India rolls out the red carpet for 100-year-old voter

Indian voter Shyam Saran Negi, center, 100, arrives to vote in the northern Himachal Pradesh state elections in Kalpa, around 145 miles from the state capital Shimla, on November 9, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2017
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India rolls out the red carpet for 100-year-old voter

SHIMLA: Authorities in a remote Himalayan village in northern India rolled out the red carpet Thursday for a 100-year-old man who has voted in every election since independence to cast his ballot.
Retired school teacher Shyam Saran Negi was given a special escort to the polling booth in Himachal Pradesh state to retain his record of voting in every Indian election since 1947.
“I have voted 29 times since the first general election in 1951,” Negi told journalists in Kalpa in Himachal Pradesh, which is holding state elections, after walking up a specially laid red carpet to cast his ballot.
Negi has now voted in 16 parliamentary and 13 state elections, often braving heavy snow to reach his local polling station.
Shyam’s son C.P Negi told AFP his father now usually stayed home by the fireplace, but was still very enthusiastic about elections.
“He keeps himself informed through radio and is a particularly keen follower of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monthly radio show,” the son added, without saying who his father had voted for.
Shyam urged voters at his polling booth to exercise their constitutional right and “elect good people who form a pro-people government.”


Monkeys run amok in India’s corridors of power

A monkey sits on a pavement outside India's Parliament building in New Delhi, India, November 15, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 11 December 2018
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Monkeys run amok in India’s corridors of power

  • Monkeys have bred rapidly in Delhi and neighboring states as they have protected status, but there is no official estimate of their numbers

NEW DELHI: India’s government faces a tough re-election battle next year but first it must deal with an opponent as wily as any political rival, troops of monkeys that have become a big threat around its offices in New Delhi.
Red-faced rhesus macaques have spread havoc, snatching food and mobile telephones, breaking into homes and terrorizing people in and around the Indian capital.
They have colonized areas around parliament and the sites of key ministries, from the prime minister’s office to the finance and defense ministries, frightening both civil servants and the public.
“Very often they snatch food from people as they are walking, and sometimes they even tear files and documents by climbing in through the windows,” said Ragini Sharma, a home ministry employee.
Ahead of Tuesday’s start of parliament’s winter session, an advisory to members of parliament last month detailed ways they could keep simian attacks at bay. Don’t tease or make direct eye contact with a monkey, the advisory said, and definitely don’t get between a mother and her infant.
The rapid growth of cities has displaced macaques, geographically the most widely distributed primates in the world after humans, driving them into human habitats to hunt for food.
Many in Hindu-majority India revere and feed the animals they consider to be connected to the demigod Hanuman, who takes the form of a monkey.
“This socio-religious tradition of feeding has created a vicious cycle,” said ecology researcher Asmita Sengupta.
“They become used to being fed by humans and lose their sense of fear,” said Sengupta, of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment.
“They start actively seeking supplementary food and if we don’t feed them, they turn aggressive.”

’APE REPELLERS’
The monkeys have hardly proved an ally for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Hundreds of macaques feasting on optic fiber cables strung along the banks of the river Ganges derailed his plan to roll out wifi in his constituency, the crowded 3,000-year-old holy city of Varanasi, in 2015.
Men were hired to swat the monkeys away with broomsticks and slingshots, when then US President Barack Obama toured New Delhi that year, media said.
Some monkey-human encounters have turned tragic.
In 2007, monkeys pushed the deputy mayor of Delhi, S.S. Bajwa, off his balcony to his death. Last month, one of the animals snatched a 12-day-old boy from his mother and killed him in Agra, home to the famed monument to love, the Taj Mahal.
Monkeys have bred rapidly in Delhi and neighboring states as they have protected status, but there is no official estimate of their numbers.
India has tried several strategies to fight the menace.
Several years ago, it brought in larger, black-faced langurs, feared by the macaques, to patrol key areas but that stopped after it became illegal to keep langurs in captivity.
Authorities stumbled on a partially successful solution four years ago, after hiring 40 men to disguise themselves as langurs and squeal monkey-like to try and terrify the macaques away.
“We call them ‘ape repellers’ and they are contract employees,” said a government official, who asked not to be identified. The stratagem works temporarily as the monkeys flee on hearing the calls, but they return once the men depart.
Primatologist S.M. Mohnot recommends sterilization and moving the animals to forests, as well as lifting a ban on their capture for biomedical research and resuming exports of the macaques, as components of a solution.
“The monkey menace can be checked only by a multi-pronged approach,” said Mohnot, the chairman of the Primate Research Center, a federal institute in the western city of Jodhpur.