Julie McCarthy | WYPR

Julie McCarthy

As China's clout in the Asia-Pacific region rises, the United States is wooing India into a closer embrace.

Standing beside Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during his maiden visit to South Asia as secretary of state this week, Rex Tillerson said the United States "supports India's emergence as a leading power."

On a recent weekday, Vamsi Komarala guides me up to the rooftop of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, where he teaches physics. Fields of solar panels adorn the buildings.

I swipe an index finger across one of the panels to see if weeks of monsoon rains have washed it clean. My finger comes back filthy with grit.

Vamsi tells me the panels are washed twice a week, then explains the grime: "That is because in New Delhi, we have a lot of dust."

Promila Saigal remembers the men in her family tossing her "like a football" from the rooftop of one family home to the next, in a bid to save her from the frenzy that washed over the Indian subcontinent 70 years ago.

Saigal was just six when the events of India's Partition pressed in around her Hindu family's compound in Lahore.

"I remember very clearly, outside the main road, a mob had collected at 12 o'clock in the night. And they woke us up," she says.

India announced the election of its new president Thursday — but before Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party nominated him last month to be head of state, few saw Ram Nath Kovind coming.

Kovind secured 65 percent of the votes from an electoral college drawn from more than 4,000 members of 31 legislative assemblies across the country and 776 members of Parliament. He will take office as India's14th president next week.

Updated at 10:50 a.m. July 11

In a cold, isolated Himalayan plateau where three countries converge, an old rivalry is heating up.

New Delhi and Beijing are locked in heated verbal exchanges over what each sees as encroachment onto a particularly sensitive spot: the tri-junction where India, China, and Bhutan converge. All three are parties to the simmering dispute.

Small cradles of chrysanthemums, illuminated by a single candle, flicker in the moonlight, bobbing along the fast-flowing Ganges River.

They are offerings. For hundreds of millions of Hindus around the world, the river is the goddess Ganga, or Mother Ganga, who descended to Earth from her home in the Milky Way.

Devotees murmur prayers and chant her praises in riverside cities along their ghats, the cement embankments that lead into the river.

As India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the U.S. over the weekend, President Trump tweeted a warm welcome, calling the Indian leader "a true friend." The two are meeting for the first time at the White House Monday afternoon, Modi having arrived for a brief, two-day call — not a state visit, but a working one.

Perhaps that's fitting, as there is so much in the relationship to work on.

Madeshwaran Subramani is the human face of IT disruption in India. He recalls being recently summoned to the HR office of his employer in southern city of Coimbatore at 11 a.m. By noon, the 29-year-old software engineer was out of a job. He worked for Cognizant Technology, a U.S.-based firm with offices in India.

Typically, India's Bollywood film industry depicts older women as maternal and virtuous. Younger ones often are eye candy, propping up male leads. But a recent crop of films is showing more complex female characters, training a spotlight exclusively on the lives of women — and, even more unusually, on their sexuality.

In India, Hindu nationalists have swept recent elections, and flush from victory, stand accused of using vigilantism to promote a Hindu way of life for all Indians.

At a buffalo market outside the town of Nasirabad in central Rajasthan, transporters say Hindu vigilantes have targeted them on rumors that they have sold, bought, or killed cows for beef.

A holy man, recently installed as the chief minister of India's largest state, is stirring things up. A meat crackdown began within 48 hours of Yogi Adityanath assuming office. Critics say this has antagonized the country's largest religious minority: its Muslims.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Married at 14 and divorced by 16, Seema Parveen had a marriage as brutal as it was short.

Now 42, Parveen remembers her husband threatening to hurl her from the balcony of their home. She blinks back tears recalling his rage when she bore him a daughter and not a son.

Late last year, India sought to force people with large amounts of cash stashed away to deposit it in bank accounts. It was a tax-collecting exercise to get people to disclose unreported wealth and pay up.

The government credits the move for a 12 percent increase in tax collections from the previous year.

Ever since Genghis Khan used tree bark as legal tender and backed it up by threatening anyone who didn't use it with death, governments have manipulated paper money to suit their purposes.

When India abolished its highest-value rupee notes last November, it sought to rein in hoarders of big bills who evade tax. However, the move sucked so much cash out of circulation that it destroyed the wages of millions of Indians who earn in cash, and deprived millions more of access to their money.

One of the biggest-ever overseas successes for Disney is grounded in a real-life story out of India.

In November, India's government declared all high-value currency invalid and withdrew them from circulation. Starved of cash, the economy seized up.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Imagine living in a world where you need cash to buy virtually everything — from food to clothes to a new home. Yet you have no cash. The best you can do is stand in line at the bank for hours in the hope of withdrawing a small amount of paper money.

Maybe you could use a smartphone to pay for goods — only you're too poor to afford one.

Welcome to India, land of the cash crunch.

The Trump Organization has more interests in India — at least five — than anywhere else outside North America. With an ever-increasing taste for luxury, India offers the Trump brand a lucrative market, no matter who runs the company after President-elect Donald Trump separates from his global enterprises, as he's said he would do.

Gautam Lewis has had the sort of life that could spring from the pages of a fairy tale.

Afflicted with polio at 18 months, he was taken in by Mother Teresa when he was 3. He doesn't know all the details of how he came to live at her Home for Children in Kolkata, but he does speak of the courage his family must have had to give him up.

In an amateur video, four frightened men, stripped to the waist and tethered to a truck, are publicly flogged on a busy street in broad daylight.

Their assailants accused the four men of killing a cow — a sacred animal in India. Calling themselves protectors of the cow, they filmed themselves beating the foursome with iron rods and wooden sticks on July 11 — then posted their video on social media.

The move has sent shockwaves across India's financial sector: Raghuram Rajan, the governor of India's Reserve Bank who's been buffeted by political attacks, announced that he will be leaving. The 53-year old economist had said he was open to a second term, but will instead be returning to academia in the United States when his three-year tenure is up in September.

There has been intense speculation about whether Rajan, who had been appointed Reserve Bank chief by the previous government, would serve a second term under the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

With near universal literacy and long life expectancy, the small Indian state of Kerala is a model for the rest of India.

In recent weeks, however, the small state tucked at the bottom of the country has been in the spotlight for what its glowing human development indicators do not reveal.

It sometimes takes an awful event to uncover maladies beneath the surface, and here, it was the savage murder of an underprivileged law student.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

A drone buzzes a half-mile above the earth in the drought-stricken Indian state of Maharashtra. It's beaming back live video to photographer Raju Shinde. "I've been shooting this area for the last decade," he says, "observing the changes."

They are profound.

Tukaram Jadhav was barely surviving off of his tiny cotton farm when he killed himself last September. His widow, a petite mother of two, pulls her purple sari tightly around her, and says she discovered her husband as he lay dying.

"I was the one who found him. I was sleeping and woke up to the powerful smell of pesticides that we use to farm," Bhagyashree Jadhav says. She says she thought there had been a spill. "I asked my husband if he smelled it, then I realized he couldn't speak. He'd swallowed the pesticide." Tukaram languished in the hospital for two days before dying.

A fire crackles along the banks of the Yamuna River: a cremation of a young mother, struck by a car while she was fetching water.

The stench of the river engulfs the sad assembly.

Before the hissing funeral pyre, floating down the river, white blocks of what looks like detergent appear like icebergs. It is 95 degrees in Delhi this night. This is chemical waste from factories that have sprung up across the city, manufacturing leather goods, dyes and other goods.

Downstream, the living reside along garbage-strewn banks.

Early morning light filters into the cavernous gymnasium as Neetu lunges, climbs and contorts her body into impossible positions. She shimmies up a thick rope that dangles from the two-story ceiling, her heavily muscled arms propelling her upward. She races through calisthenics with 25 other young women in the boot camp atmosphere of Chhotu Ram Stadium and Wrestling Center, in the Indian state of Haryana, known for its wrestling tradition.

The grueling twice-a-day practice– 4 hours in the morning and 3 1/2 in the afternoon-- is her ordinary routine.

Vijay Mallya is one of India's most flamboyant business figures, known as a liquor baron, an airline owner, and a man who reportedly owns 250 vintage cars.

But Mallya, 60, is now known as a debtor who is being pursued by banks to recover the mountain of debt he has accrued. He left the country on March 2, just as some 17 banks were closing in on him for payment of delinquent loans totaling the equivalent of nearly $1.5 billion.

The local media are calling it the "Robin Hood" budget. The government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, eager to win support among the urban and rural poor, is announcing programs to improve conditions for low-income people and provide tax breaks for necessities and items that might improve their lives.

Meanwhile, to bring in more funds for government spending, there are now higher taxes for luxury items.

India has deployed thousands of army and paramilitary troops to quell violence that authorities say has killed at least 10 people in the northern Indian state of Haryana. A caste known as the Jats is leading the unrest to demand affirmative-action benefits from the government.

Jats make up more than a quarter of Haryana's 25 million people. They seek to be included in the official category of "Other Backward Classes."

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