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

Is India waging a ‘war’ on Islamic names?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legacies of partition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CITIZENSHIP LAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthright and blood

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

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

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

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

Slipping away

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

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

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

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

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

Freeland criticizes Indian diplomats for interfering in Ontario cultural festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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