The Statesman – Divisive politics ruining India’s reputation abroad: Rahul

New York, 21 September 2017. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi took a strong hit at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, saying that “divisive politics” was ruining India’s reputation of peace and harmony abroad.

Speaking at an event on Wednesday here organised by the Indian National Overseas Congress (INOC), Gandhi said India has many religions and different languages and people have been able to live happily together because of the ideas of the Congress.

He said the single biggest thing that people asked him during his incumbent visit to the US was: “What happened to the tolerance that prevailed in India? What happened to the harmony?”

“For thousands of years, India has had a reputation of peace and harmony. This is being challenged.

“There are forces in our country that are dividing the country. It is very dangerous for the country and it ruins our reputation abroad… Divisive politics is going on and it has to be fought,” Gandhi said.

“India’s reputation in the world is very important. The world is transforming and people are looking towards us.

“Many countries in a violent world are looking towards India and saying may be India has the answer for the 21st century, maybe India has the answer for peaceful coexistence.”

“So we cannot afford to lose our most powerful asset. Our most powerful asset is that 1.3 billion people lived happily, non-violently, peacefully… This is something that as Congress people, every single one of us has to defend,” he added.

Gandhi said India belonged to all its people.

“I can see my Sikh brothers, I can see people from different states, India does not belong to any one of you. India belongs to this entire room, India belongs to single one of us and that is what the Congress party is.”

Gandhi said Congress as an organisation was more than a century old but Congress as an idea was thousands of years old.

“We do not represent an organisation, we represent a philosophy that is thousands and thousands of years old.”

He said the freedom fighters and people who sought to transform India had stood for the truth.

“It does not matter what is standing against them. When they believe in something and are convinced that it is truth, they stand up for it and pay the price for it. That is the Congress idea.”

Gandhi termed the Non-Resident Indians (NRI) “as the backbone of the country” and said he was keen to involve them in the work of the party to discuss its vision forward.

Referring to the challenges faced by the country, he said 30,000 youngsters were entering job market everyday but only 450 jobs were being created.

“This is the single biggest challenge in front of our country and it can be solved by building unified approach. India cannot give youngsters a vision if it is unable to give them jobs.”

He alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s focus was on 50-60 large companies and small businesses and entrepreneurs need to be empowered to create jobs.

The Congress leader said India has huge opportunities in the healthcare sector and added that developing cold chains will help increase incomes of farmers.

Gandhi said he had met leaders from the Democratic and Republican Party during his two week visit and was asked about the prevailing situation in the country.

“They have asked me what is going on in your country. We always believed that your country worked together, we always believed your country was peaceful. What is going on in your country,” he added.

Outside the event venue, a small group of Sikhs held a protest against the Congress Party’s role in the 1984 riots.


The Tribune – UP police to probe IG’s role in ‘freeing’ gangster

Tribune News Service

Lucknow, 20 September 2017. Uttar Pradesh’s ADGP (Law and Order) Anand Kumar will probe the alleged deal made by an IG of the UP Police to let go Nabha jailbreak accused Gurpreet Singh alias Gopi Ghanshyampura from police detention in Lucknow.

Amitabh Yash, IG, STF, was summoned by Principal Secretary Arvind Kumar. Speaking to the media, Yash denied the charge of any Punjab criminal being detained or released by the STF.

In a press statement, the STF said news in Punjab papers about Gurpreet being detained and released on payment were “imaginary”.

DGP Sulkhan Singh said the audio tape of the conversation about the alleged deal would be probed and taken as evidence, if required.

Earlier, in a statement on social media late last night, the Principal Secretary said: “A high-level inquiry headed by an ADGP-level officer has been ordered into the matter.”

He clarified that they had not received any written complaint from the Punjab Government. He said the government was acting on the basis of newspaper reports.

While Gurpreet was picked up from near a bus stand in Lucknow reportedly on September 10, the arrest was not shown on record either in UP or Punjab.

It was a Facebook message of his accomplice Harjinder Singh Bhullar alias Vicky Gounder, mentioning his arrest and release, that alerted the Punjab Police.

Late yesterday night, CM Yogi Adityanath summoned DGP Sulkhan Singh and the Principal Secretary after which the inquiry was ordered.

Sources said the deal to free Gurpreet from detention was reportedly negotiated by the said officer with three of his alleged collaborators in a Lucknow hotel.

The officer is said to have initially demanded Rs 1 crore, but the deal was struck at Rs 45 lakh after which Gurpreet was allowed to go.

Gentbrugge to Gent Gurdwara

From Braemstraat to Gurdwara
03 September 2017

Gentbrugge Arsenaal – Railway viaduct
De Lijn buses 9, 20, 27, 28, 94 and 96

E17 viaduct and Tram 2 to Melle Leeuw

Brusselsesteenweg, junction with E17

Brusselsesteenweg, junction with E17
Park De Vijvers

De Naeyerdreef leading to Ledeberg

National hobby: digging up the roads

To see all my pictures:

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Ottawa Citizen – Attacks on Jagmeet Singh’s Sikh faith outrageous in most of Canada, but seen as fair game in Quebec

That a left-wing politician would feel at ease attacking a fellow politician of the left over his religion reveals how poisoned Quebec’s debate over secularism has become

Graeme Hamilton

Montreal, 19 September 2017. When an Ontario woman confronted NDP leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh at a recent public meeting, accusing the Sikh politician of promoting Islamic sharia law, it was widely seen as an outrage, and a video of Singh’s dignified response went viral.

When a Quebec woman told reporters Monday that Singh represents an emerging “religious left” and that his turban and kirpan are a way of forcing his religion on people, however, it was just another salvo in the province’s long-running debate over minority religious symbols.

The Quebec woman was no meeting-crasher but Martine Ouellet, the leader of the federal Bloc Québécois and an elected member of Quebec’s national assembly. That this left-wing politician, a darling of the province’s ecologists, would feel at ease attacking a fellow politician of the left over his religion reveals how poisoned Quebec’s debate over secularism has become.

From the controversy over reasonable accommodation a decade ago through the 2013 Parti Québécois “charter of values,” to the government bill currently before the legislature that would prohibit women wearing burkas or niqabs from receiving public services, Quebec politicians have repeatedly singled out minority religions under the guise of promoting religious neutrality.

In making her comments, Ouellet said her opposition to a politician openly displaying his faith is in line with Quebec opinion about the separation of church and state. “That’s what liberty is about, the liberty to be able to choose our own religion and not to promote one religion more than another,” she said in a Huffington Post video.

“That’s how most of the people in Quebec think.”

She said that by wearing a turban, Singh has signaled that his “primary values” are religious. Canadian multiculturalists might accept that, she said, but in Quebec such religious displays should be limited to “the private sphere”.

It is an argument frequently heard in Quebec, and certainly not a new one for the province’s Sikhs. In fact, it was a Sikh boy who inadvertently helped launch the reasonable accommodation debate when his attempt to wear to school a kirpan, a small ceremonial Sikh dagger, went to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The court ruled in 2006 that the school board had violated Gurbaj Singh Multani’s religious freedom, and he won the right to wear the kirpan provided it was concealed and secured.

Polls showed Quebecers largely rejected the court’s findings, and the case fuelled suspicion of the high court and a belief that accommodating minority religious symbols threatened traditional Quebec values.

In 2011, four kirpan-wearing members of the World Sikh Organization scheduled to testify before a legislative committee were barred from entering the National Assembly, and the PQ’s charter of values included turbans among the religious symbols it wanted to prohibit public servants from wearing them.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named four Sikhs, including two who wear turbans, to his federal cabinet in 2015, it was widely interpreted as a reflection of Canadian diversity.

But it did not take long after Jagmeet Singh, an Ontario MPP, entered the NDP leadership race for whispers to be heard that he faced an uphill battle in Quebec because of his religious headwear.

Writing in L’actualité in May, longtime NDP strategist Karl Bélanger predicted Singh would inevitably face questions “concerning his Sikh faith and its impact on his policies.

Anyone aware of the history of Quebec, its commitment to secularism flowing from the Grande Noirceur (when Maurice Duplessis governed the province), also understands the complexity of the question.”

By July, NDP sources were telling Le Devoir that Singh would damage the party’s chances in Quebec. And last Saturday, Quebec MP Pierre Nantel declared that Singh and his “conspicuous religious symbols” would not fly with Quebec voters.

“It has been shown that people do not want to see conspicuous religious symbols; they are not believed to be compatible with power, with authority,” Nantel told Radio-Canada.

Part of the hostility toward religious symbols is certainly a holdover from the days of Duplessis when the Catholic Church held sway over the province, although oddly, the crucifix hanging behind the speaker’s chair in the National Assembly has managed to survive.

The problem is that in today’s Quebec, it is largely practitioners of minority religions, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, who consider so-called conspicuous symbols central to their faith. And the non-practising majority feels empowered to dictate how the minorities exercise their religion.

Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor described Quebec’s reasonable accommodation crisis as a “face-off” between groups that each saw themselves as minorities and expected the other to bend.

“It must be understood that for French-Canadian Quebecers, the combination of their majority status in Québec and their minority status in Canada and North America is not easy,” the scholars wrote in their 2008 report.

“It is a difficult apprenticeship that began in the 1960s and, which, obviously, is ongoing.” Nearly a decade later, there is still no end in sight.

Graeme Hamilton <>

The Hindu – Journalist Santanu Bhowmik abducted and killed while covering IPFT agitation

Hit from behind, abducted and stabbed; Mandwai tense

Syed Sajjad Ali

Agartala-Tripura-India, 21 September 2017. Miscreants allegedly owing allegiance to the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) have murdered a young television journalist at Mandwai, 25 km east of Agartala, on Wednesday afternoon.

Santanu Bhowmik, 27, was attacked with sharp cutting weapons while covering a road blockade agitation of the IPFT, which is demanding a separate tribal State called Tipraland.

The murder of the journalist, who was working for a local television channel, occurred amid continuing clashes between supporters of the IPFT and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) in the Khowai, Teliamura and Jirania subdivisions.

Scores have been injured, houses burnt, police vehicles torched and policemen attacked in the second day of tension in Tripura.

Police recovered journalist Santanu Bhowmik in a critical state after he was attacked by a group of miscreants at Mandwai. Doctors declared him brought dead after he was shifted to the GBP Hospital here. He had received injuries on his head.

A large number of journalists from all segments of media gathered at the hospital to demand the immediate arrest of the murderers.

BBC News – Rohingya crisis: Are Suu Kyi’s Rohingya claims correct?

Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been speaking about the violence and refugee crisis in Rakhine State.

The BBC’s South East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, who has been covering the story of the Rohingya people from both sides of the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, assesses her claims.

Rangoon, 19 September 2017. Aung San Suu Kyi: “There have been no conflicts since 5 September and no clearance operations.”

On 7 September, I was on a government-organised media trip in the town of Alel Than Kyaw, where we heard automatic weapons fire in the distance and saw four large columns of smoke, indicating villages being burned.

Later that same day, we came across the Rohingya village of Gaw Du Thar Ya being set alight by Rakhine Buddhist men, in front of armed policemen and close to a police barracks.

Now, from Bangladesh, we have seen columns of smoke on the other side of the Naf River large enough to suggest villages being burned.

Aung SanSuu Kyi may not term these “clearance” operations, but given the heavy military and police presence in these areas, close to the riverbank, it is difficult to believe they do not have at least tacit approval from the authorities there.

Aung San Suu Kyi: “Action will be taken against all people’s regardless of their religion, race or political position who go against the laws of the land and who violate human rights as accepted by our international community.”

In more than 70 years of recorded abuses by the Burmese armed forces, there are almost no records of military officers being disciplined in Rakhine State or in the many other areas where armed conflicts continue inside the country.

It is hard to see that happening now, with the military insisting all of the more than 400,000 Rohingyas who have fled did so because of their involvement in the attacks by the militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

One colonel in Maungdaw told me the many allegations of rape made by Rohingya refugees could not be true because his men were too busy fighting to rape and would find the Rohingya women too unattractive.

Aung San Suu Kyi: “All people living in the Rakhine State have access to education and health care services without discrimination.”

This is patently untrue. Rohingyas have been subjected to discriminatory restrictions for many years barring them from moving, even getting married, without official permission, which often involves paying bribes.

Since the 2012 communal violence, Rohingyas have had even tighter restrictions imposed on them.

Many in the displacement camps within Myanmar are confined to those areas unless they have special permission to leave, which is hard to get.

I know students inside the camps whose education has been halted for the past five years.

Four years ago, I visited the Rohingya village of Ah Nauk Pyin, south of Rathedaung, where the inhabitants were unable to leave even for medical treatment because of the hostility of the surrounding Rakhine Buddhist communities.

On Monday, in Bangladesh, I met Abdulmajid, from Gaw Du Thar Ya – the village I saw being burnt.

He told me for “the last five years, we couldn’t go outside our village for work”. – President of India orders Sikkim government to secure Gurdwara Sahib

Sikh24 Editors

New Delhi-India, 20 September 2017. According to information shared by the DSGMC’s General Secretary, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, the Indian President, Sri Ram Nath Kovind, has directed the Sikkim government to take necessary steps to ensure the security and existence of Gurdwara Guru Dangmaar Sahib.

The step has come after Buddhist fanatics had forcibly removed the Holy Scripture of Sri Guru Granth Sahib last month and had attempted to convert it into a Buddhist prayer place.

Situated at an altitude of 18,000 feet at Indo-Tibetan border, Gurdwara Dangmaar Sahib was established in 1971 by and for Sikh army men.

Extending vote of thanks to the President Sri Ram Nath Kovind, Sirsa informed that he had raked up the issue before President some days ago acting on which President Kovind has issued instructions to the Sikkim government. He added that he had thoroughly elaborated the historic importance of Gurdwara Guru Dangmaar Sahib before President Kovind.

Sint-Truiden and From Gentbrugge to Gent Gurdwara

27 August 2017

Kazernevest – many flowers !

The NMBS IC train that will take me to Gent

From Braemstraat to Gurdwara
03 September 2017

Brusselsesteenweg – Oak tree and acorns

Brusselsesteenweg – Oak tree and acorns

Brusselsesteenweg – NMBS Centrale Werkplaats

Brusselsesteenweg – NMBS Centrale Werkplaats

The Age – Sidhak and his dad win battle for Sikh boys to wear turban to Christian school

Henrietta Cook

Melbourne, 19 September 2017. A Christian school unlawfully discriminated against a five-year-old boy when it banned him from wearing a traditional Sikh patka, a child’s version of a turban, a tribunal has ruled.

In a win for Melbourne father Sagardeep Singh Arora and his son Sidhak, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled that Melton Christian School breached the Equal Opportunity Act.

The decision, which was handed down on Tuesday, could have implications for the way schools set their uniform policies.

It also paves the way for Sidhak to attend the school of his choice.

“It is not reasonable to accept enrolment applications from students from non-Christian faiths only on condition that they do not look like they practise a non-Christian religion,” VCAT member Julie Grainger said.

Mr Arora had hoped that his son would start prep at school this year, but the enrolment hit a roadblock when principal David Gleeson said Sidhak would have to comply with the school’s uniform policy.

It states that boys must have short hair, and can’t wear head coverings related to a non-Christian faith.

He argued that the school discriminated against his son, by not allowing him to wear the patka and have uncut hair – essential parts of his religion.

Mr Arora said he was “very pleased” with the decision and his son still wanted to attend the school “because his cousins went there”.

“We are very pleased that religious freedom… is alive in Victoria,” he said in a statement also signed by United Sikhs, Victorian Sikh Gurduaras Council, Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria and the Supreme Sikh Council of Australia.

The college was relying on an exemption in the Equal Opportunity Act, Section 42, which lets schools set and enforce “reasonable” standards of dress in consultation with the community.

But Ms Grainger said this exemption did not arise because the school didn’t take into account the broad views of the school community when it set its uniform policy.

“I consider that MCC’s uniform policy, in so far as it prohibits head gear of a non-Christian faith, could be described as ‘openly discriminatory’,” she said.

She said the school could have made a reasonable adjustment by letting the young Sikh boy wear a patka in the school uniform colours.

Trish Low, Herbert Smith Freehills’ national leader of equal opportunity and training, who acted for Mr Arora on a pro-bono basis, said schools would now be re-examining their uniform policies to ensure they were lawful.

The College said it had taken into account the views of the school community but it had only surveyed school council members and teachers, and VCAT deemed that inadequate.

“It gives more guidance as to what they have to do to set reasonable dress codes,” Ms Low said. “The school community is broader than a principal and school council; it also comprises of parents, teachers and students.”

Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green said it would take time to examine the “detailed and complex” finding to assess the implications.

More than half the school’s students do not identify as Christian and it has an open enrolment policy.

The school argued that its uniform policy created a “level playing field” and promoted equality through its sameness.

Mr Gleeson said the school had always thought that it was acting lawfully, and respected the VCAT findings.

“Our school takes seriously the protection, dignity, rights and safety of children, so we were, and are concerned that this case has involved a young child in public controversy,” he said.

He said the school would work with Sidhak and his family to find a “constructive way forward”.

“Our current students come from a very wide range of cultural and religious backgrounds, and we are devoted to all our students, we are passionate about their education,” he said.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, which intervened in the matter to help the tribunal interpret the law, said it was an important test case.

“VCAT’s decision shows that all schools must ensure their uniform policies are not discriminatory,” Commissioner Kristen Hilton said.

“Treating all people the same does not result in giving everyone equal opportunity. The decision makes it clear that there is a stark difference between headwear that connects a person to their religion and a sports cap or fashion accessory.”

VCAT ordered that the family and the school attend a conference to resolve the issues.

Dawn – The hollowing out of India

Latha Jishnu

Op/Ed, 18 September 2017. Buffeted by strong economic headwinds, which have gathered momentum since the insane demonetisation exercise of last November and made more fierce by a poorly designed change in the national taxation system, Indians have had little time to worry about what else is shaking their republic.

Perhaps they feel the tremors but are as yet unaware of how seriously the pillars of its democratic traditions are being rocked.

When everyone from IT-sector geeks to traders in the country’s most prosperous hubs see their livelihoods evaporating it’s difficult to focus on such things as the well-being of institutions that have been the bedrock of its democracy.

What the anarchic demonetisation exercise did, apart from reducing the country’s GDP by one per cent and sending the economy into a tailspin, is to undermine the Reserve Bank of India, which has long been lauded for its independence.

That reputation now lies in tatters after it was forced go along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political gamble.

Of more serious concern is what is happening to other institutions such as academia and, most worryingly, the armed forces. Take the curious case of Lt-Colonel Shrikant Purohit, which the previous government had highlighted as an instance of saffron terror.

Purohit was released on bail by the Supreme Court last month after spending nine years in jail. His case is important because he is the first serving Indian Army official to be accused of involvement in an act of terror.

The Modi government is chipping away at the institutions and traditions that define the republic

Purohit was arrested in 2008 as one of the conspirators in the Malegaon bomb blast, which killed seven persons and injured 100 in a town known for its Muslim weavers. What is unnerving is the silence of the army. The army has made no official statement but ‘sources’ were quoted as saying he would remain under suspension but would be attached to a unit.

For the ordinary person, it is difficult to fathom how an officer accused of terrorism will be rejoining duty. In the increasingly widening ‘reality distortion field’ that is India it is not easy to sift facts from the persistent propaganda, misrepresentation and hyperbole that accompanies all controversial events.

While TV channels notorious for toeing the official line have hailed Purohit as a hero in no uncertain terms, other media outlets have reminded us that the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad, which investigated the Malegaon attack, had found Purohit to be the founder of Abhinav Bharat, a Hindu extremist group that emulates Islamist militancy.

They have also pointed out that Purohit’s release was in line with the reluctance of the National Intelligence Agency to pursue the case vigorously and follows the bail given to other conspirators.

This was foretold by Rohini Salian, special public prosecutor in the case, who had revealed in a 2015 interview that she was under pressure from the NIA to go soft on the accused ever since “the new government came to power”.

Purohit’s case merits closer scrutiny. Although he maintains that he was the army mole in radical Hindu organisations, reports by the army has shredded his claim. A 2011 inquiry report of the Directorate General of Military Intelligence had found his presence in several of the Hindutva group meetings to be “illegal”.

Newspapers quoting from the report said DGMI had found that Purohit used his “relaxed work environment” to hold meetings with prominent religious leaders and arms dealers and that he was “involved in procurement and disposal of weapons for monetary benefits”.

These are murky waters and unsettling since it involves national security. It has deepened the unease over the ruling party’s politicisation of the armed forces, which has been talked about but seldom debated in public despite the seriousness of concerns it raises.

Eight months ago, the Modi government rattled India by casting aside a decades-long tradition and superseding two reputedly outstanding officers to appoint Bipin Rawat as the army chief.

Rawat appears to have been handpicked for his aggressive stance on the Kashmir problem, which is line with the BJP’s own hawkish policy and fits in nicely with the party’s nationalist discourse.

Given its penchant for the forces, it’s not surprising that military personnel have been used by the party and the RSS to undermine another institution: universities.

Last year, the RSS student wing ABVP invited former army officers to an event in memory of military martyrs at the JNU, at which pointed remarks were made about the lack of nationalism among the students.

Universities, inevitably, have been under relentless assault, with the RSS determined to take its ‘war for minds’ to the next level. Public universities known to be the citadels of liberal thought and left-wing student politics have come under systematic attack, their academic freedom hugely circumscribed by a slashing of funds.

JNU, for instance, has been forced to cut its intake of research scholars by over 80pc as the RSS goes ahead with its “ideological battle against Macaulay, Marx and Madrasawadis”.

If the government has been more cautious in meddling with another pillar of Indian democracy it has not been for want of trying. In April last year, Modi reduced former chief justice T S Thakur to tears in public because he said the judiciary was unable to handle the “avalanche” of litigation because of shortage of judges.

The Modi government has refused to increase the strength of judges from the current 21,000 to the required 40,000 in an effort to keep the judiciary, which has remained firm in its resolve to decide the appointments, firmly in check.

Damaging institutions, which can destroy modern democratic values based on the constitution, is patently not a concern for the BJP-RSS combine since its contempt for the constitution is barely disguised.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has indicated where the next battlefront will be: bringing in a new legal system based on the “ethos of the society”. Although the Indian constitution was based on an understanding of the ‘Bharatiya ethos’, our founding fathers did not get it quite right since many of the laws are from foreign sources.

This is something to be addressed, he says. In other words, it is not Hindu enough. Indian democracy’s next battle could be its most decisive yet.

The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi

Latha Jishnu