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January 26, 2020

India: Refugee persecution must be assessed on a case by case basis, not on that of religion - Editorial, The Times of India | 24 Jan 2020

Be humane: Refugee persecution must be assessed on a case by case basis, not on that of religion

January 24, 2020, 3:00 am IST in TOI Editorials | Edit Page, India | TOI
 
The constitutionality of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act must be fast decided by Supreme Court in the wake of the widespread protests that it has provoked. Centre has shown no intention of altering CAA provisions and it falls upon SC to restore the primacy of constitutional values. CAA as passed by Parliament has an inherent bias against Muslims. The apex court has given the government four more weeks to respond to the petitions against CAA. The government will use this time to come up with a case that the changes in citizenship law are not violative of the Constitution. Critics have so far not found the arguments in favour of CAA convincing. The chief justification for the controversial law is that it provides relief to minorities of six religions living as illegal migrants in India after fleeing religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – where Islam is the state religion. But this has contradictions.
For instance, Buddhism is Sri Lanka’s state religion and thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils are languishing as illegal migrants in India for several years. Their exclusion in this mass citizenship drive is inexplicable.
Perhaps the Centre means to make a distinction between nations that have a state religion and those gripped by religious fundamentalism (such as Pakistan). The notion that it is only the non-Islamic minorities who face persecution in Pakistan is flawed. Arguably, religious fundamentalists target the “apostate” who is considered a deviant from the state religion – like Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan – with even greater fervour than the non-believing “infidel”. Even Baloch nationalists whose cause India espouses, Bangladeshi atheists, or Myanmar’s Rohingyas fleeing various shades of persecution may be living as illegal migrants in our midst but don’t make the cut under CAA. In Bangladesh, secular bloggers have been killed while in Afghanistan Hazra Shias have been targeted by Taliban.
Under the Citizenship Act’s naturalisation process for legally entering aliens 2,830 people from Pakistan, 912 from Afghanistan and 172 from Bangladesh, many of them Muslims, were granted citizenship in the past six years. Extending this naturalisation facility to illegal migrants fleeing persecution, irrespective of country and religion, would be both humane and in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution. This will help mend the CAA-engineered gaping hole in India’s secular fabric, and repair the damage that India’s soft power has suffered because of a law which is deviation from founding fathers’ conception and sense of who we should be as a people.
 
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India. 
 

India Has One of the Longest Running Fascist Movements | Interview in The Wire

'India Has The Longest Running Fascist Movement in the World – The RSS'

In conversation with historian Benjamin Zachariah on what it means to call today's India 'fascist', the history of the Sangh parivar, the protests India is seeing today and more. [ . . . ]

January 25, 2020

As secular Indians protest a controversial new citizenship law, some debate whether they should demonstrate as Muslims first or as Indians who happen to be Muslim


Argument

India’s Muslims Are Fighting for Their Religion. Should They Display It, Too?


As secular Indians protest a controversial new citizenship law, some debate whether they should demonstrate as Muslims first or as Indians who happen to be Muslim.

India: New Suspects point at connection between Nallasopara terror case and the Killing of Gauri Lankesh . . .

The Indian Express

Sunburn suspect in Gauri Lankesh case papers

Journalist and activist Lankesh was shot dead outside her Bengaluru home on September, 5, 2017.

January 23, 2020

India: Remembering Graham Staines, 21 Years After His Murder | Aakash Joshi / The Quint

The Quint, 22 January 2020

 
(This article has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the anniversary of the murders of Graham Staines and his sons. It was first published on 22 January 2016.)
In 1965, there was no internet. A young Australian named Graham Staines though had a close friendship with Santanu Satpathy all the way in Baripada in Odisha. They had been pen pals since childhood and Graham came to Baripada to visit his friend. He never left.

For nearly 35 years, Graham Staines lived and worked with some of the poorest Adivasi communities in Odisha. On 22 January 1999, he was burnt alive along with his sons Philip and Timothy by right-wing activists, including Dara Singh who was a member of the Bajrang Dal. They were sleeping in their car, an old Willy’s four-wheel drive.
The burnt vehicle in which Graham Staines and his sons were killed on 22 January 1999. 
The burnt vehicle in which Graham Staines and his sons were killed on 22 January 1999. 
(Photo: Reuters)
Graham was 58 years old at the time, Philip was 10 and Timothy was nine years old. Graham was a Christian missionary and had spent his time in India working with leprosy patients in Baripada. He learnt Odia and was fluent in the local dialect, Santhali. Graham Staines was also a preacher.
The men who killed him did so because they thought he was converting Adivasis to Christianity. The charge, if that’s what it is, was denied by Graham’s widow, Gladys, repeatedly.
Gladys Staines, Graham’s wife. 
Gladys Staines, Graham’s wife. 
(Photo: Reuters)
The mob that committed the gruesome murders was led by Dara Singh, a member of the Bajrang Dal. Dara Singh was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.
Hindu activist and ringleader Dara Singh is seated in a police van in Bhubaneswar. 
Hindu activist and ringleader Dara Singh is seated in a police van in Bhubaneswar. 
(Photo: Reuters)
For the people who knew Graham, his death was more than a tragedy. It was a deep personal loss. Here’s what an India Today report in January 1999 had to say.
“But not even the harshest words could measure up to the indignation felt in Baripada, the headquarters of Orissa’s predominantly tribal district of Mayurbhanj, which Staines had made his home. “It’s as if we all have had a personal bereavement,” said District Collector R Balakrishnan. For the past 35 years, dressed in casuals, sporting his trademark hat and wheeling his rickety bicycle, Saibo – as he was popularly called – was a fixture in Baripada where he did “God’s work”, tending and nursing leprosy patients in a specially-run home on the town’s outskirts.”
Gladys Staines and her daughter Esther at the funeral of her husband and sons in Odisha. 
Gladys Staines and her daughter Esther at the funeral of her husband and sons in Odisha. 
(Photo: Reuters)
Gladys Staines continued to stay in Odisha with her daughter Esther. In 2005, she was awarded the Padma Shri by the President of India for her work with people suffering from leprosy.

January 22, 2020

Eviane Leidig: The Far-Right Is Going Global | Foreign Policy, January 21, 2020

Foreign Policy

The Far-Right Is Going Global


An unofficial visit by nationalist European leaders to Kashmir highlights the solidarity of far-right movements across the globe.


In October 2019, 23 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) visited Kashmir, just two months after the Indian government removed the region’s special autonomous status. The trip sparked controversy when it was revealed that most of the MEPs belonged to far-right political parties, including France’s National Rally (formerly National Front) and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). It wasn’t just the affiliations of these visitors that drew attention: The MEPs had been granted access to Kashmir even as foreign journalists and domestic politicians were barred access to the region, and the Indian-administered government had imposed an internet shutdown since August.
This visit was the latest example of the growing ties between the far-right in India and Europe, a connection that is rooted primarily in a shared hostility toward immigrants and Muslims, and couched in similar overarching nationalistic visions. Today, with the populist radical right ascendant in India and in several European democracies, the far-right agenda has been increasingly normalized and made a part of mainstream political discourse.
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The link between far-right ideologies in these regions long predates the relatively recent rise of right-wing populist leaders. In the 1930s, Hindu nationalists collaborated with key figures in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in order to help advance their extreme right-wing projects.
In the 1930s, Hindu nationalists collaborated with key figures in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in order to help advance their extreme right-wing projects.
One of the pioneers of Hindu nationalism, V.D. Savarkar, once wrote that India should model its approach to its “Muslim problem” on that used by the Nazis to deal with their “Jewish problem.” Similarly, European ideologues like Savitri Devi (born in France as Maximiani Portas) described Hitler as an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Nearly four decades after she died, her ideology remains popular among American white nationalists. The manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people in 2011, also expressed an affinity for the Hindu nationalist approach to Islam that highlights many contemporary European attitudes toward Muslim immigrant populations.
“The only positive thing about the Hindu right wing is that they dominate the streets. They do not tolerate the current injustice and often riot and attack Muslims when things get out of control, usually after the Muslims disrespect and degrade Hinduism too much,” Breivik wrote before bombing a government building in Oslo and killing dozens of children at a summer camp. “India will continue to wither and die unless the Indian nationalists consolidate properly and strike to win. It is essential that the European and Indian resistance movements learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical.”
More recently, Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and editor in chief of the far-right site Breitbart News Network, had considered creating a Breitbart India in 2015 after Narendra Modi became prime minister of India. Bannon has long admired Modi, once calling him “a Trump before Trump.” Meanwhile, European supporters of Modi and his nationalist message include the leader of the Dutch far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) Geert Wilders.
The MEPs’ visit to Kashmir sheds light on the solidarity of the global far-right. Although they were sent invitations on behalf of Madi Sharma, a Brussels-based entrepreneur and president of the NGO Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank (WESTT), the visit itself was funded and organized by an NGO registered in New Delhi called the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS)—a group that shares the same IP address as the obscure news website New Delhi Times.
Steve Bannon has long admired Narendra Modi, once calling him “a Trump before Trump.”
This website, in turn, is connected to a global network of think tanks, companies, NGOs, and, significantly, over 265 local media outlets in 65 countries. EU DisinfoLab, which conducts research on disinformation campaigns targeting European Union member states, recently concluded that the media outlets tied to the New Delhi Times are attempting to influence international institutions and elected representatives.
While the ideological leanings of the New Delhi Times are unclear, its network of media outlets syndicate content criticizing Pakistan’s role in Kashmir, and they regularly take Islamophobic editorial stances. Although those positions are not unusual in the Indian media landscape, it is rare for such outlets to lobby on a global scale. Two notable websites in this network—EP Today and Times of Geneva—maintain strong connections to NGOs and think tanks in Brussels and Geneva, in effect serving as lobbying interests to the EU and the United Nations.
Sharma promised invitees “a prestigious VIP meeting” with Modi in addition to their trip to Kashmir. The MEPs stated that the purpose of the visit was to “gather information” on the situation in Kashmir. Although the MEPs were technically an unofficial delegation, they received clearance not just to tour Kashmir, but also to meet with several senior members of the Indian government and military. Government ministries have publicly stated that they were not involved in arranging the visit, although it is unlikely that such clearance could have been obtained without approval from high-level authorities.
Before visiting Kashmir, the MEPs went to New Delhi to meet Modi, who said that the delegation would gain “a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the region.” While in Kashmir, the European delegation went on a guided tour through the capital of Srinagar before having lunch at the Indian Army Headquarters, where they saw maps of supposed terrorist training camps in Pakistan, where attacks in Kashmir are allegedly plotted.
Several MEPs, including far-right Czech MEP Tomas Zdechovsky and National Rally MEP Thierry Mariani, later used social media to share their experience meeting the prime minister; Mariani, for example, tweeted in support of the Indian government’s policy in Kashmir. Mariani also told reporters that “we stand with India in its fight against terrorists,” while AfD MEP Lars Patrick Berg accused the media of branding them “Muslim-hating Nazis.” Both Mariani and Berg have called for stronger border security in the EU, linking migration to potential Islamist terrorist attacks.

The Kashmir issue is a rallying cry for much of Europe’s far-right. Europe’s nationalists share a deep concern over Islamist extremism, as well as an overarching vision of national strength. In many ways, they see Modi’s hardline stance in Kashmir as indicative of their own aims.
The latest crisis in Kashmir began when Modi’s government revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, thereby removing Jammu and Kashmir’s special autonomous status. Wilders openly tweeted his support of the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy the day it was announced. The British columnist Katie Hopkins also expressed solidarity and has more recently claimed that Hindus are the victims of ethnic cleansing in Kashmir.
The Kashmir issue is a rallying cry for much of Europe’s far-right. Europe’s nationalists share a deep concern over Islamist extremism, as well as an overarching vision of national strength.
The immediate pretext for Modi’s move was brewing unrest in the region. An ongoing separatist insurgency has gripped Kashmir since 1989, and Pakistan has played a substantial role supporting violent separatist groups in the region. Islamist terrorist attacks remain an everyday reality on the ground, and they have sometimes spilled over into India itself. This includes the 2008 Mumbai attacks, in which Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, a Pakistan-based Islamist group seeking Kashmiri unification with Pakistan, launched a massive attack in Mumbai killing 164 people.
The situation continued to escalate in February 2019, when Pakistan’s Air Force launched a series of airstrikes in Indian-controlled Kashmir, leading to Indian retaliation. Periodic airstrikes have been conducted intermittently since—arguably boosting Modi’s popularity with his base and helping him win reelection last year.
Although the pretext for the constitutional change was regional unrest, there are broader goals. Hindu nationalists have long sought to expand India’s territorial reach into what was once British-controlled India—including not only Kashmir but also Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other parts of South Asia.

India: CAA-led narrative on religious persecution ignores political specificity, nuance in neighbourhood

The Indian Express, January 22, 2020

CAA-led narrative on religious persecution ignores political specificity, nuance in neighbourhood
India’s new official narrative is, at complete variance with the understanding that has informed Indian foreign policy so far. If Hindus were equally persecuted in East Pakistan/Bangladesh both before and after it broke away from Pakistan, why did India even bother to intervene in the war of liberation?

Written by Sanjib Baruah


What is remarkable about statements by ruling party politicians on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is that they attribute the purported persecution of non-Muslim religious minorities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan to a fixed and unchanging reality. At all times in their recent history, the three countries have presumably been alike. This ideologically laden narrative defines the three neighbouring countries in essentialist terms — they are Muslim majority countries; that’s all there is to know about them. There is no need to understand history, and the dynamics of political change. The ideological predilections of governments in Muslim-majority countries make no difference to the way religious minorities are treated. The implicit contrast is with Hindu-majority India, which by definition, is inclusive and tolerant — no matter the actual treatment meted out to minorities.

Thus, in neighbouring Bangladesh — if one follows the logic of this perverse revisionism — the persecution of religious minorities has occurred under all governments: The first post-liberation government led by Mujibur Rahman, the military regimes of Ziaur Rahman and Hossain Mohammad Ershad, the democratically elected Bangladesh National Party (BNP) government led by Khaleda Zia, or the Awami League governments led by Sheikh Hasina Wazed.

But was life for the Hindu minority really the same in the Bangladesh of the early 1970s, when “Joy Bangla” dominated political life, as in the 1990s, when “Allahu Akbar” and “Bismillah” became popular election slogans? Was the removal of secularism in 1977 as one of the four fundamental principles of the Bangladeshi Constitution, or the declaration of Islam as the state religion in 1988, of no consequence to the situation of the Hindu minority in that country?

India’s new official narrative is, of course, at complete variance with the understanding that has informed Indian foreign policy so far. If Hindus were equally persecuted in East Pakistan/Bangladesh both before and after it broke away from Pakistan, why did India even bother to intervene in the war of liberation? Was India’s decision to intervene in Bangladesh’s war of liberation, where Hindu Bengalis were both major players and targets of the Pakistani crackdown, then a failure of historic proportions?

If the persecution of Hindus has been a persistent feature of all Bangladeshi governments, what explains the very different quality of its relations with India when the country has been ruled by governments with different ideological orientations? Were previous Indian governments unconcerned about the condition of the Hindu minority? Or did they pursue a more pragmatic and realist approach than the current government? After all, putting non-Muslim citizens of the three countries on a path to Indian citizenship — as the CAA effectively does, despite the asserted cut-off date of December 2014 — amounts to a significant surrender of India’s sovereign prerogatives to set immigration policies to its smaller neighbours.

This new narrative is, of course, oblivious of the way inter-faith relations in India, or the state of bilateral relations with India, affect the security and confidence of the Hindu minority. According to the Bangladeshi scholar Meghna Guhathakurta, who has written extensively on the conditions of the Hindu minority in that country, the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 had “resulted in a backlash against the Hindu temples, life and properties all over Bangladesh. Even Christians and Buddhists were not spared.” Attacks on Hindus and their property in Bangladesh also took place after the Gujarat riots of 2002.

The seven decades of the subcontinent’s post-Partition history make it abundantly clear that there is no better guarantee of peace and security for religious minorities in the CAA-covered countries than better inter-faith relations within India, and relatively peaceful relations among South Asia’s three post-Partition states.

Not surprisingly, people in all three CAA-covered countries — including leaders of minority organisations — reject the new Indian narrative. Some have sounded the alarm on the danger that this narrative — and the Indian policies accompanying it — presents to South Asia’s future stability. While the Indian media has focused mostly on Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s criticism of these policies, the reaction of the other two countries that enjoy friendly relations with India, merits no less attention.

Afghan and Bangladeshi officials have set aside diplomatic niceties to criticise the new Indian narrative. Afghanistan’s ambassador to India Tahir Qadiry has publicly rejected the charge that his country persecutes religious minorities. Afghans of all ethnicities and faith, he said in an interview with India Today, have been victims of the four decades of war that his country has suffered. However, since the fall of the Taliban, the Afghan government has tried to fashion policies beneficial to the country’s Sikh and other minority communities. There are now Sikh members of the Afghan Parliament, and Sikhs are represented at the presidential palace as well.

Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen also rejects the “allegations of minority repression in Bangladesh.” Important voices in Bangladeshi civil society, such as Professor C R Abrar of the University of Dhaka, have been highly critical of the “anti-Bangladeshi vitriolic statements” coming from the “Indian ruling elite.” Categorising Bangladesh “as a nation that oppresses its religious minority,” he writes, is a deliberate insult to the people of Bangladesh. Despite India’s much-repeated assertion that the NRC and CAA are India’s internal matters, Abrar warns that their consequences for Bangladesh are likely to be “grave.” There will be millions of Muslims unable to prove their claim to Indian citizenship under the rules of the NRC who would not get the protection of the faith-based amnesty that the CAA now provides. While India may not deport them as a matter of policy, in coming years many of them may choose to cross into Bangladesh in order “to avoid languishing in detention camps in atrocious conditions.”

The Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikya Parishad (Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council) fully echoes the concerns of the protesters in Assam and the rest of Northeast India regarding the CAA. The Parishad, formed in response to the Eighth Amendment to the Bangladeshi Constitution which had made Islam the official state religion, has expressed its “deep concern” that the CAA would “encourage minority people to leave Bangladesh.” The organisation’s adviser, Nitai Roy Chowdhury, has expressed fears that because of the NRC and the CAA, “Hindus will want to go to India, meanwhile Muslims from India will try to enter into Bangladesh which could create a dangerous situation.”

India’s many friends and well-wishers in Afghanistan and Bangladesh now have ample reasons to wonder: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

This article first appeared in the print edition on January 22, 2020 under the title ‘Three as one’. The writer is professor of political studies, Bard College, New York.