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Couple turns 300 acres of land into India’s first private wildlife sanctuary

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Pamela and Anil Malholtra

Pamela and Anil Malholtra

KARNATAKA India, (Diya TV) — Pamela and Anil Malholtra have spent the past 25 years of their lives buying denuded and abandoned agricultural land in Karnataka’s Kodagu district and reforesting it. Now, the couple has converted a recent purchase of 300 acres of land into what is being widely considered the first private wildlife sanctuary in all of India.

The land sits in Brahmagiri, a mountain range in the Western Ghats. Stretching almost an entire square mile, the land houses the Malhotras’ Save Animals Initiative Sanctuary, a new safe haven for a country with more than 300 types of bird species, and several rare and other threatened and endangered animals. Recently, a herd of 10 elephants was spotted strolling through the sanctuary, but it isn’t all about wildlife, the land itself is the foundation of plant life that is centuries old.

“That tree is about 700 years old and draws different types of birds,” Pamela said, as she proudly showcased one of the largest trees on the property.

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The couple’s crusade to reinvigorate the land to a bio-diverse rainforest for elephants, tigers, leopards, deer, snakes, birds and hundreds of other creatures hasn’t been an easy journey. When the two arrived to this region of the country in 1991, land owners were more concerned about crops and what they could grow, than preservation.

“When I came here with a friend who suggested I buy this land, it was a wasteland of 55 acres. The owner wanted to sell because he couldn’t grow coffee or anything else here,” said Anil. “For me and Pamela, this was what we were looking for all our life.”

They were inspired while visiting India in 1986 for the funeral of Anil’s father — the pollution in Haridwar horrified them.

“There was so much deforestation, the timber lobby was in charge, and the river was polluted. And no one seemed to care. That was when we decided to do something to reclaim the forests in India,” Anil said.

The couple soon realized their goal of obtaining land in north India was a far stretch, so they turned around and went south. Anil’s friends warned him that if he was looking to invest in land for a return, he should look to buy somewhere outside of Brahmagiri. There would be no profit margin to justify his investment, his friends told him.

“We were not looking for money. Early on, we realized that shortage of fresh water will be a concern for India and the rest of the world. Acquisition, protection and reclamation of forested lands and wildlife habitat, where vital water sources have their origin, is the only way to save ourselves,” Anil said.

After the couple sold property they owned in Hawaii, they bought their first 55 acres at the foothills of the Brahmagiri range and began afforestation work. Soon, they realized there was no use nurturing a forest on one side of the stream when landholders on the other side were using pesticides for cultivation. So, at every opportunity, they began buying more and more land along the stream as soon as it became available. “Many of the farmers considered their holdings ‘wasteland,’ as very little grew on it and were happy to get money,” Anil said.

Hurdle after hurdle

Soon after the purchase of the land, the Malholtra’s then began their legal struggles against financiers and the government — several of the land owners they purchased acreage from had standing debt which remained unsettled. If the government wasn’t enough to tackle, they also had to combat poaching and hunting from the locals who lived in the area. Almost immediately labeled as outsiders, many asked “what this couple from the U.S.” was doing in their community.

“A priest of a temple located on a nearby hillock was killed by a tiger and villagers were afraid. We helped them rebuild the temple at a safer location, but our condition was that they’d give up hunting and poaching,” Pamela said. “When they asked us why, we asked them why they worshipped Hanuman and Ganesha but killed animals. It worked,” she said.

Moving forward, the Malholtra’s worked hand-in-hand with the local government and forest department to set up camera traps to keep poachers away. “There are times I have fought poachers with logs,” Pamela said.

Now, the land serves as a studying ground for naturalists and scientists from all over the world who come to observe and research on the different animal species as well as hundreds of indigenous trees and plants, which have medicinal value as well.

Arts & Culture

14th Annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival kicks off tonight!

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SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — The 14th annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival will be held by 3rd i Nov. 10-13, Cupertino will play sister-city to the hosting on Nov. 19. Diya TV is a Grand Sponsor of the event.

Screenings will take place at San Francisco’s New People and Castro Theaters Nov. 10-13, the festival’s South Bay addition unfolds a week later on November 19th, at the BlueLight Cinema in Cupertino. Fifteen screenings will take place of narrative and documentary features and shorts by independent filmmakers from South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora, including stories from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Canada, and the USA.

What once began as a three-day event back in 2003 now runs over five days in two separate editions. The audiences of the festival’s has grown, and diversified, over the years — not only does the festival receive a large amount of support from its desi audience, but it also has supporters from the diverse communities that make up the Bay Area tapestry. The festival’s focus this year on Diaspora seeks to present an expansive view on the immigrant experience.

 

Indie Narratives take brave risks and explore issues from madness to modernity, sex to social justice; 3rd i’s commitment to the celluloid celebration of Women’s Stories and Queer Voices continues as strong as ever; and Bay Area Filmmakers, shorts and documentaries are on the docket as always.

While all of the festival’s films are in the waiting, some of the screenings taking placed have been highly anticipated.

The World of Goopi and Bagha, one of the Castro Theater centerpiece films, will become the first animated film the festival has ever screened. The film, dedicated as part of the festival’s Focus on Women’s Stories series, is a remake of a Bengali children’s story. Shilpa Ranade, the filmmaker of the project, will attend the screening in person.

Khoya, which will screen at the Castro Theater on Nov. 12, is a drama by Sami Khan and is part of the festival’s Diaspora focus. The story tracks the journey of Rog, who travels back to India from Canada in search of his birthparents. Rupak Ginn, the lead actor in the film, and Khan will both attend the screening.

Ticket prices to the festival range between $10-$13, more information regarding purchase and festival details can be found here.

Diya TV is a sponsor to the event.

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British Armed forces celebrate Raksha Bandhan symbolizing bonds of protection

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The young girls tying Rakhi to the Officials. PC: www.asiansunday.co.uk
Armed forces celebrate Raksha Bandhan at Shree Swaminarayan Mandir in London. PC: www.swaminarayangadi.com

Armed forces celebrate Raksha Bandhan at Shree Swaminarayan Mandir in London. PC: Swaminarayan Mandir

SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) —  Brothers and sisters share a bond of friendship, love and family. “Raksha Bandhan” an Indian festival is one of two days in a year when sisters pray for the well being of their brothers and the brothers in turn vow to protect their sisters. Although in modern society the festival may seem dated, its a tradition that brings families together and is a festive excuse to spend time with your siblings reminiscing your childhood and instilling these age old traditions in the next generation.

It is a festival which celebrates the bond of support and affection between brothers and sisters. It is a day when siblings pray for each other’s well being and wish for each other’s’ happiness and good will.

In a first, the British armed forces came together at various locations within the Queen’s land to celebrate this auspicious day remembering the idea of bravery, courage and support behind this ancient practice in Hinduism.

“The tying of Rakhi to symbolize bonds of mutual protection is a potent symbol for all here today and one that resonates beyond the Hindu religion to all servicemen and women, whatever their beliefs”, said Earl Howe, MOD Minister Of State in the House of Lords.

The young girls tying Rakhi to the Officials. PC: www.asiansunday.co.uk

The young girls tying Rakhi to the Officials. PC: Asia S.

 

The event at Shree Swaminarayan Mandir witnessed about twenty Hindu and Non-Hindu armed forces personnel where the holy decorative string bracelet was tied on the wrists of the Army Officers by young members of Hindu Community symbolizing the bond of protection and love.

“Our Armed Forces are at the vanguard of protecting us and we should never take them for granted. Our global spiritual leader, Acharya Swamishree Maharaj often visits military installations in India to remind us of the selfless and valiant job that these courageous servicemen and women do. It is for that reason that we are hugely honored to host the Armed Forces Hindu Network’s flagship Raksha Bandhan event here today”, said Mandir Trustee, Dr. Mahesh Varsani.

Rear Admiral Graeme Mackay while addressing the crowd mentioned that, “ There are currently around 2,500 Hindus serving the armed forces and they continue the proud tradition of their predecessors in serving the country, upholding the values that we all hold dear. They are as much part of the future of the armed forces, if not more so, as they are of our past”.

The event also included some cultural activities such as dance performances by the children who were attending the Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa Academy of Performing Arts.

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Indian-American museum opens in New Jersey

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A case containing artifacts related to the success of Raju Sethi, founder and president of AVS TV. PHOTO BY HILDI BORKWOSKI

A case containing artifacts related to the success of Raju Sethi, founder and president of AVS TV. PHOTO BY HILDI BORKWOSKI

MAHWAH, N.J. (Diya TV) — A new museum saluting and celebrating the experiences of Indian-Americans in the U.S. has opened at the Hindu Samaj Temple of Mahwah in New Jersey. The temple celebrated its grand opening of the new 13,800-square-foot cultural center on June 5.

Built eight years ago beneath the temple, the space previously served as a multipurpose room for church activities, but will now be utilized to document the stories and experiences of Indian immigrants. It will highlight their achievements and struggles in a variety of fields, said Kalidas Kale, a temple spokesperson.

“This is our home,” he said of the U.S., “but we still want to maintain our heritage.”

Above the entrance hangs the image of the flag of India with a human fingerprint superimposed over it, meant to signify the sense of Indian identity. The room includes a stage with large bronze statues on both sides, and includes a state-of-the-art sound system with ample lighting for musical programs.

The area will also be used to serve local seniors and has classrooms for children’s language, arts and crafts, enrichment classes, space for dance practice and recitals, and even a yoga facility.

Decorated on the walls are collages of the four Indian-American honorees who spoke at the center’s commencement: Vipp Jaswal, head of International Affairs at Fox News; Rashmee Sharma, founder of Roshni Media; Raju Sethi, founder, CEO and president of AVS; and Dr. Sudhir Parikh, a physician and CEO of Parikh Worldwide Media. All four were chosen for their contributions in news media.

Additionally, members of the temple have held discussions about the possibility of dedicating a space to preserve the experience of the Indian diaspora across the nation. The talks have recently become amplified to keep pace with the successes of Indian-Americans in society, Kale said. The Indian-American community is one of the most highly-educated groups in the country — 71 percent of the country’s 3.1 million residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to 2010 census numbers.

“In all aspects we are trying to do our best and contribute to society,” Kale said.

The temple was founded in 1996, and has a membership of approximately 2,500 families. It provides religious, cultural and social services in New Jersey and the surrounding areas.

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