India government revokes disputed Kashmir’s special status

Will be interesting to see how this is interpreted by the different Indo-Canadian communities in both mainstream and ethnic media:

The Indian government has used a presidential order to revoke the special constitutional status of Kashmir, in a bid to fully integrate its only Muslim-majority region with the rest of the country, the most far-reaching political move on the troubled Himalayan territory in nearly seven decades.

Some political leaders in Kashmir warned in recent days that any such move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration — through the repeal of the constitution’s Article 370 — will trigger major unrest as it would amount to aggression against the region’s people.

Authorities, meanwhile, have launched a new clampdown in the state of Jammu and Kashmir by suspending telephone and internet services, and putting some leaders under house arrest.

The security measures include thousands of newly deployed soldiers, who are camping in police stations and government buildings in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. The deployment in recent days adds at least 10,000 troops in Kashmir, already one of the world’s most militarized regions.

India also has ordered thousands of tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave.

The decision to repeal Article 370 will mean an end to restrictions on property purchases by people from outside the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and state government jobs and some college places will no longer be reserved for state residents.

The Muslim-majority Himalayan region has been at the heart of more than 70 years of animosity, since the partition of the British colony of India into the separate countries of Muslim Pakistan and majority Hindu India.

Two of the three wars India and Pakistan have fought since their independence from British rule were over Kashmir.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry has rejected the revocation of a special status for the portion of disputed Kashmir that it controls. The ministry said in a statement Monday that under UN Security Council resolutions, India cannot change the status of Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan.

The ministry said the people of Pakistan and Kashmir will not accept the Indian action, and Pakistan will “exercise all possible options” to block it.

The scenic mountain region is divided between India, which rules the populous Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city — Pakistan, which controls a wedge of territory in the west — and China, which holds a thinly populated high-altitude area in the north.

Here are some facts about the region and the constitutional change:

Partition

After partition of the subcontinent in 1947, Kashmir was expected to go to Pakistan, as other Muslim majority regions did. Its Hindu ruler wanted to stay independent, but, faced with an invasion by Muslim tribesmen from Pakistan, acceded to India in October 1947 in return for help against the invaders.

Article 370

This provision of the Indian constitution that provided for Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy — except for matters of defence, finance, communications and foreign affairs — was drafted in 1947 by the then prime minister of the state, Sheikh Abdullah, and accepted by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It was, though, only classified as a temporary provision, and in October 1949 was included in the Indian constitution by the constituent assembly.

Article 35A

This was added to the constitution in 1954 under Article 370, and empowers the Jammu and Kashmir state parliament to provide special rights and privileges to permanent residents of the state. It will die with the repeal of 370, which means outsiders will likely be allowed to buy property in the region and state residents will likely lose their control of state government jobs and college places.

Wars

The dispute over the former princely state sparked the first two of three wars between India and Pakistan after independence 1947. They fought the second in 1965, and a third, largely over what become Bangladesh, in 1971.

Divisions

A UN-monitored ceasefire line agreed in 1972, called the Line of Control (LOC), splits Kashmir into two areas — one administered by India, the other by Pakistan. Their armies have for decades faced off over the LOC. In 1999, the two were involved in a battle along the LOC that some analysts called an undeclared war. Their forces exchanged regular gunfire over the LOC until a truce in late 2003, which has largely held since.

The insurgency

Many Muslims in Indian Kashmir have long resented what they see as heavy-handed New Delhi rule. In 1989, an insurgency by Muslim separatists began. Some fought to join Pakistan, some called for independence for Kashmir. India responded by pouring troops into the region. India also accused Pakistan of backing the separatists, in particular by arming and training fighters in its part of Kashmir and sending them into Indian Kashmir. Pakistan denies that, saying it only offers political support to the Kashmiri people.

Indian Kashmir

Governed as the northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir. It has two capitals, Jammu in winter (November-April), Srinagar in summer (May-October).

New Delhi claims the whole of Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India.

Pakistani Kashmir

Consists of the smaller Azad Kashmir (“Free Kashmir”) and the Northern Areas, which also formed part of the state before independence. Pakistan says a UN-mandated referendum should take place to settle the dispute over the region, expecting that the majority of Kashmiris would opt to join Pakistan.

Geography

Parts of Kashmir are strikingly beautiful, with forest-clad mountains, rivers running through lush valleys and lakes ringed by willow trees. The western Himalayan region is bounded by Pakistan to the west, Afghanistan to the northwest, China to the northeast, and India to the south.

Population and area

Ten million in Indian Kashmir and more than three million in Pakistani Kashmir. About 70 per cent are Muslims and the rest Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. With an area of 222,236 square kilometres, it is slightly bigger than the U.S. state of Utah and almost as big as Britain.

Economy

About 80 per cent agriculture based. Crops include rice, maize, apples and saffron. The area is also known for handicrafts such as carpets, woodcarving, woolens and silk. Tourism, once flourishing, has been badly hit by the conflict.

Source: India government revokes disputed Kashmir’s special status

Visitors from India face high rejection rates on visa applications

Good analysis of the data and indication that the government is addressing fraud and applying risk management to different applications:

Refusals on visitor applications from India due to fraud and misrepresentation are soaring, which Ottawa and immigration experts say is in part due to unscrupulous “ghost consultants.”

While the number of Indian visitor visa applications has increased significantly, refusals are growing at an even faster clip. Data provided by the federal government show that the percentage of refusals due to an applicant misrepresenting themselves – through fraudulent submissions, for instance – has nearly tripled. In 2017, 0.9 per cent of all Indian visitor visa rejections were for misrepresentation; from January to May this year, the number jumped to 2.5 per cent.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) refused 1,477 applications due to misrepresentation in 2017. Between January and May of this year, that number had already reached 3,709. The department could see close to a 500-per-cent increase in fraud refusals by year’s end compared with 2017 if current trends hold.

In response to the increasing number of refusals for Indian applications, in June the federal government rolled out an information campaign targeting Indians applying for visas. The effort includes resources on identifying and reporting fraud throughout the process, including by ghost consultants – unscrupulous, unlicensed immigration consultants.

“We anticipate that this campaign will help address some of the spinoff effects of circulating misinformation, such as high refusal rates and abuse of the asylum system,” Mathieu Genest, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said in an e-mailed statement. Mr. Genest said the problem of ghost consultants is “particularly acute” in India.

Bank statements, income taxes, medical files, education histories, funeral home letters and even letters of support from members of Parliament are some of the types of fraudulent documents received by IRCC in recent years. Aside from fraud, Mr. Genest said the government is also seeing an increase in repeat applications from Indians previously denied and an overreliance on paper applications, which take longer to process, but noted that the increase in refusals should not affect legitimate applicants.

Partly owing to the increase in misrepresentation refusals, approval rates on Indian visitor visa applications have plummeted.

In April, 2015, 88 per cent of visa applications from India were approved – Ottawa received 27,600 applications that month. But by December of 2018, Canadian immigration authorities were receiving more than 58,000 applications each month and approval rates had dropped to 40.8 per cent.

The drop in India’s approval rates comes as the federal government has worked to streamline the visa process. According to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail through access-to-information requests, IRCC is using artificial-intelligence tools to review temporary resident visa applications from China and India as they come in.

Online applications predicted by AI models to be low-risk are sent to an immigration officer for review, simplifying the process. According to IRCC, 30 per cent to 40 per cent of China’s visitor visa applications are are now handled through this streamlined process; however, only 3 per cent to 5 per cent of Indian applications meet that low-risk threshold.

As of April, India was the top source of visitor visa applications to Canada. The country recently surpassed China, where applications have declined in recent months, which some attribute to the continuing diplomatic dispute between Ottawa and Beijing.

According to data from IRCC, Indians submitted 73,457 temporary resident visa applications that month, accounting for nearly a third of the worldwide total. China came in second place, with 46,646 applications.

Visitor visas are required for anyone from a non-visa-exempt country and looking to visit, work or study in Canada. As such, they’re often the first step in the immigration process.

Prashant Ajmera, an immigration lawyer in India who has an office in Montreal, was surprised to hear that the approval rate for visas from India had decreased so dramatically. He said the Canadian government has been touting the growing number of visitors from India, drawing attention to the fact that Canada welcomed nearly 300,000 visitors from that country last year. (There is no cap on how many visitor visas Canada issues each year.)

However, Mr. Ajmera said the Canadian government’s information campaign in India will not solve the problem, as applicants already know about visa fraud and immigration scams.

“They are aware of it but they’re taking calculated risks, most of them,” Mr. Ajmera said. “It’s a very common story.”

He said it would be a better use of Canada’s time to work with other like-minded governments, such as the United States, Britain and Australia, to encourage the Indian government to better regulate its immigration consultants in an effort to stem visa fraud.

One Canadian immigration lawyer thinks that the immigration consultant industry itself may be to blame. Ravi Jain, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer at Green and Spiegel LLP, said that lawyers are taking on clients who first worked with an Indian immigration consultant, only to find that the client’s visitor visa application was riddled with mistakes.

In some cases, unlicensed immigration consultants impersonate applicants throughout the process. “Often times, those people will even make up e-mail addresses. I’m not kidding, they do this,” he said.

Unscrupulous immigration consultants are not the only possible explanation for the decline in India’s approval rates.

Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said he believes visa fraud, particularly relating to study permits, is the main reason for the decline in the approval rate of temporary resident visas from India. He said study permits are the “number one threat to Canada’s immigration system today” because there is no cap on the number of permits the government can issue, allowing foreign immigration consultants to take advantage of the program.

A recent Globe and Mail investigation revealed that private colleges in Canada are being accused of paying overseas agents to persuade international students that paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition to study in Canada is the easiest way to get into the country and work toward becoming a permanent resident.

Wrongful detentions, judges’ quotas in the search for illegals in…

Appears to be an ongoing issue, likely to continue under the current Indian government:

Three years ago, police in India’s northeastern state of Assam were looking for a woman named Madhumala Das, who had been declared an illegal immigrant by a local tribunal.

When they reached the village of Bishnupur, they picked up 59-year-old Madhubala Mandal, who was lighting a fire outside her bamboo hut one morning in November 2016.

Mandal, a frail, Bengali-speaking woman who is just over four feet tall, spent over two-and-a-half years in a detention center until she was freed last month following a probe conducted by a new police chief in the area.

In a recent interview in her hut, Mandal said she told the police she was not the person they were looking for, that she was Indian and had documents to prove it. But they did not listen.

Local activists and lawyers say such cases are not uncommon in Assam, where a long-simmering movement against illegal immigrants, particularly Bengali-speaking Muslims, has been fanned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government. His ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also governs Assam.

BJP’s campaign against people deemed to be foreigners from Muslim-majority and Bengali-speaking Bangladesh, even if they have lived in India for decades, or were born in India but can’t prove it, is about to reach boiling point.

At the end of next month, Assam plans to publish the final version of a register of citizens it has been preparing since 2015. Hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – are likely to be left off the list – meaning they will have to prove their citizenship, or risk detention like Mandal.

This is unlikely to lead to immediate mass arrests because detention centers are full, and Bangladesh has not agreed to accept the people identified as “foreigners”.

But being a non-citizen carries many penalties, including loss of access to government payments, voting rights, healthcare and state education. People could be quickly marginalized.

And this isn’t only an Assam issue.

Last week, Modi’s top lieutenant, Home (Interior) Minister Amit Shah, who has described Assam’s illegal immigrants as “termites”, said the government intends to go nationwide in identifying and deporting those who don’t have the right to stay.

At the same time, the government has been welcoming Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist migrants, making Muslims feel targeted. Shah said this month that the government wanted to “stop infiltration and push every single infiltrator out of the country”, but would welcome Hindu refugees.

WORSE THAN CONVICTS

When she was arrested, Mandal, a Hindu, was taken to a detention center in the town of Kokrajhar, in western Assam.

A group from India’s National Human Rights Commission that visited that center last year said illegal immigrant detainees there were in some ways “deprived even of the rights of convicted prisoners”.

U.N. experts warned in a statement this month that the citizenship drive in Assam risked rendering millions stateless or in prolonged detention, and that the process “could fuel religious discrimination”, adding that the legal system was discriminative and arbitrary.

The office of the chief minister, the highest elected official in Assam, did not respond to questions sent by Reuters on this story.

Ajoy Rai, a local activist who worked with police to secure Mandal’s release, said there may be many more wrongly detained people in the state.

“Most people are not literate and don’t understand what the documents they have even mean,” he said. “When there are floods or a fire, people lose the documents too.”

Assam, one of India’s poorest states, is ravaged by floods annually, displacing millions, with this year no exception.

Rights activists and lawyers say Assam’s system of ‘foreigners tribunals’, detention centers and its ‘border police’ – a unit in charge of checking illegal immigration – is biased against the poor and against Bengali speakers, who are deemed to be from Bangladesh.

Bengali is the second-most widely spoken language in India, after Hindi. The official language in Assam is Assamese.

A review of orders issued in recent years by Assam’s tribunals – quasi-judicial bodies set up for illegal immigration cases – shows many people of Bengali descent have been declared foreigners because of discrepancies in their names and other details on identity documents.

The tribunal judges’ performance itself, which is evaluated by the government, appears to be at least partly based on the percentage of the people they declare as foreigners, according to their appraisal sheets. Reuters reviewed copies of the appraisal sheets of judges in 79 of Assam’s roughly 100 tribunals.

The documents, which evaluate the judges’ performance over two years until April 30, 2017, show that a majority of judges who declared less than 10 percent of all the people they examined as foreigners got a rating of “may be terminated.”

Despite criticism of the process, Assam is working on setting up some 200 more foreigner tribunals by Sept. 1, growing to around 1,000 eventually, as it scrambles to prepare for the aftermath of the publication of the final register on Aug. 31. Around 245,000 cases are pending at the tribunals, and scores more are likely to be added after the final list is published.

The government has also lowered the eligibility criteria for the post of judges, allowing retired bureaucrats and lawyers with seven years of experience to apply – as opposed to 10 years required earlier.

“It is obvious that these appointments lack judicial independence or adequate separation from the executive, and the judges are being appointed for tribunals with indications that they should lean in favor of declaring people foreigners,” said Sanjay Hegde, a senior Supreme Court lawyer in New Delhi.

There is room for appeal against a tribunal decision through the high court in Guwahati, Assam’s main city, But that court is swamped with some two dozen new cases of illegal immigration each week, said Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Chaudhry, a senior lawyer in Guwahati.

Santanu Bharali, legal adviser to Assam’s chief minister, dismissed criticism that the tribunals were biased or had targets to declare people as foreigners. He said the judges relied on documents submitted as proof of citizenship and the tribunals’ decisions could be appealed.

“CREATE ONE WHOLE TOWN”

Assam is far from ready to deal with the situation if hundreds of thousands of residents are declared illegal.

The six detention centers there are already overcrowded, said Bharali. They held 1,133 illegal immigrants as of May 25, 2019, the government said earlier this month.

Kula Saikia, the chief of police in Assam, told Reuters there was no clarity on what would be done with those who don’t make it onto the citizenship register. He and other officials say they are awaiting orders from India’s Supreme Court, which is supervising the process.

“It’s impossible” to detain hundreds of thousands of more people, said Bharali. “We will have to create one whole town for these people.”

Local activists say the fear of being declared an illegal immigrant has driven at least 25 people to suicide since a draft citizenship list was drawn up in July 2018. Reuters could not independently verify the claims, and the police have refrained from linking the suicide cases to the citizenship verification process.

In the case of Madhumala Das, she was first declared a foreigner by a tribunal in 1988, and a fresh order was passed in June 2016 that led to Mandal’s arrest.

Police said the mistake occurred as there were three women with similar names in Mandal’s village.

“They had to follow the tribunal’s orders and find the person,” said a senior officer at the police station near Mandal’s home.

Madhumala Das had died more than a decade earlier. The border police did not know.

Source: Wrongful detentions, judges’ quotas in the search for illegals in…

Bill introduced to allow dual citizenship for Indians

Given the large number of Indian expatriates, significant if passed and implemented:

Draft legislation brought before the Indian parliament seeks to allow dual citizenship for millions of foreign nationals of Indian origin who currently have to renounce Indian citizenship once they become citizens of another country.

Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor introduced a Bill last week to amend Article 9 of the Constitution of India that provides for automatic termination of the Indian citizenship upon acquiring citizenship of another country.

“We have the largest diaspora in the world, many of whom have migrated abroad for better opportunities. Taking a foreign passport for convenience does not make them any less Indian,” said Mr Tharoor.

According to the UN World Migration Report 2018, over 15.6 million Indians are living in other countries, making it the largest diaspora in the world, followed by the Mexicans and the Russians.

A large section of India’s global diaspora has been calling for India to allow dual citizenship. The government of India, in order to cater to some of the demands of Indians living overseas, introduced the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card. The OCI has been further streamlined and extensively promoted under the BJP government.

India has emerged as the top source of Australian citizenship, overtaking the United Kingdom, with over 118,000 Indian-born migrants pledging allegiance to Australia since 2013-14. [Note: India has surprised China as the largest immigrant source country in Canada, about 52,000 in 2017, India and Philippines are roughly tied in the number of new Canadian citizens in 2018]

While the OCI allows foreign nationals of Indian origin to live and work in India indefinitely, they can’t vote or contest an election and don’t have the right to own agricultural land in India.

Mr Tharoor argues that the people of Indian origin, many of whom have been highly successful tech-entrepreneurs and quite a few also rose to high public offices overseas, have an important stake in India.

“In the era of globalisation, more people from India will search for opportunities abroad.

“By automatically terminating their Indian citizenship when they seek citizenship of countries of residence, the law effectively cuts them off their roots and makes them feel like they do not have a real stake in their country of origin,” he told the legislators.

Dubai-based policy consultant and writer Mohamed Zeeshan argues that while many Indians acquire citizenship of countries of their residence, they remain strongly committed to their country of origin and spread India’s global influence worldwide.

“The landmark India-US nuclear deal, for instance, was aided in Washington by strong political lobbying from the Indian-American community. In 2011, Indians in Australia helped convince the then Australian government to lift a ban on uranium exports to India,” he writes.

Australian citizenship approvals plunge to 15-year low
While Australian citizenship approvals have fallen to the lowest level since 2002-03, the number of citizenship applications awaiting processing is at a record high with migrants waiting longer than ever before to pledge their allegiance to Australia.

The UAE, the United States and Saudi Arabia are the top three countries of residence for people of Indian origin outside India, together home to about 7.5 million Indians.

According to the 2016 Census, the size of the Indian diaspora in Australia was 619,164. During the five years, from 2013 to 2017, over 118,000 Indian nationals acquired Australian citizenship.

Since then, migration from India to Australia has been on the rise.

Ritesh Chugh, a senior lecturer at the Central Queensland University in Melbourne says it will “open the doors” for many possibilities for Indians and India.

“Indians living abroad are already contributing immensely to India and there’s such an enormous wealth of experience that India can benefit from further. But many see this (not having Indian citizenship) as a big hurdle in making that contribution to the full extent possible,” he told SBS Punjabi.

“For example, at the moment, the research pathways are restricted to citizens alone. If this deterrent is removed, a lot of people would like to go back and work in India as opportunities grow in India,” Mr Chugh said.

According to the Indian Passport Act, it’s an offence not to surrender the Indian passport and formally renounce Indian citizenship after acquiring foreign citizenship, which may attract penalties of up to $1,050.

Source: Bill introduced to allow dual citizenship for Indians

India: Economic Survey Quotes Hinduism, Islam, Christianity to Deter Tax Evasion

Of interest:

The Economic Survey, tabled in Parliament on Thursday, suggests invoking the doctrine of “pious obligation” as well as blend principles of behavioural economics with spiritual norm to tackle tax evasion and wilful defaults.

Bringing in a sense of novelty into the Economic Survey, that provides a detailed picture of the economy in 2018-19 and the way ahead, tenets of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity have been cited extensively to tackle debt woes and tax evasion.

Such suggestions find a place the chapter titled ‘Policy for Homo Sapiens, Not 02 Homo Economicus: Leveraging the Behavioural Economics of “Nudge”‘.

The Economic Survey said that decisions made by real people often deviate from the impractical robots theorised in classical economics.

Drawing on the psychology of human behaviour, it said that behavioural economics provides insights to nudge people towards desirable behaviour.

The “doctrine of pious obligations” could be invoked to encourage people to clear their debts and also pay taxes, the survey, prepared by a team led by Chief Economic Adviser KV Subramanian said.

“Given the importance of religion in Indian culture, the principles of behavioural economics need to be combined with this spiritual / religious norm to reduce tax evasion and wilful default in the country,” it noted.

In Hinduism, non-payment of debts is a sin and also a crime. The scriptures ordain that if a person’s debts are not paid and he dies in a state of indebtedness, his soul may have to face evil consequences, according to the survey.

Therefore, it is the duty of his children to save him from such evil consequences. This duty or obligation of a child to repay the debts of the deceased parent is rested upon a special doctrine, known as the doctrine of pious obligation, it said.

In Islam, Prophet Muhammad advocated, “Allaahummainnia’oodhibika min al-ma’thamwa’lmaghram (O Allaah, I seek refuge with you from sin and heavy debt)”. A person cannot enter paradise unless his/her debt was paid off, as per the survey.

All of his/her wealth could be used to pay the debt and if it is insufficient then one or more heirs of the deceased could voluntarily pay for him, it stated.

Quoting Bible, the survey said, “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another – Romans 13:8” and “The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous shows mercy and gives – Psalm 37:21”.

The Economic Survey notes that in India, where social and religious norms play such a dominant role in influencing behaviour, behavioural economics can therefore provide a valuable instrument for change.

“So, beneficial social norms can be furthered by drawing attention to positive influencers, especially friends/neighbours that represent role models with which people can identify,” it said.

Also, as people are given to tremendous inertia when making a choice, they prefer sticking to the default option. By the nearly costless act of changing the default to overcome this inertia, desired behaviour can be encouraged without affecting people’s choices.

Further, as people find it difficult to sustain good habits, repeated reinforcements and reminders of successful past actions can help sustain changed behaviour, the survey said.

According to the survey, insights from behavioural economics can be strategically utilised to create an aspirational agenda for social change — from BBBP (Beti Bachao Beti Padhao) to BADLAV (Beti Aapki Dhan Lakshmi Aur Vijay Lakshmi); from Swachh Bharat to Sundar Bharat; from “Give It Up” for the LPG subsidy to “Think about the Subsidy” and from tax evasion to tax compliance.

The survey has used ‘MARD‘ as an acronym for ‘Men Against Rape and Discrimination’ and suggested a campaign underlining the sacrifice of the male ego in a patriarchal society for the larger good of gender equality.

Mard is a Hindi word for man.

Source: Economic Survey Quotes Hinduism, Islam, Christianity to Deter Tax Evasion

The rise of female Sharia judges in India

Of note:

Earlier this year, Maya Rachel McManus, a British Muslim, walked down the aisle in Kolkata on her wedding day and exchanged garlands with her partner in a traditional Hindu ceremony.

Later, her marriage was solemnised by female qazis, or judges, who govern Islamic law. 

“Maybe my multicultural wedding would have been frowned upon if the qazis were men,” McManus told Al Jazeera.

“The ones my husband and I had spoken to had problems with some of my basic rights; like keeping my maiden name and my British passport after marriage.”

She insisted that women perform her wedding rites.

“This was the first time one of our qazis solemnised a marriage,” said Noorjehan Safia Niwaz, cofounder of Bhartiya Mahila Muslim Andolan (BMMA), an organisation that launched in 2007 in India advocating for secular rights.

In 2016, BMMA began training Muslim women to become qazis, a role traditionally held by men.

To McManus, and many of India’s millions of Muslims, the recent rise of female qazis means fewer compromises and a chance at more justice for women.

“What is common between all versions of Sharia or Islamic law that is followed today is that it is extremely patriarchal,” said Niwaz, who is also a qazi.

“Women continue to suffer. They become victims of nikkah halala (a practise in Islam where a woman once divorced by her husband must consummate her marriage with another man if she wants to remarry her first husband), polygamous marriages and unilateral divorces.”

There are no teachings in either the Quran or the prophetic tradition that prohibits women from being qazis. Even the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, known as Sayyida Aisha, performed and solemnised the nikah of several people.

EBRAHIM MOOSA, PROFESSOR OF ISLAMIC STUDIES AT INDIANA’S UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME

To replace what Niwas describes as a “misogynistic syllabus” designed for male qazis, BMMA drafted its own curriculum in which women study the Quran from a feminist perspective and examine the Indian constitution so they can make decisions, keeping in mind the law of the land.

“The practice of female [qazis] is novel in India, but the idea is not novel,” says Ebrahim Moosa, a professor

of Islamic studies at Indiana’s University of Notre Dame. “Muslims in North India followed the Hanafi school of law for centuries that allows women to be judges.”

According to BMMA, which is funded by private donors and charities, there are 15 female qazis spread across India including West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Orissa.

“We have over 150 cases in our centre alone,” said 47-year-old Hina Siddiqui, a qazi from Bandra, a western Mumbai suburb. “Though unlike male qazis, in each case we summon both the man and the woman involved. We don’t hear just one side of the story.”

Since triple talaq, or instant divorce, led by Muslim men was criminalised in India, carrying a possible jail sentence, Siddiqui and her colleagues have seen an increase in the number of distressed women in their offices.

“The men are now scared to give triple talaq,” said 60-year-old Zubeda Khatoon, another qazi in Bandra.

“So they abuse their wives both physically and emotionally, hoping that the woman will leave them instead. Another way this works in the man’s favour is that according to Sharia law if a woman asks for a divorce, her husband owes her no liabilities. “

This is where female qazis step in and attempt to ensure that women receive their legal rights during including receiving her mehr – a sum of money given to the bride on her wedding day, alimony and the belongings she contributed to the home after marriage.

For couples who wish to be married by a female qazi, there is a rigorous process. 

Through a period of one month, the judges verify the bride and groom’s details – including their identity, economic status, marital status and even their marzi, or personal reasons for wedlock. This is to reduce the rate of fraudulent marriages.

“They [the female qazis] explained the various aspects of the nikah [wedding] procedure to me. They were extremely helpful,” said McManus. “This kind of support was not forthcoming from the male qazis I had approached earlier.”

‘No such thing as women qazis’

But not everybody agrees that female qazis can better safeguard the interests of Muslim women.

“There is no such thing as women qazis in Islam. It is just a new-age thing,” Muslim leader Syed Moinuddin Ashraf, from Sunni Jama Mosque in Mumbai, told The Hindustan Times.

Moosa, the professor in Indiana, said while some schools of Islamic thought such as Shafiʿi, Ahl-e Hadis, and Salafi, prevent women from becoming qazis, it remains religiously permissible. 

“There are no teachings in either the Quran or the prophetic tradition that prohibits women from being qazis,” he said. “Even the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, known as Sayyida Aisha, performed and solemnised the nikah of several [people].”

In the two years that Siddiqui and Khatoon have been practising as qazis in Mumbai, they have presided over only one mutually consenting divorce. 

“In that case, we were able to get the woman two lakhs ($2,874) as maintenance from her husband,” said Khatoon. “But most people still prefer to have their divorce issued on the letterhead of male qazis.”

According to Niwaz, 30 more women eager to enrol in the second batch of qazi training by BMMA.

“Maya’s wedding [McManus’s] went through without any objections,” she says. “We haven’t had any fatwas issued for the work we [female qazis] are doing. We exist. That in itself is a positive thing.”

Source: The rise of female Sharia judges in India

Strict US immigration laws make Canada more attractive to tech workers

Yet another article on the attractiveness of Canada. Can’t buy this kind of coverage:

The tech industry in the US is booming. Foreign interest in tech jobs is not.

That’s because despite the country’s acute need for highly skilled tech workers, its immigration system has become increasingly unwelcoming.

Since the beginning of 2018, the share of interest from abroad in US tech jobs has remained about the same, according to new data from the global job listing site Indeed, but by most accounts it should be growing.

“All things equal, with the really strong US job market, you’d expect continued growth in foreign interest in US tech jobs,” Indeed economist Andrew Flowers told Recode.

In the past year, foreign interest in Canadian tech jobs has also been flat, according to Indeed’s data, but Canadian jobs had a higher rate of such interest than US ones. In May, 14 percent of all clicks on Canadian tech jobs posted on Indeed were from foreigners, while 9 percent of US tech jobs had attracted clicks from candidates abroad.

Foreign interest as a share of all interest in Canadian tech jobs has shot up precipitously — 55 percent — in the past four years, according to Indeed. The company’s US data doesn’t go back as far as its Canadian data, so we can’t do a long-term comparison of the two.

The absence of growth in foreign tech job interest likely stems from stricter immigration procedures — including those for high-skilled tech workers, who use a visa called H-1B — that have been enacted following President Donald Trump’s Buy American and Hire Americanexecutive order in 2017. The increased difficulty and duration of the US immigration process, which can now take from months to years, have made some tech workers less likely to consider the US an employment option.

Some experts say the US and Canada have been facing a dearth in native-born high-skilled workers that threatens to inhibit their growing technology industries. But while the US has made it more difficult to employ tech workers from abroad, Canada has streamlined its own tech immigration policies. In turn, Canada has become a technology hub. Recently a number of US tech companies, like Amazon and Microsoft, have expanded their offices in Canada. Presumably that’s easier than dealing with ever-tightening US immigration laws. This indicates that in effect, a fear of foreigners taking US jobs has lead to some US jobs going abroad.

That’s presented a challenge for the US’s most dominant industry. Indeed, CEOs from many tech companies have been clamoring for immigration reform.

Tech companies have been asking the government for years to ease the immigration process and increase the quotas on new H-1B applicants — which has remained at 85,000 and is only a tiny fraction of a percentage of the overall job market — since 2006. In that time, the technology industry has ballooned to be by far the biggest segment of the US economy.

Smaller tech companies are facing steeper challenges

“For super-unique, hard skills, you have to look as wide as possible to find the best possible set of candidates to meet the needs of the company,” Ben Schmitt, of information security at Dwolla, a Des Moines, Iowa-based online payments software company, told Recode.

“Someone with specific advanced knowledge of cryptography is tough to hire for,” Schmitt said.

A year and a half ago the company found the perfect candidate, but he’d need an H-1B visa to work in the states. “The person had worked under a well-known cryptographer; he had experience in really hard skills that nicely aligned with our requirements,” Schmitt said.

Dwolla was able to make the hire because Schmitt and the 100-plus person company’s general counsel have had experience with H-1B applications, and were able to get an approval on the first try. The process can take upwards of a year or two — famously, it took the CEO of the now-public US tech company Zoom nine tries to get approved for a visa.

“It takes a lot of time and there are a lot of unknowns,” Schmitt said. “It requires luck and skill, especially for a small company trying to move fast.“

Bart Lorang, founder and CEO of FullContact, has had much less luck with H-1Bs.

In the past few years Lorang’s Colorado-based identity resolution company has acquired a series of other software companies — in Latvia, India, and Tel Aviv — but has since been unable to move most of those tech workers here.

“Literally we flew every employee in the Latvia office here and gave them the pitch on moving to Colorado.” Those six or so employees all agreed to relocate, but most weren’t able to get H-1Bs for various reasons, including lacking what United States Citizenship and Immigration Services deemed unique enough skills or the right level of education. The company now employs 30 people in Latvia.”

“It got worse in the last couple of years, so we sort of gave up,” Lorang told Recode. “What we ended up doing instead of trying to get people to the states is, we’ve grown our staff in other countries, although that wasn’t our initial strategy. We wanted to bring jobs to the US.”

FullContact now employs about 250 people, many of whom are software engineers. Eighty are in the US. Only one has an H-1B visa.

How the government is adding more hurdles

The Trump administration has systematically stymied immigration at multiple levels, by making criteria more strict, asking for more documentation and generally taking longer to process immigration applications.

Although Trump has stressed the need for high-skill tech workers in the US, at the same time he has made it harder for those workers to come here.

In its latest annual report, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ director drew attention to the increasing absolute number of visas processed, but the processing rate has actually gone down, according to calculations made using the organization’s own data. The USCIS discouraged calculating a rate.

“They frame this report to show they are adjudicating more of these petitions than ever before. But when you look at the amount being adjudicated as percentage of the backlog plus new receipts, it’s actually down,” Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute think tank, told Recode.

As Doug Rand, cofounder of Boundless Immigration, a company that helps people navigate the US immigration system, told Recode: “That’s like the DMV bragging that they processed a record number of appointments today, even though the line is still going out the door and around the block.”

The USCIS is funded almost entirely on processing fees, so it’s not dependent on government allocations to do its job.

India is seeing the brunt of immigration reform

Indeed’s data also delved into how interest in US tech jobs has changed by country.

India, the country that receives by far the most H-1B visas, had an 8 percent decline in interest in US tech jobs from Q1 2018 to Q1 2019, according to Indeed. Meanwhile, interest from Germany, France and Russia increased more than 25 percent in that time. This flip is also one of the reasons that the overall interest in US tech jobs has stayed level.

The change may be connected to new immigration rules that have been directed at outsourcing companies by specifically targeting companies that place workers at third-party sites or where 15 percent or more of their workforce is on H-1Bs. Many of those types of companies are based in India and hire Indians.

Stricter rules geared at Indian tech companies could be having a chilling effect on Indians’ interest in US jobs.

“It’s possible, especially if these groups we’re attacking with higher scrutiny are disproportionally groups that hire Indians, that the general sentiment is that the US is closed for Indians,” Pierce said.

She added that the effect wouldn’t just impact outsourcing companies: “Within those groups, they’re also punishing legitimate companies that are just trying to hire the best and brightest and use programs as intended.”

Meanwhile, Indian interest in Canada tech jobs is up.

Source: Strict US immigration laws make Canada more attractive to tech workers

For India’s Muslims, palpable fear of what another Modi term brings

Of note:

Last week, as results started trickling in from India’s election, I was in Stockholm, delivering a keynote speech on the power of journalism in India. I was speaking to a crowd of 400 Swedish journalists and academics about Indian democracy, its secular character and the importance of investigative journalism under a strongman such as Narendra Modi, when my phone started to beep.

It was a text from my brother: “Modi has won with a massive majority.”

My thoughts drifted as I gazed at the audience, wondering if my words – or career as a journalist in this country – had any significance. As an investigative reporter, covering the politics of Mr. Modi for more than a decade, I have had a front-row seat watching him dehumanize India’s Muslim population.

In 2002, roughly 1,000 Muslims were butchered in the Hindu-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat, which was under Mr. Modi’s leadership.

As a 19-year-old relief worker at the time, I spent days in the relief camps after the riots, watching women who had been traumatized by rape, children who had witnessed the blood bath of their family members. Each relief camp was representative of the hate that had been peddled by leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party leading to the carnage. In one of his speeches, Mr. Modi spokeabout dismantling the relief camps: “Should we run relief camps, open child-producing centres?” The question was a direct reference to Muslim women and children who were affected by the anti-Muslim riots.

In a verdict in one of the riot cases, the Supreme Court of India called the Modi government “modern-day Neros” who “looked the other way as innocent children and women were butchered.” The United States later refused a visa to Mr. Modi after human-rights organizations protested his entry into the country because of his anti-Muslim track record during the riots.

In 2005, I covered the involvement of Amit Shah, the first serving Home Minister of State of Gujarat, in connection to the deaths of two Muslims: Mr. Shah was initially charged with murder and later acquitted.

He has now been reinstated as the president of the ruling party and is now the second-most powerful man in India, after Mr. Modi. In the run-up to the 2019 general election, he not-so-subtly insulted one specific group of migrants – Muslims. In a campaign rally, Mr. Shah said, “the BJP would find these termites and throw them out,” adding that citizenship would, however, be granted to every Hindu and Buddhist refugee. That, of course, leaves just one group to fall into the “termite” category.

But this country’s Muslims have always been acutely aware of how Mr. Modi feels about them.

In 2010, I went undercover to expose complicity of the state in the violence against Muslims. I posed as a Hindu nationalist from the United States, as an American filmmaker seeking to glorify Mr. Modi for an American audience. In a span of eight months I met some of the top bureaucrats, officials who worked under Mr. Modi in 2002. They confessed his complicity in the Gujarat riots; one bragged to me that Mr. Modi let the violence worsen, so it would help him in his re-election.

The last person I met, disguised as Maithili Tyagi (my undercover name) was Narendra Modi. I praised his international image in United States; he blushed. He directed my attention to a copy of a book on Barack Obama and said, “Maithili, one day I want to be like him.” Of course, his political career has proven otherwise.

In 2014, Mr. Modi was voted in as the 14th Prime Minister of India, a campaign he fought the basis of Sabka saath Sabka Vikaas (inclusive leadership for all). Skeptics who had observed his political career were not convinced; Mr. Modi did not disappoint. In the five years of Modi rule, India has turned into a nightmare for Muslims, with routine lynchings for alleged consumption of beef; Mr. Modi’s cabinet minister, Jayant Sinha, has been criticized for garlanding a group of men who had been convicted of murdering a Muslim man.

Further, in the run-up to the elections, Mr. Modi’s party fielded Pragya Thakur, a priestess who has been charged with plotting a bomb attack in a Muslim-dominated area, a bombing that took 10 lives. Recently, she won the parliamentary seat, and will enter the Indian government after a campaign focused on anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The attempts made in the past five years have made Indians fear for the secular character of our republic: a leader with absolute majority, drunk on power and reckless disregard of institutions, with dreams of being a right-wing mascot a generation that is swaying to his majoritarian utopia.

Indians pride themselves on being a diverse country of 1.3 billion, with a culture that has refused nationalist influence, despite attempts by various right wing ideologies. The world’s largest democracy has remained resilient to authoritarian regimes, and yet retained its essential syncretic character envisaged by the founding fathers of independent India.

The Modi regime could choose to restore the cracks it has caused, if the Prime Minister would reveal a moral compass that aims to unite. If he continues to revel in this majoritarian and hyper-nationalist malaise that afflicted his previous term, the wound will fester and the cracks could be well beyond repair.

Source: For India’s Muslims, palpable fear of what another Modi term brings Rana Ayyub

Actor’s Canadian citizenship leaves India’s ruling BJP red faced | Article

The irony:

The Hindi film actor Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia, popularly known as Akshay Kumar, and known for his proximity to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), confessed that he is no longer an Indian citizen.

His admission that he holds a Canadian passport comes soon after he conducted a “non-political” interview of prime minister Narendra Modi while general elections were underway. In the interview, questions like whether Modi likes mangoes and how he eats them drew a lot of mirth and derision from social media users.

Kumar is also known for projecting himself as a uber nationalist. One of his recent films, Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, was seen as a vehicle to promote a much-touted scheme of the BJP government.

His earlier films are seen as vehicles of a muscular government ready to take on enemies of the state through assassinations and kidnappings. His films like KesariRustom, Goldand Airlift, among others, focus on themes relating to nationalism.

Meanwhile the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has stoked nationalism while using the national security plank for its electoral campaign.

Kumar’s citizenship issue has become a big deal because BJP supporters frequently subject people from India’s religious minorities to “loyalty tests.” For instance, Muslims and other government critics are frequently asked to “go to Pakistan.” Kumar’s colleagues in Bollywood, Amir Khan and Naseeruddin Shah, had to face such questions when they stated that they were not feeling safe under the current government. Kumar had snubbed Khan for his comments.

As social media users raised questions over the citizenship of Bollywood’s poster boy for nationalism, the situation got worse as Mumbai went to the polls when Kumar’s wife, Twinkle Khanna, turned up at the polling booth on April 29 but he was not seen voting.

Moreover, the actor chose to ignore and walk away when he was questioned by journalists about not voting in the Lok Sabha elections in Mumbai, the capital of western Indian state Maharashtra. Kumar responded to the question with “Chaliye, chaliye (let’s go, let’s go)” as he walked away. Later, he would state that he is a Canadian citizen. Trolls had a field day on social media.

It was out and out ironical as the actor was recently tagged by PM Modi in a tweet urging him to encourage people to vote. Kumar did so. He tweeted saying: “The true hallmark of a democracy lies in people’s participation in the electoral process. Voting has to be a superhit . . . between our nation and its voters.”

The row over his already controversial citizenship issue started after his recent interview with PM Modi. The prime minister, known for rarely giving interviews to journalists, spoke to the actor in an interview described as “informal and non-political.”

Kumar issued a statement on May 3 on Twitter acknowledging his Canadian citizenship while underlining his Indian patriotism: “I really don’t understand the unwarranted interest and negativity about my citizenship. I have never hidden or denied that I hold a Canadian passport. It is also equally true that I have not visited Canada in the last seven years. I work in India, and pay all my taxes in India. While all these years, I have never needed to prove my love for India to anyone, I find it disappointing that my citizenship issue is constantly dragged into needless controversy, a matter that is personal, legal, non-political, and of no consequence to others.”

Kumar proudly declared that he pays his taxes in India. In fact that is not something he does by choice. It is mandated by law.

India has a residency-based taxation system, not a citizenship-based one. Indian citizens who are persons of Indian origin (PIO), overseas citizens of India (OCI) or foreign citizens and who are residents of India for more than 182 days have to pay tax and file income tax return in India. Furthermore, when someone is a resident in India for income tax purposes, income earned anywhere in the world is taxable in India.

Kumar, who had been at the top position for several years among the highest taxpayers in Bollywood, had paid Rs. 295 million in 2017.

Bhatia’s citizenship controversy is not new. In 2017, in an interview with Times Now, Kumar claimed he was an “honorary citizen” of Canada: “About the Canadian thing. I am an honorary citizen. I have been given an honorary thing. It is a thing that people should be proud of. I have an honorary doctorate as well.”

However, according to a fact-check done by Alt News, The website of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lists the people who have been given honorary Canadian citizenship and it names six individuals including Pakistani Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafsai. Kumar’s name does not appear in the list. The report also says that an honorary citizen cannot hold a Canadian passport, as Kumar does.

After Kumar’s statement, actor Anupam Kher came out in his support on Twitter. Kher is known as a vocal supporter of the BJP and his wife, also an actor, Kirron Kher is a BJP lawmaker.

Source: Actor’s Canadian citizenship leaves India’s ruling BJP red faced | Article

Why giant statues of Hindu gods and leaders are making Muslims in India nervous – The Conversation

Not encouraging:

Statues – big statues, the largest in the world – are being built all across India.

Like many public monuments, they attempt to convey history in a concrete form. But India’s new statues convey something else, too: the power and vision of one dominant group – and the vulnerability of others.

That’s because India’s biggest new public monuments all pay tribute to Hindu gods and leaders.

As a scholar of social change in India, I see statues as a projection of a nation’s values at a particular moment in time. For many Muslims and other religious minorities, then, these hulking public monuments of Hindu icons send an ominous message about their status in society.

Rising Hindu nationalism

The mammoth public shrines to Hindu nationalism are a pet project of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.

Since taking office in 2014, Modi has used his power to promote Hindu nationalism, a polarizing ideology that sees Hindus as India’s dominant group. Yet India is a constitutionally multicultural country with the world’s second largest population of Muslims – comprising over 170 million people.

Twenty percent of its 1.3 billion people are Muslim, Christian or another religion.

By 2021 India, which is already home to the tallest statue in the world – Gujarat state’s 597-foot-tall “Statue of Unity,” commemorating Indian independence hero Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – plans to unveil two more record-breaking monuments, both portraying icons idolized by Hindu rightists.

A 725-foot bronze likeness of the god Ram planned for Uttar Pradesh state will soon surpass the Statue of Unity in size. And in Mumbai construction has been halted on a 695-foot-tall likeness of the medieval Hindu warrior Shivaji, pending the results of an environmental review.

Guinness World Records also recently judged Tamil Nadu state’s 112-foot depiction of the face of the Hindu god Shiva as the world’s largest bust statue.

All this is happening under Modi, who is up for re-election in monthlong general elections that start on April 11.

He was voted into office in 2014 on a platform of “development for all.” Promising to boost the economy in a country where nearly 22% of people live in poverty and millions go hungry, Modi and the BJP won an historic parliamentary majority over the center-left Indian National Congress, its main competitor.

Since then, India has improved in international “ease of doing business” rankings, passing regulations that improve commerce and the protection of property rights.

But some of Modi’s boldest moves to improve cash flow and boost public revenues, including a 2017 tax reform initiative and a ban on saving in certain high-value currencies, have failed. Unemployment has risen under BJP rule, particularly in rural areas, and the national economy suffered during the “demonetization” process.

Over the last five years, under Modi’s administration, India has also seen a startling rise of Hindu vigilante violence.

Indian vigilante ‘cow killings’

The attacks – often called “cow protection” – are sometimes deadly assaults that target Muslims and other Indians who, unlike many Hindus, do not consider cows to be sacred.

Hindu militants killed at least 44 Indians and injured 280 in about 100 attacks between May 2015 and December 2018, according to the international not-for-profit Human Rights Watch. Most of the dead were Muslims in states run by Modi’s political party.

The prime minister and his BJP have faced criticism for being slow to condemn anti-Muslim violence and for prioritizing legislation to safeguard cows, not the victims of vigilantism. Cow protection violence has also crippled India’s beef and leather industries, since they are primarily Muslim-run.

Muslim men who date Hindu women are another common target of vigilante violence, as are students, journalists, academics and artists perceived to be critical of Modi’s leadership.

The Hindu nationalists’ crusade against pluralism takes place even as the Modi administration cracks down on civil liberties. Between 2014 and 2016, 179 people were arrested on charges of sedition for protests, critical blogs or anti-government posts on Facebook, according to government crime statistics.

Fears of religious minority groups

This is the cultural context that has Muslims worried over India’s statue-building spree.

The BJP is not the first party to build public monuments celebrating only one segment of Indian society.

From 2007 to 2012, a top politician named Mayawati built numerous memorials and parks across Uttar Pradesh state commemorating leaders from India’s marginalized Dalit class, formerly known as the “untouchables.” Mayawati, a Dalit, commissioned statues of herself, her political mentor Kanshi Ram and other Dalit icons who fought against India’s caste system.

It was the first time such grand homage had been paid to the Dalit leaders who crusaded against India’s deep-rooted caste system.

But the US$800 million price invited scrutiny, and the courts have asked Mayawati to repay some of those funds.

India’s election commission also insisted that Mayawati’s statues be shrouded ahead of state elections in 2012, saying the visibility of the then-chief minister and her party symbol might sway voters.

In contrast, resistance to India’s giant new statues has been muted. And Hindu nationalists are pushing for more public commemoration of their faith.

In November 2018, tens of thousands of Hindus gathered to demand the construction of a Hindu temple in the Indian city of Ayodhya – at the same spot where, in 1992, Hindu zealots demolished an ancient Muslim-built mosque.

The proposal to build instead an enormous statue of Ram in Ayodhya is widely seen as an effort to placate Hindu nationalists in their decades-long quest for a Ram temple.

Fearing a repeat of the deadly violence that destroyed the ancient mosque, some local Muslims fled the city last November.

Indian elections

Indians will decide whether to give Modi another five years when they vote this spring in the world’s biggest election.

Recent polls show Modi and his BJP leading in a race in which several competitor parties have allied to defeat him.

The prime minister’s public approval got a 7% boost, to 52%, after India’s brief but sharp escalation of recent tension with neighboring Pakistan, a majority Muslim state.

Border disputes are a classic move for a strongman leader during election season. Paying homage to Hindu nationalist icons in the form of giant public monuments, however, is something different. Modi is transforming secular India, one statue at a time.

Source: Why giant statues of Hindu gods and leaders are making Muslims in India nervous – The Conversation