The Indian Express – Action on J&K to CAA increasingly isolating India: Former foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon

Speaking at an event organised by the Constitutional Conduct Group and Karwan-e-Mohabbat at the Press Club of India, Menon said, “What we have achieved in recent past is to hyphenate our image with Pakistan’s in a fundamental way as religiously-driven and intolerant states….”

New Delhi – India, 04 January 2020. A “cumulative effect of a series of actions” over the past year, from the Union government’s treatment of Kashmir to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), has made India “increasingly isolated” from the rest of the world, former Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said on Friday.

He said India’s actions may be in violation of Article 2(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that requires rights of the Covenant “to be applied to all individuals in its territory with no distinction of any kind,” highlighting that it reads “all individuals”, not just citizens.

Speaking at an event organised by the Constitutional Conduct Group and Karwan-e-Mohabbat at the Press Club of India, Menon said, “What we have achieved in recent past is to hyphenate our image with Pakistan’s in a fundamental way as religiously-driven and intolerant states…. We have lost India’s ability to be an example and a model for other countries in the subcontinent…”

He said, “Disengagement or going it alone is not an option, but we seem determined with actions like this to cut ourselves off and isolate ourselves.”

Menon also questioned Foreign Minister S Jaishankar’s decision to cancel a meeting with the US Congress’s foreign affairs committee, which would have also been attended by Chennai-born US Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who has tabled a resolution critical of CAA.

“Rather than attending a meeting and rebutting these charges, we chose to duck this,” he said. “We have broken the bipartisan consensus that used to exist in the US for the last 25 years.”

Menon, who played a critical role in the India-US nuclear deal, cited examples of US Congressional hearings, language on Kashmir added to the US Foreign Appropriations Act for 2020, and the bipartisan support for the Congressional resolution critical of CAA.

He said there has been “no meaningful international support” for India’s recent actions, barring some diaspora members and extreme-right Parliamentarians. On the other hand, the “list of critical voices abroad is quite long,” he said, and named France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“All knowledgeable people I have spoken to seem to agree that we seem to be in violation of our international commitments. For those who say international law cannot be enforced, we must consider the political and other consequences of being perceived as violators of international law,” Menon said.

He pointed out that the United Nations High Commission has condemned CAA, and the UN Security Council has discussed Kashmir after 40 years.

Menon also drew upon the shifting opinions of media organisations from across the political spectrum, from the ‘Wall Street Journal’ to the ‘Guardian’.

Referring to Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan’s remarks, “let them fight among themselves”, when asked about CAA and NRC, he said, “Even our friends have been taken aback. Is this what we want? If this is what our friends think, what would our adversaries be thinking? We have gifted out adversaries a platform from which to attack us.”

Action on J&K to CAA increasingly isolating India: Former foreign secy Shivshankar Menon – Mob of Muslims pelt stones at Gurdwara Nankana Sahib; SGPC seeks immediate arrest of mobsters

Sikh24 Editors

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 03 January 2020. An extremely painful incident for Sikhs has emerged from the roots of Sikhism i.e. Nankana Sahib, where a mob of Muslims today pelted stones towards Gurdwara Janam Asthan Sri Nankana Sahib and shouted highly inflammatory slogans against Sikhs and the Sikhism.

It has come to fore that this mob was being led by the family of Mohammad Hassan, who had abducted Sikh girl Jagjit Kaur in August last year. In a video, recorded at the site of the protest, the protesters were seen saying that they were against the presence of the Gurdwara there.

They even said that they will soon change the name of the place from Nankana Sahib to Ghulaman-e-Mustafa.

“No Sikh will remain in Nankana,” the Muslims present in the mob can be heard saying in the video of this incident.

Meanwhile, the apex Sikh body Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhik Committee has strongly condemned this extremely painful incident.

Expressing concern over the day by day prospering anti-Sikh environment in Pakistan, SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal has asked the Pakistan government to ensure security of Sikhs and take a strict action against this group of mobsters.

“We stand in solidarity with Sikhs living in Pakistan and will not tolerate any kind of ill language against our historic Sikh shrines,” Longowal said while demanding immediate arrest of these mobsters.

Mob of Muslims pelt stones at Gurdwara Nankana Sahib; SGPC seeks immediate arrest of mobsters

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Press Gazette – Media use of ‘vague terminology’ like ‘Asian’ fails Sikhs and other religious groups

The issue of Islamophobia and “mistaken identity” has been impacted by the definition of sexual grooming gangs by the media as “Asian”.

In Britain, all South Asians, those with parents or grandparents from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, are considered part of the “Asian” umbrella.

Use of this vague terminology in the media does nothing to promote cultural or religious literacy amongst the public, or to encourage the understanding of differences between Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others.

In December 2018, a man was fined £ 180 by a court in Nottinghamshire for calling an Indian Sikh man a “Muslim paedo”.

This incident serves to illustrate how Britain’s sexual grooming gang phenomenon has resulted in prejudice against Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslims, or the “Muslim-looking other”.

The Times’ chief investigative reporter Andrew Norfolk, who investigates child sexual exploitation, told the authors: “We kept using the headline ‘Asian’ in those early days, but every time we did this, we got complaints from Hindus and Sikhs, and from my perspective this was a valid complaint.

“There was the odd white person, Hindu, or the odd individual Sikh involved in the gangs, but they were overwhelmingly Pakistani men, or Bangladeshi or Kurdish men, often involving families, uncles and nephews.”

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Norfolk said The Times increasingly focused on the specificity of the perpetrators (supported by statistics) from around January 2011, and things then became problematic.

He said: “From the word go, the same coalition of Islamist groups and the left, were both screaming ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘racist’, when what we were highlighting was a clear trend in criminality.

“It was difficult for the first few months. I got to my forties without ever being accused of being racist. I’m pleased we kept going, despite the denial from police and social services.

“Rotherham changed things, after a year of writing countless stuff, they launched an independent inquiry.”

Norfolk said a Sikh family from the West Midlands had contacted him following concerns for their daughter, but he said “honour issues” often made it harder for Sikh girls to speak out, and for decades no one wanted to listen to white working-class girls either.

What was clear from these discussions was that whilst one should continue to discuss genuine cases of hate crime, one must remain cognisant of illiberal efforts to accuse individuals raising important issues with the false and malicious charge of “racist” or “Islamophobe”.

Media representation

Whilst it was clear that the focus on anti-Sikh hate was thin on the ground in the political sphere, amongst prominent race relations think tanks and academia, it was even more so in the mainstream media.

This despite the presence of high-profile Sikh born journalists, the likes of the BBC’s Anita Rani, Sathnam Sanghera of The Times and Hardeep Singh Kohli, to name but a few.

There was ignorance amongst journalists about the suffering of non-Muslims (such as Sikhs) from Islamophobia in the first instance, but even when it was known, Sikh stories were subsumed within the broader Islamophobia debate in media reports.

To highlight this, the authors looked at stories in the media from both the UK and US around the theme of religious literacy, because religious illiteracy can fuel hate crime.

They also looked for examples of where images resembling Sikhs have been used inappropriately to talk about anti-Muslim hate, without even acknowledging Sikhs.

The Guardian best illustrates the latter on 16 August 2016 with the incorrect use of an image resembling a Sikh turban used to illustrate an article titled, “The perils of ‘flying while Muslim’.”

This misplaced artwork was picked up on by an observant Kate Mansey, the deputy features editor at The Mail on Sunday.

Mansey told the authors: “When I spotted the story in The Guardian, I thought it was brilliantly written and very informative. Sometimes, however, the captions and artwork that accompany stories are not subjected to such rigorous checks.

“It struck me as odd that a passenger with a Sikh turban was used to depict a story about Muslims. I took to Twitter to express my surprise. For me, this was another example of how those of the Sikh faith are often confused with Muslims.

“No doubt, it is a source of annoyance for Sikh people, but it also shows a wider misunderstanding of religion in our society. The point of the article in The Guardian was that, of course, we should not prejudice all Muslims by assuming they are terrorists. Indeed. But nor should we assume all people with darker skin are Muslims.

“The key, surely, to building a more tolerant society is to educate children, and adults, about different religions. Perhaps no surprise then that this was one of my most widely shared and liked tweets.”

After complaints and retweets of Mansey’s original tweet, the image was subsequently removed from the top of the article, being replaced lower down under a paragraph discussing the SC’s app (FlyRights) to highlight and report discrimination whilst flying.

The image description however remained “wear appropriate clothing”, with no clarification around its resemblance to a Sikh turban.

This was one of the rare occasions where a member of a national newspaper’s editorial team advocated on social media on behalf of British Sikhs, and, at least on this occasion, made a difference.

Whilst national media demonstrated religious illiteracy, so did local media.

In the Slough Express, a Sikh family who had become victims of hate crime in the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings were ignorantly described as Muslim in an article titled, “Neighbour accused of race hate threats to kill family.”

Religion in the media

When religion is discussed, questions about accuracy in reporting are evident, and increasingly an issue, especially when it comes to Islam, but also Sikhism. In 2015, press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation received 12,278 enquiries and complaints, increasing to 14,455 in 2016.

Although the authors must be careful not to extrapolate too much from this dataset, another useful indicator of a disproportionate media focus on Islam is the number of complaints about reporting on the Muslim community adjudicated by IPSO to final published resolution.

Between 2016 and 2018 there were approximately 23 such cases adjudicated by IPSO that reached a final decision, of which seven constituted a breach of the editor’s code.

Whilst inaccurate coverage of the Muslim community has been clearly observed and corrections made, during the same period there were no final decisions or published resolutions on complaints related to coverage of the Sikh community.

According to IPSO, they may well have received Sikh related complaints, but they did not reach the stage of a final decision, and were thus not published on their website.

This may have been because complaints were rejected as third-party complaints (complaints by people not affected by the article concerned) or because they were complaints against publications which IPSO does not regulate and are thus considered outside its remit.

However, IPSO told the authors they were aware of complaints related to use of the word “Asian” (it is not clear if this was related to descriptions of those convicted in sexual grooming cases), and these complaints not necessarily being from Sikhs or Hindus.

It is clear however, that the Muslim community regularly engages with the media, and IPSO, to correct any perceived inaccuracies and potential breaches of the Editor’s Code.

The media have an important role in helping improve levels of religious literacy for all faiths, and therefore they must continue to be held accountable for misleading or inaccurate coverage. The Muslim community has taken a lead here. Journalists not covering religion as a speciality would also benefit from accurate religious coverage by colleagues.

This is the reason that both the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group and projects flowing from Action Against Hate (2016) chose to specifically work on “Muslim literacy in the media”, and to collaborate with IPSO to devise training for journalists “for a better understanding of Islam” respectively.

This is also why Bolton MP Yasmin Qureshi launched the APPG for Religion in the Media in 2016. Its raison d’être is stated as being: “To foster a better understanding and representation of religion in the media as religion is a prime motivator of individuals and the community.”

Also, to aim for a seventh public purpose for the BBC in charter renewal, namely to promote religious literacy.

Again, Sikhs did not have government assistance in framing or delivering structured projects in this critical area, so organizations like the Network of Sikh Organisations took their own initiative to develop a “journalists’ guide to Sikhism” with IPSO, published in spring 2019.

The above is taken from Racialisation, Islamophobia and Mistaken Identity: The Sikh Experience by Jagbir Jhutti-Johal and Hardeep Singh.

Media use of ‘vague terminology’ like ‘Asian’ fails Sikhs and other religious groups

The Print – Amit Shah’s nationwide NRC will be the same as Modi’s demonetisation

Amit Shah’s constant demand for a countrywide NRC has been rightfully criticised. But not many have pointed out just how impractical it is.

Dhruv Rathee

New Delhi – India, 03 December 2019. Home Minister Amit Shah’s constant demand for a countrywide NRC has deservedly received plenty of criticism from a constitutional and ethical standpoint, though this hasn’t stopped him from coming up with fresh promises. On Monday, Shah said he will ensure all infiltrators are out of India by 2024.

In all this, what many have not talked about is the practicality of such a ridiculous proposal, which I would rank lower than Donald Trump’s desire to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. Many conservatives led by their ideologies might support decisions like NRC and border wall, but their economics cannot be denied by anyone.

Assam proved to be an inconvenient experiment, showing us what the result of a nationwide exercise could be. It took over four years and reportedly cost the central government Rs 1,600 crore to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.

More than 55,000 people were employed, and more than 3.2 crore people from Assam applied to register themselves.

There is no official data on what it cost the average person to find the documents, fill in the application form, travel, stand in queue for hours, register themselves, and go through a verification process where many people were called over multiple times to verify their citizenship.

In several cases, the entire family had to travel long distances. Initially, 40 lakh people were excluded from the NRC list, which meant more verification rounds. All this amounted to a gigantic proportion of loss of time, money and productivity.

If only the Modi government had the example of demonetisation to know how disastrous an ill-planned decision can be.

What made the 2016 demonetisation utterly useless is how stupid the idea itself was and how arbitrary the process. In November 2016, many bankers reportedly converted “black money” into white at a commission, which eventually meant that nearly all the cash returned to the banking system.

NRC is very similar in these regards. Replace bankers with verification officers with the power to include or exclude someone from the list. The idea that some or many officers worked at a commission to randomly include or exclude people is pretty feasible.

So, it’s not a surprise that nearly everyone was disappointed with the final NRC list. Some cried over the exclusion of Hindus; others were hurt over the number of illegal Muslim immigrants being so less.

What makes NRC an even bigger blunder than demonetisation is that it doesn’t stop with the declaration of the final list. That is just the first part of the process. The bigger problem becomes clear when you think about the excluded people, what will happen to them? where will they go?

The immediate answer from someone who supports the NRC is “send them back to Bangladesh.” This is as ridiculous as Trump suggesting Mexico will pay for the wall. What’s in it for Mexico? Just like that, what’s in it for Bangladesh?

Why would it accept “illegal immigrants” unless it sees some kind of political or financial benefit? The Sheikh Hasina government has already said Bangladesh will not take in any deportees. The Modi government understands the difficulty, which is why it is going for the second option, detention centres.

Detention centres raise several ethical, moral and constitutional concerns. But let’s focus more on how practical they are since there is already a significant amount of support among the public to house ‘illegal immigrants’ in these camps.

Assam’s first detention centre is being constructed at a cost of Rs 46 crore spread over 2.5 hectares and will house 3,000 people. But there are 19 lakh people excluded from the final NRC.

Here is the math: the cost of simply building detention centres for all the excluded people will be upwards of Rs 27,000 crore. And this is just in Assam. Imagine the cost of constructing detention centres all over India. Also, how many detention centres would the Modi government construct?

Moreover, this cost doesn’t include maintenance, food, shelter, and the upkeep of these centres. We are easily looking at a figure in lakhs of crores of rupees. The same amount of money could be used to construct thousands of schools, hospitals and fund slum rehabilitation programmes, which would actually benefit Indians.

A typical question at this point will be: ‘But what about the illegal immigrants?’ ‘How should they be controlled?’ The solution is a lot simpler than what many realise; the only problem is that it’s politically not marketable, better border control and increase of foreign aid to countries like Bangladesh.

We must directly deal with the influences that make people leave their home country. Money is better spent in setting up skill development and vocational training centres, schools and universities, which will make people employable.

Not only will it foster economic development in both India and Bangladesh, but it will also improve the relationship with our neighbouring countries overall, which will make them more compliant towards immigration issues. Thus, improving lives across the border prevents people from illegally crossing over, all the while, costing the same or less amount of money.

The author is an activist and YouTuber. Views are personal.

Amit Shah’s nationwide NRC will be the same as Modi’s demonetisation