MCI (P) 078/03/2019
SINGAPORE, WEEKEND OF FRIDAY,
MAY 17, 2019
‘I’M THE ORIGINAL,
HOPES TO PROVE
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Singaporean Ruby Shekhar has built a worldwide
community of almost 12,000 sari lovers
FROM PAGES 16 TO 19
D eli v ery
Ms Ruby Shekhar (left) and followers of Demure Drapes Facebook page celebrating Singapore’s bicentennial.
REPORT ON PAGES 6 & 7
Museum on Mughals, war
memorial to open in Red Fort
A museum displaying the government’s
historical and rare collections of
Mughal antiquities and the Indian War
Memorial will soon add to the array of
British barrack buildings, redeveloped
as museums, in the Red Fort in Delhi. It
could open by 2019 end.
The announcement, coming ahead
of the International Museum Day on
May 18, was made by leading art
gallery DAG, which won the bidding
conducted by the Archaeological
Survey of India.
India to extend ban on LTTE
The Indian government has extended
for another five years its ban on the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE), which assassinated former
Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in
1991, it was announced on Tuesday.
“The LTTE’s continued violent and
disruptive activities are prejudicial to
the integrity and sovereignty of India;
and it continues to adopt a strong
anti-India posture and pose a grave
threat to the security of Indian
nationals,” the announcement said.
The LTTE, which was described as a
militant and political organisation, has
been blamed for the May 1991 suicide
bombing at an election rally near
Chennai which killed Rajiv Gandhi and
several others, prompting one of the
biggest crackdowns in India.
Tension in Kolkata as election
violence breaks out
Clashes broke out in Kolkata on
Tuesday evening as the mega rally of
Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit
Shah passed through the north Kolkata
According to eye witnesses, the
clashes were triggered after students
presumably from the Trinamool
Congress’ students’ wing of Vidyasagar
College held up “Go back, Amit Shah”
posters when his roadshow passed the
The first floor hall of the college was
ransacked and at least three
motorcycles were set on fire. Several
people, mostly Trinamool Congress
supporters, were injured.
At least 300 Himalayan yaks
starve to death
Indian officials said that at least 300
yaks (a large domesticated wild ox)
starved to death in a remote Himalayan
valley after a bout of unusually harsh
Officials in Sikkim said they received
the first distress call from 50 people in
the remote Mukuthang Valley in
December last year.
Following very heavy snowfall the
residents asked for help providing feed
for their herd of around 1,500 yaks, a
source of local milk, milk products,
transportation and wool.
Local official Raj Kumar Yadav said
several attempts to reach them were
made but it was impossible because of
the weather conditions.
Local families have reported the
deaths of 500 yaks due to starvation,
while 50 yaks are receiving urgent
Glucose, milk poured into Yamuna
Environment activists in Agra
symbolically poured glucose and milk
into the “dying and sick” Yamuna river
in Agra to raise awareness about the
chronic pollution plaguing the river.
Several members of the River
Connect Campaign gathered by the
Yamuna to express their concern for the
sacred river, considered to be almost
“dead” due to pollutants and effluents.
They offered boxes of glucose and
milk to “Yamuna Maiyya” (mother
Yamuna) on the occasion of Mothers’
It was also aimed at showing their
affinity and bonding with the lifeline of
the historic city.
“Unfortunately, the river has been
reduced to a vast sewage canal,” social
activist Shravan Kumar Singh said.
Grenade blast in Assam
At least 10 people were wounded in a
grenade explosion in Assam on Wednes-
day but no militant group has so far
claimed responsibility for the attack, po-
“It was a grenade blast probably tar-
geted against security personnel con-
ducting routine patrols in the area,”
said Deepak Kumar, police commis-
sioner in Assam’s capital Guwahati.
The blast in a busy street in Guwa-
hati occurred at night and those injured
included two police officers and eight
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‘Art of camouflage
A photograph of a snow leopard clicked by
wildlife photographer Saurabh Desai has
gone viral on social media after many
netizens found it hard to spot the animal on
a rocky mountain with patches of snow.
Mr Desai, who clicked the photograph
during his visit to the Spiti Valley in
Himachal Pradesh, shared the image on his
Instagram account with the caption “Art of
The image soon went viral, garnering
over 14,000 likes. Many netizens found it
difficult to spot the camouflaged leopard and
challenged their friends to do the same.
Mr Desai visited the Kibber village,
believed to be the highest motorable village
in the world, and caught a glimpse of the
snow leopard 8km from the village.
Cheap tools help parties bypass WhatsApp
WhatsApp clones and software tools
that cost as little as Rs1,000 ($19.50)
are helping Indian digital marketers and
political activists bypass anti-spam re-
strictions set up by the world’s most pop-
ular messaging app, Reuters has found.
The activities highlight the chal-
lenges WhatsApp, which is owned by
Facebook, faces in preventing abuse in
India, its biggest market with more than
200 million users.
With fervent campaigning in India’s
staggered general election, which con-
cludes on Sunday, the demand for such
tools has surged, according to digital
companies and sources in the ruling
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its
main rival, the Congress.
After false messages on WhatsApp
last year sparked mob lynchings in In-
dia, the company restricted forwarding
of a message to only five users.
The software tools appear to over-
come those restrictions, allowing users
to reach thousands of people at once.
Ms Divya Spandana, the social me-
dia chief of the Congress, and the BJP’s
IT head Amit Malviya did not respond
to requests for comment.
Mr Rohitash Repswal, who owns a
digital marketing business in a
cramped, residential neighbourhood of
New Delhi, said he ran a Rs1,000 piece
of software round-the-clock in recent
months to send up to 100,000 What-
sApp messages a day for two BJP mem-
“Whatever WhatsApp does, there’s
a workaround,” Mr Repswal said.
Reuters found WhatsApp was mis-
used in at least three ways in India for
political campaigning: Free clone apps
available online were used by some BJP
and Congress workers to manually for-
ward messages on a mass basis; soft-
ware tools which allow users to auto-
mate delivery of WhatsApp messages;
and some firms offering political work-
ers the chance to go onto a website and
send bulk WhatsApp messages from
At least three software tools were
available on Amazon.com’s India web-
When purchased by a Reuters re-
porter, they arrived as compact discs
tucked inside thin cardboard casings,
with no company branding.
WhatsApp declined a Reuters re-
quest to allow testing such tools for re-
porting this story.
“We are continuing to step up our en-
forcement against imposter WhatsApp
services and take legal action by send-
ing cease and desist letters to hundreds
of bulk messaging service providers to
help curb abuse,” a spokeswoman said.
“We do not want them to operate on
our platform and we work to ban
Modified versions of popular apps
have become common as technically-
savvy hobbyists have long reverse-engi-
Tools purporting to bypass What-
sApp restrictions are advertised in
videos and online forums aimed at
users in Indonesia and Nigeria, both of
which held major elections this year.
For Indian politicians, WhatsApp,
Facebook and Twitter are key campaign-
ing tools to target the country’s near
900 million voters.
Two Congress sources and one BJP
source told Reuters that their workers
used clone apps such as “GBWhat-
sApp” and “JTWhatsApp”, which al-
lowed them to cut through WhatsApp’s
Both apps have a green-colour inter-
face that closely resembles WhatsApp
and can be downloaded for free from
dozens of technology blogs.
They are not available on Google’s of-
ficial app store but work on Android
WhatsApp describes such apps as
“unofficial” and says its users can face
bans, which means the company can
block the account associated with a par-
ticular mobile number if it detects un-
Some Congress workers said they
did not care.
“WhatsApp occasionally bans some
of these numbers, but the volunteers
will use new (mobile) sim cards to sign
up,” said a Congress member.
In Mumbai, a person in the social me-
dia team of a senior BJP candidate said
no restrictions on JTWhatsApp meant
his team could easily send forwards to
up to 6,000 people a day, as well as
video files containing political content
which would be far bigger in size than
allowed on the official WhatsApp ser-
Reuters was not able to ascertain the
overall scale of such activities and
found no evidence that BJP and Con-
gress leaders officially ordered workers
to campaign this way.
Mr Repswal said he would typically
charge Rs150,000 for a month’s service
for creating digital content, providing a
database of mobile numbers and then
sending 300,000 WhatsApp messages.
He uses a piece of software named
“Business Sender” which he said he
also sells for Rs1,000. A person can add
many mobile numbers in a field and
compose messages with pictures.
Using a so-called “Group Contacts
Grabber” feature, the user can also ex-
tract a list of mobile numbers from a par-
ticular WhatsApp group with a click of
Mr Repswal didn’t name the two
BJP members he worked for, but in a
demonstration for Reuters, added
dozens of mobile numbers in the soft-
ware, typed a test message saying “your
vote is your right” and hit “send”.
Then, his WhatsApp web version
started delivering the messages almost
robotically, one after the other.
Business Sender was “not supported
or endorsed” by WhatsApp and was de-
veloped by “Tiger Vikram Mysore IN-
DIA”, its system properties said.
A member of the software support
team at Business Sender, Mr Rajesh K.,
declined to identify the developer by
his real name, but said the tool was de-
signed in Lebanon about four months
ago and takes advantage of what he
called a “loophole” in WhatsApp’s sys-
“This is not rocket science or fabri-
cated software,” said Mr Rajesh.
“There are hundreds of such soft-
Last month, when a Reuters reporter
responded to a text message with an
“Election Special” offer of sending
100,000“bulk WhatsApp” messages
for Rs7,999, he was invited to an office
in a dusty industrial area of Noida in
northern Uttar Pradesh state.
“How many messages you want to
send, tell us: 10,000, 1 million, 2 mil-
lion,” a representative asked, while
showing a black-coloured, password-
protected website they use for sending
bulk WhatsApp messages.
– A member of
Mr Rajesh K.
Digital marketer Rohitash Repswal checking a message that he sent using a software tool
that automates the process of sending messages to WhatsApp users.
(Above and below)
Followers of Demure Drapes Facebook page celebrating Singapore’s bicentennial.
(Right) The women on Cavenagh Bridge.
Ms Ruby Shekhar stayed away from any-
thing remotely feminine during her
childhood in Assam and was often re-
ferred to as a tomboy.
She first wore a sari when she was 16
years old during a school event at the
Government College for Girls in
Chandigarh and never wore one again
for a long time.
After she got married, her mother-in-
law kept persuading her to wear a sari
because she believed that married In-
dian women should wear only tradi-
Five years ago, when Ms Shekhar re-
alised the elegance her friends exuded
every time they draped themselves in a
sari, she decided to overcome the chal-
lenge of wearing one.
“Nobody would imagine me in a
sari. I had to seek help from someone to
drape it and I didn’t feel confident in it,”
said the 57-year-old.
These days, Ms Shekhar not only
wears the sari, she is also the proud
founder of a sari appreciation group on
Facebook called Demure Drapes that
boasts 11,955 followers.
She started the page in 2014 as a fun
way to encourage other “non-sari wear-
ers” like her to appreciate and love the
different types of drapes and saris.
It was only after a friend posted a pic-
ture of herself in a traditional Kerala
“kasavu” sari (a hand-woven cream-
coloured sari with a gold border) that
she was inspired to learn more about
the traditional outfit.
“At that time I only knew of one type
of sari – Kanjivaram from Tamil Nadu. I
had never seen the word kasavu before
that and I was intrigued to find out what
the particular sari was like,” said
Ms Shekhar, who came to Singapore 23
years ago after her husband was posted
She started a public Facebook page
to document her findings and research
the saris unique to the different states in
Soon it gained traction among her
friends. Her posts started receiving likes
and positive comments.
“It evolved as a novel way for my
friends and me to learn about saris and
build a virtual community that cele-
brated dressing up in different drapes,”
said Ms Shekhar, who has tried to en-
sure that it remains a “fun page” and
retains the feel of a “community of
As the community grew online, it
started seeing women from Uganda to
Brazil to Myanmar sending photos of
themselves in saris.
“Initial followers sent the page to
other friends and family in their coun-
try or countries they’ve lived in. I have
been amazed to see our community
grow with participation from all over
the world,” said Ms Shekhar, who is
now a Singaporean and the owner of
two enrichment centres here.
Ms Shekhar helms the page solely,
and gets multiple weekly requests to up-
load photos and videos of women in
saris from six continents.
There is no commercial motivation –
no attempt to advertise or sell anything
on the platform.
Since 2015, Ms Shekhar has organ-
ised numerous events to bring mem-
bers of the group together.
A majority of these participants re-
side in Singapore – but are from differ-
ent nations such as Thailand, Peru, Aus-
tralia, New Zealand, Nigeria, the
United States and Canada.
50 Sari Shades of Singapore was the
first event organised by Demure
Drapes where 50 eminent Indian
women celebrated the country’s jubilee
anniversary in style in 2015 by having
their pictures taken at 50 iconic loca-
tions around the island while wearing a
The Facebook post for each person
and landmark then featured a little ode
to Singapore as the women shared their
experiences living here.
Ms Shekhar has also organised fash-
ion shows to celebrate SG50.
The first one, which took place at
the Ceylonese community’s SG50 cele-
berations, saw 50 women draping saris
in 50 different styles.
The women then presented an amal-
gamation of modern and traditional
saris at their second show at Bishan
Community Centre’s racial harmony
day and SG50 celebration.
Another show was themed 50
Brides of India, where women mod-
elled 50 different bridal saris from dif-
ferent regions in India.
The shows had a mix of women
from different parts of India who had
worn saris before along with 25 women
of mixed ethnicities and nationalities
who had never worn the garment.
The shows were the first time that
Ms Shekhar experimented with a
buddy system where an Indian was
paired with a woman of another nation-
ality who did not have a sari or had not
worn one before.
In this way, participants could bor-
row a sari and learn how to tie it from
someone who is more experienced.
Ms Kira Pecherska came to know
about the Brides of India show through
a friend and was keen to participate.
“It was a very multi-cultural event
and I loved contributing to the har-
mony,” said the Ukrainian, who wore a
sari for the first time at the event.
She joined the Demure Drapes Face-
book page in 2015 and has since taken
part in most of its events.
“It is always a melting pot of cul-
tures at these events and I’ve learnt so
much more about Indian culture,” said
One of Demure Drapes’ first large-
scale events was organised on National
Day in 2015. Ms Shekhar asked 200
women to participate in a 10km walk –
in saris and sneakers.
She, along with a friend, came up
with the idea of a red-and-white sari in-
spired by the Supertrees at Gardens by
The group then approached Haniffa
Textiles to produce 200 saris with that
The saris were sold to participants at
the manufacturing cost of $30.
Said Ms Shekhar: “It was a bit over-
whelming because I had to obtain a per-
mit from the police to organise the
event. But it was very motivating be-
cause it generated a lot of interest. We
only had 200 saris but over 400 women
wanted to take part in the walk.”
They walked from Kampong Arang
in Tanjong Rhu to Marina Barrage.
Ms Shekhar has since been organis-
ing shorter walks in saris for smaller
groups every National Day as these do
not require a permit.
Demure Drape’s most recent event
saw women from 42 countries converg-
ing at four civic district landmarks in
their saris in March to celebrate Singa-
pore’s history, diversity and multicul-
tural spirit in the bicentennial year.
Organising events can be fun but chal-
lenging to manage.
“Since all the events are voluntary,
there are many last minute ‘drop ins’ and
‘drop outs’, which can be tough to han-
dle,” said Ms Shekhar.
“Fortunately, there is no dearth of will-
ing volunteers to help out at these events. I
couldn’t have managed it without a few of
my close friends, who have been a source
of constant support and encouragement.”
In 2015, Demure Drapes members do-
nated 300 saris on World Sari Day (Dec 1).
About 250 were given to non-govern-
mental organisations Project Smile and
NuLife Care & Counselling Services in Sin-
gapore, while the remaining were sent to a
charity in India.
Ms Shekhar has described her experience
with Demure Drapes as “a learning jour-
“As Demure Drapes evolved, it taught
me a lot about our traditional Indian cul-
ture that I had regrettably been oblivious
to all these years,” she said.
“Somewhere deep inside I also hoped it
would motivate my daughter, who still
hates to dress up just like I did when I was
Her daughter, Rushika, has worn the
sari only five times.
“I still believe I can’t carry off a sari
nearly as well as my mother, but I am com-
ing around to accept that there isn’t a more
elegant attire than the sari,” she said.
The 28-year-old, who lives in Cape
Town, South Africa, follows the Demure
Drapes page closely and considers her
Currently Ms Shekhar owns over 600
saris. Her favourite drape is Assam’s iconic
“What I love most about the sari is that
it isn’t restrictive to any size, shape or race.
Women from all walks get transformed
when they’re draped in one.”
“What I love most about the sari is
that it isn’t restrictive to any size,
shape or race. Women from all walks
get transformed when they’re
draped in one.”
– Ms Ruby Shekhar, who founded Demure Drapes
Facebook Sari Queen
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