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.

Religious Freedom Watchdog Pitches Adding India to Blacklist

Not unexpected:

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is urging that the State Department add India to its list of nations with uniquely poor records on protecting freedom to worship — while proposing to remove Sudan and Uzbekistan from that list.

The bipartisan commission, created in 1998 by Congress to make policy recommendations about global religious freedom, proposed designating India as a “country of particular concern” in the annual report it released Tuesday. That lower ranking for a long-running U.S. ally amounts to a stark show of disapproval of India’s divisive new citizenship law, which has sparked broad worries about disenfranchisement of Muslims.

President Donald Trump declined to criticize the citizenship measure during his February visit to India, where his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was punctuated by skirmishes between Hindus and Muslims.

The commission, by contrast, is empowered as an independent arbiter to look only at nations’ religious freedom records, apart from their relationship with the United States, vice chair Nadine Maenza said.

Beyond the citizenship law, Maenza said in an interview, India has a broader “move toward clamping down on religious minorities that’s really troublesome.”

A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Anurag Srivastava, responded to the report with a statement blasting the commission’s “biased and tendentious comments against” that nation. Noting that some members dissented from the commission’s decision to recommend India for the lowest ranking of religious freedom protections, Srivastava appeared to use the commission’s internal terminology as a dig.

“We regard (the commission) as an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly,” he said.

In the cases of Sudan and Uzbekistan, the Trump administration got out ahead of the commission in raising its ranking of religious freedom protections. The State Department decided in December to no longer rank Sudan as a nation “of particular concern” after having taken Uzbekistan off the list earlier.

Following last year’s military ouster of authoritarian leader, Omar al-Bashir, new Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok met with the commission and committed to improve religious freedom, Maenza said.

Among the other significant recommendations in Tuesday’s report was a call for the U.S. government to “exert significant pressure on Turkey to provide a timeline for its withdrawal from Syria.” Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria last fall sparked broad concern about resulting threats to religious minorities in the region.

The commission proposed four other nations join India in the ranks of most egregious religious freedom offenders; Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam. The State Department’s current list of “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom includes China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran.

Inclusion among the nations with the poorest religious freedom records can lead to new sanctions, although the executive branch is also empowered to rely on already-imposed sanctions or issue a waiver.

Sudan and Uzbekistan are currently on a State Department watch list for nations where religious freedom infringement is not as widespread, constant and significant as those in the lowest-ranked tier.

The commission’s latest annual report recommends the addition of 11 more nations that the State Department has not yet put on that watch list: Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Turkey.

Australia: Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge addresses concerns of Indian nationals on temporary visas in Australia

Presumably, some Indians on Canadian visitor visas have also been caught by Indian airports being shut down but haven’t seen any media coverage:

The coronavirus pandemic has spawned uncertainty in the best of cases, but more so for the 2.2 million temporary visa holders in the country, who have been thrown into chaos by global travel bans and border closures.

A large number of these visa holders are from India, many of whom are now finding themselves in a precarious situation, where Australia is asking them to go home, but their own country isn’t yet ready to evacuate them.

Addressing their concerns, in an exclusive interview with SBS Punjabi, Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said he understands its a matter of “greater uncertainty” for those Indian nationals who are anxious to return home.


“We understand that the international airports in India are closed until next week and then and a further decision will be made by Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi whether to extend them again or reopen them,” said Mr Tudge.

He added that the situation in India is, however, different from that in Australia.

In Australia, we are not allowing foreign nationals to come into the country, we are only allowing Australians and permanent residents, unless there are exceptional circumstances, whereas India is not even allowing Indian nationals to return to their country

‘Temporary visa holders facing hardships must return home’

For most temporary visa holders, the problem is not just limited to being unable to return to their countries of origin, it is also a financial one. Many of them have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are now having to survive the crisis without any income assistance from the federal government.

Addressing the concerns of visa holders, Minister Tudge said while the country recognises their importance to its economy and society, however, with Australian citizens and residents being the priority, many will have to reevaluate their options.

“Firstly, all the efforts with the welfare payments and the JobKeeper payments are very much focused on Australians and permanent residents here. If you’re here on a temporary visa and you do run out of money then we do encourage people to return home where you may be able to get support,” he said.

It is difficult for Indian nationals at the moment because the international airports are closed, but our expectations and maybe the expectations of Prime Minister Modi is that they will be opened again in the not so distant future

‘Immigration will resume when it will be safe to do so’

Mr Tudge said the government is yet to take a decision on when it would open its borders to anyone other than the Australian citizens and permanent residents.

“Two things have to occur for that to happen. First is the international airports in India have to open up which is a decision of the Indian government and then second, we would have to open our borders to foreign nationals and we haven’t made that decision yet,” he said.

The minister thanked the Indian immigrants for their “terrific” contribution to Australia’s immigration success.

“I think it will be some time yet before we reopen the borders but it’s is something that we’d like to do in the future because immigration has been such a critical part of Australia’s success.

“And particularly immigrants from India in the last decades who have come in very large numbers and made a terrific contribution in Australia and we will be looking for immigration to resume when it is safe to do so,” he said.

Minister Tudge said a lot of Australia’s success in stemming the coronavirus has come through government’s move to close the international borders. He said a decision to reopen would largely depend on the development of a vaccine.

“How quickly we will rebound, it’s just too early to say and if there’s a vaccine which is found and that’s globally available then we may be able to open-up those borders sooner rather than later and get back to what the normal situation is. But if the vaccine is not found for some time, then it will probably be a slower process,” said the minister.

‘Immigration rate will be low’

Mr Tudge said it is too early to ascertain the long term impact of the health crisis on the country’s immigration policies, but added that the numbers would certainly be low as compared to the previous years.

“It’s just too early to say at this stage obviously our immigration rate will be lower this year compared to previous years because we have closed down the borders and almost nobody is coming in at the moment,” he said.

COVID-19 impact on visa applications:

The minister said while the processing of onshore applications has not been largely affected, those lodging visa applications from outside the country are more likely to feel the pinch.

“If you’re overseas and you’re applying for a visa, then I can say that it is being interrupted because of coronavirus, often because things like the English language testing providers or the health testing providers in most destination countries are shut down.”

He, however, added that the situation would be “irrelevant” for applicants from India as they would not be able to enter the country, even if they had a valid visa until the restrictions are lifted.

“At the moment that situation is almost irrelevant, because even if you had a valid visa and if you were in somewhere like India or Nepal then you would not be able to come into the country in any case.

“Again, we are keeping a close eye on things we are continuing to process those in Australia we are processing some overseas, but it obviously is at a slower rate,” said the minister.

Source: Exclusive: Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge addresses concerns of Indian nationals on temporary visas in Australia

Trump’s immigration move may force IT firms to shift staff offsite

Further possible effects for Indian IT services companies and tech in general:

US President Donald Trump’s decision to temporarily suspend immigration could further reduce Indian IT services companies’ reliance on H1-B visas.

While tech majors such as TCS and Infosys are increasingly hiring locally in the US and Europe, changes in delivery models following the Covid-19 pandemic could bring down the need for onsite deployment of Indian techies.

Trump, in a tweet, said he intends to sign an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration “in light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our great American Citizens.”

In the likelihood of immigration suspension, companies may not opt for H1-B visas as the Covid-19 pandemic has caused new headaches. TCS is already working on a delivery model that requires only 25 per cent of workforce to be present in an office. If 75 per cent of techies can do their work from outside office, it would not matter if they are in the US or in India.

“My estimate is that demand for onsite work (which requires H1-B) will come down by 50 per cent once things normalise,” said Harish HV, Managing Partner, ECube Investment Advisors.

While H1-B is a non-immigrant visa, Indians as well as others have been taking this route to get US citizenship. Indian nationals are the biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visas, which the US Centre for USCIS issues to get “qualified” professionals into the US.

“Trump’s decision, albeit temporary, will have significant implications right from people whose citizenship is under process to H1-B renewals,” said a US immigration lawyer whose clients include Infosys, Mphasis and other tech companies. This development comes in the wake of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) which, last week, gave its nod to extend H1-B visas which have expired or set to expire.

For the fiscal 2020-21, the US received around 275,000 fresh H1-B visa requests, of which 67 per cent were from India, US government data stated. The mandate is for granting 85,000 visas for immigrants.

According to industry estimates, there are around three million H1-B visa holders. While there are no definitive numbers on how many H1-B visa holders apply for citizenship, some lawyers peg that 24 per cent of H1-B visa holders tend to get green cards every year.

Indian software services companies have had it tough in the last few years. Visa rejection rates were around 30 per cent in 2019 and only two Indian companies were among the top ten visa recipients. Companies that BusinessLine reached out to declined to comment on Trump’s tweet since the final policy document has not been released by the US Government.

H1-B visas have been under the lens by US authorities as visa abuse cases have been reported and lawsuits filed against Indian companies, alleging that people of South Asian origin are hired to displace American workers.

On their part, Indian companies have started to hire in the US. However, such restrictions in the current scenario of weak revenue and higher local employees would have an impact in the short term, said an analyst from a brokerage house who did not wish to be quoted.

Shares of TCS, Infosys, Wipro, HCL Tech and Tech Mahindra all closed lower than Monday’s close after Trump tweeted.

Source: Trump’s immigration move may force IT firms to shift staff offsite

More than 15,000 Canadian citizens stranded in India, including Liberal MP’s mom

And another group of snowbirds not having heeded the government’s response to return quickly but in fairness, the situation has and continues to evolve quickly:

More than 15,000 Canadian passport holders have registered with the Foreign Affairs Department as being stranded in India, and as of Tuesday, the federal government had no repatriation flights scheduled to get them out.

India has closed its airspace and imposed a 21-day lockdown, preventing people from leaving their homes. The new measures come after a spike in cases in recent days. Those who are stuck say the restrictions make it impossible for them to get to the airports in New Delhi and Mumbai.

“We’re frustrated, because we hear how the Canadian government is doing everything they can to get Canadians back, and I can tell you that that is not the case right now,” Ottawa resident Debbie Lavigne said Tuesday.

The federal government said Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has been in touch with the Indian government and is working to bring people home, but the details of what is being done aren’t known.The 15,000 number does not account for citizens who have not registered or who are permanent residents — it is estimated there could be thousands more who are trying to return.

Lavigne, who is in Goa, India, said she and her daughter have been calling the Canadian Embassy in New Delhi non-stop and sending emails to Canada’s emergency watch and response centre — at sos@international.gc.ca — but have received no answers.

“We actually managed to get a live person, and they advised us to follow tweets and the news. We just need to be reassured to know that somebody is looking out for us,” she said.

Canadians flock to India in the spring

Spring is a time when thousands of Canadians head to India to visit family and friends, often staying for a month at a time, most typically in the Punjab region. Many of those travelling are elderly, and families at home are concerned about their health.

Ravi Gill, who is working tirelessly with a group of people in Surrey, B.C., to bring people home, said a lot of the older Canadians are insulin-dependent or on other medications but don’t have enough supplies beyond their planned return dates.

“They’re pretty much snowbirds,” Gill said. “Other people go to Arizona, Florida, but a lot of people in our community go to India. It’s difficult for our government to make choices, but we’re asking them to help.”

Gill is trying to lobby the government to do more, but every day, he says, he’s growing more frustrated. He questions why repatriation flights have been sent to other countries with far fewer Canadians stranded, but those in India have been left behind.

“There are young children in our family who are also stuck in India and are terrified at being locked into homes,” he said.

“They have witnessed police using sticks and pulling people off scooters to force them back home. This is a very traumatic experience for them.”

He’s collecting names and information and has started this Facebook page for people seeking help. Canadians are also advised to register with Foreign Affairs.

Surrey MP’s mom also stranded

Surrey-Newton Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal’s 80-year-old mother is among those stranded in India. Dhaliwal said he, too, is putting pressure on Champagne, but he doesn’t believe it will be easy to bring Canadians home any time soon.

“Because India has shut down the airfield, we are trying to get an access to the airfield, and also the prime minister has talked to the CEO of both airlines, Air Canada as well as WestJet.”Dhaliwal said those who are stuck may need to be patient and wait it out.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear the total country lockdown will be enforced.

“To save India, to save its every citizen, you, your family … every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown. We will have to pay the economic cost of this, but [it] is the responsibility of everyone.”

Source: More than 15,000 Canadian citizens stranded in India, including Liberal MP’s mom