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

Why Narendra Modi has an enduring Muslim problem in India

Interesting article on some of the underlying and long-standing tensions with and prejudices regarding Muslims in India and how PM Modi has increased them:

Lucille Eichengreen was a school girl in Hamburg. Like most children she had many friends and a carefree childhood. Her world changed overnight. “Hitler came to power in January 1933. The children that lived in the same building…no longer spoke to us. They threw stones at us, they called us names, and that was maybe three months after Hitler came to power, and we could not understand what we had done to deserve this…And when we asked at home the answer pretty much was, ‘Oh it’s a passing phase, it won’t matter, it will normalise.’ What that actually meant we did not know. But we could not understand the change.”

“Well, Levine, have you got your ticket to Palestine?”

She was not alone.  Eugene Levine used to study in a mixed religion school where, one day, he was taunted by a non-Jewish boy, who was his friend, “Well, Levine, have you got your ticket to Palestine?” Eugene was shocked. “But, you see, anti-Semitism’s always there beneath the surface.” These incidents are a part of a history that even the Germans don’t want to remember any longer. Both the statements, together, hint at a fact that is distasteful, dangerous and apocalyptical.

It is a lesserknown fact of history that Hindenburg who appointed Hitler as chancellor, had refused twice before to appoint him to the post. He had said in November 1932, that a presidential cabinet headed by Hitler would inevitably develop into a party dictatorship with all its consequences, resulting in a worsening of the antagonisms within the German people.

Unlike Hindenburg, Indian president Pranab Mukherjee did not have any choice but to obey the will of the people; and at that time if he had any reservations about the turn of events, he did not share it with anyone. But it is to be noted that a section of the intelligentsia had always viewed Modi as a polarising figure who unabashedly pursued Hindutva and did not hide his views vis-a-vis minorities. His image as a Hindutva icon was one of the major reasons for his success and he did not flinch in exploiting it to the hilt, though he did marry it with the utopia of development and the idea of making India great again.

He could succeed only because like in Germany prejudice against Muslims had been lying dormant in a section of Hindus for long. To be fair to Modi and the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), this prejudice against Muslims existed even before the RSS was formed in 1925.

The problem with the RSS is that it has failed to understand, that in independent India, two incidents—the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and the 2002 Gujarat riots—have majorly impacted the Muslims’ collective psyche, scarred them emotionally, and shaken their belief in the Indian legal system.

Modi’s identification with Gujarat riots is too overwhelming in the Muslim community. And his rule since 2014 has not helped lessen the burden of history; rather it has created new fissures in their minds, inflicted much deeper emotional wounds and constructed a regime of alienation, helplessness and betrayal.

Modi’s identification with Gujarat riots is too overwhelming in the Muslim community.

The killing of Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan, Junaid and others by cow vigilantes; the subsequent collaboration of state machinery to save the perpetrators; no urgent and unequivocal condemnation of these incidents from Modi and Bhagwat; felicitation of mob lynching accused and convicted Hindutvavadis by central ministers; provocative statements by BJP/RSS leaders targeting Muslims; sudden closure of abattoirs in UP and other states without any opportunities for alternate ways of livelihood; forced ban on beef in northern and western states by BJP governments at a time when India is the leading beef exporter in the world; the arrest and brutal beatings of Muslim youth in the name of love jihad; insulting and intimidating Muslims who tried to offer namaaz in an open space; regular violations of the symbols of Muslim identity; a nonstop attempt to portray and lampoon them as terrorist and anti-national by the Hindutva Brigade on TV Channels and social media; the Modi government’s effort to abrogate instant triple Talaq and through that to build a narrative that the community is regressive, and so on, has built a perception in the community that the Indian state has become anti-Muslim in its ethos and practice.

Since 2014, a section of Hindus have rediscovered their Hindutva which if scratched a bit, reveals an anti-Muslim point of view. Flaunting an anti-Muslim attitude is definitely massively on the rise. The stereotyping of Muslims has increased manifold. The present status of Muslims in India, reminds me of Silvia Vesela, a Slovakian Jew, who was held in a temporary camp in 1942, where death was staring her in the face. She said, “It hurt, it really hurt when I, for example, saw many schoolmates shouting with fists raised, ‘It serves you right!’ Since that time I do not expect anything of people.”

Since Modi took over the reins of the government a paradigm shift has taken place. Muslims have started feeling that the state had now started interfering in matters of their religion and culture. Anwar Alam writes, “It is the religio-cultural alienation which might strengthen the process of radicalistion among Indian Muslims. The demolition of Babri masjid was a jolt to the faith of the Muslim community. Since 2014 when the present NDA government came into power at the Centre, it has initiated a series of policy measures including the issue of criminalising instant triple talaq and keeping a distance from sharing Muslim/Islamic symbolism in the public domain that deeply concerns the Muslim community: whether they are any longer free to practice their religion freely in this nation.”

“Hindus are not seen as religious enemies. The problem is the RSS and Hindutva.”

During research for this book I met many Muslim intellectuals and leaders. I could sense that there was a definite unease in the Muslim community vis-a-vis the Modi government, guarded by a rather deceptive silence. The present crisis is being perceived as an existential crisis. Therefore a lot of internal churning is going on. It has been acknowledged by the community that the traditional leadership of the Muslim community has let them down. Now, young and educated leaders are taking the lead and trying to organise the community. Older leaders are extremely cautious in articulating their views on issues related to politics, and it has been communicated to all, especially the youth to not get provoked, whatever be the nature of the provocation. Anand Vivek Taneja, assistant professor of anthropology and religious studies at the University of Vanderbilt, USA, had been touring areas such as Aligarh, Lucknow, Kolkata, Patna, Hyderabad and so on, across the country for his research on Muslims. During an interview with me, he said, “[The] Muslim community is definitely in a self -reflective mood and there is an extraordinary amount of restraint but (the) community also makes a clear distinction that the present problems it is facing is because of the current politics. There is no ill feeling against Hindus per se. Hindus are not seen as religious enemies. The problem is the RSS and Hindutva.”

Source: Why Narendra Modi has an enduring Muslim problem in India

Douglas Todd: Female foreign students endure harassment, exploitation

Of note:

Female foreign students from South Asia are experiencing sexual harassment by landlords, exploitation by bosses, and ethno-cultural double-standards, all the while dealing with their own fears of being deported.

Metro Vancouver community workers are warning about the particular vulnerability of the increasing number of young women coming to Canada from the Punjab region of India and other parts of South Asia, whose often-modest families have sold off much of their property and assets to get them to Canada.

Stories are emerging that some female international students — desperate to make enough money to avoid returning to their homelands — are resorting to offering sexual services to landlords and are even getting involved in the drug trade, says Kal Dosanjh, a police officer who runs a Surrey-based support program called Kids Play.

The young women are frightened, especially when exploitative employers in the underground economy, including at some restaurants, threaten to report them to immigration officials and have them deported, said Dosanjh.

“When these kids, who don’t know the law, hear about deportation, they get scared, because they’ve already spent so much money coming to Canada, and so much money surviving here, that the last thing they need is to be sent back to their country,” Dosanjh said.

There are more than 500,000 foreign students in Canada. After a jump of almost 50,000 additional students from India in 2017, one quarter of Canada’s international students now come from there.

“It’s a source of shame if they get sent home. They fear they’ll never get the chance to come back to Canada,” said Dosanjh, who also works with male foreign students whom he says tend to get exploited by under-paying construction companies or become low-level participants in the drug trade to pay high student fees and rents.

Being able to fly into Canada on a student visa is seen as the “ticket out of India, out of poverty” for many students, said Dosanjh. “For them to be able to stay here means everything in terms of future job prospects, monetary wealth, sanitary conditions, a significant change in lifestyle.” Many will put up with a lot of hardship to avoid going home.

MOSAIC, a large B.C. settlement service for migrants, this year began training teachers and other education officials about what they could do to support women among Metro Vancouver’s 110,000 foreign students, who the agency maintains are generally “more likely to be sexually assaulted and less likely to be helped” than native-born students.

“New research confirms that international students reported more sexual assault than domestic students and experience more intense fear, helplessness and horror after victimization,” says a statement from MOSAIC, whose 350 staff members are led by CEO Olga Stachova.

“Some perpetrators of sexual violence see international students as easy targets — too ashamed to report sexual assaults, unaware of where they can get help and influenced by different cultural norms.”

MOSAIC highlighted the case of Maham Kamal Khanum, an international student from Pakistan at UBC, who said sexual violence against women is “normalized” in her home country. “It was almost a culture shock to learn how unacceptable sexual violence was here,” Khanum said.

Dupinder Kaur Saran, Kal Dosanjh, Kiran Toor. Saran and Toor are volunteers with Kids Play, which helps youth in Surrey who are getting into trouble. Kal Dosanjh is a police officer and head of the non-profit group.

Many international students “don’t have a place to belong” when they come to Canada, says Kiran Toor, who, along with Dupinder Saran, has volunteered to work with international students through Kids Play, a large Surrey-based non-profit organization devoted to supporting young people, particularly South Asians.

Many foreign students are under a great deal of financial, social and academic pressure, including to learn English.

A recent article in Desi Today, an Indo-Canadian magazine in B.C., said it’s common for male and female foreign students to work more than the 20 hours a week permitted under a Canadian study visa.

The magazine quoted South Asian community workers who know of intimidated young women being sexually harassed in the workplace by employers, because they have worked many hours over their allowed limit and don’t want to be reported to border officials.

The young women especially feel shame about admitting to something that might hurt their reputations.

In 2017 there was a sudden jump of 48,000 more students from India. (Source: Canadian Bureau for International Education)

While Dosanjh said many female students from India are “liberal, open-minded and sophisticated,” Desi Today quoted community officials who said some traditional Indo-Canadians are “talking bad about the girl students from India.” Some Indo-Canadians don’t like that the young women are often see in public with males. Most officials cited in Desi Today did not respond to The Vancouver Sun’s messages.

At the worst, Dosanjh said, some Indian foreign students who are desperate for cash are getting involved in prostitution and the drug trade. The young men, says the longtime Vancouver police officer, are generally serving as “mules” and the women are agreeing to hold drugs for their male friends.

The effort to help schools provide more support to female foreign students who arrive in Canada without support networks is hampered, MOSAIC’s Stachova said, by the under-reporting of difficult incidents. “The students always think they have the worry: What will happen to my status in Canada?”

Even though the problem of exploitation of female foreign students is real in Metro Vancouver, Stachova said it has to be put into perspective. “I don’t want to sound alarmist,” Stachova said, “because we are generally a safe country.”

Still, the stakes are exceedingly high for the students.

As Dosanjh says, many families in India, particularly in the Punjab, see Canada as a kind of heaven on earth. “So the young people think of it is a land of rich amenities, where they can have a better life, become permanent residents and eventually sponsor their family to come over. That means that once these students come here the last thing most of them want to do is return to India.”

All of which make them more susceptible than most to exploitation.

foreign students from South Asia are experiencing sexual harassment by landlords, exploitation by bosses, and ethno-cultural double-standards, all the while dealing with their own fears of being deported. Metro Vancouver community workers are warning about the particular vulnerability of the increasing number of young women coming to Canada from the Punjab region of India and other parts of South Asia, whose often-modest families have sold off much of their property and assets to get them to Canada.

Source: Douglas Todd: Female foreign students endure harassment, exploitation

Protesters in India claim victory as #citizenship bill stalls

Apparent end:

Protesters in northeast India claimed victory on Wednesday after a bill that the government says will help Hindus in neighboring countries settle in India lapsed before it could be ratified by parliament.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill is aimed at helping Hindus and members of other non-Muslim minority communities in neighboring Muslim countries move to India.

But critics say the legislation is as an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) burnish its Hindu-nationalist credentials ahead of a general election, that must be held by May.

The bill had incited exceptional opposition in remote, ethnically diverse northeastern states where for years residents have complained that migrants from Bangladesh are a burden on society.

For days, protesters have taken to the streets, bringing chaos to several cities in the region. Authorities have responded with curfews and blocks on broadcasters in an attempt to quell the unrest.

The lower house of parliament passed the bill last month but it was not ratified by the upper house before the end of its last session before the election, on Wednesday.

Activists in the northeast welcomed parliament’s failure to push the legislation through.

“This is a moral victory for the people of the northeast with the BJP forced to bow down to the voices of struggle,” Samujjal Bhattacharya, a leader of the All Assam Students’ Union, one of the protesting groups, told Reuters.

Members of the Assam state organization had threatened to “shed blood” to block the bill.

Protests over recent days have also rocked the small state of Manipur, where authorities imposed an indefinite curfew and suspended mobile internet services for five days late on Tuesday, following violent protests.

Police said people were defying the curfew on Wednesday.

Protests also erupted in Mizoram state, where some activists have given voice to old separatist aspirations.

Source: Protesters in India claim victory as citizenship bill stalls

Is India Becoming a Hindu Pakistan?

Have been following some of the Indian media regarding this issue and found this commentary in Bloomberg of interest. Not sure how much this is being taken up in the Canadian South Asian media:

India is, and has been since independence in 1947, a liberal secular democracy. Its first generation of leaders resolutely refused to accept the argument of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah that the Hindus and the Muslims of the subcontinent represented two different nations. Thus, while Pakistan became a Muslim homeland, India insisted it was a state for citizens of all creeds. Whatever else might have changed in the seven decades since, that much has remained true.

Till now. For the first time, India’s leaders have sought to redefine the country effectively as a home for South Asians that aren’t Muslims — and they’re enshrining the distinction into law. That’s the underlying message of a bill that was passed this week by the lower house of India’s Parliament, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has a majority.

The new law amends the religion-blind Citizenship Act written in the early years of Indian independence “to facilitate acquisition of citizenship by six identified minority communities namely Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.” Calling them “persecuted migrants,” the government minister who introduced the amendment said “they have nowhere to go but India.”

Sadly, that may well be true. Many of India’s neighbors have a far worse record dealing with their religious minorities than India has with its own. And India must certainly welcome them.

Yet, in spite of its claims, India’s government is not in fact acting purely on humanitarian impulses. After all, at the moment the most persecuted minority on India’s borders are the Rohingyas who have fled Myanmar; being Muslim, they’re very obviously not welcome. Neither are the Shias and Ahmadis who are the focus of everyday violence in Pakistan — or, for that matter, the atheist bloggers of Bangladesh that have been threatened by machete-wielding extremists. As one commentator put it, the amendment could be summed up in one phrase: “No Muslims please, this is India.”

Not surprisingly, electoral politics — and the complex history of India’s eastern states — are also playing a role. The state of Assam has been convulsed in the past by violence supposedly directed at migrants from next-door Bangladesh, but in fact targeting anyone of Bengali ethnicity, regardless of national or religious background.

A decades-old accord set the date beyond which cross-border migration became illegal at 1971, the same year that Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan. Now, the government is demanding people prove they or their parents arrived before then — an absurd process that, if carried to its logical end, would require India to set up internment camps for literally hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. (Some camps have alreadybeen built.) The government hopes, through the new citizenship rules, to ensure that no non-Muslims are caught up in this sweep of “foreigners.”

Assam’s sub-nationalists are furious: They don’t want to welcome any outsiders, Hindus included. Yet the government is facing a tight reelection later this year, and at least some BJP strategists appear to hope that anti-Muslim sentiment will serve as a wedge issue elsewhere in India — especially in nearby West Bengal state.

Personally, I doubt that will work; like Assam, West Bengal is one of those parts of India where ethnicity has traditionally counted for more than religion. In the religiously polarized north and west of India, however, the law might help the BJP mobilize a few million extra voters.

Surely even a few million votes aren’t worth allowing India to lose a seven-decade old argument and accept that Jinnah’s “two-nation theory” was correct after all? Is an election victory worth making India’s 170 million Muslims feel unwelcome in their own country?

I would argue that, for the BJP, it isn’t just about the votes. It’s precisely about changing what India has represented for 70 years. That’s why the party has repeatedly invoked the memory of Partition when discussing the new law. The BJP’s most popular leader in Assam called Assam’s Muslims “Jinnahs.”

Modi himself put things bluntly: The new law, he said, was meant as penance for errors committed at the time of Partition. Contrary to the official histories of India, many in the BJP don’t believe dividing the subcontinent in 1947 was a tragic error. Modi told a Muslim journalist in 2012: “You people find your mouth watering because you think by combining India, Pakistan and Bangladesh … the country would have a lot of Muslims.”

In India, disputes over decades-old history can still determine elections. But, the country has held together and stayed largely peaceful precisely because the muddled secular liberalism that united most of India’s founding generation was enshrined in its laws. If India abandons those principles, it will become a darker and more dangerous place.

Source: Is India Becoming a Hindu Pakistan?

Martin Patriquin: Outrage over Bye bye India trip skit is misplaced

I agree. There is too much of an “outrage” industry on both right and left, and an apparently inability to understand context and intent:

Comedians are a particularly vulnerable bunch in this time of viral outrage and weaponized conceit. Strip the context, nuance, delivery, message and intent from the schtick of Dave Chapelle, arguably one of the funniest people on the planet, and the resulting transcript would read like the ramblings of either a deranged racist or an unrepentant homophobe — or both, with a soupçon of misogyny to boot.

Judging comedians solely on their onstage words and actions is reductive and misleading, the rough mental equivalent of thinking Christian Bale is actually Batman, or Kate Winslet really tumbled from the Titanic into the North Atlantic in 1912.

Which brings us, somewhat reluctantly, to the most recent Bye bye, Radio-Canada’s comedic send-off of the year that was. The 90-minute show, an enduring institution in this province, generates belly laughs by slaying the year’s sacred cow brigade of politicians, artists, media personalities and vedettes. It is usually funny and sometimes extremely so. And it almost always pisses someone off.

This year, the outrage stemmed from literal sacred cows — or at least cutouts of sacred cows, supposedly located in India, punched by a gorilla with Donald Trump hair. Then the gorilla does the floss. Before this, Justin Trudeau smoked a joint and ventured into an Indian-themed dreamscape where he donned a Kurta and danced a lazy Bollywood-ish boogie amid other costumed dancers.

Again, explaining in print a joke that aired just over a week ago is a lesson in absurdity. Equally absurd were the complaints resulting from the skit, which came within the first days of 2019. “It’s not the first time I’m experiencing some sort of prejudice or racism. I see it as racism,” dancer Ashwin Nair told Global News. “The way the actor playing Trudeau was dancing was very mocking.”

So, too, was the sacred cow bit and the part where Trudeau, as a snake charmer, coaxed gas pumps from woven baskets, which fellow dancer Ina Bhowmick categorized as “very insulting” and “a mockery of an ancient tradition.” The outrage continues to percolate online as I write these words.

This outrage is understandable only if the critics had divorced the skit of its intent — which, in the world of comedy, is the most important bit. It would have been one thing had the Bye bye writers actually been satirizing India, but they weren’t. It’s a bit tedious to have to explain this, but the skit’s intent wasn’t to mock Indian culture, but to pillory Trudeau’s own co-opting of it for political purposes.

In February, Trudeau travelled to India for a trade mission. While there, he made a very conspicuous show of embracing Indian culture, complete with frequent wardrobe changes, public making of chapati flatbread and Namaste prayer greetings en famille alongside his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and their kids.

It was the cringeworthy worst of Trudeau: a cultural dilettante flouncing about a country in clothes that clearly weren’t his in a tone-deaf stab at worldliness. The trip seemed to indicate that Trudeau has a somewhat simplistic take on multiculturalism, in which individual cultures can be boiled down to the clothes on their bodies and the food in their mouths. Coincidentally or not, the Indian-Canadian diaspora constitutes an important voting bloc for the Liberal Party of Canada.

In baseball, they call this sort of easy pitch a meatball. The Bye bye writers hit it out of the park in exactly two minutes and 29 seconds.

Claiming her feelings were hurt by the skit, Bhowmick, who teaches Bollywood dance, says she is considering filing a complaint with the CRTC, the body that oversees Radio-Canada and other broadcast media entities. It’s her right, and I hope she receives a fair hearing should she go through with it.

I also hope that hurt feelings and misplaced outrage aren’t the death knell of good satire in this province.

Source: Martin Patriquin: Outrage over Bye bye India trip skit is misplaced