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Lauren Frayer

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.

Before moving to India, Lauren was a regular freelance contributor to NPR for seven years, based in Madrid. During that time, she substituted for NPR bureau chiefs in Seoul, London, Istanbul, Islamabad, and Jerusalem. She also served as a guest host of Weekend Edition Sunday.

In Europe, Lauren chronicled the economic crisis in Spain & Portugal, where youth unemployment spiked above 50%. She profiled a Portuguese opera singer-turned protest leader, and a 90-year-old survivor of the Spanish Civil War, exhuming her father's remains from a 1930s-era mass grave. From Paris, Lauren reported live on NPR's Morning Edition, as French police moved in on the Charlie Hebdo terror suspects. In the fall of 2015, Lauren spent nearly two months covering the flow of migrants & refugees across Hungary & the Balkans – and profiled a Syrian rapper among them. She interviewed a Holocaust survivor who owed his life to one kind stranger, and managed to get a rare interview with the Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders – by sticking her microphone between his bodyguards in the Hague.

Farther afield, she introduced NPR listeners to a Pakistani TV evangelist, a Palestinian surfer girl in Gaza, and K-pop performers campaigning in South Korea's presidential election.

Lauren has also contributed to The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the BBC.

Her international career began in the Middle East, where she was an editor on the Associated Press' Middle East regional desk in Cairo, and covered the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Syria and southern Lebanon. In 2007, she spent a year embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, an assignment for which the AP nominated her and her colleagues for a Pulitzer Prize.

On a break from journalism, Lauren drove a Land Rover across Africa for a year, from Cairo to Cape Town, sleeping in a tent on the car's roof. She once made the front page of a Pakistani newspaper, simply for being a woman commuting to work in Islamabad on a bicycle.

Born and raised in a suburb of New York City, Lauren holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy from The College of William & Mary in Virginia. She speaks Spanish, Portuguese, rusty French and Arabic, and is now learning Hindi.

Tobiron Nessa has lived in the same impoverished village in northeast India all her life. So has her husband. They married young and raised five children, and now, at age 45, Nessa is about to become a grandmother.

But she has suddenly found herself in an unexpected predicament: Nessa is now the only one in her immediate family whom the Indian government recognizes as a citizen. Her husband and five children have all been left off the National Register of Citizens.

Before dawn, men gather in a suburban Mumbai park to play team-building games, meditate, chant Sanskrit mantras from Hindu scripture and salute a saffron-orange flag — the color, sacred to Hindus, of robes worn by Hindu monks.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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In India, Ayurveda Is A Booming Business

Apr 28, 2019

Outside a barn in a jungle north of Mumbai, dozens of cows roam in the shade of mango trees and palm fronds. They're doted on by the farm's caretaker, a Hindu monk draped in white robes.

Cows are sacred to Hindus. Saved from slaughter, they live out their days in tranquility at shelters like this across India, courtesy of donations made by worshipers at temples.

At 80, Syed Ikhlaq Latifi's face is lined and leathery, with a stark white beard. But he's still able to scramble up three flights of stairs to his roof to describe what he watched from there, in horror, nearly 30 years ago.

On Dec. 6, 1992, a mob broke through barricades around the Babri Masjid, a 16th century mosque in Latifi's hometown of Ayodhya in northern India. He points to where the mosque's three massive stone domes used to be. It's now an open, dusty lot, as wide as a football field, lined with barbed wire.

A husband and wife. A pair of brothers from a wealthy, upper-class family. A man with a law degree. Another who studied in the United Kingdom and did postgraduate work in Australia, before coming home to settle down in his native Sri Lanka.

Those are the profiles emerging Wednesday, according to Sri Lankan officials and local media, of the suicide bombers who killed more than 350 people in sophisticated, coordinated attacks on churches and hotels there on Easter Sunday. If the Islamic State's claim of responsibility is true, it would be the group's deadliest terror attack.

Tens of millions of Hindus took a ritual dip in the Ganges River this winter as part of the largest religious festival in the world — the Kumbh Mela. For centuries, the festival has been held in various cities in northern India, including Allahabad.

But when pilgrims arrived this year for the Kumbh Mela, Allahabad had a different name.

Updated at 2:15 a.m. ET Tuesday

Police in Sri Lanka have arrested 40 suspects since a wave of deadly suicide attacks Sunday killed more than 300 people and wounded hundreds more. President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday granted the military sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects.

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Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Indian elections are often called the world's largest exercise in democracy. This month, nearly 900 million voters are eligible to cast ballots in national elections that started Thursday and will continue for more than five weeks.

They are deciding whether or not to re-elect Prime Minister Narendra Modi and members of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.

Their votes will also make clear the country's level of support for a growing trend in India's politics: Hindu nationalism.

An hour after sunrise in India on Thursday, the world's largest exercise of democracy got underway. That's when polls opened on the first day of voting in Indian elections.

A nationwide election in India is a massive undertaking — with a population of 1.3 billion and nearly 900 million eligible voters. This year, there are 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs, including that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who's running for a second term.

In a Himalayan valley surrounded by military barracks, blasts of artillery fire often reverberate across the icy mountain peaks. This is one of the world's longest-running conflict zones. It's near where India and Pakistan recently traded airstrikes. So it's not unusual to see helicopters buzzing overhead.

But on a morning in early February, one particular chopper was not part of the conflict.

An Indian fighter pilot shot down and captured by Pakistan has been released in a goodwill gesture that could defuse the gravest crisis in the disputed India-Pakistan border region in years.

Updated at 4:53 p.m. ET

In a dramatic escalation of violence over their shared Himalayan border, India and Pakistan both claimed Wednesday to have shot down each other's fighter jets, and video emerged of a bloodied, blindfolded Indian pilot in Pakistani custody.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

India says its fighter jets crossed a disputed border as they headed into Pakistan before dawn Tuesday, conducting airstrikes on a militant training camp and killing "a very large number of terrorists."

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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They play soccer in a disputed Himalayan valley prone to car bombs, strikes and heavy snow. Soldiers with machine guns patrol their home stadium. Players sometimes have to arrive at practice three hours early to avoid police curfews. Their team is less than three years old, with a budget that's one-tenth that of some of their competitors.

Updated at 5 a.m. ET Sunday

After long days picking leaves on tea plantations in India's remote northeast, some laborers like to relax with a glass of cheap, strong, locally-brewed liquor. Most can't afford the brand-name stuff.

But Indian authorities reportedly say at least 150 people have died and some 200 others are hospitalized after drinking tainted alcohol there in recent days. Some are in critical condition.

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke with protocol to greet the Saudi crown prince on the airport tarmac this week in New Delhi – with a big bear hug and a bouquet of flowers – it stirred a range of emotions across India.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised a "befitting reply" for perpetrators and their supporters in the wake of a bombing in Kashmir described as the deadliest in three decades that killed at least 40 Indian police troops and wounded nearly 20 more.

In the attack on Thursday on the outskirts of Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle with explosives into caravan carrying paramilitary troopers.

Onion farmer Sanjay Sathe was so disappointed with how little he made from his recent harvest that he decided to pull a stunt: He sent a money order for his entire profit — a paltry $15 — to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who's running for re-election this spring. Sathe wanted to show him the meager earnings that Indian farmers must live on.

Shivering and blue-lipped but smiling, Niraj Shukla emerged from the Ganges River this week, flanked by his parents and millions of other people, feeling renewed.

"The water is very cold, but once you have a bath – it's sort of a miracle, you know?" said Shukla, a 32-year-old engineer who lives in India's capital New Delhi.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Protests erupted in southern India this week...

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in foreign language).

A few years ago, Veena had a problem: She couldn't find anyone willing to pick her coconuts.

Veena is a 37-year-old housewife who, like many people in South India, goes by one name. She lives on a small family farm in Kerala, dotted with coconut palms.

Kerala — "land of coconuts" in the local language, Malayalam — used to have plenty of coconut pickers for hire. They were usually lower caste men who'd shimmy up the trees and pick the nuts for a fee.

Hindu men swathed in black sarongs, their faces painted and chests strewn with beads, trek through the jungles of southwest India, carrying provisions in bundles on top of their heads. They come from all over India, and the world, to visit an ancient temple inside a tiger reserve in the state of Kerala. They travel the final 3 miles on foot, and some walk for the entire 50-mile approach.

The narrow lane that leads to what may be India's most infamous convent winds past spindly coconut palms and fat banana leaves flapping in the breeze. Tropical bird calls break through the muffled drone of female voices praying inside a house with pink stucco columns.

The bucolic setting, in the jungle of India's southwestern Kerala state, is home to about a dozen Roman Catholic nuns who belong to the Missionaries of Jesus order. But their peace has been shattered by what allegedly happened here between 2014 and 2016.

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