BBC News – The couples on the run for love in India

Divya Arya

Gujarat – India, 14 April 2019. Most Indian families still prefer marriages arranged within their religion and caste. Marriages outside these rigid boundaries have often led to violent consequences, including “honour” killings. But some young Indians are still willing to defy their families and communities for love, reports the BBC’s Divya Arya.

Ravindra Parmar knew that pursuing a relationship with an upper-caste woman would be dangerous.

He is a Dalit (formerly known as “untouchable”), a caste that sits at the lowest rung of India’s social ladder. The woman he fell in love with, Shilpaba Upendrasinh Vala, is a Rajput, a Hindu warrior caste near the apex of the system.

The yawning gap between his position and hers is something rarely bridged in Indian society.

“We are not even allowed to walk past their area and I had dared to marry into their family,” he says.

“Those who marry inter-caste are seen as aliens. The perception is that they are terrorists who revolt in society.”

Ravindra and Shilpaba were born and brought up in two villages separated by more than 100km (62 miles) in the western state of Gujarat.

They met on Facebook and would spend hours taking digs at each other.

But all that friendly banter had a deep impact on Shilpaba.

“I was like any other village girl limited to home and college, but he broadened my horizon, made me realise that my life has more meaning,” she says.

Social media has opened a space that did not exist a few decades ago. Rigid caste and religious divides meant that the possibility of meeting, interacting and striking friendships in public places was neither possible nor encouraged.

The caste system is hereditary, and the practice of marrying within the caste ensures that the hierarchy is perpetuated. Caste divisions have deep roots in history and Dalit men who have married women from upper castes have been killed.

Marriages across caste or religion in India are uncommon. According to the India Human Development Survey, only about 5% of Indian marriages are inter-caste.

The onus of upholding tradition, culture and “purity” falls on the woman and if she marries outside traditional boundaries, she is seen as besmirching the honour of the community and her family.

The anger and backlash can lead to violent attacks and killings.

Shilpaba had to flee from her village to marry Ravindra. But the threat of violence has continued to hang over them: they have moved between houses and cities a dozen times in the past three years. Ravindra is a trained engineer but had to leave his job and has had to do daily-wage labour wherever they have lived to make ends meet.

Shilpaba says the stress became unbearable. They started blaming each other for their situation and she even contemplated taking her own life.

“Ravindra convinced me out of it, as that was no solution,” she says. “Now we are both studying law with a vision to take up human rights cases and make our parents proud through our work.

“Maybe then they will see that we didn’t take this decision to just have fun and they will accept us.”

‘Shocking’ level of prejudice’

The latest data available from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that 77 murder cases in 2016 were reported with “honour killing” as the motive.

Such violence is highly under-reported and these numbers do not accurately reflect social attitudes that may be growing more conservative.

A 2016 survey, Social Attitudes Research for India (Sari), conducted across Delhi, Mumbai, and the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan found the majority of respondents opposed to inter-caste and inter-religious marriages.

In fact they were in favour of a law banning such marriages.

“It is quite shocking that despite rising levels of literacy and education, prejudicial beliefs do not reduce. In fact, they are worryingly high,” says Professor Amit Thorat of Jawaharlal Nehru University, who worked on the Sari survey.

“Religious and traditional values around hierarchies, around the notion of purity and pollution seem to be more sacrosanct and valuable than human rights, the right to live or the right to marry by choice.”

Feeling unsafe

Bibi Ayisha and Aditya Verma were 17 years old when they fell in love. They too found each other on Facebook. That they were born into different religions, she is Muslim, he is Hindu, did not matter to them. But their families fiercely opposed the relationship.

Aditya was born and grew up in Delhi. After finishing school, he enrolled in a college in the southern Indian city of Bangalore only because Ayisha lived there. But that sign of his dedication couldn’t win her parents over: he was still a Hindu.

Madly in love, and after waiting for two years, Ayisha ran away with Aditya. They moved to Delhi but, like Ravindra and Shilpaba, they still did not feel safe.

“We were so scared that for five months we stayed in a room. Neither of us was working at that time. I thought if I stepped out, I would be killed, because I was Muslim and he was Hindu,” says Ayisha.

In February 2018, 23-year old Ankit Saxena was murdered in broad daylight in the capital Delhi for having a relationship with a Muslim woman.

The woman’s parents and two others were arrested and the trial is ongoing.

Ayisha says that after that incident, the fear of a possible honour killing started feeling very real.

“Even if we went out briefly, I was constantly looking around and if I saw anyone with a beard, I thought that they were members of my family coming to kill me.”

Spreading awareness

Her fears have been set against the backdrop of an India where religious polarisation is increasing. A Hindu nationalist government has been in power since 2014 and is accused of normalising anti-Muslim sentiment.

“I think the present environment is such that rather than bringing people and religions together, it is trying to fan the fires of division,” says Prof Thorat.

He is quick to point to the violent partition of India to underscore that such beliefs have existed for more than half a century, but believes that efforts to bridge divides are lacking.

Ayisha’s parents like Aditya but are not ready to accept him into their family unless he converts to Islam. Aditya’s parents are equally unwilling for the marriage unless Ayisha adopts Hinduism.

Both of them are opposed to adopting the other’s religion, and losing their own.

“When we fell in love, I knew she was a Muslim and she knew I was Hindu. We don’t want that any of us should lose our identity,” Aditya says.

India passed a law in 1872 that enables legal registration of a marriage between a man and woman of different religions or caste without any conversion.

Aditya found out about the Special Marriage Act through Asif Iqbal and Ranu Kulshreshtha, a couple who married inter-faith back in 2000.

Soon after their marriage, in the aftermath of the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002, they witnessed targeting of couples like themselves and a lack of any support mechanisms.

They set up an organisation called Dhanak, which spreads legal awareness and provides counselling as well as safe houses to couples who want to marry inter-faith or inter-caste.

But awareness about the Special Marriage Act is very low. It also has a rule that requires a notice about the intended marriage to be displayed at a public place for a month, giving opportunity to anyone to place an objection.

“This provision is often misused by fanatic Hindu groups like Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and Muslim organisations like Nizam-e-Mustafa, who would approach the families and pressure them to stop their daughters as daughters are easy targets,” explains Asif Iqbal.

According to him, the local police also do not encourage such marriages and instead play an active role in stopping them, especially in smaller towns.

Rekha Sharma, chairperson of the government’s advisory body, the National Commission for Women, agrees.

“The government needs to do more in sensitising the police and legal officers about this, as the law helps in stopping conversion yet still enabling inter-faith marriage,” she says.

But she adds that lasting change cannot come only by enforcing laws, but by changing social mindsets.

Acceptance is key for the survival of such couples as they deal with severe social and economic isolation.

‘Trust and love’

The Dhanak network has helped Ayisha feel safe. She has now met many couples like her and Aditya, and it gives her immense hope.

“If you trust your partner and love them very much, then nothing else should matter. You should not waste time worrying about family and society. They will come around eventually,” she says.

After their marriage, Ravindra and Shilpaba decided to change their surname to Bharatiya, which means Indian.

They decided to drop their original surname since it revealed their respective castes.

Ravindra is an idealist, he believes that more inter-caste marriages will lead to a future in India where caste divisions will cease to be an issue. – Karam Singh Bhoian’s peaceful struggle witness large influx of supporters

Sikh24 Editors

Tarn Taran Sahib – Panjab – India, 14 April 2019. The peaceful sit-in-strike of Sikh leader Karam Singh Bhoian seeking indictment of the demolishers of historic Darshani Deodi of Gurdwara Sri Tarn Taran Sahib today completed 14 days.

A lot of Sikhs extended support to Bhoian’s struggle today by appreciating his initiative and discussing the future course of action with him.

Speaking to Sikh24, Karam Singh Bhoian informed that the SAD (Amritsar) activists will take out a protest march in Tarn Taran tomorrow. He added that a memorandum will be submitted to the Deputy Commissioner demanding action against the demolishers of this historic Darshani Deodi.

Pritpal Singh Amritsar, Balwant Singh Gopala, Kulwant Singh Kotlagujra, Mukhtar Singh Keedian, Balbir Singh Mundapind, Lakha Singh Marhana, Resham Singh Tarn Taran, Mohinder Singh Chautala, Rajan Singh, Kulwant Singh Majhail, Bibi Harjinder Kaur Khalsa etc. were present on this occasion.

Day 14: Karam Singh Bhoian’s Peaceful Struggle Witness Large Influx of Supporters  

Bosnia – Sarajevo

Archangel Michael and Gabriel Church
08 April 2019

Interesting building opposite the church

The church is set in a walled garden

The Cross

Stairs and climbing plant

A rural setting in the middle of old Sarajevo

The man in charge of the church and Ilber answer our questions

More Bosnian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Published in: on April 18, 2019 at 5:36 am  Leave a Comment  

The Express Tribune – Why Pakistan made a blunder by blindly surrendering on India’s Khalistan movement

Adam Garrie

Op/Ed, 15 April 2019. Sikh civil society groups have condemned Pakistan’s decision to ban activities of Sikhs peacefully campaigning for ‘Referendum 2020’ in which Sikhs plan to defy New Delhi and exercise their democratic right to vote on the issue of self-determination.

Next year, Sikhs intend to vote either “yes or no” on the question of whether Khalistan should be formed as an independent state that would separate from the Indian state of Punjab.

Similar votes have happened throughout the world with a wide array of results.

In 2014, Scotland narrowly voted to remain part of the United Kingdom (UK) in such a vote, whilst in 2017, in a vote that was not recognised by Spain, Catalonia voted to become an independent republic.

In Indonesia’s Western New Guinea (often referred to as West Papua internationally), there have long been calls for a new referendum after the initial vote in 1969, in which the region voted to integrate with Indonesia, has been described as un-free and unfair for ordinary people in the region.

Even more recently, the French overseas territory of New Caledonia voted to remain politically united with France. Perhaps the most politicised referendum in recent years was when Crimea voted to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia. The result of this vote has been recognised by Russia, North Korea and Syria but few other nations.

Of course, the world’s most controversial self-determination referendum is one that the United Nations (UN) first called for in 1948. This is the yet unrealised vote for self-determination in Kashmir.

In 2020, Sikhs in Indian Punjab are planning to hold a referendum on whether they want to form an independent nation known as Khalistan or whether they want to remain within India. India’s reaction thus far has been to browbeat, bully and threaten those who allow pro-Khalistan activities on their soil.

Canada, Britain and some mainland European countries have refused to ban the Khalistan movement but India seems to have forced Pakistan’s hand in the matter.

While Pakistan has generally warm relations with the global and domestic Sikh community, it appears that Pakistan effectively succumbed to bullying from its militant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled neighbour.

Of course, it is Pakistan’s domestic right to ban whatever political or activist groups it desires, including peaceful ones like the Khalistan movement.

In this sense, the biggest problem is that Pakistan moved against a very small group of Sikhs who planned on hoisting banners and handing out literature at a time when India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) continues to work with the Kabul regime to promote terrorism in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Likewise, Indian forces continue to inflict supreme violence against the civilians of Kashmir.

In this sense, Pakistan has leverage that it refused to exercise against India.

If New Delhi is so desperate for Islamabad to prohibit insignificantly small groups of Sikhs from handing out non-violent political literature outside their places of worship, Islamabad could have said ‘we will only prohibit Khalistan activism if India gives Pakistan all of the details of the last 50 years worth of Indian meddling in Balochistan, ceases its promotion of terrorism in Balochistan via Kabul, begins a ceasefire in occupied-Kashmir and renounces all forms of military violence as a means of conflict resolution with Pakistan’.

In other words, it takes two to tango. If India wants Pakistan to ban peaceful symbols of a Khalistan referendum on its soil, India had better cease fomenting violent separatism in south-western Pakistan. But in typically anti-strategic fashion, Pakistan simply capitulated to India’s bullying and got less than nothing for it.

The concept of getting less than nothing for it can be proved by the fact that major pro-government Indian media outlets continue to claim (without evidence) that Pakistan is officially promoting the Khalistan movement in Indian Punjab when in fact the Khalistan movement’s presence outside of India is almost all in either Canada or the UK, with other activists present in the United States and parts of continental Europe.

Forgetting any moral arguments, from a purely strategic view, Pakistan made a blunder. Islamabad could have asked India for something in return for actively prohibiting low level Khalistan activists and instead, Pakistan asked for nothing.

The writer is the Director of Eurasia Future, writing on Eurasian integration, Middle East, South East Asia, China and OBOR.

Dawn – India bans BJP state chief minister from campaign after anti-Muslim comment

New Delhi – India, 15 April 2019. India’s election commission on Monday banned a Hindu state chief minister from campaigning for three days after anti-Muslim comments in an election that will end next month.

The saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, had been warned this month about his campaign speeches, the election commission said.

The commission said Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, had spoken about a “green virus” in a speech last week in reference to Muslim voters who he said were being wooed by opposition parties.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been playing to its nationalist base and painting its rivals as soft on terrorism and eager to appease Muslims, who make up about 14 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population.

A BJP spokesman said the party was inclusive towards all communities. “The party believes in all-together development for all, and we don’t believe in any polarization,” spokesman Harish Srivastava said.

The election commission also imposed a ban on the leader of the Dalits, people at the bottom of the Hindu caste structure, saying she had violated a code of conduct by asking Muslims to vote en bloc for opposition candidates.

The ban on Dalit leader Mayawati would run for two days, it said.

A spokesman for Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which is in an alliance with another regional party in Uttar Pradesh, could not be reached for comment.

The commission on Monday also banned Azam Khan, a leader from the Samajwadi Party (SP), an ally of the BSP, and minister Maneka Gandhi from campaigning for violating the code of conduct.

Khan was banned for three days, while Gandhi was banned for two days.

Staggered voting in the general election began last Thursday and will end on May 19.

Although jobs, nationalism and conditions for farmers are the main issues, religion is an important and sensitive topic.

The BJP repeated in its manifesto a commitment to build a Hindu temple in the northern town of Ayodhya at a site disputed by Muslims, seeking to gain the support of majority Hindus.

Last week, BJP president Amit Shah referred to illegal Muslim immigrants as termites and vowed to throw them into the sea.

Surveys suggest Modi’s ruling alliance looks set to win a majority smaller than in the last election in 2014, when it secured a commanding win on a promise to turn India into an economic and military power.