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”.

Advertisements – 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