulfill its demands in this respect before dialogue can take place on any issue. On Kashmir, it argues that it is integral part of India and the only discussion on this subject can pertain to that part of Kashmir which is under Pakistani control.

 India’s formula for the talks violates the basic principles of diplomacy. The basic principle of the dialogue diplomacy is that the agenda is prepared jointly and talks start on a mutually agreed agenda. If one party wants to impose its agenda, it is viewed as an indirect refusal to hold talks.

 The trouble in Pakistan-India relations manifested in two SAARC meetings held recently in Islamabad. The meeting of SAARC Home/Interior Ministers was held on August 3-4, 2016 and India’s Interior Minister, Rajnath Singh, participated in it. There was no bilateral meeting between India and Pakistan. Though the SAARC Charter does not allow the raising of bilateral issues on its forum, Rajnath Singh accused Pakistan of terrorism and related issues. Pakistan’s Interior Minister responded to his charges, Rajnath Singh left the meeting and returned to Delhi before the end of the meeting.

 Second SAARC meeting in Islamabad was that of Finance Ministers. and Finance Secretaries on August 25-26, 2016. India’ Finance Minister and Finance Secretary did not come to Islamabad. Instead, India’s Secretary for Economic Affairs represented India. The SAARC summit conference is scheduled for early November. It is not clear up to now if Prime Minister Modi will come to Islamabad. It is possible that some senior minister would represent India or India may seek the meeting’s postponement. Bangladesh would support this because Bangladesh’s Prime Minister is not in favor of coming to Islamabad.

 The decision in India to mention Balochistan in Prime Minister Modi’s speech on August 15 was made after a discussion at the highest policy making level. The opinion was divided. The hard liners succeeded because they wanted India to take such a position in retaliation to Pakistan’s support to the current protest movement in Indian-administered Kashmir. As Pakistan is now mobilizing international support against India’s repressive policies in Kashmir, India decided to talk about Balochistan to divert Pakistan’s attention from Kashmir and put Pakistan on the defense.

 Despite India’s efforts to cover up the use of brute force against the ordinary Kashmiris by describing the Kashmiri struggle as a terrorist activity and blaming Pakistan for sending people across the Line of Control in support of this struggle, India has failed in its bid. The Indian atrocities in Kashmir have come to the notice of the international community. This issue will be raised in the forthcoming General Assembly session in the third week of September. Meanwhile, the relations between Pakistan and India will continue to stay troubled.

 It is in the overall interest of region that peace is restored in Kashmir and a dialogue starts between Kashmiris and India as well as between Pakistan and India.

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Female tourists should not wear skirts in India, says tourism minister

Posted on 31 August 2016 by admin

India’s tourism minister has said foreign women should not wear skirts or walk alone at night in the country’s small towns and cities “for their own safety”.

Discussing tourist security in the north Indian city of Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, Mahesh Sharma said foreign arrivals to India were issued a welcome kit that included safety advice for women.

“In that kit they are given dos and don’ts,” he said on Sunday. “These are very small things like, they should not venture out alone at night in small places, or wear skirts, and they should click the photo of the vehicle number plate whenever they travel and send it to friends.”

He added: “For their own safety, women foreign tourists should not wear short dresses and skirts … Indian culture is different from the western.”

The welcome kit, geared at female travellers and introduced last year, is one of a suite of measures introduced to address declining rates of female tourism after the high-profile gang-rape and murder of a Delhi medical student in 2012, and a number of subsequent attacks on female tourists.

The kit says: “Some parts of India, particularly the smaller towns and villages, still have traditional styles of dressing. Do find out about local customs and traditions or concerned authorities before visiting such places.”

It mirrors the UK Foreign Office advice to women travelling in India, which suggests they “respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas, including beaches, when alone at any time of day”.

Sharma clarified his remarks later on Sunday, denying they amounted to a dress code for foreign women. ”We have not given any specific instructions regarding what they should wear or not wear. We are asking them to take precaution while going out at night. We are not trying to change anyone’s preference,” he said.

“It was very stupid, not a fully thought-through statement,” said Ranjana Kumari, the director of the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, a thinktank focusing on gender equality in India. “The minister doesn’t realise the implications of such irresponsible statements.”

Kumari said the remarks reflected “the syndrome of blaming women” for what they wore and where they were. She said: “But the problem is men and boys in India. They go for all kinds of misogyny and sexual acts, rapes and gang-rapes. It’s important for [Sharma] to have said how to punish the perpetrators of crime and stop the nonsense of ogling women and following them. Why should any girls come to India when it is becoming famous for not being safe to girls?”

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How to spend less on back-to-school shopping

Posted on 31 August 2016 by admin

Scott Hannah, president and CEO of the Credit Counselling Society, gives his top tips on how to go back-to-school shopping without breaking the bank.

Take inventory: Before heading out to stores or beginning back-to-school shopping online, Hannah recommends taking stock of the situation. “Take inventory of the school supplies, electronics and clothing that are still in good shape before shopping for new items,” he suggests. “This will help you determine what you need to buy and can easily save you (money versus) starting from scratch and buying everything new.”

Not re-buying the back-to-school gear you already have can easily save you 20 per cent, Hannah notes.

Involve your offspring: Hannah recommends sitting down with your kids and going over the list of things they will need for the start of the school year.

“Balancing needs versus wants with your kids can be costly if you don’t set expectations first, and the reality is there isn’t an endless supply of money available,” Hannah explains. “By helping your kids understand what you are prepared to spend and involving them in the spending decisions, everyone — as well as your bank account — will be happier.”

If your kids really want to purchase a more expensive item, ask them if they are willing to pay the difference from what your budget allows and the price of the item, Hannah suggests.

Be a sale spotter: This can save you serious money. Hannah suggests checking flyers for clearance sales, checking online for discount promo codes or using a comparison app to get the lowest price possible.

Spending time to get the best prices could easily save you an extra 15 per cent on your budget, says Hannah.

Avoid using credit: It may not seem like a big deal, but using a credit card to pay for back-to-school shopping and then incurring big interest charges can add as much as 50 per cent to your purchases, Hannah says.

“Unless you are disciplined about paying your credit-card bill in full each month, it’s better to shop with a debit card or cash and avoid the additional interest costs of paying for school expenses over time,” explains Hannah.

Stick to a budget: One of Hannah’s top ways to manage a back-to-school budget is to make a list of all the items you need to buy, checking them off as you buy them, and keeping a running tally of the expenses. People who shop with a budget generally save a minimum 10 per cent or more than those who don’t, he says.

Pace yourself: Remember, you don’t have to buy every back-to-school item at once (no matter how convenient it seems, or how much your children pester you).

“Sometimes it’s better to wait until school starts and find out what’s trendy than to spend hard-earned money on clothes and accessories that never leave your kids’ bedrooms,” says Hannah.

Four unused items between two kids could easily impact your budget by more than $200, notes Hannah, money that could be used to fund other necessary expenses.

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Montreal Tamil Making a Difference Through Arts

Posted on 31 August 2016 by admin

Most university science students have their plates full just keeping up grades. But Sinthusha Kandiah also wants to make a difference in the world through her passion for art and so created a non-profit organization, Divinart Foundation.

Sinthusha’s long term goal of her non-profit organization is to travel to Sri Lanka to help underprivileged children access education. Through her foundation, all the funds raised by providing henna service and artworks to the Montreal community will be used to cover costs that may arise for a child living in poverty to go to school.

But like many she was moved by the plight of Syrian refugees and wanted to make a contribution to the integration of Syrian kids in Montreal. And so she offered her time and dedication to the Montreal community with professional henna service as a way to raise money for Camp Cosmos and Syrian Kids at Camp – to welcome 30 Syrian children this summer at a summer camp organized by Montreal City Mission.

The Montreal City Mission is a community organization and has been established since 1910. For over a 100 years, MCM has been helping many refugees, immigrants, and children with low income family by providing them resources and the help they need for an easier integration into a new country.

Daughter of Sri Lankan refugees who came to Canada in the 1980s, Sinthusha is aware of the struggles faced by families arriving in a new country, and is particularly concerned about the well-being of children.

Through her dedication and perseverance, Sinthusha made a generous donation of $600 to buy art supplies for Camp Cosmos. She wanted to make a positive impact in her local community so she chose to help children and in particular Syrian refugee kids. Seeing war and violence at a young age, she believes that having a way to express their inner thoughts and feelings through art is a therapeutic way to heal their souls. And thus, donated her time and energy to raise money through her form of art, henna.

“Through art, we can make a difference” – Divinart Foundation

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Anti-Muslim fury greets proposals for U.S. mosques

Posted on 31 August 2016 by admin

Noise, traffic, parking, the usual. When residents of Atlanta-area Newton County found out that imam Mohammad Islam was planning to build a mosque and cemetery on vacant land near a rural highway, they cited the standard list of benign objections.

Then Monday’s public meeting began, and the hundreds of people jammed into the old brick courthouse confirmed what the Muslims of Georgia already knew.

The real issue was their religion.

“I don’t want these people and these teachings in our community. Were we not watching our TV on Sept. 11, 2001? Have we lost our mind?” a man said.

“Could be an ISIS (Daesh) training camp,” a woman said.

“We have the right to protect ourselves and our country,” said a second woman.

“Eight years ago,” said a third woman, “our U.S. government got a Muslim president who has put Muslims in power.”

Mosques have been built in the U.S. since at least 1929. Most of them have gone up with little fuss. But, for the last six years, since the time of the outcry over a planned Islamic centre, two blocks from Manhattan’s Ground Zero, mosque proposals around the country have regularly been greeted with fear and fury.

In Fredericksburg, Va., last year, police had to end a public meeting after opponents called Muslims “terrorists” and Islam an “evil cult.”

In Bayonne, N.J., this summer, residents have displayed “Save Bayonne!” signs and published a newspaper ad reading “Remember 9/11!”

In Mukilteo, Wash., this spring, the head of an aerospace company started a “mosque watch-group” before apologizing.

And in Kennesaw, Ga., an hour and a half away from Newton County, the council voted in 2014 to reject a mosque amid concerns about terror and Islamic law. Facing a legal threat, it flip-flopped two weeks later.

“I think it’s recognized now that any time there’s a new proposal for a mosque or an Islamic school or a cemetery, anything to do with Islam in America, you’re going to get some degree of bigoted opposition. Sometimes small, sometimes great,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

The intensity of the most recent uproars is the product of a perfect demographic and political storm.

The rapid growth of America’s Islamic community of three million is driving demand for mosques in suburbs and exurbs where residents lack personal experience with Muslims.

At the same time, attacks inspired by Daesh, also known as ISIS and ISIL, have stoked suspicion of average believers.

And Republican politicians, most notably Donald Trump, have whipped up Islamophobia by suggesting that mosques are dens of nefarious activity.

A Facebook group for Newton County mosque opponents is filled with virulent anti-Muslim sentiment. In a message to the Star, though, the person behind the group, who did not give their name, insisted their main concerns are transparency, fairness, and the proposed facility’s “massive” impact on local infrastructure. “It’s not about their religion or how they pray,” they said.

And then, immediately, the person added: “We don’t know these people. Maybe they ARE peaceful. But maybe not.”

There is no indication whatsoever that they are not.

Mohammad Islam, 50, is a soft-spoken immigrant from Bangladesh who moved to Atlanta in 1994, had two American-born children, and opened a mosque in nearby DeKalb County. Over time, he managed to build a friendly relationship with Tom Owens, an aggressive conservative critic of the mosque who happens to live next door.

“I love the imam,” Owens said in an interview. “We get along good.”

Islam said he is confident he can win over Newton County, too.

“I believe we can work it out,” he said, “if we show our tolerance, that we have a positive attitude, we don’t have any ill feelings, we don’t have any grudge toward anyone. If we love and if we care for each other and we respect each other, I think we can overcome these challenges for both communities.”

The existing mosque usually draws 200 to 300 for Friday prayers, most of them low- to middle-income Bangladeshis. The Newton outrage is “normal,” Islam said, given the natural human fear of the stranger.

“We gotta calm down. Myself, I’m talking about: we, the Muslims, our community. We should calm down and just be patient, and show that we don’t want to fight. With anyone. We want peace. Even if somebody hits us, we’re not going to hit back.”

Islam noted that many of Newton’s 100,000 people are supportive. And he emphasized that the 370-square-metre mosque is actually a secondary component of his plan for the 55-hectare site — which is across the street from a Baptist church and cemetery.

The main goal, he said, is to build a body-preparation facility attached to a cemetery, which would eliminate the hassle and expense of renting space in non-Muslim funeral homes and then transporting the dead for burial. The mosque, itself, he said, would only be used when someone dies, and even then only for “five minutes.”

His reassurances have so far been ignored.

Although Newton zoning allows for a mosque and a cemetery on the site, and although federal law prohibits local governments from using land rules to infringe on religious freedom, county officials have imposed a five-week moratorium on permits for all places of worship — after concern was expressed that a mosque would make Newton a “prime area” for Arab refugees.

CAIR has alerted the federal Justice Department.

“We have the law on our side,” Hooper said, “and the opposition generally has nothing but intolerance on their side.”

Seeking to start a dialogue, Islam met Tuesday with a group of Newton residents and leaders. And CAIR’s Georgia staff plan to go to the county next weekend to run an education session on their faith.

“I’m hoping to do it at a church,” said executive director Edward Ahmed Mitchell. “I think that will keep people a little calmer.”


New York City, N.Y.: Conservative media outlets helped to turn a 2009 proposal for an Islamic community centre and mosque in Manhattan, two blocks from the former site of the Twin Towers, into a national controversy over a so-called Ground Zero mosque.” Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg supported the project, it was abandoned in 2011.

Murfreesboro, Tenn.: Local officials were bombarded by anti-Muslim sentiment after a mosque was approved in the Nashville-area city in 2010. Opponents filed a lawsuit, an arsonist set fire to the construction site, a man was arrested for a bomb threat, and the state lieutenant-governor said Islam might be considered “a cult.” A federal judge finally allowed the mosque to open in 2012.

Sterling Heights, Mich.: The planning board voted 9-0 in September against a proposed mosque the city planner said was a bad fit for its location. The strongest opposition came from the city’s large community of Christian Iraqi-Americans, some of whom expressed anti-Muslim sentiment. This case also prompted a lawsuit and a Justice Department investigation.

Bernards Township, N.J.: The wealthy suburb of New York City voted in December to reject a mosque proposed by an Islamic group led by a former mayor of the township. Although the current mayor said the decision was strictly about land use, the group sued and the Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation.

Culpeper County, Va.: The county board voted 4-3 in April to reject a permit for the “pump-and-haul” septic system needed for a proposed mosque to be used by 15 people for twice-weekly prayer meetings. The board had approved 18 of the 19 previous pump-and-haul applications since 1995, including five for churches.

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7 cheap and healthy alternatives to foods you love

Posted on 31 August 2016 by admin

If you’re trying to cut some of the high-calorie and high-sodium foods out of your diet, here are seven healthy food swaps you can make that won’t break your budget.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to spend a ton of money on food in order to live a healthier lifestyle.

In fact, it’s possible to make nutritious meals and save money on groceries at the same time.

If you’re trying to cut some of the high-calorie and high-sodium foods out of your diet, here are seven healthy food swaps you can make that won’t break your budget.

1. Make spaghetti squash instead of pasta

Spaghetti squash can be a healthy alternative to pasta. If you’re watching your weight, you might like the fact that it has fewer calories. It also has fewer grams of carbohydrates than pasta and is just as easy to prepare.

Like pasta, spaghetti squash is low in fat and serves as a good source of fiber. If you’re on a budget, you’ll find that it’s an inexpensive dish to make.

2. Drink seltzer instead of soda

While seltzer can be slightly more expensive than soda, it’s much healthier. By drinking it, you won’t have to worry about increasing your risk of getting diabetes. And it won’t do as much damage to your teeth.

3. Choose oranges over orange juice

If you normally pour yourself a glass of orange juice in the morning, it might be a better idea to eat an orange instead. A recent study argues that drinking a glass of OJ will provide you with a greater amount of phytonutrients like carotenoids, which can lower your risk of contracting certain cancers and diseases.

But if you eat an orange, you’ll get more fiber and you’ll consume less fructose, a sugar that can raise your chances of developing a cardiovascular disease.

4. Drink black coffee

Buying a cup of black coffee is cheaper than buying a latte or a cappuccino. And it’s a lot healthier as well. A plain cup of black coffee has just a few calories.

Drinking black coffee is also a better alternative to drinking energy drinks. A Red Bull might help you jump start your morning, but energy drinks are often packed with sugar and can be more expensive than coffee (especially if you make yours at home).

5. Buy a bag of potatoes instead of frozen french fries

6. Use aquafaba instead of egg whites

Aquafaba is the liquid you’ll find inside of a can of beans or chickpeas. Since you can use it as a substitute for egg whites, you can potentially save yourself some money by buying a can of beans and using aquafaba in your pancakes and baked goods.

Aquafaba can particularly come in handy if you’ve recently become a vegan and you don’t want to give up on some of your favorite recipes.

7. Eat carrots instead of chips

Whenever you eat potato chips, you’re ingesting unnecessary carbs and empty calories. If you want to start living a healthier lifestyle, you can swap out your bag of Lay’s for a bag of carrots. You’ll likely save yourself some money as well.

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