Is India waging a ‘war’ on Islamic names?

Never like what appears to be politically-driven name changes:

What’s in a name? For India’s cities and villages, seemingly plenty.

More than 100 of them, including the most prominent, have been renamed since Independence – Bombay to Mumbai, Calcutta to Kolkata, Madras to Chennai.

Names mangled by British rulers have been corrected, and colonial names rejected.

Identity pride, cultural assertion, linguistic nationalism and plain whimsy have all led to renaming in the past. And now, to appease its Hindu nationalist base, Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP appears to have embarked on a new renaming frenzy.

It began in July with the renaming of Mughalsarai, an iconic British-era railway station in the BJP-ruled state of Uttar Pradesh, after its ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya.

Last month, the city of Allahabad in the same state was renamed Prayagraj,apparently to restore the city’s ancient identity as a major Hindu pilgrimage centre. (The city is located at the confluence of three holy rivers.) More significantly, BJP leaders were peeved by the fact that the city’s 435-year-old name was given by a Muslim ruler.

As if that was not enough, the local government, led by a controversial Hindu religious leader, has changed the name of Faizabad district to Ayodhya, best known as the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram

It was in Ayodhya that hardline Hindu mobs razed an ancient mosque in 1992, sparking one of the worst episodes of religious violence in which nearly 2,000 people were killed across the country.

Now BJP leaders want to give more Hindu-friendly names to the city of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, home to the iconic Taj Mahal, and to Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat. Earlier this year, BJP-ruled Rajasthan changed the “Islamic-sounding names” of three villages.

The new names heap glory on what the BJP calls India’s “glorious” Hindu past, and pour scorn on its Islamic heritage. With general elections barely a year ago, the renaming is seen by critics of Mr Modi as a blow to India’s fabled syncretism – the merging of different faiths and cultures.

Gaganpreet Singh, who teaches at Delhi University, says the politics of renaming in India is often “rooted in the nationalisation of heritage”.

To be fair, in 2014, Mr Modi’s government renamed a road called after Mughal ruler Aurangzeb in central Delhi, instead honouring former president APJ Abdul Kalam, who also pioneered the country’s military missile programme.

“This was the BJP replacing the name of a Muslim villain with a Muslim patriot,” remarked Aatish Taseer, author and columnist.

It is difficult to see why India’s majority Hindus should be feeling besieged by a lack of representation, or why the BJP sees them as a persecuted majority. More than 7,000 of India’s 677,000 villages are named, for example, after Ram and Krishna, two popular deities. Mughal king Akbar, by comparison, had barely 234 villages in his name.

The renaming of cities and places goes on elsewhere in the world for a variety of reasons, some of them similar to India’s.

But critics say erasing Islamic names is another way to disempower India’s Muslims and deny them a stake in the country’s history.

They compare it to what has happened in neighbouring Pakistan, where most roads and spaces have been renamed to be associated with Muslim heroes or personalities. History, as historian Irfan Habib says, is always the “first victim of politics”.

With crucial general elections barely five months away, the BJP’s name-changing moves can be seen as an attempt to woo voters. A home ministry official told parliament in March that it had received 27 proposals from different states requesting a change of names for various villages, towns and railway stations. Most of the requests had came from the BJP-ruled states of Rajasthan and Haryana.

But there’s no evidence that renaming places draws more votes for the party pushing the purge. There have been no recent agitations for name changes, and no great relief among people that they are happening.

“In the absence of broader improvements in actual welfare, name-changing also gives a sense of things changing,” sociologist Sanjay Srivastava told me.

“I am not sure who cares. It doesn’t appear to be a vote-winning issue. Except that it consolidates the BJP’s image as ‘decisive’ across all spheres. It is really the politics of spectacle.”

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-46191239

As India Eases Citizenship Path for Hindus, Rohingya Muslims Fear Expulsion

Legacies of partition?

Nar Singh can vividly recall the day in 2014 when Narendra Modi promised to provide refuge to Hindus suffering around the world. The 39-year-old shop owner sat awestruck inside his two-bedroom house in Pakistan’s eastern Mirpur Khas district, as Modi’s voice boomed from the television during his successful campaign to become India’s prime minister.

“If there are atrocities on Hindus in Fiji, where will they go? Should they not come to India? If Hindus are persecuted in Mauritius, where should they go? Hindustan!” Modi declared to a roaring crowd.

For Singh, whose grandfather had been born in British-ruled India before the bloody partition that led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Modi’s words resonated deeply. “He spoke so wholeheartedly, it felt like a warm invitation,” said Singh. “I was so proud and happy.”

Living in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where Hindus say they often face religious discrimination and hate crimes, Singh had always felt drawn toward India. Seven months ago, he and his family stepped off a train in India’s border state of Rajasthan with a 25-day pilgrimage visa and no intention of returning. They now live in a hut on government-owned land on the outskirts of Jodhpur city, alongside about 150 other Hindu families from Pakistan.

He is hopeful he will be granted Indian citizenship – a process that, for immigrants such as Singh, would become much easier under a bill likely to be debated in India’s parliament next month. Drafted by the Modi administration, it would tweak the law to relax rules for Hindus and other non-Muslim minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to become Indian citizens.

Critics say the bill is blatantly anti-Muslim and have called it an attempt by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to increase its Hindu voter base ahead of a national election next year. Protests have erupted in recent weeks in the border state of Assam, where a movement against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has simmered for decades.

While the BJP denies the bill is discriminatory, it offers no concessions to Muslim asylum-seekers, whatever their predicament. That is evident in the tourist city of Jaipur, some 200 miles east of Singh’s new home in Jodhpur, where about 80 Muslim Rohingya families eking out a living share none of his optimism.

The group, among the estimated 40,000 Rohingya who live in India after fleeing waves of violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, have recently been asked to submit personal details that they fear will be used to deport them back to the country where they say they face persecution.

“We have no option but to fill these out,” said 38-year-old Rohingya community leader Noor Amin as he looked at a stack of forms handed to them by police last week.

Amin fled Myanmar in 2008, when he says his madrassa was shut down by the authorities and harsh restrictions on travel for Rohingya made it impossible for him to continue studying.

Bouts of violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state have continued for many years, culminating in a sweeping military campaign unleashed in August 2017 in response to militant attacks. That crackdown has forced more than 720,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, in what the United Nations’ human rights agency has called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Myanmar has denied almost all the accusations made by refugees against its troops, who is said engaged in legitimate counterinsurgency operations.

The Modi government has said the Rohingya in India are illegal immigrants and a security threat. It deported the first seven Rohingya men back to Myanmar last month, despite warnings by rights groups that conditions in Myanmar were not safe for their return and the move was a violation of international law.

“They were sending a message to the whole world about what they really think about us,” said Sayadi Alam, another Rohingya leader in Jaipur.

Alam fled Myanmar a decade ago, hoping for a better life in India. Like many of the Rohingya in Jaipur, he started off picking up scrap and selling it for recycling, but now he drives an electric rickshaw.

“We are not asking for citizenship. We are not asking for anything more,” he said. “Just let us stay here. At least don’t send us back to Myanmar.”

Such is the fear of deportation among the Rohingya in India that some families have fled for Bangladesh in recent weeks, according to community leaders in the capital New Delhi.

CITIZENSHIP LAW

If the Modi government bill passes, critics say it would for the first time seal into law the ruling party’s disregard for Muslims, and take the BJP a step closer to achieving its often-stated ambition to make India a Hindu nation.

“On the one hand the government says it doesn’t want illegal immigrants. Then why are they taking X refugees and not Y?” said Tridivesh Maini, a foreign policy analyst with the Jindal School of International Affairs.

Arun Chaturvedi, a BJP minister in Rajasthan, defended the bill, saying it was meant for persecuted minorities from specific countries. “This is not a dustbin,” he said. “Everyone cannot come here to claim citizenship. Rohingyas have to be deported because they are staying here illegally.”

Modi set up a task force shortly after coming to power in 2014 to speed up the process of granting Pakistani Hindus citizenship. In 2016 the government gave seven states, including Rajasthan, powers to issue citizenship to Hindus and other religious minorities from neighboring Muslim countries, and allowed them to seek driving licenses and national identity cards.

As a result, the number of Pakistani nationals who received Indian citizenship rose to 855 in 2017 from 508 in 2015, according to home ministry data. The number getting long-term visas increased to 4,712 in 2017 from 890 in 2015.

Immigrants like Singh are a meaningful vote base for the BJP. Of the roughly 500,000 Pakistani Hindus who have arrived in Rajasthan since the India-Pakistan war of 1965, some 200,000 are now registered voters, said Hindu Sodha, who runs the Seemant Lok Sangathan non-profit for Pakistani Hindus out of Jodhpur.

India is home to hundreds of thousands of immigrants and refugees, but does not have a legal framework for dealing with them and has not signed the 1951 UN Convention for Refugees. Successive governments have dealt with immigrants on an ad hoc basis.

While the citizenship bill has been pegged as a humanitarian effort by the Modi government, some experts said the government would draft a refugee policy or sign the convention if it was serious about the issue.

“Hindus from Pakistan will understandably seek refuge in India, and they deserve to get citizenship, but that doesn’t mean you turn a blind eye to the fate of other oppressed communities,” said Maini.

It is unclear how many Hindus move to India, but until 2014 that number was roughly 5,000 a year, said Rakesh Vankwani, patron of the Karachi-based Pakistan Hindu Council and a politician in the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf.

Many of those living around Singh’s settlement told stories of harassment and discrimination in Pakistan to explain their move.

One recent afternoon, Singh scrolled through photos on his smartphone of his life back home: a shiny white sedan, fully stocked general stores, and several acres of land.

Singh now sews t-shirts at a factory. He recently fulfilled his father’s dying wish by immersing his ashes in the Ganges, a river considered holy in Hinduism.

Water is scarce, and there is no electricity in the area yet. Still, he says he is much happier than he was in Pakistan.

“I had a big house and lived comfortably, but there was no mental peace because there was no freedom of religion,” he said. “We can be accused of blasphemy any time there. We cannot wear what we want, and our women are not safe there.”

Source: As India Eases Citizenship Path for Hindus, Rohingya Muslims Fear Expulsion

Why India’s new citizenship law is so controversial – and why some regions are angrier than others

Interesting read and analysis on shift from jus soli to jus sanguinis:

Citizens of India’s north-eastern states have been protesting vigorouslyagainst a proposed new citizenship regime that they claim will “destroy their culture” in the region. The protests have been diverse and dramatic – petitions, hunger strikes, effigy-burning, a rebel militant group threatening to end talks with the Indian state.

The source of their anger is the Citizenship Amendment Bill, first tabled in the lower house of the Indian Parliament in 2016. It is set to change the Citizenship Act of 1955, which has formed the basis of India’s citizenship regime since it gained independence from the British Empire in 1947. The amendment seeks to allow select “persecuted minorities” (Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhist and Jains) from the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan citizenship status in India after six years of residency. Other groups must wait 11 years to become naturalised citizens.

In the north-eastern states, the fear is that this amendment would legitimise migration of Hindus from neighbouring Bangladesh in particular, potentially affecting the demographic make-up of the region.

When the bill’s parliamentary committee began touring the north-east in May, protests grew steadily larger, stronger and more widespread. As almost 99% of their boundaries are international borders, the citizens of these states have been quick to point out that they would be the first “victims” of the new amendment if it makes it easier for minority immigrants to travel across the border, settle in and become full citizens. The complaints are loudest in the state of Assam, which has waged a four decade struggle against the Indian state to prevent what some there call“unchecked infiltration” from neighbouring Bangladesh.

The committee’s decision to visit the north-east – and the media coverage of the protests – have framed this as a north-eastern issue, not a national concern. But in fact, the Citizenship Amendment Bill will change the character of citizenship not just for this region, but for India as a whole.

Birthright and blood

When India achieved independence, its citizenship regime was established on the basis of jus soli (birth within a territory), meaning that people were members of the political community regardless of their religion or ethnicity. While mistrust of Muslims has persisted into present-day India, particularly in recent years with growing Hindu right-wing populism, the law has so far upheld the secular, non-religious character of the Indian state. The Citizenship Amendment Bill would fundamentally alter this basic tenet, shifting the basis of citizenship towards jus sanguinis (by right of blood).

But, as historians such as Joya Chatterjiand Ornit Shani have documented, there have been frequent challenges to the principle of citizenship by birth – especially in the period immediately after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

In contrast to Muslims, Hindus were from the start considered “natural citizens” of India. Muslim citizens of pre-independence India were ostensibly given a choice between the two countries, but in practice they were subjected to arbitrary processes to “prove” their loyalty to the Indian state. Similar demands were not made of Hindu citizens crossing the border from the newly-formed Pakistan back into India.

Regardless of which states or regions would be most affected by a sizeable influx of migrants, the bill changes the character of Indian citizenship and the basis on which it is granted, moving from secular to overtly favouring specific groups – particularly Hindus. It opens the door for the creation of second-class citizenship for non-Hindus and most of all Muslims – not just in the extra-legal practices of discrimination and violence that exist today, but in the law.

Slipping away

Given that India repeatedly fails its own minorities, perhaps it’s not surprising that it is only prepared to offer refuge and asylum on the basis of ethnicity, not humanitarian need. It’s no coincidence that this amendment was introduced by the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), led by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, which has an abysmal track record in protecting India’s minorities, whether they are Muslims, Christians or Dalits. Nor has it shown any inclination to help rehabilitate South Asia’s largest persecuted minority, the Rohingya.

Furthermore, the bill also leaves out Muslim minorities in Pakistan, such as Shias and Ahmadis. There is also speculation about whether the bill is a means to appease India’s Hindu diaspora abroad – an important funding base for the ruling party.

Even the relatively hardline BJP is not immune to public resistance. The protests in the north-east prompted India’s government to backtrack and table discussions to address what it euphemistically referred to as “people’s concerns”. But by framing the amendment as a regional issue, the government has managed to confine public opposition to the people of the north-east. Because the region is already marginalised in Indian politics, the rest of the country is often apathetic about its concerns, which rarely become pan-Indian ones.

Still, that the citizens of the north-east are protesting so vehemently – whatever their precise grievances – is currently the only sign of dissent. Unless it feels the heat of visible and vocal public outrage, the Indian state is likely to continue its slide towards becoming a very different, less inclusive, and increasingly more unjust country.

Source: Why India’s new citizenship law is so controversial – and why some regions are angrier than others

Freeland criticizes Indian diplomats for interfering in Ontario cultural festival

Interesting intervention in the context of the recent India trip (even though this intervention happened before):

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office says it was “inappropriate” for Indian diplomats to interfere in a cultural festival outside of Toronto.

The allegations stem from a controversy last summer in which Indian consular officials reportedly tried to dissuade the annual Carabram festival in Brampton, Ont. – a city west of Toronto with a large Indian population – from having separate Punjab and India pavilions. Punjab is the only state in India with a Sikh majority.

“Interference in domestic affairs by foreign representatives in Canada is inappropriate,” Ms. Freeland’s spokesman, Adam Austen, wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.

“The federal government has no role in planning Carabram, but supports the right of its organizers to do so however they see fit.”

Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey first raised concerns about “unwarranted and unwelcome interference” by the Consulate General of India in a letter to Ms. Freeland on Aug. 18, 2017.

In the letter, which has never been made public but was obtained by The Globe and Mail, Ms. Jeffrey said her office learned in July, 2017, that officials with the Consulate General in Toronto approached organizers of Carabram to cancel the Punjab pavilion, or merge it with the India pavilion. She also alleges that consular officials tried to pressure organizers to change the name to the Punjabi cultural pavilion. In the end, the Punjab pavilion went ahead.

“This type of unwarranted interference by Indian officials in a local cultural festival in Brampton was shocking,” Ms. Jeffrey wrote in the letter, which asks Ms. Freeland to look into the matter.

Ms. Jeffrey said it is her understanding that consular officials threatened to “go to the highest office in the country and cancel this festival.”

The allegations of improper interference come at a time of heightened tensions between Canada and the Indian government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to face pressure from Opposition MPs to allow his national security adviser, Daniel Jean, to testify in public at committee about the Prime inister’s recent trip to India.

Mr. Trudeau caused a diplomatic stir last month after Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted of attempting to murder a visiting Indian politician on Vancouver Island in 1986, was invited to official events. Mr. Jean suggested to reporters during a background briefing that Mr. Atwal’s presence may have been engineered by factions in India that want to prevent Prime Minister Narenda Modi from getting too close to a foreign government they believe is not committed to a united India. The Indian government has denied the claim.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh also found himself on the defensive over recent revelations that he spoke at a Sikh separatist rally in 2015 and participated in a panel discussion in 2016 where speakers endorsed political violence as part of an effort to create a Sikh homeland separate from India. Mr. Singh says he has always opposed acts of terrorism or violence.

Officials at the Consulate General in Toronto and the High Commission of India in Ottawa did not respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Jeffrey’s spokesman, Jaskaran Singh Sandhu, said the mayor stood by her letter but wouldn’t comment further. Mr. Sandhu said Ms. Freeland’s office never replied to the letter.

Carabram is an annual festival in Brampton, first started in 1982, where non-profit groups representing different cultures set up pavilions that offer food and entertainment.

Prithpal Chagger, president of the Punjab pavilion, said he believes his pavilion was singled out because of concerns that it would be used to advocate for an independent Sikh state, known as Khalistan. Mr. Chagger’s brother is the grandfather of Liberal House Leader Bardish Chagger, who told The Globe she was unaware of the situation and had not spoken with Mr. Chagger about it.

“The only objection from the Indian government is they don’t want anybody who is talking about Khalistan,” Mr. Chagger said. “But they label everybody and say they are Khalistani if they wear a turban.”

Angela Johnson, president of Carabram, said she was surprised that the Indian consulate would try to pressure them to shut down the Punjab pavilion.

She said that it’s up to the non-profit groups in charge of pavilions to determine how they would celebrate. “It was their choice and we saw no reason to object to it,” she said. Ms. Johnson confirmed the Punjab pavilion will be part of this year’s Carabram.

Dr. Maher Hussain, one of the organizers of the India pavilion, said it “would be ideal” if Punjab was part of the India pavilion. “If we have a Punjab pavilion, that means the Carabram people are supporting separate Punjab, separatism,” he said, adding he was willing to participate in the festival either way.

Sanjeev Malik, president of Uttar Pradeshies in Canada, which represents a state in northern India, said his group approached the Consulate General’s office to try to merge the Punjab pavilion with the Indian pavilion.

“There are some separatists here in Canada. They want Punjab to be separate from India. And that’s the reason they want their separate pavilion,” Mr. Malik said. “If somebody said that they want a separate Quebec, being a Canadian citizen, I’m going to oppose that.”

via Freeland criticizes Indian diplomats for interfering in Ontario cultural festival – The Globe and Mail

Trudeau is delivering the foreign policy Canadians deserve: David Mulroney

Good commentary by our former Ambassador to China (and former foreign service colleague of mine). Not unique to Chinese and Indo-Canadians, comparable issues arise with respect to Ukrainian Canadians and Canadian Jews with respect to foreign policy:

The best that can be said about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India is that it may prompt a review, if not a complete rethinking of a Canadian foreign policy that appears to be seriously off the rails. We have some hard lessons to learn.

At the very least, the Prime Minister’s debacle in India should encourage smart people in Ottawa to zero in on what isn’t working.

Most worrying is a fundamental and puzzling failure at the level of policy implementation, something that appears to be compounded by the Prime Minister’s own impetuosity. Flying to India before the big meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the bag, much like heading off to Beijing on a free-trade themed visit without any reasonable expectation that a deal was doable, exposes Mr. Trudeau to a degree of prolonged public skepticism that comes to define the visit itself.

Ottawa’s obsession with exotic photo-ops is a less likely candidate for serious review, given its long and undistinguished lineage through such past devotees as Stephen Harper and Jean Chrétien. But we can at least hope that the Trudeau version of this practice may get dialled down. Through his rapid succession of exotic costume changes, Mr. Trudeau managed to do to his own image what Alec Baldwin does, through similarly comic exaggeration, to Donald Trump’s on Saturday Night Live.

Even harder to banish will be our obsession with diaspora politics. No one is denying that we derive wonderful advantages from our multicultural society. But other multicultural countries, such as the United States, Australia and Britain, are far less inclined to view their international interests so completely through the prism of diaspora communities. We need to understand that Canada’s interests in India are not entirely the same as those of influential portions of the Indo-Canadian community or of the Sikh-Canadian subset of that community. Worse, our continuing insistence on the political importance of diaspora groups makes it more likely that their countries of origin – and this is particularly true of China and India – will be inclined to interfere in Canadian affairs.

These persistent problems point to an inconvenient truth: The problem isn’t with politicians, it’s with all of us. We’re getting the foreign policy we deserve. We seem unable to grasp that our engagement of countries such as India and China ultimately needs to be about something more than reminding them of how much they admire us.

India isn’t our friend. It is a rising regional power beset with a range of domestic problems, including serious human rights issues. It takes a prickly approach to global issues that is often at odds with traditional Canadian policies in areas ranging from trade policy to nuclear disarmament.

The Indian diplomats I worked with could be wonderfully pleasant after the official day was done. But, for the most part, they brought a formidably ruthless precision to their pursuit of India’s interests in the world. While they might ultimately agree to grant Canada a concession, this was always a product of hard and often heated negotiations. They never conceded a point because they liked us or because we are home to a large Indo-Canadian community.

My experience with Chinese diplomats was entirely similar.

Long before the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, it should have been clear to us that the world is changing in ways that do not align with traditional Canadian views, interests and values. If we’re smart, the rise of countries like China and India can certainly contribute to our prosperity, and with hard work, we should be able to find common cause on important issues such as global warming.

But the rise of these assertive and ambitious Asian powers will almost certainly challenge global and regional security. Both will also continue to reject traditional Canadian notions about global governance and human rights, and neither will be particularly squeamish about interfering in Canadian affairs.

The Trump era should convince us that we can no longer rely entirely on the protective cover of a globally engaged America. We need to be smart and hard-nosed when it comes to promoting and defending our own interests. Photo ops and costume changes won’t cut it any more.

via Trudeau is delivering the foreign policy Canadians deserve – The Globe and Mail

Trudeau with his Indian culture overkill came across as patronizing | Shree Paradkar

It seems like everyone is piling on the gaffe-strewn trip of PM Trudeau to India. Paradkar’s is one of the best:

If apparel oft proclaims the man, then Polonius who uttered those words in Hamlet would have quite literally given our prime minister a dressing down this week. From the viewpoint of the Shakespearean character, Justin Trudeau would have broken the basic rules: his clothes were as costly as money could buy, but gaudy, too, proclaiming him unserious.

A charitable supposition would be that maybe — just maybe — since Canada is barely a blip on Indian consciousness, Trudeau decided to lean on his celebrity status to make an impression.

That much he did. So groan-inducing has Trudeau’s visit to India appeared thus far that it merits being rated as a cliched Bollywood drama.Over-the-top sherwanis and kurta pyjamas, Bhangra sequences, overly choreographed family time overdoing the namastes.

Then a touch of villainous melodrama in the form of a mistaken invitation to Jaspal Atwal, a man convicted of attempting to kill an Indian cabinet minister on Vancouver Island in 1986. Atwal was also charged, but not convicted, in connection with a 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, a former Liberal health minister and former premier of British Columbia.

That faux pas for which the Liberals apologized would be a terrible development during any official visit. On this one, it gave lie to Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s appeasement of the Punjab chief minister’s concerns of official Canadian support for the Sikh separatist movement.

The demand for a separate nation of Khalistan is an issue that has little support among Sikhs in India. It does not enjoy unanimous support here, either.

The concerns were fair: Trudeau’s appearance at a Sikh parade in Toronto last year with yellow and blue Khalistan flags in the background and posters of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale — the leader of the Khalistani movement — was not looked upon kindly in India.

Nor would Canada be sympathetic to a visiting foreign leader who posed with Quebec separatists.

Many of the poor first impressions would have been avoided had planners simply switched Day 6 to Day 1. Trudeau, finally wearing a business suit, met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, got that equally cringe-inducing, but in this case gratefully received, trademark bear hug from Modi, and was received with state honours.

Was there really no adviser in our PMO or the Foreign Office who said before the trip, “Meet Modi first. Go easy on the clothes. Wrap up the visit in 3 days. Be prepared to deal with the separatist issue”?

Earlier in the month, an expert told Global News, “There’s no question that the whole Khalistan question will overshadow this trip.”

Then an unnamed government official told the news outlet it was not expected to be a big issue.

If he had a chance to counsel Trudeau, Omer Aziz, a former adviser at the Department of Global Affairs in the Liberal government, says he would have said, “It’s going to come up and you need to make sure you know what you’re going to say.”

Before going to India, Aziz would have suggested Trudeau make a speech in support of united India and draw comparisons to separatist movements here.

Trudeau’s trip was billed as one to bolster economic and cultural connections. Because Canada’s minorities of colour are consigned to hyphenated labels, and never viewed as simply Canadian, Canadian leaders end up viewing foreign policy through the lens of diasporic politics.

And so, Indo-Canadians and Sikh-Canadians have come to expect images of a leader’s visit to New Delhi, the requisite visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, perhaps a Hindu temple or two.

But carry it too far and the symbolism of “we care” can become tiresomely reductive.

Religious and cultural observances such as a cloth on the head may be seen as a sign of respect. Wearing clothing from the host nation could be seen as a bit of charming politicking on the sidelines of trade deals and policy development.

As a main dish, overshadowing a $1 billion trade deal, it’s unpalatable. Neither Indians nor Indo-Canadians are quite so unsophisticated as to not detect being patronized.

Aziz sees this trip as evidence that governments should hire and empower more staffers of colour who understand the complexities of the world. “Literally all this was avoidable,” he said.

For all the talk of Trudeau’s diverse cabinet, behind the scenes decision makers, staffers and bureaucrats remain monochromatic.

“I think that frankly minorities, brown folks, people of colour should say this is enough,” says Aziz. “It’s time that millennials (like me) said either you’re going to share power with us or we’re going to mobilize and you’re going to suffer at the ballot box.

“We’re not going to be treated as any one’s vote bank.

“We don’t need you talking down to us. We don’t need you to begin every single speech saying diversity is our strength. What we need is at that beginning point of our conversation we need to be treated as equals, with respect. Then we can have a conversation about policy.”

via Trudeau with his Indian culture overkill came across as patronizing | Toronto Star

India cabinet backs bill to criminalise Islamic instant divorce – BBC

Welcome. However, enforcement will likely be a challenge:

The Indian cabinet has backed a bill that will make the Islamic practice of instant divorce a criminal offence.

The bill proposes jail of up to three years for a Muslim man who indulges in the controversial practice.

The government hopes to get the bill passed by parliament in the winter session, which began on Friday.

In a major victory for women’s rights activists, the Supreme Court outlawed the “triple talaq” practice in August and called it “un-Islamic”.

India is one of a handful of countries where a Muslim man can divorce his wife in minutes by saying the word talaq (divorce) three times.

Muslim women and rights groups have been campaigning for years against the custom.

Campaigners have described it as humiliating and discriminatory.

The bill, called the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, has been drafted by a group of ministers, led by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

The Indian government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has supported ending the practice.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought up the issue several times, including in his Independence Day address on 15 August.

What is instant divorce?

There have been cases in which Muslim men in India have divorced their wives by issuing the so-called triple talaq by letter, telephone and, increasingly, by text message, WhatsApp and Skype. A number of these cases made their way to the courts as women contested the custom.

Triple talaq divorce has no mention in Sharia Islamic law or the Koran, even though the practice has existed for decades.

Islamic scholars say the Koran clearly spells out how to issue a divorce – it has to be spread over three months, allowing a couple time for reflection and reconciliation.

Most Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned triple talaq, but the custom has continued in India, which does not have a uniform set of laws on marriage and divorce that apply to every citizen.

Via: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-42366461

Trump has started a brain drain back to India

Positive impact for Canada:

So many [foreign hi-tech] workers have been frustrated that attorney Brent Renison sought class-action status for a lawsuit filed last year in U.S. District Court in Portland. He argued, in part, that the H-1B lottery was arbitrary and capricious. The suit asked the court to order the government to process visa petitions in the order they are filed and compel the government to establish a waitlist like the one used for green card petitions. The government prevailed.

“Some people are moving out of the country, taking valuable skills with them,” Renison says. “Some people are choosing not to come. If this persists, were going to lose a lot of the foreign students we educate.”

The system was barely functioning as it was. Applications for work visas already were so clogged in the federal bureaucracy that in recent years even Ivy League graduates couldn’t be certain of receiving one. Getting a work visa hasn’t guaranteed stability, as Sahay, the data architect, knows.

Employers can sponsor immigrants’ green cards, or permanent visas, but the approvals process is backlogged. The federal government places caps for green cards on each country each year. Indians seeking permanent residency say it’s routine for them to linger in line for a decade or more. Up to 2 million Indian workers here and abroad may be waiting in a green card backlogthat could take a decade or more to clear if there are no changes to the system, says David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute think tank.

Those concerns may add to the shortage of highly skilled technology workers in the United States, just as Canada or Singapore vie for those same people.

Every other startup company, says Vish Mishra, an investor with Clearstone Venture Partners, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, has operations based overseas or recruits workers in India, Eastern Europe, Canada or Israel.

“You’re not going to have, all of a sudden, 200,000 [American] people filling the gap that exists. What are businesses going to do? Businesses have to import talent,” he says.

Canada has become more attractive just since the U.S. presidential election. The country granted temporary work visas to 1,960 Indian nationals in all of 2015, and 2,120 total in the fourth quarter of 2016 and first quarter of this year.

In November, Canada announced that as of June, the country would speed the processing of standard visas and work permits to two weeks for highly skilled talent working for companies doing business in Canada. The move, the government says, will help companies grow and fuel job growth for Canadians.

Meanwhile, in the United States, tech workers and engineers are bound to established companies that filed paperwork for them years back. Almost everyone in the Indian tech community knows a weekend entrepreneur who desperately wants to start his or her own company but can’t quit work because they would be visa-less. Meanwhile, friends and family in India beg them to come home and bring their ideas to India’s own booming silicon valleys.

Rishi Bhilawadikar, a user-experience designer in the Bay area, says that tenuous life lived by so many educated Indian workers — in America, but not really of America — spurred him to shoot a feature film.

In For Here or To Go, made over the course of more than seven years, the characters weigh whether America has lost its promise for young, mobile Indians. The idea bubbled up, Bhilawadikar says, after he read research that showed how certain laws keep some immigrants from fulfilling their potential, driving many back home or to countries with more welcoming policies, such as Canada and Chile.

Source: Trump has started a brain drain back to India

India’s supreme court bans Islamic instant divorce | The Guardian

Welcome development:

India’s top court has banned a controversial Islamic practice that allows men to divorce their wives instantly, saying it was unconstitutional.

Victims of the practice known as “triple talaq”, whereby Muslim men can divorce their wives by reciting the word talaq (divorce) three times, had approached the supreme court to ask for a ban.

Triple talaq “is not integral to religious practice and violates constitutional morality”, a panel of judges said.

“It’s a very happy day for us. It’s a historic day,” said Zakia Soman, the co-founder of the Indian Muslim Women’s Movement, which was part of the legal battle to end the practice.

“We, the Muslim women, are entitled to justice from the courts as well as the legislature,” she added.

The five supreme court judges were from India’s major faiths – Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism. In their ruling, they said it was “manifestly arbitrary” to allow a man to “break down [a] marriage whimsically and capriciously”.

“What is sinful under religion cannot be valid under law,” they said.

The practice had been challenged in lower courts but it was the first time India’s supreme court had considered whether triple talaq was legal.

India allows religious institutions to govern matters of marriage, divorce and property inheritance in the multi-faith nation, enshrining triple talaq as a legal avenue for its 180 million Muslims to end unions.

More than 20 Muslim countries, including neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned the practice while in India, the practice has continued. While most Hindu personal law has been overhauled and codified over the years, Muslim laws have been left to religious authorities and left largely untouched.

The Hindu nationalist government of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, had backed the petitioners in this landmark case, declaring triple talaq unconstitutional and discriminatory against women. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party has long pushed for a uniform civil code, governing Indians of all religions, to be enforced.

The issue remains highly sensitive in India, where religious tensions often lead to violence.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), a grouping of Islamic organisations, had told the court that while they considered the practice of triple talaq wrong, they opposed any court intervention and asked that the matter be left to the community to tackle.

Progressive Muslim activists had criticised the board’s position. “This is the demand of ordinary Muslim women for over 70 years and it’s time for this country to hear their voices,” activist Feroze Mithiborwala told New Delhi television station.

Source: India’s supreme court bans Islamic instant divorce | World news | The Guardian

International students in B.C. could be in fake marriage schemes: Douglas Todd

The ingenuity of persons wanting to come to Canada knows no bounds. No hard numbers but widespread anecdotes indicate that there is an issue (India sends the second largest number of students to Canada after China: 77,000 in 2016):

The newspaper ads in India are the visible tip of a booming underground industry in fake marriages involving would-be international students.

The prize for the “spouse” whose family buys an instant marriage with a foreign student is back-door access to a full-time job in Canada and a fast-track to citizenship.

The matrimonial ads normally promise that the foreign students’ sham marriage, plus all travel and study expenses, will be paid for by the Indian families who are determined to have their son or daughter emigrate.

The type of Indian student the ads seek is usually a teenage girl, who must have passed an English-language test and therefore be in line to be accepted as an international student.

Media outlets in India, such as the Hindustan Times, report there is a “booming matrimony market for ‘brides’ who can earn the ‘groom’” coveted status as a migrant to a Western country.

Canada is among the most sought-after destinations for Indian foreign students, say migration specialists, because it is the most generous toward foreign students and their spouses. Australia has also been popular, but recently tightened its rules.

Here is a typical recent ad from one Punjabi-language newspaper in India, Ajit:

“Jatt Sikh, boy, 24 years old, 5 feet 10 inches, needs girl with IELTS band 7. Marriage real or fake. Boy’s side will pay all expenses.”

The ad is listed by a high-caste “Jatt” Sikh male, or more likely his parents. It seeks a contractual marriage with a young woman who has scored well (“band 7”) on an international exam called “IELTS,” the International English Language Testing System. Almost three million IELTS exams are conducted each year.

Here is another ad, from the newspaper Jagbani:

“Barbar Sikh, 24, 5 feet 8 inches. Finished Grade 12. Looking for BSc or IELTS pass girl. Boy’s side will pay all expenses to go to Canada.”

In this ad the family of a lower-caste “Barbar Sikh” is seeking to have their son marry an Indian female with a bachelors of science degree, or a passing mark on the IELTS test, so their son can be allowed into Canada as her spouse.

As these kinds of ads illustrate, the parents of the male “spouse” typically offer to cover all expenses for the international student, who often end up attending one of the scores of private colleges in Canada with low to non-existent standards.

B.C. is home to 130,000 international students, the vast majority of whom are in Metro Vancouver, which has the highest concentration of foreign students in Canada.

In exchange for financing the foreign student, the phony spouse gets to live in Canada and legally work up to 40 hours a week, plus receive medical coverage and other benefits. That puts them in a strong position to become permanent residents of Canada.

The foreign-student marriage rackets are gaining attention in newspapers in India.

Indian media are reporting angry fallout when students financed by other families either fail to get into a Western college or university, or try to break up with their spouses of convenience.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University political scientist Shinder Purewal, a former Canadian citizenship court judge, says Punjabi- and Hindi-language newspapers in India run dozens of such ads each week.

“Families are looking for matches to get their sons or daughters abroad. And the most successful route to Canada is through international-student channels. It’s an easy way to get immigration,” said Purewal.

Source: International students in B.C. could be in fake marriage schemes | Vancouver Sun