Twitter is striking a defiant note in its struggle with India over restricting accounts in the country. On Monday, the company released its first official response since India’s government demanded it reblock more than 250 accounts it had restored in defiance of an IT ministry order. Among the blocked accounts were Caravan, a news magazine, and people who had criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“We strongly believe that the open and free exchange of information has a positive global impact, and that the Tweets must continue to flow,” the company said in a statement shared with BuzzFeed News.
Twitter’s statement comes in the middle of a face-off with India’s increasingly authoritarian government as millions of farmers protest agricultural reforms, rocking the nation.
On Monday, reports in the Indian press said that the government had asked the company to block nearly 1,200 additional accounts that it said were tweeting about the protests, and were being run from Pakistan. A report in the Times of India also quoted an anonymous government official saying that India was upset with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for liking tweets supporting the protests. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.
On Jan. 31, India’s IT ministry had ordered Twitter to prevent more than 250 accounts belonging to activists, political commentators, and the Caravan from being viewed inside the country. Twitter initially complied but changed course six hours later. In response, India’s government ordered the site to block the accounts once again and threatened Twitter officials in India with legal consequences for violating the order, including a fine and up to seven years in prison.
But a week later, the accounts are still up, putting the company’s staff in India at risk of government retaliation.
“Safety of our employees is a top priority for us at Twitter,” the company statement said. “We continue to be engaged with the Government of India from a position of respect and have reached out to the Honourable Minister, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology for a formal dialogue.”
Twitter’s actions put it at the center of a free speech debate in a country that is seeing an ongoing crackdown on dissent amid protests by millions of farmers opposed to agricultural reforms that they say will hurt their incomes. For Twitter, blocking the accounts once again would mean enabling this crackdown, but not restricting them risks legal consequences.
“We review every report we receive from the government as expeditiously as possible, and take appropriate action regarding such reports while making sure we hold firm to our fundamental values and commitment to protecting the public conversation,” Twitter said. “An update is shared through our established channels of communication with the Government.”
Despite the polite language, some people, including former Twitter employees saw a double meaning in the statement. During the Arab Spring in 2011, the company’s cofounder Biz Stone and former general counsel Alexander Macgillivray wrote a post clarifying the company’s position on free speech. It was titled: “The Tweets Must Flow.”
Twitter has told India’s government that it won’t restrict accounts belonging to journalists, activists, and politicians in India, despite receiving an order from the country’s federal government. It is, however, blocking an unspecified number of accounts that don’t fall into these categories from being able to be viewed internally in the country.
In a blog post published Tuesday, the company said that although it had withheld some accounts that India’s government wanted it to block, it wouldn’t block others because doing so would violate free speech.
“Because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of new media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians,” Twitter’s blog post said. “To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.”
Twitter’s post comes in the middle of a struggle with the government of India, a major market for the company, over restricting accounts on the platform. Earlier this month, the company restricted people in India from viewing more than 250 accounts in the country after receiving an emergency legal order from India’s IT ministry. Among the blocked accounts were the Caravan, an investigative news magazine; critics of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; and accounts tweeting in support of a monthslong farmers’ protest that is roiling the country.
But Twitter restored the accounts six hours later, arguing with the Indian government that the accounts constituted free speech and were noteworthy. In response, the government threatened Twitter officials with a fine and up to seven years in jail for violating its order.
The standoff with the Indian government has put Twitter in a tough spot. Blocking the accounts would mean enabling a crackdown against dissent, free speech, and journalism by India’s increasingly authoritarian government. But defying the government means risking legal consequences.
In the blog post published on Tuesday, Twitter said it had taken additional steps such as banning hashtags containing harmful content from the platform, something that the government feared would provoke real-world violence amid the protest, and permanently suspending more than 500 accounts for violating Twitter’s rules.
But the post also indicates that Twitter is seeking legal redress to restore some accounts that it has restricted in the country.
“We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve and are actively exploring options under Indian law — both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted,” Twitter wrote. “We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the Tweets should flow.”
Twitter did not take “Shoot” off its trending topics for at least a couple of hours — after there was public outcry and after BuzzFeed News emailed asking for comment.
Pranav Dixit BuzzFeed News Reporter
Posted on January 26, 2021, at 10:41 a.m. ET
Calls to “shoot” farmers protesting against controversial agricultural reforms in India trended for hours on Twitter on Tuesday, as thousands of tweets encouraging police brutality against them flooded the platform.
Violence erupted in India’s capital on Tuesday after thousands of farmers, who have been camped on the outskirts of New Delhi for nearly two months to protest against government agricultural reforms they say will hurt their livelihoods, entered the city and clashed with police. Demonstrators broke through police barricades around the city and stormed the Red Fort, a historic national monument. Police used heavy batons and fired tear gas shells. Authorities also shut down internet access in parts of the capital, something that officials in India frequently do to quash protests. At least one protestor died.
On Twitter, supporters of India’s Hindu nationalist government, led by prime minister Narendra Modi, called the protesting farmers “terrorists” and encouraged police brutality against them. “They are not farmers. They are worms, wearing fake masks of farmers,” read one of the viral tweets, which used the hashtag “#shoot.” “Request @AmitShah #shoot at sight is only option,” said another tweet, tagging India’s home minister and Modi’s right-hand man responsible for law and order in the country.
“Hit them with your batons, Delhi police,” the editor of a pro-government propaganda blog tweeted in Hindi. “We are with you.”
On Tuesday morning, “Shoot” was one of the top trending topics on the platform in India, in addition to the Hindi phrase “Dilli Police lath bajao” — which loosely translates to “Delhi Police, hit them with your batons.”
“Shoot” stayed in the Trending section on Twitter in India for at least a couple of hours. It only disappeared after there was a public outcry and after BuzzFeed News emailed asking for comment. The company also deleted the blog editor’s tweet, saying that it violated Twitter rules, and suspended her account for 12 hours. Still, the Hindi phrase encouraging police to use their batons remained a trending topic for at least another hour. A search for “#shoot” revealed hundreds of tweets asking for police to shoot protesters.
“We have taken steps today to protect the conversation on our service from attempts to incite violence, abuse and threats that could trigger the risk of offline harm,” a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “Our team will take strong enforcement action judiciously and impartially on content, trends, Tweets and accounts that are in violation of the Twitter Rules. We strongly encourage everyone on the service to familiarise themselves with the Twitter Rules and report anything they believe is in violation. We are monitoring the situation closely and remain vigilant.”
In the United States, multiple tech platforms including Twitter permanently banned former president Donald Trump from the platform after his supporters stormed the US Capitol earlier this month. Trump had been banned from the platform “due to the risk of further violence,” tweeted Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s legal, policy, and trust and safety head. Last year, the company put a warning label on one of the former president’s posts about the Minneapolis protests which said: “[When] the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Experts have argued that Silicon Valley-based companies like Twitter and Facebook have a double standard when it comes to enforcing their own policies globally. In non-Western countries like India, which has been sliding into authoritarianism under the Modi government over the last few years, tech platforms frequently move slowly or do not take action against people who use them as a weapon to cause real-world harm.
Last year, for instance, Twitter let dozens of tweets doxing interfaith Hindu-Muslim couples remain on the platform until BuzzFeed News asked the company about them. In December, protesters gathered outside Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters, alleging that the social network was censoring content posted in support of the protesting Indian farmers. And the Wall Street Journal reported that Ankhi Das, a top Facebook executive in India, had prevented the company from taking action against a politician belonging to Modi’s party for posting hate speech, saying that doing so would hurt the company’s business interests.
“Powerful interests everywhere have learned that Silicon Valley’s tools can be used to create a bonfire of human rights, but the only time the platforms care is when they get bad press,” Alaphia Zoyab, advocacy director at Reset, a tech policy nonprofit that aims to tackle the information crisis created by tech platforms, told BuzzFeed News.
“When Silicon Valley has to choose between protecting business interests or protecting human rights, they’re going to choose the former,” she added. “The fact is that their current business model is fundamentally incompatible with democracy and freedom because a determined troll army in the camp of those in power can just hijack the platform to demand violence.”
Gadde did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Twitter declined to answer whether accounts in India encouraging violence would be permanently banned.
A medical worker inoculates a colleague with a COVID-19 vaccine at the Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata on Saturday.
Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP via Getty Images
Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP via Getty Images
A medical worker inoculates a colleague with a COVID-19 vaccine at the Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata on Saturday.
Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP via Getty Images
Cheers erupted in hospital wards across India on Saturday as a first group of nurses and sanitation workers rolled up their sleeves and got vaccinated against COVID-19, at the start of what’s likely to become the biggest national vaccination campaign in history.
India aims to vaccinate 300 million people by July, though it could take an additional two or more years to inoculate all nearly 1.4 billion Indians. The shots are voluntary. Hospitals and clinics have been setting up and rehearsing for weeks.
“A proud moment indeed! This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Dr. R. Jayanthi, dean of the Omandurar Medical College in the southern city of Chennai, told local media moments after receiving her shot. “I’m truly a very privileged beneficiary today, and I’m feeling absolutely fine.”
Earlier this month, the Indian government granted emergency authorization to two vaccines — one developed by Oxford University and the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, and a homegrown formula developed by an Indian company, Bharat Biotech. Both are administered in two doses about a month apart.
The latter is still in phase three clinical trials, and full efficacy data is not yet out. Some scientists, public health experts and opposition politicians accuse the government of risking public safety to rush out an indigenously made formula out of national pride. Bharat Biotech and Indian officials insist the formula is safe.
Recipients are not permitted to choose between the two vaccines.
In a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked citizens not to believe any “rumors about the safety of vaccines.”
“We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability,” Modi said.
Global surveys show less vaccine hesitancy in India than in the United States or other countries. India has successfully eradicated many diseases through mass immunization campaigns. India was officially declared polio-free in 2014.
On Saturday, a ward attendant was handed red flowers by well-wishers moments after she got vaccinated at Victoria Hospital in the southern business hub of Bengaluru. Politicians crowded around her, and many snapped photos. There was little social-distancing.
In his speech, Modi asked Indians to remain vigilant and adhere to safety measures.
India is using its massive voter rolls to identify citizens by age and thus eligibility for the vaccines. The first batch of 30 million recipients are health professionals and frontline workers, including police and sanitation workers. After that, India plans to make the vaccine available to a group of 270 million people over the age of 50, or with pre-existing conditions.
India’s demographics skew young; half the population is under the age of 25. That’s thought to have reduced the coronavirus’ mortality in India. While India has the second-highest tally of confirmed cases in the world, after the United States, its mortality rate is much lower, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
NEW DELHI — India said on Sunday that it had approved two coronavirus vaccines, one made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and the other developed in India, for emergency use, a major step toward halting the spread of the coronavirus in one of the world’s hardest-hit countries.
The approvals were announced at a news conference in New Delhi on Sunday. Dr. V.G. Somani, the drugs controller general of India, said the decision to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and a local vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech came after “careful examination” of both by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization, India’s pharmaceutical regulator.
Indian regulators are still considering approvals for other vaccines. One, made by Pfizer and BioNTech, has already been approved in the United States and Europe. Another, Russia’s Sputnik V, appears to be less far along.
On Wednesday, Britain became the first country to grant emergency approval for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Argentina soon followed suit.
Officials in India moved quickly for a number of reasons. The country is No. 2 in confirmed infections behind the United States, and the outbreak is widely believed to be worse than the official figures suggest. The pandemic has devastated the economy, and the unemployment rate is at a 45-year high. Education has been disrupted, leading to worries about the long-term impact on the country’s youth.
India will now face some steep challenges. Doses for more than 1.3 billion people must be paid for and distributed across a vast country. Government officials could also face doubts among the public about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, fueled in part by the government’s lack of transparency about clinical trial protocols.
Criticism about the lack of clarity on the data that the regulator examined came swiftly after the two vaccines were authorized for emergency use.
All India Drug Action Network, a public health watchdog, immediately issued a statement requesting more information about the scope of clinical trials and dosing regimens for both vaccines.
On the Bharat Biotech vaccine, called Covaxin, the group said it was “baffled to understand what scientific logic has motivated the top experts” to authorize a vaccine still in clinical trials.
Dr. Somani, the regulator, said the vaccine had so far been administered to 22,500 trial participants, and “has been found to be safe.”
Both the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Bharat Biotech vaccine require two doses, Dr. Somani said. He did not specify whether the participants in Bharat Biotech’s continuing clinical trials had received both doses.
Already the effort has faced setbacks. The Serum Institute, an Indian drug maker that struck a deal to produce the Oxford vaccine even before its effectiveness had been proven, has managed to make only about one-tenth of the 400 million doses it had committed to manufacturing before the end of the year.
The government says it is ready. To get the vaccine across a country famous for its size and its sometimes unreliable roads, officials will tap into knowledge from nationwide polio vaccination and newborn immunization campaigns, and the skill and flexibility employed in India’s mammoth general elections, where ballot boxes are delivered to the furthest reaches of the country.
The Serum Institute says it is on track to increase production of the vaccine, which is known as Covishield in India. With $270 million of its own funds and $300 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Serum plans to ramp up manufacturing capacity to 100 million doses per month by February, said Mayank Sen, a company spokesman.
Initially, the Serum Institute signed a pact with AstraZeneca to make one billion doses of the vaccine for low-and-middle-income countries. The vaccine holds appeal to developing countries because it is cheaper to make and easier to transport than those that require colder temperatures during storage and transportation.
The Serum Institute hit production delays as it built new facilities to make the vaccine. It says it has already produced between 40 million and 50 million doses for the world. The company’s chief executive, Adar Poonawalla, told reporters on Monday that a majority of the doses would be given to India.
Indian officials have been vague on how many doses they expect to receive and when. Mr. Sen said the Serum Institute did not have a firm agreement with the Indian government, but had pledged to reserve most of its existing stockpile for India.
“Government has yet to sign the papers and the final dotted line, but this is based on initial discussions we have had because we’ve always said that India was going to be the priority,” Mr. Sen said.
Pending approval of the vaccine by the World Health Organization, Serum will begin supplying other developing nations with doses at manufacturing cost, Mr. Sen said.
India’s approval process has also been delayed. The Serum Institute applied for emergency use approval early last month, but regulators asked for additional details from clinical trials, including whether a person involved in the trials had experienced medical complications.
The details of that claim are not clear. After receiving the Covishield vaccine on Oct. 1, a 40-year-old volunteer from Chennai, India, publicly reported neurological symptoms in a legal notice to the Serum Institute. The company responded by threatening a defamation suit and demanding the trial volunteer pay about $13.7 million. While negative health effects from vaccine trials are rare, health experts said the Serum Institute risked fostering misinformation by appearing to punish somebody for speaking out.
Mr. Poonawalla said on Monday that the Serum Institute had submitted the additional information regulators had requested. It has denied that the problems reported by the trial participant in Chennai had anything to do with Covishield, but has declined to comment on accusations of trying to intimidate that person.
Indian officials have laid out an ambitious plan to inoculate the country’s huge population, which they have said would be the largest such effort in the country’s history.
India plans to begin a vaccination campaign in the first three months of the year that will cover about one-quarter of the population by August. The first 30 million people inoculated will be health care providers, then police and other frontline workers. For the remaining 270 million people, the authorities will focus on those over 50 or who have conditions that might make them more vulnerable.
The rest of the population will be immunized based on vaccine availability and the latest science.
India has long experience with inoculating its people. India’s first mass vaccination took place in 1802, to fight smallpox. Subsequent efforts suffered from misinformation and slow acceptance.
The country has made strides in recent years. In the fight against polio, government officials aimed information campaigns at religious leaders, helping to nearly eradicate the disease. According to one study, a mass measles vaccination campaign saved the lives of tens of thousands of children between 2010 and 2013.
For the coronavirus campaign, the national government has asked states to prepare vaccination strategies. Some have formed task forces at the state, district and block levels. Over 20,000 health workers in about 260 districts have been trained so far to administer the vaccine, the Indian Health Ministry said.
The government plans to use the framework of its universal immunization program for pregnant women and newborns — one of the largest and cheapest public health interventions in the world.
India’s civil aviation minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, said on Tuesday that airlines, airports and ground handlers had been asked to draw up plans for transporting vials of vaccines at cold temperatures.
This week, health workers in four Indian states carried out an exercise to iron out any wrinkles. Health officials in different places handed out over 100 placebo vaccine doses to trainers. They then tracked the doses’ temperatures through the journey from train depot to vaccination site, as well as the time and whether they reached the intended patients.
India will still need to improve its ability to store and move vaccines in temperature-controlled conditions — known as a cold chain network — as well as improving distribution methods and training new workers.
India may have to double the number of health workers from the current 2.5 million, said Thekkekara Jacob John, a senior virologist in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
“This is a herculean task,” Mr. John said of the vaccine effort. “And the challenge is not going to densely populated cities but the rural areas — home to real India.”
Government officials will also have to put a stop to rumor-mongering, he said. Chat groups on WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging service that is widely used in India, have already become home to misinformation about side effects.
One month ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged citizens to keep an eye out for those trying to spread rumors about the vaccine, which he called “anti-national and anti-human,” and urged politicians to help raise awareness.
Mr. Modi renewed that appeal on Thursday, casting the continuing fight against the virus as one against an unknown enemy.
“Be careful about rumors,” he said, “And as responsible citizens, refrain from forwarding messages on social media without checking.”
There’s a lot going on in “A Suitable Boy” — but the British import takes its time to unravel.
And it’s worth the wait.
The six-episode series, which premiered in July on BBC One, has now landed in the US on AMC-owned Acorn TV, which has exclusive American and Canadian rights. Directed by Oscar nominee Mira Nair (“Salaam Bombay!”), and based on Vikram Seth’s 1993 doorstop-of-a-bestseller (over 1,300 pages), it tracks the intertwined lives of several families in India and is set in 1951, four years after the end of British rule and the birth of Pakistan, as the series’ characters grapple (in various ways) with the countries’ newfound independence, class-conscious divisions and prejudiced views of one another.
At its core, though, “A Suitable Boy” is a love story that plays itself out in the different arcs of two characters, Lahta Mehra (Tanya Maniktala) and Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khatter).
The studious Lata falls in love with fellow university student Kabir Durrani (Danesh Razvi), much to her widowed mother’s horror. Kabir’s sin is that he’s Muslim, which is a no-no in Lata’s family because of the ongoing cultural and (sometimes) physically violent battles between the two cultures (played out here against the simmering backdrop of an Indian temple being built right next to a mosque). Worst of all, Kabir is not the “suitable boy” who’s supposed to be chosen for Lata in a pre-arranged, caste-system marriage in which she has no say. But times are changing and Lata is a rebel at heart — who’s ready to take control of her own life and buck tradition.
Then there’s Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khatter), the daydreaming, ne’er-do-well son of a respected government official who falls for the much-older Saeeda Bai (veteran actress Tabu). She’s a renowned singer with a “reputation,” which fuels his father’s fury. Why can’t Maan just follow in his older brother’s footsteps? (Translation: get a respectable job, settle down and have lots of children with a submissive wife).
It’s a lot to take in, and, early on, viewers will find themselves trying to figure out who’s who in the large ensemble cast, which includes brothers, sisters and friends of Lata, Kabir, Maan and Saeeda — all of whom, in one way or another, figure into the show’s plotline. But once the dust settles, each of the main characters come sharply into focus, thanks to crisp writing (“A Suitable Boy” was filmed in English with subtitles where applicable). It was also shot on location, mostly in the Lucknow, the capital of the Indian state Uttar Pradesh, and that lends an air of authenticity to what’s unfolding onscreen.
Maniktala has a winning presence as Lata — you’ll root for her through her various trials and tribulations — and the same goes for Khatter, who, as Maan, combines an impish sense of humor with a surprisingly touching sensitivity. They both start to travel down roads that will have significant consequences — not only for themselves, but for the others in their orbit.
Swami Agnivesh, a revered longtime campaigner against child labor and indentured servitude in India, died on Sept. 11 in New Delhi. He was 80.
His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by an associate, Zayauddin Jawed, who said the cause was multiple organ failure.
A pacifist Hindu monk who renounced worldly possessions and relations at a young age, Mr. Agnivesh led a decades-long crusade against village moneylenders, landlords and brick kiln owners who forced landless, debt-ridden farmers into bonded labor, or indentured servitude.
In 1981 he founded the Bandhua Mukti Morcha, or the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which he headed until his death. From 1994 to 2004, he was chairman of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.
“The country is diminished by his passing,” Shashi Tharoor, one of India’s most influential opposition politicians, wrote on Twitter.
Mr. Agnivesh was a prominent champion of many social justice causes and a trusted mediator when conflicts arose. He fought on behalf of tribal communities that had few rights to land ownership even though they populated much of the country’s forests. In the 1980s, when environmentalists objected to settling bonded laborers on protected forest land, he helped defuse the situation, working out a compromise whereby much of the forest would continue to be preserved.
In 2011, after Maoist rebels abducted five police officers, leading to an 18-day hostage crisis in Chhattisgarh state, in central India, he helped negotiate their release.
“He had a steely courage, and enormous compassion,” said Ramachandra Guha, a pre-eminent Indian historian who knew Mr. Agnivesh for over three decades.
In recent years, as Hindu nationalism continued to rise in India, Mr. Agnivesh was one of its biggest critics, saying the core values on which the republic was founded were under strain. He wrote last year, “The democratic space — where these values are meant to prevail — is communalized, polarized and poisoned with hate.”
John Dayal, a fellow human-rights activist, said of Mr. Agnivesh: “His main challenge was the fundamentalist Hindu.”
“The politicalizing of Hinduism and the hijacking of sacred symbolisms for political gains — he abhorred it all,” Mr. Dayal said.
Mr. Guha said he had admired Mr. Agnivesh’s “willingness to put his life on the line in defense of the inclusive and plural faith he himself practiced.”
Swami Agnivesh was born Vepa Shyam Rao on Sep. 21, 1939, into an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family in the Srikakulam district of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
His father, Vepa Laxmi Narsinham, a farmer, died when Mr. Agnivesh was 4 years old. His mother, Sita Devi, a homemaker, died a year later. After he lost his parents, he was brought up by his maternal grandfather. He left no immediate survivors.
Mr. Agnivesh studied law and commerce at the University of Calcutta and, after graduating, became a professor of management studies at St. Xavier’s College in the Indian state of West Bengal.
He briefly practiced law, but soon left to work in the northern states of Haryana and Punjab, both of them notorious for bonded labor. For his work against child labor there he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for humanitarian work in 2004, given by a Swedish-based foundation.
Mr. Agnivesh spent 14 months in jail after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a national emergency in 1975, jailing political opponents and activists.
He fought against Mrs. Gandhi’s Indian National Congress party, was elected to the state Legislative Assembly in Haryana and was named a cabinet minister in Haryana. But he served just four months, pushed out after he protested against his own government, demanding an inquiry into the killing of 10 workers in an industrial township in a clash with police.
That episode led him to devote his life to fighting bonded labor.
We knew right away that we were going to love Udaipur.
Known as one of the most romantic cities in India, Udaipur is breathtaking to look at.
Situated on Lake Pichola, buildings fit for a Maharana (king of kings) line the waterfront with architecture dating back to the 1500s. Domed rooftops and arched windows make for a storybook setting.
Days can be spent lounging on an oversized couch with big cushions gazing at the ghats (steps leading to the water) and daily life.
But there are so many things to do in Udaipur it would be a shame to laze all day long! So after relaxing for a few days, we set out to see Udaipur’s top attractions.
Things to do in Udaipur
Udaipur – India’s Romantic City
Udaipur was a place we could relax and recharge after some hectic travels throughout India.
Tourists dine on balconies and rooftop patios as they overlook the cityscape of pastel yellows and whites while couples stroll the street hand in hand browsing the markets and stalls for memories to take home.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of amazing things to do in Udaipur besides taking it easy.
We ended up seeing all the top attractions during our 10 days in the city and can honestly say that Udaipur was our favourite destination in India.
1. City Palace Museum
The city’s main attraction is the Udaipur City Palace, former home to the 19 Maharajas of Mewar. In 1969, the palace was opened as the City Palace Museum and the public was finally allowed a glimpse into the world of the Maharajas.
The City Palace complex is giant taking more than 400 years to complete! Being so massive, there are many things to explore.
Entering from the courtyard, you’ll see the Palace of Kings, the assembly hall, a gallery dedicated to the warrior Maharana Pratap, the garden palace, and many more buildings and courtyards.
The buildings blend beautifully with one another along the waterfront. Going inside the palace is a great way to spend the afternoon and it can take several hours to really explore.
Book a private Udaipur Sightseeing Tour that includes a guided tour of the City Palace Museum and Complex. Free cancellation with 24 hours notice and last minute bookings accepted.
2. Ranakpur Jain Temple
One of the most incredible places we visited in all of India was the Ranakpur Jain Temple. And it just so happens to be near Udaipur. It’s cheap and easy to hire a driver for a day to take you out to the Jain Temple and we highly recommend it. (drivers cost approximate 800Rs – $10 USD for 6-8 hours)
It is astounding to witness the 1444 hand-carved marble pillars. The massive temple covers an area of 48,000 square feet making it one of the largest in all of India.
Wandering the 29 halls is jaw dropping to see all the carved intricacies of the marble. The temple was started in the 15th century and took more than 50 years to complete.
Address: Desuri, Ranakpur Rd, Sadri, Rajasthan. 100km from Udaipur
3. Kumbhalgarh Fort
Why visit Kumbhalgarh Fort? Well, it has the second longest wall after the Great Wall of China!
But more than just its wall, it is also a fascinating place to visit in India. Dating back to the 15th century, it was the guardian of Rajasthan only falling once to the Mughals. This fort was the backbone of the Rajput Kingdom.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kumbhalgarh Fort is about two hours from Udaipur and can be included in a tour with the Jain Temple.
You can book a day tour from Udaipur to see both the Kumbhalgarh Fort and Ranakpur Jain Temple with GetYourGuide. Free cancellation with up to 24 hours notice.
4. Lake Pichola Sunset Cruise
Lake Pichola was created in 1362. Yes, you heard me correctly. It was created. Lake Pichola is man-made it was made nearly 700 years ago.
A boat trip along the lake is a must when visiting Udaipur.
The sunset is a beautiful time to witness the lake and boat trips take you to see Jag Niwas and Jag Mandir Palace on Jagmandir Island, Jag Niwas Island palace and of course the Lake Palace Hotel.
Book a Lake Pichola Cruise A private car will pick you up from all hotels in Udaipur for a sunset cruise of Lake Pichola. Easy cancellation and last minute bookings.
I can still remember the scene in the movie where James Bond stays at a hotel in the middle of the water.
I always wondered where such luxury could be sure enough it is right in the middle of Lake Pichola at the Lake Palace Hotel.
Originally named Jag Niwas Palace, it is hard to believe that it was built in the 18th century by Rana Jagat Singh II.
An absolutely stunning site of white decadence in the middle of this fairy tale setting.
Today it is a heritage five-star hotel. It is beautiful enough to see it from the water, but if you want to go inside, make a reservation for dinner to experience the grandeur of the Maharajas summer palace.
For pure luxury, book a romantic suite at Taj Lake Palace hotel for the ultimate in luxury in a historic destination.
6. Monsoon Palace
Being a James Bond fan, I was excited to visit Monsoon Palace, another filming location for Octopussy.
Also known as Sajjan Garh Palace, Monsoon Palace sits high on a hill offering panoramic views of Udaipur.
It was designed to keep track of monsoons (hence the name) and it contains 9 storied astronomical domes to view the skies.
The Sajjangarh Wildlife sanctuary surrounds Monsoon Palace covering 5.19 square kilometers which we didn’t go to.
Book a full day Udaipur Private City Tour to see the best of Udaipur in a single day. The Tour starts with a view from Monsoon Palace (Sajjangarh Palace) then visit the Udaipur City Palace, Jagdish temple, lotus pools and fountains at Saheliyon ki Bari and ending at Lake Pichola for an optional boat rid.
7. Karni Mata Temple
It is probably one of the strangest temples you will ever visit. And it is not for the faint of heart.
But if you are looking for something truly unique to do in Rajasthan, a visit to the Karni Mata Rat Temple is a must.
It is just a short drive from Udaipur and here you can visit the sacred rats of the temple who are believed to be reincarnated humans. If you keep an eye out for the white rat, you will have good luck!
8. Jagdish Temple
Jagdish Temple is one of the easiest temples in Udaipur as it is smack dab in the the Old City.
Go inside to see the God statues of Ganesh, Vishnu, and Garuda at Jagdesh temple. It is free to visit and locals with welcome you inside.
Standing 79 feet above Udaipur, you can’t miss it.
Like so many structures in India, Jagdish temple is old. The Maharana Jagat Singh had it build in 1651 during his reign from 1628 to 1653.
Be sure to dress properly. It’s a temple, so make sure your shoulders and knees are covered.
9. Shilpgram Festival
If you happen to be in Udaipur during December, you will be able to experience one of our favourite festivals of India.
The Shilpgram Festival lets you see local life of farmers, craftspeople and villagers.
Don’t worry if you aren’t there during the festival, Shilpgram is an ongoing craft village so you can still get a taste.
10. Lakes of Udaipur
Udaipur is known as the City of Lakes. Besides Lake Pichola, there are four other major lakes, Fateh Sagar Lake, Swaroop Sagar Lake, Doodh Talai Lake and Rangsagar Lake.
All of them were built by Maharajas from the 14th to the 19th centuries.
You can take boat rides on the lakes to view the various palaces, luxury hotels, temples or take walks along the stone walkways for a tranquil day on the water.
11. Hathi Pol Bazaar
Shopping in India is not for the faint of heart. The Hathi Pol Bazaar is Udaipurs most famous market and it is a busy place.
Famous for miniature paintings of Rajasthan, Hathi Pol Bazaar is a great place to get souvenirs of your stay in Udaipur.
Locals visit this market too, so you can count on quality being good and prices being fair.
12. Eklingji Temple
Eklingji Temple is another cool temple to visit in Udaipur.
The 72 Room Jain temple was dedicated to Lord Eklingji of the Mewar Clan. It is a very old temple dating back to 734 AD.
If you are temple hopping around Udaipur and Rajasthan, include this one on your list!
13. Hanuman Ghat
We stayed on the other side of the lake at Hanuman Ghat in the Old City and I highly recommend this location. It is far less busy and quieter than the main old city side.
An early morning stroll of Udaipur lets you glimpse local live by the water. Women wash their clothes on the ghats while others mingle in the morning fresh air.
Hanuman Ghat offers magnificent views of the Old Town however and if you make your way to the far southern pier for sunset you will witness the most stunning view in town.
14. Dining at a Rooftop Restaurant
Tourists dine on balconies and roof top patios as they overlook the cityscape of pastel yellows and creams.
For now we leave you enjoying views of this wonderful city in Rajasthan India that a person can find themselves spending too long in.
The people are too nice to leave and you feel that you have not only met some people on your travels, you feel that you have made a friend.
Suggested rooftop bars: Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel, Upre at the top of Pichola Hotel, Aravali Lakeview at the Radisson Blu, Baro Masi at Udai Kothi.
15. Hot Air Balloon Over Udaipur
We never pass up an opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride and Udaipur offers sunrise balloon rides.
If you are looking for something romantic to do in India’s most romantic city, this is it!
We didn’t do this but have done hot air balloon rides around the world and can say, they are very romantic.
The only company we have found in Udaipur that offers them is The Great Next.
16.Get Lost in the Old Town
One of our favorite things to do in Udaipur was to take a stroll through the old city out to the pier. People are very friendly in Udaipur and we met many new friends.
Sunset at the pier was a great place to meet the locals. I’ll never forget seeing the same man each evening and finally chatting with him. Chaupin was a retired teacher who did his evening exercises at sunset while waiting for his temple to open.
We had an excellent chat with him and learned of other thigns to do in Udaipur that we hadn’t thought of. Like the Shilpgram festival we mentioned above.
As the sun goes down, the Royal Palace complex lights up and the lights of it and the city reflect in the water making for incredible photographs.
Where to Stay in Udaipur
Staying in or near the old city of Udaipur is a good option as it has the best selection of hotels and is close to all of the Udaipur attractions. Along Lake Pichola is a great option as well, it is where we stayed and we loved it.
We use Booking.com or TripAdvisor to book hotels. View their Udaipur hotels to find the right one for you.
Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel, Udaipur
Affordable 3 star luxury hotel in a 17th century haveli (mansion). Offers Ayurvedic massages and rooftop dining.
Check reviews and availability TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Shiv Niwa Palace
Mid Range Luxury was built during the reign of Maharana Fateh Singh and used for visiting dignitaries. Today it is a heritage hotel with swimming pool, and rooms overlooking Lake Pichola.
Check reviews and availability TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Taj Lake Palace
The ultimate luxury hotel and historic site. For the true romantic Udaipur experience, a night or two here will be one you’ll never forget. Located in the Middle of Lake Pichola, it includes butler service, fine dining and full amenities.
Check reviews and availability TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Rickshaws are cheap to get around. A rickshaw can start at 800 Rupee ($10 for an entire day hire)
We hired a rickshaw from the train station for 75 Rupee. Expect to pay around 100 Rupee for a ride.
You can watch Octopussy anywhere at 7:00 pm and relive your childhood obsession with Roger Moore’s James Bond (or is that just me?)
make sure to get a room where the windows can close. We only had screens in our windows overlooking the lake. It was safe but noisy. Women beat their clothes daily and it is like a loud tennis match going on all day long. Plus the mosques and temples can be very loud.
Read: 10 Things that will Ruin Your Sleep in India
City Palace charges 200 Rs for a camera and Rs. 500 for Video Camera.
Entrance fee is 250 RS
1 USD = 44 Rs
About The Planet D
Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.
The austere building is hardly distinguishable in the landscape of glass and concrete buildings making up Asia’s Silicon Valley, as Hyderabad, India, is known. It is one of Amazon’s latest developments, the online retailer’s largest office building in the world.
With plans to cement its place as the center of gravity around which online retail revolves, Amazon has turned to India, the world’s fastest-growing market for internet users. And it has picked Hyderabad, a city of nearly 10 million in India’s south, as its base of operations there.
But the project faces challenges, including pushback from local businesses and politicians.
“Hyderabad is a known software tech talent center, and the government has been an enabler for us to have a campus this size,” said Minari Shah, an Amazon spokeswoman. “This is an important confirmation of how India continues to be important to Amazon.”
Over the last decade, the technology behemoth has woven itself into the fabric of Indian life. And now, four years after construction began, the Hyderabad office, Amazon’s first fully owned office outside the United States, joins 40 other offices, 67 shipping centers, 1,400 delivery stations and a work force of more than 60,000 (plus 155,000 contractors) in the country.
The record size of the building — 1.8 million square feet — and the total campus area are equal to nearly 65 football fields. They have come to symbolize a defining feature of India’s booming tech industry: the inexorable presence of international tech companies.
When Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, visited India in January, he was met with an antitrust case by Indian regulators, who are investigating Amazon and the Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart, which is owned largely by Walmart.
India bans foreign direct investment in retail, a shift from policy in the United States and Britain. By law, Amazon and other foreign-owned e-commerce firms are required to be neutral marketplaces reliant on independent sellers.
But Praveen Khandelwal, founder and general secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders, which oversees 70 million traders and 40,000 trade associations, argues that the firm has hurt domestic trade, resulting in the closure of thousands of homegrown businesses across the country.
Amazon’s new Hyderabad office, he said, is merely a way to “push for control and dominance over Indian retail trade in a more structured way.” Mr. Khandelwal led protests against Amazon’s trade practices this year.
India’s retail regulator is investigating Amazon over allegations that it is using deep discounts and preferred sellers, said Satish Meena, a senior analyst for the global technology research firm Forrester.
“There are loopholes they’re exploiting; everyone knows that,” Mr. Meena said.
The challenges emerging in India echo stories in the United States, where American tech giants have squeezed smaller rivals and business owners. Amazon is facing antitrust charges in the European Union, and Mr. Bezos and other tech titans were grilled by U.S. lawmakers in July about their anticompetitive practices.
Amazon’s 15-story Hyderabad office opened last year. It features prayer rooms, a small synthetic cricket pitch, 49 elevators, a helipad and a cafeteria open 24 hours a day on a campus that, according to the company, is made of 2.5 times more steel than the Eiffel Tower. It’s home to 7,000 employees out of an expected work force of 15,000, largely comprising technology teams focused on using machine learning and software development to innovate services — such as Amazon Pay’s cash load service for digital transactions in a country with 190 million citizens that do not use banks — as well as customer service workers.
Representatives for Amazon declined to comment on the cost of the development, but revealed to Bloomberg that it cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” to build. (The campus is Amazon’s largest, but the company plans to open a second headquarters in Arlington, Va., which could be as large as eight million square feet.)
Amazon and Flipkart bill themselves as e-commerce marketplaces, matching buyers with independent sellers. That has enabled Amazon to sell products by sellers such as Cloudtail, at prices lower than independent sellers.
The impact of Amazon’s strategy has been noted. For the past couple of years, Satinder Wadhwa has struggled to keep his business alive in Greater Kailash, South Delhi, amid the growth of online retail. His specialty watch store, Time & Style, used to be filled with throngs of locals. Now, Mr. Wadhwa estimates he gets half as many customers.
“People have stopped coming to the market; that means they’re buying online,” Mr. Wadhwa said. “If they’re getting a better price and delivery at home, why will they come to us?”
It’s a question many business owners across India are asking. “Amazon is financially strong, their reach is strong,” Mr. Wadhwa said.
Since construction on the Hyderabad office began in 2016, Amazon made some promising appeals to locals: It started an Amazon Fresh store for grocery delivery in Bangalore. It also started Prime Reading with books in Hindi and Tamil, and introduced an online pharmacy amid the pandemic.
The retail behemoth’s desire for expansion is easy to explain. India’s e-commerce industry is still in its infancy, nearing 120 million online shoppers in 2018 out of a population of more than one billion.
In 2018, Amazon was the second-largest online retailer in India, trailing Flipkart, with 32 percent market share (compared with 41 percent in the United States). And analysts at Forrester predict e-commerce sales in the country will reach nearly $86 billion by 2024.
As India’s reliance on international tech companies grows, the recent antitrust investigation is only the latest in a chain of events that has led the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to rein in foreign investment.
Mr. Meena says there is a panic among local sellers, who feel they are being pushed out of the marketplace as others are given preference, and are now seeing the government raise questions about large tech companies’ business practices only after they have developed their own e-commerce platforms.
To circumvent the latest wave of unrest, Mr. Bezos announced a $1 billion investment during his visit in January to help small and midsize businesses bolster their online growth. It follows Amazon’s promise of $5 billion in investments in the country in 2016, and another $500 million pledged in food e-commerce the next year.
Since the pandemic, however, with e-commerce as the only channel for selling products for months, more small businesses are realizing the potential in working with companies such as Amazon and Flipkart, Mr. Meena added.
Within the United States, the European Union and now India, Amazon’s ascendancy as a retail giant has been met with antitrust investigations and increased scrutiny over data and tax regulations. But the backlash is hardly a problem for Amazon, Mr. Meena said.
“It’s not only in India; they will face challenges from regulators all over the world,” he said, adding that Amazon was likely to serve as a blueprint for other international retailers.
“Ultimately, they think they have enough value and time to capture the Indian market,” he said. “That’s what they are hoping for.”
NEW DELHI — After spending several anxious days in prison, Natasha Narwal, a student activist accused of rioting by the New Delhi police, thought her ordeal was nearing an end.
A judge ruled that Ms. Narwal had been exercising her democratic rights when she participated in protests earlier this year against a divisive citizenship law that incited unrest across India.
But shortly after the judge approved Ms. Narwal’s release in late May, the police announced fresh charges: murder, terrorism and organizing protests that instigated deadly religious violence in India’s capital. Ms. Narwal, 32, who has said that she is innocent, was returned to her cell.
“I felt like crying,” said her roommate, Vikramaditya Sahai. “We are grieving the country we grew up in.”
As India struggles to quell surging coronavirus infections, lawyers accuse the authorities of seizing on the pandemic as an opportunity to round up critics of the government who are protesting what they see as iron-fisted and anti-minority policies under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In recent weeks, Ms. Narwal and nearly a dozen other prominent activists — along with potentially dozens of other demonstrators, though police records are unclear — have been detained. They are being held under stringent sedition and antiterrorism laws that have been used to criminalize everything from leading rallies to posting political messages on social media.
India’s coronavirus restrictions, some of which are still in effect, have blocked pathways to justice, lawyers and rights activists say. With courts closed for weeks, lawyers have struggled to file bail applications, and meeting privately with prisoners has been nearly impossible.
Law enforcement officials in New Delhi, who are under the direct control of India’s home ministry, have denied any impropriety. But rights groups say the arrests have been arbitrary, based on scant evidence and in line with a broader deterioration of free speech in India.
In a lengthy report released this month, the Delhi Minorities Commission, a government body, accused the police and politicians from Mr. Modi’s party of inciting brutal attacks on protesters and supporting a “pogrom” against minority Muslims.
Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said cases against the activists appeared to be “politically motivated,” and that the police have devised a formula for keeping people like Ms. Narwal in jail: When a judge orders the release of a prisoner for lack of evidence, new charges are introduced.
“The urgency to arrest rights activists and an obvious reluctance to act against violent actions of the government’s supporters show a complete breakdown in the rule of law,” she said.
Before the pandemic hit, Mr. Modi was in the throes of the most significant challenge to his power since becoming prime minister in 2014. After Parliament passed a law last year that made it easier for non-Muslim migrants to become Indian citizens, millions protested across the country.
To critics, the citizenship law was more evidence that Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist government planned to strip the country’s Muslims of their rights.
Tensions peaked in February when sectarian violence and rioting broke out in New Delhi. The vast majority of people killed, hurt or displaced were Muslim, and the police were involved in many of those cases.
After Mr. Modi announced a nationwide lockdown in late March to contain the coronavirus, shutting down businesses and ordering all 1.3 billion Indians inside, the protests disbanded. Lawyers said the police then moved to detain demonstrators while skirting complaints against government allies.
Among those in custody are a youth activist who raised awareness about police brutality against Muslims; an academic who gave a speech opposing the citizenship law; and Ms. Narwal, a graduate student who co-founded Pinjra Tod, or Break the Cage, a women’s collective that organized some of the largest rallies.
Nitika Khaitan, a criminal lawyer, said the crackdown has also pushed beyond higher-profile critics to include ordinary residents living in riot-hit neighborhoods. She recently challenged those arrests in a jointly signed letter to the Delhi High Court.
Lawyers have tracked a few dozen such arrests under the lockdown, though Ms. Khaitan said the true figure could not be verified because police reports have not been made public. Many detentions were “not in compliance with constitutional mandates,” she said.
In a recent interview, Sachidanand Shrivastava, the police chief in New Delhi, said his officers were conducting fair investigations.
In May, the authorities said they had detained about 1,300 people for involvement in the protests and riots, including an equal number of Hindus and Muslims. Recently, the police arrested a group of Hindus for forcing nine Muslim men to chant “Hail Lord Ram,” a reference to a Hindu god, before killing them and throwing their bodies into a drain.
“It is very important that the police force remain impartial,” Mr. Shrivastava said. “And we are following this principle from Day 1.”
But members of India’s judiciary have questioned the official numbers, accusing the police of withholding information about the arrests under national security protections and singling out Muslims for many of the harsher charges.
In court proceeding notes reviewed by The Times, a judge hearing a case against a Muslim protester wrote that the police appeared to only be targeting “one end” without probing the “rival faction.” During the riots, the police were accused of abetting Hindus and, in some cases, torturing Muslims.
Khalid Saifi, a member of United Against Hate, a group that works with victims of hate crimes, was arrested after he tried to mediate between the police and protesters, according to his lawyers.
The police charged him with being a “key conspirator” of the riots. His wife, Nargis Saifi, said he was tortured in custody.
“His only crime is he is a Muslim,” she said.
M.S. Randhawa, a police spokesman, denied that Mr. Saifi had been tortured, adding that he has regular opportunities to speak to a judge if abuse occurs.
“These are just allegations,” Mr. Randhawa said. “He would have told the magistrate if he had been tortured.”
But rights advocates accuse Mr. Modi’s government of shielding party officials — and more broadly, of Hindus involved in the violence.
Ms. Narwal, who was detained in May, could face at least several years in prison for helping organize demonstrations that blocked a busy road in northeast Delhi, where February’s bloodiest battles between Hindus and Muslims broke out.
At the same time, the police have been accused of ignoring complaints against Kapil Mishra, a local politician with Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party who gave a fiery speech threatening to forcibly remove Ms. Narwal and other protesters if the authorities did not take action.
Hours after the ultimatum, the streets erupted. But charges were never filed against Mr. Mishra, who has denied a role in starting the riots.
A New Delhi police superintendent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said some officers had wanted to act against Mr. Mishra, but they were pressured by the force’s leadership not to touch “the warriors of the government.”
“We did not even try,” the superintendent said. “The directions were clear: Don’t lay your hands on him.”
Through an intermediary, Mr. Mishra declined to comment.
Ms. Narwal’s father, Mahavir Narwal, said the government was moving India closer to authoritarianism and demonizing anybody who questioned their policies.
For weeks, prison officials ignored his calls and emails to Tihar Jail, where Ms. Narwal is being held. With coronavirus restrictions in place, she was moved into an isolation ward at one point, where she stayed for 17 days, said Mr. Narwal, a retired scientist.
Lately, communication has smoothed out. But Mr. Narwal said the subtext of his daughter’s arrest seemed clear: “If you protest, you will be called a terrorist.”
“All she did was fight to keep the soul of India alive,” he said.