Modi tells Xi relations are stable, differences manageable

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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China's President Xi Jinping exchange gifts in Mamallapuram on the outskirts of Chennai, India, October 12, 2019. (Reuters)
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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China's President Xi Jinping talk during their meeting in Mamallapuram on the outskirts of Chennai, India, October 12, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 12 October 2019

Modi tells Xi relations are stable, differences manageable

  • The two leaders avoided the vexed Kashmir dispute from clouding their summit in the seaside temple town of Mamallapuram
  • According to India's Commerce Ministry, India's exports to China amounted to $13.33 billion in the 2018 financial year, compared with imports of $76.38 billion

MAMALLAPURAM, India: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday that relations between their countries have attained stability and momentum in the past year, and that it should enable them to manage their differences and avoid disputes.
The two leaders avoided the vexed Kashmir dispute from clouding their summit in the seaside temple town of Mamallapuram. Modi said both countries agreed to be sensitive to each other's concerns as they held delegation-level talks.
Modi and Xi were meeting at a time of tensions over Beijing's support for Pakistan, India's archrival, in opposing New Delhi's downgrading of Kashmir's semi-autonomy and continuing restrictions in the disputed region.
Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told reporters that "this issue was not raised and discussed," but that Xi apprised Modi of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to Beijing earlier in the week.
"India-China relations are not predicated to a single issue," Gokhale said, adding that the latest developments in Kashmir were an internal matter of India.
Without going into details, Xi said in his opening remarks at the delegation-level talks that he had taken part in candid and in-depth discussions with Modi on various issues since his arrival Friday.
Gokhale said the two countries decided to set up a group at the finance ministers' level to discuss trade and investment issues, especially India facing a whopping $63 billion trade deficit with China.
According to India's Commerce Ministry, India's exports to China amounted to $13.33 billion in the 2018 financial year, compared with imports of $76.38 billion.
Xi and Modi met over dinner for more than two hours on Friday after the Indian prime minister took the Chinese president around an ancient temple and some other monuments that are part of UNESCO's world heritage sites in Mamallapuram.
Besides emphasizing the expansion of trade and investment, Modi and Xi resolved to work together in facing the challenges of radicalization and terrorism, Gokhale said.
There was an acknowledgement that both India and China were "very complex and very diverse countries," and that both will work together so that radicalization and terrorism does not affect their multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious societies, Gokhale said. He did not give details.
Tensions in Kashmir, which is divided between Pakistan and India but claimed by both in its entirety, have escalated since August, when India downgraded the semi-autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir and imposed a security and communications lockdown.
China supported Pakistan in raising India's actions at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. China said India should not act unilaterally in Kashmir, a portion of which China also controls.
Xi arrived in India two days after hosting Pakistani Prime Minister Khan in Beijing.
India accuses neighboring Pakistan of arming and training insurgent groups fighting for Kashmir's independence or its merger with Pakistan. Pakistan denies the charge. The two countries have fought two wars over the region's control since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947.
A meeting between Xi and Modi in Wuhan, China, in April 2018 was preceded by tensions caused by a 10-week standoff between their countries' armed forces on the Bhutan border.
China claims some 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of territory in India's northeast, while India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of its territory on the Aksai Chin Plateau in the western Himalayas. Officials have met at least 20 times to discuss the competing border claims without making significant progress.
India and China fought a border war in 1962. 
India also is concerned about China's moves to build strategic and economic ties with its neighbors Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Maldives. Xi will visit Nepal on Saturday.


A nonprofit group strives for zero hunger in Bangladesh

Updated 26 min 16 sec ago

A nonprofit group strives for zero hunger in Bangladesh

  • Bidyanondo provides food to needy under-12 children and men and women 60 years or older
  • In the last three years, Bidyanondo has distributed more than 2.5 million meal boxes to the needy

DHAKA: The time was 2:30 p.m. Small knots of children were loitering around the main street in the Mirpur area of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. Suddenly their faces lit up as a brightly painted rickshaw van appeared. The vehicle, bearing the words “Bidyanondo,” was stacked with food packets.

About 60 children from a nearby slum quickly formed a queue, each holding a one-taka coin that would enable them to buy their day’s lunch. For most, this was the only proper meal they could afford in the entire day.

“I come here every day so that my two granddaughters, Raina and Ranisa, don’t go hungry,” said Rajia Begum, 51, as she collected two food packets for the twins.

Volunteers distribute ‘one taka meal’ boxes to children in Dhaka’s Mirpur district. (Supplied photo)

“My son, who is a driver by profession, does not make enough to feed all six members of our family. So the children wait for their Bidyanondo meal every afternoon.”

A pioneer of the cheap-meal concept, Bidyanondo charges children under 12 as well as men and women older than 60 a token one taka ($1 is equivalent to 84 Bangladeshi taka) for each meal.

The volunteer organization, whose mission is “to foster philanthropy domestically and internationally by designing innovative programs,” spends 28 Bangladeshi taka to prepare the meal it gives away for one taka.

INNUMBERS

370,000 - Bidyanondo’s Facebook follower count

2,000 - Daily recipients of a Bidyanondo meal

84 - Bangladeshi taka equivalent to $1

300 - Total number of Bidyanondo volunteers

The “one taka meal” is the brainchild of 38-year-old Kishore Kumar Das, a Peru-based Bangladeshi who said it was his life’s dream to feed the poor in a way that, unlike begging, did not diminish their sense of self-worth.

“As a child, I had to face extreme poverty because my father could not manage to feed seven members of his family. I used to walk several miles to find free meals distributed at temples,” said Das, who is also the chief of volunteers at Bidyanondo.

“People from different corners of society take the same meal in a temple irrespective of class or caste. This unique idea inspired me to do something in the same way for underprivileged members of Bangladeshi society.”

Besides Dhaka, Bidyanondo — Bengali for “Learn for Fun” — operates the “one taka meal” program in four Bangladeshi cities: Chattogram, Narayanganj, Rajshahi and Rangpur. It also provides food, accommodation, education and medical care to about 300 residents of five orphanages.

“Charging one taka for a single meal is a symbolic approach through which we want to create a sense of ownership in the recipient’s mind,” said Salaman Khan, coordinator of Bidyanonodo’s Dhaka branch. “We want to convey a feeling that people are buying the food from us, not begging for it.”

Bidyanondo’s journey began in June 2016 when it began feeding 30 children in need in Chattogram, in southeastern Bangladesh.

Meals and food packets are prepared at the Bidyanondo Foundation office for distribution among Dhaka’s needy. 
(AN photo by Shehab Sumon,  Arab News)

Within a year, the group was providing food to 800 needy people every day. By 2018, the number of recipients had risen to 1,200. This year, almost 2,000 people every day across Bangladesh are receiving at least one square meal a day, thanks to Bidyanondo’s determination to “relieve the pain of hunger.”

“From cooking to distribution of food, we do everything by ourselves,” Khan told Arab News. “We have a special team of five or six members who cook. All of them are doing the job as volunteers.

“We operate our food program 365 days a year. Our volunteers work even on Eid days to feed needy people.”

Bidyanondo relies on crowdfunding for funds to support its programs.

“We have a Facebook group through which we organize the funding,” Khan said. “Bidyanondo has more than 370,000 followers on its Facebook page. All our benefactors are Bangladeshi and most prefer to remain unidentified.”

In the past three years, Bidyanondo has distributed more than 2.5 million meal boxes to children and older people in need. It has a workforce of 300 registered and non-registered volunteers across the country comprised mainly of students.

The 40 full-time staff members are stationed in the nonprofit’s offices across Bangladesh. A small number of housewives also volunteer at local branches of Bidyanondo.

The idea of selling cheap meals has spread to other countries through Bidyanondo’s network of overseas Bangladeshi volunteers. Das said that pilot programs are being tried out in Peru, Italy, Turkey, Nepal and India.

“Soon we are going to introduce a vending-machine system for food distribution so that recipients will not have to interact with any donor or volunteer. They will simply insert one taka into the machine, which will dispense a food packet in return,” Das told Arab News.

He said Bidyanondo welcomes assistance and contributions from aspiring philanthropists at home and abroad. The aim is not to make benefactors feel proud of donating or volunteering for social causes, but rather to make them realize that such activities are “part of the social responsibility” of the well-to-do.

Volunteers count one-taka coins generated from the distribution of meal packets. 
(Photo by Shehab Sumon,  Arab News)

“We want Bidyanondo to inspire others to commit some of their time and energy to social causes,” Das said. “If everyone does their bit, there will be no huge disparity in society.”

Among those doing their bit is Asma Akter, a 31-year-old physician employed in a government-run general hospital in Manikgonj, 40 km from Dhaka. On her days off, she turns up at Bidyanondo’s local branch to offer free medical consultations to the needy.

“I have my full-time government job for earning money. But I can’t have mental peace with the money,” she said. “Bidyanondo is a platform where I can look after the people who need my support the most.”

Akter added: “Words cannot express the kind of joy I get from performing this social service. It is a very good example of teamwork. Every day I learn from my colleagues here how to spend my time in the service of others.”

Back in Dhaka’s Mirpur district, among the children waiting to collect a meal box that afternoon was eight-year-old Mohammad Solaiman. “My father is a day laborer and mother works as domestic help,” he said.

“At noon they both are busy at work. With my two brothers, I collect food from the Bidyanondo rickshaw van every day. It is very convenient for us.”