Covid accelerates India’s millionaire exodus

Of note:

India’s wealthy have topped a list of people seeking to relocate abroad through visa programmes that offer citizenship or right of residence in other countries in return for investments.

There was very little Rahul (name changed) didn’t have going for him, when he made the tough call to leave India six years ago. He is the second generation scion of a well-heeled Delhi-based family. They have a flourishing exports business with a monopoly in what’s typically called a ‘sunrise sector’- an industry that has great future prospects.

But he left it all behind and moved to Dubai in 2015, to look after the company’s overseas expansion. He also got a citizenship by investment in one of the Caribbean nations. Harassment by tax authorities in India’s Enforcement Directorate was a key reason, he says.

“I could see it becoming a problem for someone who had businesses spread across the world,” he told the BBC. “With a foreign passport, the red-tape has reduced substantially. I am less worried about being slapped with a random tax demand.”

‘Tax terror’ has been a routine gripe among Indian corporate tycoons. When the founder and owner of India’s largest coffee chain, Cafe Coffee Day died in 2019, he accused a former director general of the income tax department of harassing him. But the government has continued to tighten its noose around business owners in recent years.

According to one report, tax searches by India’s income tax department have more than trebled in the last few years.

The government has argued this is being done to eradicate “black money – illegal cash, hidden from the tax authorities – and improve tax compliance. But critics say the overreach is also often on account of pressure on bureaucrats to meet revenue targets.

But hounding by the taxman was just one reason for his move, says Rahul. His decision was also prompted by a growing trend of “divide and rule politics” in India, he told us. He didn’t want his kids to grow up in India’s increasingly polarised environment.

Many others in his circle of wealthy friends were also renouncing their citizenship or resident status, he added.

These claims are borne out by figures from the wall-street investment bank Morgan Stanley. A 2018 bank report found that 23,000 Indian millionaires had left the country since 2014.

More recently, a Global Wealth Migration Review report revealed that nearly 5,000 millionaires, or 2% of the total number of high net-worth individuals in India left the country in 2020 alone. And Indians topped a list compiled by the London-headquartered global citizenship and residence advisory Henley & Partners (H&P), of those seeking citizenship or residency in other countries in return for monetary investments.

Covid-19 has been a big driver of what was an ongoing trend of wealthy Indians seeking to “globalise their lives and assets” according to H&P. So much so that the firm set up its office in India in the middle of the lockdown last year to cater to growing demand.

“I think they [clients] are realising they don’t want to wait for the second or third wave of the pandemic. They want to have their papers now that they are sitting at home. We refer to this as the insurance policy or Plan B,” Dominic Volek, Group Head of Private at Henley & Partners told the BBC on a video call from Dubai.

According to Mr Volek, the pandemic could be a game changer, because it is making the wealthy think about migration in a more holistic fashion. It is no longer just about visa-free travel, or ease of access to global markets, but about wealth diversification, better healthcare and education, to protect against the uncertainties brought about by the pandemic.

Countries like Portugal, which runs a ‘golden visa’ programme as well as countries like Malta and Cyprus are preferred destinations for India’s well heeled, according to H&P.

This exodus of big money is not necessarily permanent in nature – people merely invest money in another country as a fall-back option rather than take out all their money from their home country and cut business ties. But it doesn’t bode well for a developing nation like India, say experts.

“When this happens, they remove themselves, their entrepreneurial ability and their income and wealth from the tax base. This is likely to be detrimental in the long run. Their exit sends a poor signal about the ‘doing business climate’ in India,” says Rupa Subramanya, Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

Andrew Amoils, Head of Research at New World Wealth, a Johannesburg-based wealth intelligence group, told the Business Standard newspaper: “It can be a sign of bad things to come as high-net-worth individuals are often the first people to leave – they have the means to leave unlike middle-class citizens.”

Source: Covid accelerates India’s millionaire exodus

Farmers’ mass protests in India cut deeply across Canada

Diaspora politics in play between Sikh and Hindu Canadians.
Although South Asian Hindus are 3.9 percent of the population compared to 1.1 percent South Asian Sikhs, Canadian Sikhs are more concentrated in a number of ridings thus increasing their political weight (14 ridings with more than 10 percent Sikhs, four with more than 20 percent, 10 ridings with more than 10 percent Hindus, with no riding more than 20 percent, 2011 NHS):
Surrey’s Harjit Singh Gill visits his family’s ancestral farm in India almost every year.

The farm, like most in India, is small, with crops of wheat and rice. Some of it’s leased to his brother-in-law, Parminer Singh Rangian, and others in the 3,400-person village of Maksudra in the state of Punjab.

“Punjab feeds the tummies of the rest of India. Punjab feeds 500 million people,” says Gill, standing in his large yard in the Panorama Ridge neighbourhood. This is where he began 25 years ago as an immigrant taxi driver, before becoming a builder and eventually constructing his own mansion.

Despite the states of Punjab and adjacent Haryana forming the breadbasket of India, many of its farmers make meagre livings and are in debt, Gill says. Things are even worse for farmers in other parts of India, where 60 per cent of the population of 1.3 billion relies on agriculture to make a living. But the sector only accounts for one-sixth of the country’s GDP.

Three free-market reforms proposed in September by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — designed to end government-guaranteed crop prices and ostensibly improve productivity — have provoked hundreds of thousands of farmers from the state of Punjab and Haryana to take their tractors and set up continuing protest camps in Delhi, the capital of India. Some confrontations have turned violent.

International celebrities — including U.S. pop singer Rihanna, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and lifestyles entrepreneur Meena Harris, a niece of U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris — have proclaimed support for the farmers and called out Modi. In turn, the majority-backed Indian government has labelled them “foreign individuals” trading in “sensationalism.”

Tensions have been high across Canada, which has a Punjabi-Canadian population of 700,000, most of whom are Sikhs and many of whom have farming origins. They’ve helped organize large motorcade demonstrations against the Indian government in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Chilliwack, Surrey and downtown Vancouver, outside the consulate of India.

The frequent outcries have forced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into a complex, changing dance. He’s trying to balance hundreds of thousands of Indo-Canadians who support Modi, a Hindu nationalist, against the many Punjabi-Canadian voters and others who back the aggrieved farmers.

While Punjabi-language newspapers in Canada express outrage over Modi’s proposed reforms, other Indian-language media outlets in Canada have highlighted counter-protests praising Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. One recent pro-Modi demonstration brought 350 vehicles, many bearing the flag of India, to the Indian consulate in downtown Vancouver.

In December, Trudeau, appearing to take sides, came out supporting the Indian farmers’ “right to be heard.” B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan also tweeted he “understands the anguish” of Canadians sympathetic to the farmers.

But Modi’s allies have responded by accusing Trudeau of “legitimating extremist activism” in protesting in front of India’s consulates in Canada. This month, Trudeau, who has more than a dozen Sikh cabinet ministers and MPs in his government, reduced escalating animosity by asking for desperately needed vaccines from India. In turn, Modi let it be known he’s happy to help out his “friend.”

What does Gill think of all the high-level political machinations?

He is uncompromising. The protests aren’t only a fight for justice for farmers, Gill says, they’re also a crusade to safeguard Punjab, population 30 million, from Modi and his agribusiness cronies, who are keen to gobble up small farms.

“Modi has said to the farmers of Punjab: ‘We need your grain to feed the country.’ But really he wants complete control,” says Gill, comparing Modi with populist U.S. President Donald Trump.

The battle over guaranteed produce prices is “not all about farming. It’s about protecting Punjab,” the birthplace of Sikhism, says Gill, a popular talk-show host for Sher-E-Punjab Radio AM 600 who ran in 2019 for the federal NDP.

Even though Gill says he isn’t an advocate for a separate Sikh homeland called Khalistan — “because it’s not realistic to create a sovereign country within another country” — he would like India’s leaders to treat Sikhs in Punjab like Quebecers, who have distinct status within Canada.

Getting to the root of farmers’ conflict

Given the vehemence of the protests and a recent Indian high-court ruling, Modi, whose right-wing party handily won re-election in 2019, has offered to compromise by putting the reforms on hold.

But that hasn’t satisfied suspicious farmers in India, who want the proposals revoked. Nor has it quieted protest organizers across Canada, including in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, such as Pindia Dhaliwal.

The Punjabi diaspora, from New Zealand to California, Dhaliwal says, is determined to: “Ask India why they’re killing us? Ask India why they are oppressing us, why they’re silencing us, why they are persecuting minorities?”

Modi seeks to loosen strict regulations around the pricing and storage of produce, which have protected India’s farmers from the free-market system for decades. The government currently exempts farmers from income tax and crop insurance, guarantees a minimum price for 23 crops and regularly waives off debts. But the system disappoints all sides, with critics saying it’s rife with shady middlemen.

Along with many economists, Modi has argued that offering farmers a guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) for crops prevents them from bargaining for better prices.

Opponents in Canada, including Gill, are by no means alone in mistrusting Modi’s motives.

They say his reforms were poorly conceived, not to mention pushed forward during a pandemic without consultation.

Sanjay Ruparelia, a political scientist at Ryerson University in Toronto, says advocates of Modi’s three reforms say farmers would be able to sell their harvest to a much wider range of private actors, raising their incomes and reducing food prices.

“Yet, consider the fine print,” Ruparelia says. “There is also a very real risk that agricultural deregulation will lead to farmers being paid less than the minimum support price.’’

Interviewed while travelling in India on work, University of B.C. adjunct public policy Prof. Shashidharan Enarth says the guaranteed MSP system for selling crops in India is riddled with a lack of transparency, caste conflicts and corruption.

Still, it’s better than Modi’s plan, says Enarth, who has worked for the World Bank.

“The MSP policy should be considered a public good,” he says, because it provides some stability. “The focus should be on removing corruption rather than removing MSP itself without an effective alternative.”

Although Modi promotes a free market, Enarth says it can only “work well when there is rule of law. India may be an electoral democracy, but we have rule of muscle running most institutions.”

Similarly, Surrey’s Gill says he’s appalled by the way banks, working with Modi’s government, have encouraged millions of farmers to become indebted.

Some, says Gill, have overextended themselves with mortgages to build big houses in Punjab. Others, Gill says, are borrowing too much from banks to send their offspring to Canada as students or temporary workers, in hopes they will eventually immigrate, including to Surrey, where one-quarter of the population speaks Punjabi.

Despite widespread problems with the status quo, Enarth — who has spent 15 years organizing small-scale, often illiterate farmers in India into collectives so they will gain more bargaining power — says he’s been several times to Punjab, but his organizing efforts aren’t particularly needed there.

“Punjabis are well organized, with more political muscle, and relatively wealthier than other Indians. Farmers from other states could not have sustained a 90-day protest on this scale.”

Data shows Indian farmers’ suicides rates are even higher outside Punjab and Haryana.

Punjabi farmers tend to do better than others, Gill says, because they’re industrious, have embraced modern technology and lobbied governments to build irrigation systems. They strongly advocate the secure price system for wheat, rice and barley, he says, because they have benefited from it — more than farmers from other regions, where the system has been spotty.

Even though having taxpayers guarantee how much farmers receive has often led to an excess of certain crops that go wasted, Enarth says the MSP’s value lies in the way it combats price-fixing by cartels.

India’s agriculture sector, however, is in trouble in general, says Enarth. “Reforms are needed to address the root cause of poverty among rural Indians, which is farm labourers’ very low productivity.”

At least half of farm workers in India should be helped to move into another field of work, he says.

Indo-Canadians seek to sway Indian politics

How did complex farm legislation become the focus of street activism in Canada?

“Punjabi Canadians,” says Enarth, “have very close ties with their families back home — and therefore they are exerting whatever leverage they have in terms of influencing local politics in Punjab, and among non-resident Indians elsewhere.”

Asked how some of the roughly 800,000 Indo-Canadians who aren’t Punjabi are viewing the protests, Enarth suggests many are from middle- to high-income families far removed from agriculture — and many are fans of Modi. “They’re therefore likely to be indifferent, if not befuddled.”

Some Indian and Indo-Canadian media outlets have been critical of the pro-farmers’ protests in Canada. The Vancouver-based Hindi-language outlet CanAm News is among those aiming to counteract the anti-Modi protests, according to Mirems, which translates ethnic-language media reports in Canada.

Some Indo-Canadians “believe the agenda has largely been hijacked by pro-Khalistan elements in Canada,” according to CanAm News, echoing a common view in India’s media. One article quoted the organizer of a recent pro-India car rally in Vancouver, Neema Manral of Delta, who has been a candidate for the B.C. Green party.

“There was so much anger within the community here” over anti-government protests that “we had to do something,” Manral says. While most Indo-Canadians respect the protesting farmers, Manral was determined to help organize the 350 vehicles that took part in a Feb. 6 “tiranga rally,” referring to displays of the orange, white and green flag of India.

In response to the cascade of accusations flying around the world and Canada, Ajay Bisaria, India’s High Commissioner in Ottawa, this week lamented the “flood of misinformation, blatant lies and distortions being circulated.”

“There has been an increase in rhetoric promoting violence in India. Such disinformation is aimed at defaming and harming the image of India and Indians, as well as to sow distrust and promote hatred between different communities of Indian origin in Canada.”

He called on everyone to be vigilant against propaganda and hate speech.

Now in their sixth month, the protests have become one of the biggest challenges ever faced by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party government.

Source: Farmers’ mass protests in India cut deeply across Canada

India’s Vaccine Rollout Stumbles as COVID-19 Cases Decline. That’s Bad News for the Rest of the World

Of note:

India’s COVID-19 vaccination scheme looked set for success.

For the “pharmacy of the world,” which produced 60% of the vaccines for global use before the pandemic, supply was never going to be a problem. The country already had the world’s largest immunization program, delivering 390 million doses annually to protect against diseases like tuberculosis and measles, and an existing infrastructure that would make COVID-19 vaccine distribution easier. Ahead of the launch, the government organized dry runs, put up billboards touting the vaccines and replaced phone ringing tones with a message urging people to get vaccinated.

And yet, one month into its vaccination campaign, India is struggling to get even its health workers to line up for shots. In early January, India announced a goal to inoculate 300 million people by August. Just 8.4 million received a vaccine in the first month, less than a quarter of the number needed to stay on pace for the government’s goal. So far, vaccinations are only available for frontline health workers, and in some places police officers and soldiers.

And even that initial interest might be waning. India’s vaccine scheme relies on a mobile phone app that schedules vaccination appointments. On the first day doses were administered, Jan. 16, some 191,000 people showed up. But four weeks later, when those people were summoned for the second dose, only only 4% returned.

A. Valsala, a community health worker in the southern city of Kollam who spent months fighting COVID-19 door-to-door, skipped her appointment to get her first dose of the vaccine after a hectic day on Feb. 12. “I don’t feel the need to rush because the worst is over,” she says. “So there is a sense that it is okay to wait and watch since there are concerns about how these vaccines were developed so fast.”

A. Valsala’s comments point to a troubling trend—one reflected in TIME’s interviews with health workers across India. A combination of waning COVID-19 cases nationwide, questions over the efficacy of one of the two vaccines currently authorized for use in the country and complacency are resulting in growing hesitancy to get vaccinated.

“There is a reduced perception of threat with regard to the virus,” says Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, a New Delhi-based epidemiologist. “Had the same vaccines been available during the peak of the pandemic in September and October, the uptake would have been different.”

A troubling sign for the rest of the world

Public health experts are now concerned that the sluggish start could impact the subsequent phases of the vaccination drive, especially when the vaccination scheme is widened next month to include older people and those with preexisting conditions.

“In India, people have an inherent trust in doctors,” says Dr. Smisha Agarwal, Research Director at the Johns Hopkins Global mHealth Initiative. “So when [doctors] don’t turn up to get vaccines, it reaffirms any doubts that the general public might have.”

In an effort to accelerate the vaccination drive, the government started walk-in vaccinations as opposed to allowing only those scheduled for the day to get the shots. It also set up new vaccination centers across the country.

For now, India might be an outlier: a country with a surfeit of vaccines with few takers. But its experience shows that, while the first challenge is stocking up on vaccine supplies, convincing people to take them can be its own huge task. It might be a portent for the rest of the world as the number of COVID-19 cases decline globally and vaccines become more widely available, warns Dr. Paul Griffin, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.

It’s easy to be complacent about getting a vaccine when cases are declining,Griffin says, “but now, when the trajectory looks favorable, is the right time to step back and realize that this will be our reality for a long time if we don’t speed up the vaccinations at this moment.”

How India fell behind on vaccinations

Despite being well-positioned, India’s vaccination drive got off to a rough start. The hasty approval of the country’s homegrown vaccine, Covaxin, with little data available while Phase 3 trials were still underway (those remain ongoing) drew criticism from health workers and scientists. The mainstay of India’s vaccination scheme is Covishield, the Indian variant of the vaccine developed by University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, which has been approved by regulators in the U.K., the E.U. and elsewhere. However, Covaxin is the only vaccine on offer in some vaccination centers in urban areas and health workers don’t get to choose which jab they receive.

“Covaxin might be efficacious but what guides me is data,” says Dr. Nirmalya Mohapatra at the Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi, where only Covaxin is available. “We also want vaccines faster because we have seen deaths because of this disease but that doesn’t mean we should cut corners with the data.” Mohapatra has refused to take Covaxin until more data is available.

But even for Covishield, there aren’t as many takers as expected. In the western city of Nagpur, fewer than 36% of those scheduled to take the vaccine turned up Feb. 11, as per a Times of India report. In the north, the city of Chandigarh is planning to set up counselling centres to dispel fearsabout the vaccines. In a hospital in the southern city of Thrissur, Dr. Pradeep Gopalakrishnan was the last one to get the vaccine on the morning of Feb. 8. “No one came in after me, so around 69 doses set aside for the day remained unused,” he says.

Experts say the lack of enthusiasm could also be attributed to a decline in cases. India’s daily case average has dropped to less than 12,000—down from more than 90,000 in September. At the peak of the pandemic, health care systems were overwhelmed, with shortages of hospital beds and oxygen cylinders being reported across the country. India’s official COVID-19 tally, now at nearly 11 million, surged to No. 2 in the world, behind the U.S (where it remains to this day).

In a Feb. 4 press conference, the Indian Council of Medical Research said that more than 20% of subjects over age 18 from across the country tested in late December and early January had antibodies for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, meaning they likely had the disease and recovered. Similar studies in Mumbai and Delhi showed even higher levels of antibodies—up to 56%, according to Delhi’s health minister. Several health workers interviewed by TIME said they contracted COVID-19, and were less concerned about getting the vaccine immediately because they believe they have immunity.

But health experts warn India is far from herd immunity. And many worry that people not taking vaccines seriously might not bode well for India, given that other countries’ later waves of COVID-19 were even more severe than those early in the pandemic. Already, Maharashtra, the worst-hit state in the country, has seen a COVID-19 spike in recent days, with daily casesabove 5,000 on Feb. 18 for the first in two and a half months

‘The worst is not over yet’

On a global level too, the tendency to let the guard down might hamper efforts to bring the pandemic under control. Experts say vaccination is necessary not only to get long-term immunity but to also reduce the potential for new mutations, which are largely behind recent surges in cases in the U.K and Brazil.

“High vaccination coverage rate reduces the potential for new variants,” says Griffin of the University of Queensland. “The more cases we have in circulation, the more chances there are of generating mutations that confer some kind of benefit to the virus.”

Even in countries like the U.S. and the U.K., where vaccination started during a surge in cases, there is a risk that people lose enthusiasm once cases decline. Experts emphasize the need for better communication with the public to ensure that vaccination drives don’t slow down with COVID-19 case counts.

“There isn’t any time to wait because the worst is not over yet,” says Agarwal of Johns Hopkins. “Despite the fatigue, ramping up the vaccination is the only and best weapon we have against what might otherwise be a very long winter.”

Source: India’s Vaccine Rollout Stumbles as COVID-19 Cases Decline. That’s Bad News for the Rest of the World

The Mystery Of India’s Plummeting COVID-19 Cases

Of interest as had been wondering whether this reflected data issues. Appears not:

Last September, India was confirming nearly 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day. It was on track to overtake the United States to become the country with the highest reported COVID-19 caseload in the world. Hospitals were full. The Indian economy nosedived into an unprecedented recession.

But four months later, India’s coronavirus numbers have plummeted. Late last month, on Jan. 26, the country’s Health Ministry confirmed a record low of about 9,100 new daily cases — in a country of nearly 1.4 billion people. It was India’s lowest daily tally in eight months. On Monday, India confirmed about 11,000 cases.

“It’s not that India is testing less or things are going underreported,” says Jishnu Das, a health economist at Georgetown University. “It’s been rising, rising — and now suddenly, it’s vanished! I mean, hospital ICU utilization has gone down. Every indicator says the numbers are down.”

Scientists say it’s a mystery. They’re probing why India’s coronavirus numbers have declined so dramatically — and so suddenly, in September and October, months before any vaccinations began.

They’re trying to figure out what Indians may be doing right and how to mimic that in other countries that are still suffering.

“It’s the million-dollar question. Obviously, the classic public health measures are working: Testing has increased, people are going to hospitals earlier and deaths have dropped,” says Genevie Fernandes, a public health researcher with the Global Health Governance Programme at the University of Edinburgh. “But it’s really still a mystery. It’s very easy to get complacent, especially because many parts of the world are going through second and third waves. We need to be on our guard.”

Scholars are examining India’s mask mandates and public compliance, as well as its climate, its demographics and patterns of diseases that typically circulate in the country.

Mask and mandates

India is one of several countries — mostly in Asia, Africa and South America — that have mandated masks in public spaces. Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on TV wearing a mask very early in the coronavirus pandemic. The messaging was clear.

In many Indian municipalities, including the megacity Mumbai, police hand out tickets — fines of 200 rupees ($2.75) — to violators. Mumbai’s mask mandate even applies outdoors, to joggers on the beach and passengers in open-air rickshaws.

“Every time they fine a person 200 rupees, they also give them a mask to wear,” explains Fernandes, a Mumbai native. “Very stereotypically, we [Indians] are known to break rules! You see traffic rules being broken all the time,” she says, laughing.

But in the pandemic, when it comes to masks, “the police, the monitoring, enforcement — all that was ramped up,” she says.

Authorities reportedly collected the equivalent of $37,000 in mask fines in Mumbai on New Year’s Eve alone.

But the fines and mandates appear to have worked: In a survey published in July, 95% of respondents said they wore a mask the last time they went out. The survey was conducted by phone in June by the National Council of Applied Economic Research, India’s biggest independent economic policy group.

Awareness is widespread. Whenever you make a phone call in India — on landlines and mobiles — instead of a ring tone, you hear government-sponsored messages warning you to wash your hands and wear a mask. One message was recorded by Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan, 78, who battled and recovered from COVID-19 last summer.

The mask and hand-washing messages have now been replaced with new ones urging people to get vaccinated; India began vaccinations on Jan. 16.

Heat and humidity

Aside from mask compliance, there’s also India’s climate: Most of the country is hot and humid. That too has deepened the mystery. There’s some evidence that India’s climate may help reduce the spread of respiratory viruses. But there’s also some evidence to the contrary.

A review of hundreds of scientific articles, published in September in the journal PLOS One, found that warm and wet climates seem to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Heat and humidity combine to render coronaviruses less active — though the certainty of that conclusion, the review says, is low. Previous research has also found that droplets of the virus may stay afloat longer in air that’s cold and dry.

“When the air is humid and warm, [the droplets] fall to the ground more quickly, and it makes transmission harder,” Elizabeth McGraw, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University, told NPR last year. (However, the science of transmission is still evolving.)

In a survey of COVID-19 cases in India’s Punjab state, Das, the health economist at Georgetown, found that 76% of patients there did not infect a single other person — though it’s unclear why. He and his colleagues examined data collected from contact tracing and found that most patients who did infect others infected only a few other people, while a few patients infected many. Overall, 10% of cases accounted for 80% of infections. One implication, which Das says he’s investigating further, is the possibility of making contact tracing more efficient by first testing a patient’s immediate family members. If no one at all is infected, the process can end there.

“The temperature, of course, is in our favor. We do not have too cold of a climate,” says Dr. Daksha Shah, an epidemiologist and deputy executive health officer for the city of Mumbai. “So many viruses are known to multiply more in colder regions.”

But there’s also some scientific evidence to the contrary, that India might actually be more conducive to the coronavirus: Research published in December in the journal GeoHealth says that urban India’s severe air pollution might exacerbate COVID-19. Not only does pollution weaken the body’s immune system, but when air is thick with pollutants, those particles may help buoy the virus, allowing it to stay airborne longer.

A paper published in July in The Lancet says extreme heat may also force people indoors, into air-conditioned spaces — and thus might contribute to the virus’s spread. The Natural Resources Defense Council has warnedthat extreme heat can lead to a spike in other illnesses — dehydration, diarrhea — that might lead to overcrowding in hospitals and clinics already struggling to treat victims of COVID-19.

Prevalence of other diseases

Another point to consider about India is how many other diseases are already rampant: malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, hepatitis, cholera. Millions of Indians also lack access to clean drinking water, sanitation and hygienic food. Some experts speculate that people with robust immune systems may be more likely to survive in India in the first place.

“All of us have pretty good immunity! Look at the average Indian: He or she has probably had malaria at some point in his life or typhoid or dengue,” says Sayli Udas-Mankikar, an urban policy expert at the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai. “You end up with basic immunity toward grave diseases.”

Two new scientific papers support that thesis, though they have yet to be peer-reviewed: One study by Indian scientists from Chennai and Pune, published in October, found that low- and lower-middle-income countries with less access to health care facilities, hygiene and sanitation actually have lower numbers of COVID-19 deaths per capita. Another study by scientists at India’s Dr. Rajendra Prasad Government Medical College, published in August, found that COVID-19 deaths per capita are lower in countries where people are exposed to a diverse range of microbes and bacteria.

But experts warn that these two studies are preliminary and should serve only as a springboard for more investigation.

“They’re not based on any biological data. So they’re good for generating a hypothesis, but now we really need to do the studies that will result in explanations,” says Dr. Gagandeep Kang, an infectious diseases researcher at the Christian Medical College in Vellore. “I hope scientists work more on this soon. We need deeper dives into India’s immune responses.”

According to Health Ministry figures, the coronavirus has killed 154,392 people in India as of Feb. 1. That’s a mortality rate of 1.44% — much lower than that of the United States or many European countries. (But Brazil’s death rate is higher than India’s, and Brazil and India are both lower-middle-income countries.)

Demographics

India is a very young country as well. Only 6% of Indians are older than 65. More than half the population is under 25. Those who are young are less likely to die of COVID-19 and are more likely to show no symptoms if infected.

A study of nearly 85,000 coronavirus cases in India, published in November in the journal Science, found that the COVID-19 mortality rate actually decreases there after age 65 — possibly because Indians who live past that age are such outliers. There are so few of them.

“Those Indians who do live that long tend to be more healthy than average or more wealthy — or both,” says health economist Das.

Serological surveys — random testing for antibodies — show that a majority of people in certain areas of India may have already been exposed to the coronavirus, without developing symptoms. Last week, preliminary findings from a fifth serological study of 28,000 people in India’s capital showed that 56% of residents already have antibodies, though a final report has not yet been published. The figures were higher in more crowded areas. Last summer, another survey by Mumbai’s health department and a government think tank found that 57% of Mumbai slum-dwellers and 16% of people living in other areas had antibodies suggesting prior exposure to the coronavirus.

But many experts caution that herd immunity — a controversial term, they say — would only begin to be achieved if at least 60% to 80% of the population had antibodies. It’s also unclear whether antibodies convey lasting immunity and, if so, for how long. More serological surveys are needed, they say.

Timing

India’s climate and demographics have not changed during the pandemic. And the drop in India’s COVID-19 caseload has been recent. It hit a peak in September and has declined inexplicably since then.

In fact, India’s numbers went down exactly when experts predicted they would spike: in October, when millions of people gathered for the Hindu festivals of Diwali and Durga Puja. It’s when air pollution is also worst, and experts feared that would exacerbate the pandemic too.

Cases have also declined despite what many thought would be a superspreader event: tens of thousands of Indian farmers camping out on the capital’s outskirts for months.

Shah, the epidemiologist, wonders if, just like more infectious variants of the coronavirus have been discovered in the U.K. and elsewhere, perhaps a milder variant may have started mutating in India.

“Some processes must have happened. This is an evolution of the virus itself. In some places there are mutations happening,” she says. “We need some more deeper evidence and deeper studies.”

The truth is, scientists just don’t know.

“Three options: One is that it’s gone because of the way people behaved, so we need to continue that behavior. Or it’s gone because it’s gone and it’s never going to come back — great!” says Das, from Georgetown. “Or it’s gone, but we don’t know why it’s gone — and it may come back.”

That last option is what keeps scientists and public health experts up at night.

So for now, Indians are kind of holding their breath — just doing what they’re doing — until they get vaccinated.

Source: The Mystery Of India’s Plummeting COVID-19 Cases

ICYMI: While millions of Indians seek better lives abroad, India treats its immigrants poorly

As I normally use MIPEX to compare OECD country policies, missed just how low India’s rank is:

India ranked the lowest among 52 countries assessed for key indices of migrant inclusivity in 2020, shows the recently launched Migrant Integration Policy Index.

India scored the least, 24 out of 100, far lower than the average of 50, putting it in a category where migrant integration is deemed “denied”.

The index, a policy tool that measures a country’s national policies on international immigrants across eight parameters, is published jointly by two European think-tanks, the Migration Policy Group of Brussels and the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, and was first released in 2014.

While other Asian countries such as China and Indonesia have improved their integration policies, India’s score has remained unchanged in the last five years. India’s Migrant Integration Policy Index scores fell below 20 in key policy areas including the labour market, education, health, access to nationality and anti-discrimination actions.

This is significant for two reasons: Although not the world’s most important migrant destination, India is home to 5 million immigrants, according to the Census 2011. Data from 2019 from the Population Division of the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs noted a decline in immigrant numbers in India from 7.6 million in 1990 to 5.1 million in 2019.

Although the number of refugees and asylum seekers has gone down between 1990 and 2019 (from 212,700 to 207,600), they constitute an increasing proportion of the total immigrant population in India (2.8% in 1990 to 4% in 2019). Similar estimates from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees suggest that the number of refugees and asylum seekers in 2020 was 210,201, according to their January 2020 India Factsheet.

Further, 95.3% of India’s immigrants in 2019 also originated in the same SDG region (Central and Southern Asia comprising neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan) – a number that has not changed significantly from 1990 (96.8%).

This characteristic of immigration to India is also highlighted in a 2017 article by the Pew Research Center. However, the existing immigrant population continues to face integration barriers in various aspects of daily life, which impact their entry into the workplace, access to justice, and educational experiences, concluded the Migrant Integration Policy Index analysis.

India also sends out the world’s largest number of emigrants – 17.5 million as per estimates from the International Organisation for Migration’s (UN-IOM) World Migration Report 2020, and is, therefore, a critical voice in immigrant integration.

Migrants move seeking better livelihoods and education, so an increase in immigration rates is an indicator of a country’s growth and development trajectory. As India develops in the coming decades and takes on a leadership role in the South Asian region, integration of immigrants and their issues will only become more important, experts say.

“There is very little by way of comprehensive immigration policy in India today – access to social security benefits or the labour market is limited and often foreign nationals face discrimination as reported in the media,” said migration policy expert Meera Sethi, formerly of the UN-IOM.

Originally devised to measure the integration of Third Country Nationals – or non-European Union nationals – in the EU, Migrant Integration Policy Index is now a major policy tool to analyse and measure migrant integration in destination countries around the world: in developed countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and Norway, as well as in developing countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, China, India and Turkey. The assessment for India was conducted by Migration Policy Group’s country partner India Migration Now, a Mumbai-based research non-profit.

Low scores across key indices

India’s overall Migrant Integration Policy Index score is the lowest because of below-average scores in all policy areas except for family reunion (assessing how easy it is for immigrants to reunite with their families) where the score is 75, compared to the Migrant Integration Policy Index average of 58. The country fares worse in certain policy areas such as anti-discrimination, health, labour market mobility and access to nationality.

In the area of labour market mobility, India scored 17 while the Migrant Integration Policy Index average is 51. Accessing an employment visa in India carries certain conditions – only those from highly skilled backgrounds earning more than $25,000 per annum are eligible.

Furthermore, employment visas are not granted for jobs for which qualified Indians are available, according to informationput out by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Foreign residents on business visas have the option of self-employment, but no measures exist to promote access to the labour market or provide support to improve professional skills or opportunities.

In education too, India scored 19, less than half the Migrant Integration Policy Index average of 40. There are no measures in place in the country that recognise the unique requirements of immigrant children. They only benefit from general measures available for all children in India under the Right to Education Act, 2009. This is a lacuna evident for India’s interstate migrants as well, who face exclusion when they move from one state to another, found IMN’s IMPEX analysis of 2020. Typically, states require migrants to furnish proof of residence, which can be in the form of a domicile certificate or a school transfer certificate from the destination state, which migrants often find difficult to produce because they are not domiciles of the destination state and had acquired education in their source states, the IMPEX analysis showed.

These issues are further aggravated for immigrant families and while many have managed to utilise Right to Education provisions, their children often face discrimination and cultural barriers at Indian schools, according to this January 2020 articlein The Wire, which focuses on the Rohingya refugee community. Refugee communities such as the Rohingya are reliant on philanthropic initiatives and the work of NGOs to fill these crucial policy gaps, according to an earlier 2018 field report from The Wire.

In the area of political participation, India scored 0. The right to vote, to stand in elections, and form political parties/associations are limited to the citizens of India. These limitations often also extend to interstate migrants as voter identity is connected to the electoral roll at the place of origin, found IMN’s IMPEX analysis. Although Indian citizens are eligible to transfer to new electoral rolls when they move, the process is not easy, particularly for short-term seasonal migrants who move often.

Poor access to health

In the field of health, immigrants and asylum seekers face additional requirements to access the Indian health system and enjoy little information or support targeted to meet their specific health needs. Schemes such as Ayushman Bharat extend to those families categorised in the lower-income brackets as defined by the socio-economic and caste census of 2011 and therefore exclude immigrants. However, schemes under the Integrated Child Development Services, which provides supplementary nutrition, pre-school and non-formal education, immunisation, and health check-ups to children aged 0 years to 6 years, can usually be availed without proof of identity.

The services of public health facilities like primary healthcare centres are also open to immigrant communities and asylum seekers in India – both of these options are recommended for the communities by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in India as well. These schemes may be utilised by immigrants in the same manner as RTE is.

Schemes of the Delhi government such as the Aam Aadmi Mohalla Clinic serve all residents living in areas deemed eligible (usually slum and jhuggi jhopri areas) and are available to immigrants as well.

Specific health schemes exist for Tibetan and Sri Lankan Tamil refugees as part of central level integration policies for these communities – these include the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy of 2014 and specific schemes for maternal and child health by the government of Tamil Nadu for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. However, these communities number approximately 200,000 in total and only form 3%-4% of the estimated legal immigrant population. Covid-19 has aggravated the existing policy gaps for refugee communities, as IndiaSpend reported in April 2020 and as argued by this September 2020 opinion editorial in Migration Policy Institute, a migration research think-tank based out of Washington DC, USA.

India’s score in the policy area of anti-discrimination is 9, compared to the Migrant Integration Policy Index average of 71. There is currently no legislation related to discrimination against immigrant communities. Article 15 of the Constitution of India addresses direct and/or indirect discrimination and/or harassment and/or instruction to discriminate on grounds of race, ethnicity, religion and belief – a provision that only exists for citizens.

It has also been argued that these provisions are, in themselves, inadequate, and India needs a comprehensive internal anti-discrimination law. Discrimination against immigrant communities is an issue and has occurred against various refugee groups as well as student groups from African countries such as Nigeria who have faced racist attacks.

In India, the path to permanent residence is mainly linked to the ability to fulfil certain economic requirements. However, even permanent residents are denied equal treatment with Indian nationals in key areas of life such as social security and assistance. For accessing citizenship in India, a person can apply for citizenship by naturalisation if they meet certain qualifications such as residence in India or service in the central government for a certain period of time: (i) for the 12 months immediately preceding the application for citizenship, and (ii) for 11 of the 14 years preceding the 12-month period, as specified in The Citizenship Act, 1955 Act. The process of accessing citizenship requires more than 10 years of residence and India does not offer dual nationality.

Among the eight policy areas, India has the highest score in family reunion. This policy area assesses if foreign residents can reunite with their families – for instance, whether legally resident foreign citizens can sponsor their entire families. Whether family members need prerequisites such as learning a language before departure for the destination country.

Whether the state protects family members from discretionary procedures (such as in deciding permit durations, considering personal circumstances when allowing or refusing entry, and giving the applicant a chance to appeal) and whether the family members get the same rights as their sponsor. Although India scores 75 in the policy area and many foreign citizens are eligible to apply for their dependent family members, according to information provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are no additional integration measures for these reunited families.

Flawed public perception

The understanding of the impacts and contributions of immigrants to developing countries’ economies is limited. Besides adding to the overall social and cultural diversity, immigrants from neighbouring countries such as Nepal have been contributing to the Indian economy in the informal sector as construction workers, domestic help, cleaners, bar and restaurant workers, and petty traders. Unfortunately, such contributions have not been assessed or measured, found a 2015 paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly.

Cross-border migrants often face harassment, are exploited by brokers, paid irregularly and sometimes substantially less than what they are promised by the employers, and are often ill-treated by the border security forces – as reported in this 2015 research study by the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, which conducted fieldwork with cross-border Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants. India has no formal immigration policy framework but existing policies regulate the entry and exit of people through the border.

The Indian government has also set up special tribunals for the determination of the question of whether a person is an illegal immigrant as per the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983. Beyond this, there are ad hoc policies and executive orders for the entry and rehabilitation of Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees and for religious minorities from neighbouring Muslim majority countries. Even the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 – facilitating citizenship for religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – is estimated to actually benefit only 31,313 people, as detailed in the joint parliamentary committee report on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (then, a Bill) in 2016.

The lack of policy intervention is further aggravated by the public perception and rhetoric around illegal immigration (mostly from Bangladesh), which have often been election issuesin India. The data, however, do not bear this out: Improved developmental outcomes in Bangladesh in recent years have brought the two countries on par, argues this opinion editorial in The Indian Express – as a result, immigrants from Bangladesh may no longer be seeking out India as a destination.

In a fast globalising world, as Indian emigrants in various destination countries benefit from effective integration schemes, policy in India for the country’s over 5 million immigrant population has clearly not kept pace, said experts.

“Countries have already started to invest in ensuring basic rights and a secure future for international migrants. Now, they need to guarantee migrants the same equal opportunities as nationals,” said Giacomo Solano, policy and statistical analyst at MPG, Brussels, where the Migrant Integration Policy Index was formulated.

Source: While millions of Indians seek better lives abroad, India treats its immigrants poorly

The Limits of Narendra Modi’s Nationalism

Of note:

Narendra Modi is no stranger to protests. Since his reelection last year, the Indian prime minister’s policies have triggered a number of mass demonstrations, including his decision to revoke the constitutional autonomy of Kashmir, India’s sole Muslim-majority state, and last year’s contentious move to establish a religious test for people from neighboring countries seeking citizenship that excludes Muslims.

Source: The Limits of Narendra Modi’s Nationalism

Why India’s Muslims Reach for Liberalism

Of note:

By now, the world knows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and his Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) have eroded the liberal principles of the Indian Constitution and are turning the country into an increasingly illiberal democracy. It is common knowledge that Mr. Modi thrives on the grievances and bigotries that pit privileged majorities against minorities living in fear.

Less familiar, but much more hopeful, is the response of the main target of this majoritarian assault: India’s Muslim minority — roughly 172 million people who account for just about 14.2 percent of India’s total population of approximately 1.32 billion people, roughly 79.8 percent of whom are Hindu.

This large religious minority of Muslims has gone through a hard time in recent years at the hands of Hindu supremacists: They have faced lynchings, lethal riots, and social and political disenfranchisement.

When minorities are pushed to such walls, they may retreat into a siege mentality that breeds radicalization. But India’s Muslims have not come up with calls for violent jihad, nor chants for Shariah law. Instead, they have embraced and emphasized the blessings of liberal democracy by placing their faith in the Constitution of India and insisting on their constitutional rights as citizens.

This hopeful tack was most visible during the mass protests for three months that started in December against the Citizenship Amendment Act, an unabashedly discriminatory law enacted by the government that fast-tracked citizenship for Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist immigrants from neighboring countries, but not for Muslims, whom Home Minister Amit Shah tried to dehumanize as “termites.”

Mr. Shah has also proposed a national register of citizens requiring documentary evidence for place of birth and residence that many Indians, especially the poor, lack. Of these the non-Muslims could escape through the loophole in the new Citizenship Amendment Act, but Muslims would find themselves stateless and liable to be put into detention camps.

In response, Shaheen Bagh, a neighborhood in New Delhi, held a 101-day sit-in against the citizenship law and the proposed citizenship registry, with the protest led not by conservative Muslim clerics, but by Muslim women. Thousands occupied a protest tent 24 hours each day by rotating in shifts and displaying banners saying, “We stand for peace, harmony and fraternity.” They also showed portraits of the Hindu leaders who led India’s independence movement, and festooned their dais with the preamble of the secular Constitution.

The B.J.P.’s propaganda machine depicted Muslim protesters as “traitors” and “anti-nationals,” but they were wearing headbands saying, “I love India.” waving Indian flags, and repeatedly singing the national anthem.

In other campaigns, Indian Muslim women in recent years challenged not just Hindu supremacism but also patriarchy within their own community. Through successful appeals to the Supreme Court — which upholds India’s constitutional principles — they obtained a legal ban in 2017 on “instant divorce,” a contested Shariah ruling that gives Muslim men the right to abandon their wives at will. Another Muslim women’s group gained a 2016 court decision that enforced women’s constitutionally guaranteed right of equal entry, along with men, to a Sufi shrine in Mumbai.

All such liberal moves, according to Sharik Laliwala, a Muslim Indian commentator, signify “a fundamental transformation in the political strategy of the Muslim community.” Indian Muslims, he added, are “marrying a constitutional phraseology of freedom, justice and equality with religious notions.”

Irfan Ahmad, an Indian anthropologist based at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, argues that what is happening is a new emphasis rather than a transformation, which Indian Muslims have always sought along with pluralism. The protests in Shaheen Bagh, he adds, highlighted the rift between the B.J.P.’s rule by and for the Hindu majority and a new vision of democracy that would uphold the rights and dignity of all Indians, including Muslims.

Yet there is still a danger that B.J.P. ruthlessness may backfire and drive Muslims into radicalism. In September, Umar Khalid, a secular left-wing student leader who is Muslim, was arrested on highly contested charges of orchestrating Hindu-Muslims riots last February in Delhi, where most victims were Muslim.

All of this means that India is on a very wrong track. A country that does not treat its minorities as equal human beings will be not the world’s biggest democracy, but rather a tyranny of the majority.

The results may be social strife, radicalism, decline of economic progress, and the ruination of India’s image abroad. The country is already being criticized by human rights organizations for violating human rights in Kashmir, and more recently for forcing Amnesty International’s office in India to close.

India’s story could hold lessons for Muslims elsewhere. Across the border, Pakistan long ago established what India’s B.J.P. seeks: an ethno-religious state dominated by the majority. In Pakistan’s case, this means the hegemony of Sunni Muslims at the expense of minorities such as Shiite Muslims, Ahmadis or Christians.

Farther in the East, in Malaysia, Malay-Muslim supremacy has been an official ideology since the founding of the multireligious nation in 1957. In Turkey, the Islam-infused populism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with its own insatiable wrath against “traitors” and “anti-nationals,” has strong parallels with Mr. Modi’s populism. And in the parlance of Islamist movements everywhere, “liberalism” and “secular state” are only dirty words, if not heresies.

Alas, it seems that many Muslims in countries other than India enjoy the tyranny of the majority when they themselves are in the majority and control the state, while others realize the blessings of liberalism if they are in minorities. Of course, such a double standard is neither virtuous nor defensible.

A more principled Muslim view of politics is needed, and for that, Muslim opinion leaders should observe the experience of their coreligionists in India. The latter, the largest religious minority in the world, has an important story with a lesson: Human rights and liberties must be defended in every nation, in every civilization. Without them, only power rules. And instead of betting on power, which may be won or lost, they should try to constrain it everywhere, so that no one group is oppressed and everyone is free.

Mustafa Akyol, a contributing Opinion writer, is a senior fellow on Islam and modernity at the Cato Institute, and the author of the forthcoming book “Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance.” Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, is a columnist for The Times of India, and a commentator for India’s television.

Under Cover of the Pandemic, the Modi Administration Has Removed Chapters on Democracy, Secularism, and Citizenship From Textbooks

Of note:

As students across India logged in to their virtual classrooms last month, many of them no doubt felt their prayers had been answered.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), India’s largesteducation board, announced in July that it had cut this year’s syllabus by 30 percent. It hopes that the move will relieve stressed-out students who have lost valuable hours in the classroom to COVID-19 and are trying to adapt to online learning.

But not everyone is pleased. The move has fueled controversy over the fact that government-run schools no longer have to teach chapters on democratic rights, secularism, federalism, and citizenship, among other topics. These concepts lie at the core of the Indian Constitution but have at times come into conflict with the Hindu-majoritarian ideology of the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party’s well-established interest in using the education system to spread its own unitary brand of Indian identity has further raised concerns that the omissions are politically motivated.


After a victory in last year’s general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP began rolling out a set of controversial citizenship policies that critics have called unconstitutional and anti-Muslim and that have been condemned for promoting an ethnoreligious idea of India. The country has since witnessed a series of large-scale national protests against the measures, including the Citizenship Amendment Act—a law designed to aid refugees from neighboring countries but which excludes Muslims—and a new National Register of Citizens. When combined, the two measures could end up disenfranchising large numbers of India’s Muslim population. (That’s the point, Home Minister Amit Shah, has admitted.) The protests were the largest public challenge to Modi’s rule since he first came to power in 2014.

When chapters like “Popular Struggles and Movements” and “Democracy and Diversity” were removed from the Class 10 political science syllabus, stakeholders and opposition groups were quick to frame the cuts as being in line with the other steps for which Modi has been  criticized. The move advances the vision of an “exclusivist, theocratic, intolerant, fascistic nation,” Sitaram Yechury, the leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist), wrote on Facebook in July. His party later called for the cuts to be rescinded, saying they hurt “secular democratic India’s future.”

The Education Ministry has denied any political motives behind the move, which it said was backed by a consensus of policymakers. It also issued a clarification on July 8 calling the cuts a “one-time measure only.”

It is hard to separate the syllabus cuts from the current political climate.

For practitioners, though, it is hard to separate the syllabus cuts from the current political climate. “It’s clear that this was a very selective exercise,” Anita Rampal, a professor and former dean of the education department at Delhi University, told me in July. “The deleted chapters relate directly to policies that are currently being questioned in the public sphere—and that’s important because not many issues usually are. These are topics the government finds inconvenient.”

Adding weight to such interpretations are other activities the government has undertaken during the pandemic. According to Human Rights Watch, New Delhi has stifled dissent and arrested protesters. The government has also come under fire for refusing to release academics and social activists from jail, including the 80-year-old poet Varavara Rao, who was kept in cramped prison conditions on charges of inciting caste-based violenceunder India’s draconian Unlawful Activities Act. He ended up contracting the coronavirus.

Meanwhile requests from opposition leaders to resume parliament or allow for videoconferencing have fallen on deaf ears. In turn, the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, has accused the government of trying to avoid parliamentary scrutiny. Add to this a distracted mainstream media with little interest in covering education policy minutiae and educators like Rampal have little to be hopeful about. “It’s a populist move that few people have the time or inclination to question,” she said. “Once deleted, I can’t see these chapters coming back in any meaningful way.”

The Education Ministry maintains that the recent move is in students’ best interests. Before the pandemic, too, ministry officials spoke about the need to “rationalize” the syllabus and unburden students from the lengthy slog. But if that is the goal, the cuts have undermined it. In an op-ed, Krishna Kumar, a former director of the National Council of Education Research and Training (the organization responsible for designing the curriculum), argued that the cuts have left some remaining topics “incomprehensible.” He points out that students will now learn about the constitution without learning about India’s federal structure.

The deleted chapters were also among those that offered relief from the rote learning and factual regurgitation that are endemic to the Indian education system.

 “These chapters allowed students to raise questions about social justice and engage in critical analysis,” Rampal said. “Removing these chapters sends a clear signal about what they believe is right for children to be learning.”

The CBSE has said teachers can still teach these topics if they wish. But that is unlikely to happen. “Teachers are evaluated on how well their students score in the board exams and are penalized if they finish the syllabus late,” a New Delhi secondary-school teacher told me. “When you’re already under so much pressure, there’s no incentive to be creative or deviate from the highly centralized teaching calendar.” This system has bred a culture of survival and removed any space for teachers to “really think and talk about educating children’s minds,” the teacher said. “It’s why so many great teachers have left.”

Policymakers must know that topics that are not going to be tested in board exams are unlikely to be covered in class, said Pradyumna Jairam, a former CBSE board social sciences teacher and researcher at King’s College London. “That’s why it is crucial to look at which chapters have been deleted and to ask why they don’t want these chapters to be taught,” he added.

Jairam’s answer is that the deleted chapters dealt with uncomfortable periods of Indian history, like the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and lower-caste struggles for emancipation. The chapter on popular movements, for example, drew a strong parallel between the assertion of Dalit rights and the civil rights movement in 1960s America, he said. “I taught this chapter, so I know how effective it was. It encouraged students to reflect on how privilege still operates in society, as well as on their own privilege, which may have sheltered them from these uncomfortable truths.”


But Jairam’s interpretation begs the question of why the BJP might have a problem with students learning about human rights, democracy, local government, and civil liberties.

The answer lies in the ruling party’s ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a volunteer paramilitary organization, and its deeply embedded Hindutva ideology. “The individualistic values promoted by liberal democracy is anathema to their view of Hindu traditions,” said Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist specializing in South Asia. He noted that Shah, Modi’s home minister, “argued that India should not follow the Western notion of human rights. Nor does the RSS allow for any room for elections or public debate within the organization.”

Education reform has long been a priority of the RSS. The organization itself operates a network of schools through its education wing, the Vidya Bharati. It views changing curriculum content in particular as a key component of nation building and erasing foreign elements from India’s Nehruvian teaching methods. When the BJP was last in power in the early 2000s, it appointed RSS members to top education positions and launched a national curriculum framework under the slogan “Indianize, nationalize, and spiritualize.”

The way history textbooks have already been rewritten in BJP-ruled states can provide clues to the kind of agenda the current administration is pursuing. In Rajasthan, for example, the state board removed all mentions of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and champion of a diverse and secular India, while adding multiple references to V.D. Savarkar, the father of Hindutva ideology. Meanwhile B.R. Ambedkar is labeled as a “Hindu social reformer” despite his later conversion to Buddhism. Critics claim his seminal key role in fighting for Dalit emancipation was also minimized.

Given this background, “it’s actually surprising that central board textbooks were not rewritten sooner,” Jaffrelot said. In 1999, the last time the BJP was in power and when Murli Manohar Joshi was the minister for human resources development, “this was a priority of the party, and they began making changes straight away.”

In that way, there is a feeling among some political observers that the BJP has left its most divisive policies for its second term in power. With the Supreme Court’s independence under question, a brutal crackdown on dissenting voices from academic and civil society, and a feeble opposition, the path has been cleared for the government to pursue its most controversial objectives, starting with the revocation of Kashmir’s special status a year ago and leading, most recently, to reconfiguring textbooks.

“Now is the time for them to do whatever they want, because who can say anything against them?” Jaffrelot said.

Source: Under Cover of the Pandemic, the Modi Administration Has Removed Chapters on Democracy, Secularism, and Citizenship From Textbooks

In Canada, Homegrown Islamophobia Gets a Boost from Modi’s Supporters in India

The traditional concern regarding Indo-Canadians has focused more of Sikh extremism than the Hindu extremism covered in this commentary. Liberal Brampton Centre MP Ramesh Sangha had made the following accusation: Brampton Liberal MP says his party ‘pandering’ to Sikh separatists.

Canadian “mainstream” media coverage has been limited, safe for the call to prayer (azan) controversy during Ramadan.

The PM’s disastrous 2018 India trip may also contribute to Canada’s relative reluctance to comment on Indian government abuses:

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has long been criticized for discriminating against India’s estimated 200 million Muslims. Tensions between this large minority and the Hindu nationalists who support Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been mounting in recent years, resulting in worrying laws, dangerous harassment, and deadly mob violence in India. Now, the hostility has moved outside of India’s borders. Thanks to social media and a dedicated diaspora, antagonism toward Muslims by supporters of India’s right-wing, Hindu nationalist government has gone global. And the international spread of domestic prejudices is causing diplomatic ripple effects for India’s allies.

This has been particularly apparent in the Persian Gulf region, home to millions of Indian expatriates. Modi’s carefully cultivated ties to the Gulf regimes are now threatened by instances of ultra-nationalist Indian expats spewing Islamophobic rhetoric online. While much of the vitriol has been aimed at the Muslim population back home in India, it has also taken the form of social media posts that denigrated Islam more generally, as well as the Prophet Mohammed. The situation has led to rare criticism of Modi by Gulf elites. In April, the government of Kuwait, along with a member of the Sharjah royal family in the United Arab Emirates, criticized widespread Islamophobic social media posts in India accusing the country’s Muslims of deliberately spreading the coronavirus and engaging in a “corona jihad.” Modi eventually responded by tweeting that the virus “does not see race [or] religion,” although his government’s rhetoric says otherwise. A month later, the UAE Federal Public Prosecution issued a public warning against discrimination after scores of Indian expats were fired from their jobs for anti-Muslim social media posts. This and similar incidents led the Dubai-based Gulf News to run an editorial in May calling for India to stop “exporting hate” to the Gulf.

In the West, the BJP’s brand of Islamophobia has found an eager partner among the far-right, as recent developments in famously multicultural Canada demonstrate.

In April, city councils across Canada voted to allow the Islamic call to prayer, the azan, to be broadcasted for a few minutes a day during the holy month of Ramadan. The government hoped to foster a sense of inclusion as mosques and other places of worship were closed for the COVID-19 lockdown. The decision elicited a major backlash, including mass petitions and online hate, with the far-right suggesting “Islamism” had infiltrated Canadian society and politics.

Some members of Canada’s Indian diaspora echoed such sentiments, tweeting comments about how the prayer call broadcasts are part of an Islamist “strategical campaign through out the world” or that “blaring loudspeakers” can never be “peaceful.” Several of the tweeters have quietly lost their jobs since then, amid pressure from anti-hate groups.

But few cases have garnered much attention. The exception is that of Ravi Hooda, who sat on a regional school board in the Toronto area and tweeted that allowing the prayer calls to be broadcast opens the door for “Separate lanes for camel & goat riders” or laws “requiring all women to cover themselves from head to toe in tents.” When Hooda’s tweet was called out by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a Twitter war ensued. Dozens of pro-Indian accounts, often with usernames containing an eight-digit string of numbers—a common indicator of a bot account—came to Hooda’s defense. A local controversy instantly took on an international character.

Hooda, for his part, is a volunteer for the local branch of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, which represents the overseas interests of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the right-wing Hindu nationalist organization that promotes the Hindutva (literally, “Hindu-ness”) ideology that India is a purely Hindu nation at its core. Modi himself is a lifelong RSS member, and a majority of his ministers have a background in the organization. The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh opened its first chapter in 1947, in Kenya, and today has more than 500 branches in 39 countries. The group’s chapters are called shakhas(branches) and, in addition to offering community services, help organize the diaspora through lectures, camps, and other organizational sessions that are aligned with the RSS’s ideological outlook.

The spread of right-wing Hindu nationalism in Canada has allegedly dovetailed with efforts by Indian intelligence agencies to “covertly influence” Canadian politicians to support Indian government positions through disinformation and money, according to documents obtained by Global News. There’s no proof of how successful this lobbying has been, but it’s clear that New Delhi is stretching its global reach at the same time that the BJP’s rhetoric and actions have politicized a new generation of Indian expats.

A glimpse of this global reach was provided by the EU DisinfoLab last fall in a report detailing a network of over 260 pro-India “fake local media outlets” spanning 65 countries, including throughout the West. The media organizations bear the names of local towns and cities, but none of them has any real connection with the localities they purport to represent, and all feature pro-India and anti-Pakistan content. Every news site was registered by the Srivastava Group, an Indian corporation that last year took right-wing European politicians on a trip to Kashmir, where they met with Modi.

Such reach can also be seen in the efforts of Indian expats and Indian Americans in the United States who organized last fall’s “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston attended by 50,000 people, including U.S. President Donald Trump and other Republican and Democratic politicians. Indian American volunteers did the heavy lifting and funded the event, which turned a meeting between heads of state into a public spectacle. The event was meant to cement Trump-Modi relations as well as to rally the U.S.-based diaspora around the BJP, thus bolstering the prime minister’s popularity back home.

An organized, RSS-minded, pro-BJP diaspora in the West and beyond would obviously be a great asset for Modi’s government.

 Elected officials would think twice before criticizing India, already a rising and influential power, for fear of angering their constituents. There are already hints that such calculations are being made by leaders. After an anti-Muslim pogrom broke out in Delhi in February, resulting in more than 50 deaths—the worst sectarian violence India has seen in years—Canada kept almost silent. While speaking to his Indian counterpart after the riots, the Canadian foreign minister offered a note of vague concern, roundly criticized in Canadian media. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made no statement, and the four Indian Canadian members of Trudeau’s Liberal caucus showed a similar reluctance to comment, drawing criticism from community organizations.

Similarly, foreign governments remained largely silent last summer when Modi stripped Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and placed it under a brutal military lockdown. This had observers wondering whether “Hindutva-inspired lobbies in the West,” as the researcher Fareeha Shamim labeled them, succeeded in their goals of building global influence from the ground up. Liberal politicians now hold an uncomfortable position, reluctant to criticize Modi lest they be attacked by his supporters in the diaspora.

Source: In Canada, Homegrown Islamophobia Gets a Boost from Modi’s Supporters in India

India; ‘Hard to predict when immigration companies will start functioning’

The view from the “immigration industry” in India, similar to the spoken or unspoken fears of the “immigration industry” in Canada:

The dreams of thousands of youngsters of the region to study abroad will take time to take wings as uncertainty, caused by the rising number of Covid-19 cases throughout the world, prevails everywhere. With high commissions dysfunctional and restrictions imposed by almost all countries in the world and international air services suspended due to the Covid pandemic, the companies providing overseas solutions and consultations to people are suffering huge losses. In an interview with Ajay Joshi, Sumit Jain, Director of Jain Overseas, shares how the visa consultants are struggling to sustain in the market these days. Excerpts:

How has the lockdown impacted your business?

The lockdown has greatly affected the IELTS and immigration businesses. Till last year, the growth in the number of visa applicants from Punjab had outpaced throughout the country, but owing to the Covid pandemic, the business of the immigration industry has been reduced to nearly 10 per cent. Even if students aspiring to study abroad want to appear for their IELTS exams to improve their score, the IELTS coaching is not possible as such coaching centres have shut down their shops for some time.

Do you expect your business to pick up in the near future?

Looking at the situation, it’s really hard to predict when our businesses would resume or start gathering pace. Immigration business is primarily dependent on IELTS, so until immigration companies start functioning again, consultancy services would barely give any profit. Besides, we are also dependent on resumption of VFS centres and high commissions for approval. Online documentation wouldn’t be possible due to the uncertainty over the promotion of Class XII and graduation students.

Have you paid salaries to workers during the lockdown period?

Jain Overseas has its head office in Jalandhar and regional offices in Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and other cities. To survive in the market, salaries were paid every month to our staff. Staff of around 120 people work in Jalandhar but there were no lay-offs, however, their salaries were deducted to 10-20 per cent.

What are the lessons you have learnt from the lockdown as a businessman?

Undoubtedly, the lockdown has taught many things. We have become more tech-savvy. We realised the value of digitalization and how it can be a saviour in any crisis situation. For the expansion of our business, we utilised the lockdown period to upgrade our Enterprise Resource System (ERP). Also, my team and I observed that with the help of digital media we can get more productivity in lesser time. Workforce can be used in multiple tasks for making deals or client engagement. Through online conferencing we reached out to our clients sitting miles away. In future also, travelling could be reduced through virtual session and meetings.

What is the share of online trading in your profession?

Our share of online trading is limited. We reach out to clients or gain profits through social media and websites. We increase budget for that and get a good response.

Do you consider the current crisis as a challenge or an opportunity?

Definitely, the pandemic situation is more of a challenge. Instead of wasting our time in pondering over it, we worked on how to bring out the best from it. We are devising new plans and strategies and drawing out plans on how we can approach our target audience in future.

What are your expectations from the government?

Considering immigration as the growing industry, the government needs to support it. Amid financial loss, tax benefits should be given to us. As we have to take care of our staff, rents should be waived. We are losing money every day.