The Indian Express – We have to put India, and humanity, before everything else in war against hatred

Post COVID-19 we have to make a fresh beginning, hopefully united and trusting each other as we must have been through a life-death experience together.

Salman Khurshid

Op/Ed, 18 May 2020. Fifty years ago, on 04 May 1970, the students of Kent State University in Ohio gathered to protest the Vietnam War. The oldest democracy of the world faltered as the Ohio State National Guard fired at the crowd and felled four students.

Observers concluded that the US was rapidly spinning out of control. The report President Richard Nixon commissioned on campus unrest said that “a nation driven to use the weapons of war upon its youth is a nation on the edge of chaos”, and Americans were feeling the “chaos”.

Days after the Kent shooting, on 15 May there was a shooting at the Jackson State College in Mississippi during a protest against racism that the students on campus were facing. Two students were shot and killed, and 12 others were injured at the hands of the police.

After the shootings, there was a nationwide student strike that saw four million turn out in response to the tragedy. As many as 1,00,000 students marched on Washington. David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young released their protest song “Ohio”, a month later, with the chorus, “Four dead in Ohio,” after seeing the photographs of the shooting.

President Nixon, who initially spoke of the protesting students as “bums”, then made an effort to reach out to them. His intelligence officials could not find evidence that the protest was stirred by outside agitators. Nixon accepted that the anger was coming from the students themselves, and it was only growing.

The end of the Vietnam War, it is said, began in Ohio. It changed America forever. A year after the shootings, the voting age was reduced to 18, giving the students the right to vote when they were old enough to be drafted. That generation of voters forced the war to end although it took another five years till April 1975.

I do not believe that the worst critics of the students, even those who called them “bums”, questioned their patriotism for opposing a war that they believed to be immoral and unwise.

At home in India too, there have been casualties in January and February and the students who participated in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, particularly those from Jamia Millia Islamia, have been booked for sedition and unlawful activities, a euphemism for terrorism.

They had all quietly folded up their protest when the COVID storm hit the country. There is no evidence to arrest them, and some others who have been arrested since the onset of COVID-19. So, sequentially charges are added to the investigation by inter alia adding Section 302 of IPC (murder) and Section 13 of the UAPA.

Suddenly it seems that the glorious jurisprudence of Articles 14, 19, 21 of the Constitution too has been locked down. India has chosen to fight its own children and their mentors and guardians have chosen discretion before valour. How did you sustain the protest financially for 60 days, is the refrain that they must answer.

How will they manage to defend their honour in court and afford lawyers, one might ask. Suddenly, a long line of cases culminating in Anuradha Bhasin remains high on the stated principle of rights and sparse on practical impact.

Rights in ordinary times are not much to boast about. It is in extraordinary times that rights should matter as the great legal philosopher, Ronald Dworkin, argues in Taking Rights Seriously.

Earnest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms comes to mind. Hemingway sought advice on the ending after Catherine’s death in childbirth, from F Scott Fitzgerald, his friend and fellow author. Fitzgerald suggested Hemingway end the novel with the observation that the world “breaks everyone”, and those “it does not break it kills”. In the end, Hemingway chose not to take Fitzgerald’s advice.

Instead, he concluded the novel with these lines: “But after I had got (the nurses) out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-bye to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”

However broken and defeated by destiny the protagonist of the novel might have been, in real life for us there is no walking away from a lifeless statue. Post COVID-19 we have to make a fresh beginning, hopefully united and trusting each other as we must have been through a life-death experience together. We will have to crush the infection of hate that seems to have found some spreaders.

Meaningless and misdirected hate must not last. We will have to learn to put India ahead of anything else, in fact, humanity first. This is something we have successfully done in our fight against the coronavirus. Fifty years from now, people will applaud and light candles to say that when India seemed to be spinning out of control our generation joined hands, hearts, and minds to hold it firm and sound. We would be remembered for having saved India.

The writer is a senior Congress leader and former external affairs minister – With the lifting of curfew, devotees start thronging to Sri Darbar Sahib

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 18 May 2020. With the lifting of curfew in Punjab, a slow revival of hustle and bustle in Sri Harmandr Sahib is being witnessed today. The devotees have started thronging to the holiest Sikh shrine seeking blessings of Guru Sahib.

However, the administration is controlling the entrance paths of Sri Darbar Sahib to keep the rush low.

An SGPC official informed that around 21,000 devotees paid obeisance at Sri Harmandr Sahib on 17 May. He further informed that the SGPC was fully vigilant about social distancing inside Sri Darbar Sahib complex and the devotees were being asked to sanitize their hands before paying obeisance inside sanctum sanctorum.

With the lifting of curfew, devotees start thronging to Sri Darbar Sahib

Gentbrugse Meersen

Gentbrugse Meersen
27 March 2020

Entry into the Meersen from the Scheldedijk

Our woolly friends

Some taking a rest, some busy grazing

Gentbrugge – Melle Merelbeke
The south of Gentbrugge borders on Melle and Merelbeke

This little area on the Gentbrugge side of the Heusdenbaan
is part of Melle

You are almost in Gentbrugge

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Glasgow Times – Glasgow’s Sikh community comes together in ‘astronomic’ aid response to Covid-19

Exclusive by Carla Jenkins @caarlaajenkins

Glasgow – Scotland, 18 May 2020. At the beginning of lock-down, Glasgow’s four Gurdwara’s were forced to close and the Sikh community was scattered across the city.

Some seven weeks later, the community has since become mobile, helping more then 50,000 people in the city through their mobile foodbank deliveries and other initiatives.

Co-founder of the Sikh Foodbank Charandeep Singh told The Glasgow Times the “collective response has been great”.

He said: “We opened the foodbank on the 21st of March.

“The Gurdwara closed, and they are the hub of our communities.

“They are not only places where people worship, but where they eat, socialise, and seek advice and comfort.

“It was an incredibly quick turnaround for us in terms of thinking, “how can we adapt to this?”

“We knew that we have the kitchens and the resources and the people, and the effort was to mobilise that in a way that worked with the rules of lock-down and social distancing.”

“Since then, we have delivered over 25,000 meals in seven weeks.

“We have helped elderly people, asylum seekers, refugees, unemployed people and those who are self-isolating. We have a volunteer network of over 50 individuals, all of different backgrounds.

Glasgow Times: “It is a huge, multi-faith and urgent response we have delivered and it will be remaining well beyond lock-down being lifted. It’s an astronomical effort” said Charandeep.

Charandeep stresses the response effort is multi-faith, both in those delivering and those receiving.

One quarter of food parcels go to Muslim households as the project’s reach continues to grow.

Alongside these, they also deliver medicine and provide a language service to ensure everyone understands the crisis and developments as they unfold.

Volunteers speak Panjabi, Hindi and Urdu.

Charandeep said: “We knew it was going to be big but this has surpassed all our expectations. There is something for everyone, all backgrounds.

Serving people all across Scotland, the project builds on the message of Guru Nanak and Sikh values of service and charity.

Many volunteers are from Sikh Youth.

Charandeep said: “It’s really important to us that people see young people helping. It really is a mix of people leading on it.

“We have people who used to be chefs cooking and working, others as drivers, others spreading the message.

“It really is heartwarming. It has been amazing innovation of services.”

Charandeep says the initiative has only served to prove the necessity of the services, even outside of the lockdown and pandemic.

In that way, the services are here to stay.

Charandeep said: “It really shows the commitment to Scotland in the Sikh community.” – Six reasons why the Modi government is squarely responsible for India’s worst migrant crisis

It has abdicated responsibility, leaving overburdened states to coordinate the return of the workers

Supriya Sharma

New Delhi – India, 18 May 2020. The Indian state has decades of experience managing relief work during natural disasters. The Modi government considers the corona-virus epidemic a disaster.

That is why it has invoked the Disaster Management Act to give itself extraordinary powers to issue sweeping orders even in areas that normally fall under state governments.

However, in a domain that comes under the Centre even during normal times, the Modi government has abdicated responsibility.

It has left the transport of stranded migrant workers entirely to state governments.

The result is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis: millions of impoverished working-class Indians are walking, cycling, dangerously hitchhiking home, sometimes over distances of more than 1,000 km, often on empty stomachs.

More than 170 people have died in accidents on the way. “Tragedy and shame,” said the front page of the Indian Express, while reporting on the latest accident that left 26 workers dead.

Here are six reasons why responsibility for the worst ever migrant crisis seen in India after the 1947 partition lies squarely with the Modi government.

1. It announced a nationwide lock-down with just four hours of notice

The first corona-virus case was detected in India on 30 January. The number of cases kept rising through March. The government had enough time to prepare the country for an impending lock-down. But on 13 March, officials maintained the corona-virus epidemic was “not an emergency”.

Five days later, on 18 March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on national television and urged Indians to observe a self-imposed “janata” or people’s curfew on March 22 to defeat the virus.

The announcement set off an exodus of migrant workers who feared the closure of work in cities would leave them vulnerable. But as they rushed to get back to their villages, the Indian Railways cancelled most trains. On 21 March, the entire rail network came to a halt.

At 8 pm on 24 March, the prime minister announced a three-week nationwide lockdown, starting midnight. Just four hours of notice.

2. The government did little to help stranded workers

Over the next few weeks, stranded workers found themselves running out of food and money. The Modi government issued directives to states, which in turn issued advisories to employers asking them to pay full wages and salaries to workers during the lockdown period.

But the government did not account for the fact that many small businesses had limited cash reserves. The government did nothing to support small businesses during this period.

On 26 March, the government announced the doubling of food rations for Indians enrolled in the public distribution system. But it completely ignored the fact that most migrant workers do not have ration cards.

Finally, fifty days into the lockdown, the government announced food support for 80 million Indians who are not part of the public distribution system. The actual disbursal of foodgrains, however, will take longer.

Meanwhile, across India, stranded workers continue to report rising levels of hunger.

3. It restarted trains but asked states to coordinate on their own

On 29 April, the Modi government announced that it would allow migrant workers to travel home, without explaining why it had put them through five weeks of anguish. Not much had changed on the ground, if anything, the number of coronavirus cases had risen in the interim.

The initial order of the Centre only mentioned transport by buses, but two days later, it followed up to say it would operate special Shramik trains for workers.

However, the Indian Railways was reduced to a transport agency: it would supply a train only when both the origin state and the destination state had jointly made a request.

This essentially meant Indian states, which rarely ever spoke to each other directly, had to open multiple channels of communication. Karnataka, for instance, appointed 13 officers to coordinate with Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and the North Eastern states.

Every state had to contact every other state to finalise how many migrant workers could travel between them.

This proved to be a recipe for disaster. Many states, preferring to keep the number of returning workers limited, went slow on the process. An official in Gujarat, for instance, exasperatedly asked a reporter of to get West Bengal to respond to his requests.

Eventually, this degenerated into a political slugfest.

This could have been avoided. If the idea was to decentralise decision-making, the Centre could have set up an interstate council that allowed better communication among states.

Now, 53 days into the lockdown, the Modi government has finally announced the creation of a national migrant information system to “facilitate their seamless movement across states”.

Why couldn’t the Centre have done this earlier?

4. It created a process that punishes workers

The Modi government’s April 29 order said migrant workers would be allowed to travel only after they had been screened and found asymptomatic.

On the ground, this has resulted in a complex system where some states have made it mandatory for migrant workers to secure medical certificates, which they have to pay for, before they can board trains.

The process is punishing: migrant workers must first register with their home states by filling an online form, secure a medical certificate to show they are fit to travel, then report to the local police station to get a travel pass to reach the railway station.

The websites are complex and often don’t work. Many workers lack vital information, do not have smartphones. They are simply walking to railway stations, where the authorities have not even bothered to set up a help desk for them.

Even those who are able to register with their home states have no way of tracking their applications, no way to know when they might get a berth on a train to travel home.

Contrast this with the relative ease with which middle-class Indians are travelling on the special Rajdhani trains. All they need to do is buy tickets online and show up at the station where they are thermally screened as they enter.

Why couldn’t the Modi government create a similar process for working-class Indians who are also paying their way back home?

5. It extracted fares from destitute workers

The Modi government has claimed it is paying 85% of the train fare for migrant workers. This is simply not true. The Indian Railways is charging full fares on the Shramik trains, despite knowing that many migrant workers are destitute after weeks of going without work.

India has 5.6 crore interstate migrants, according to the 2011 census. The actual number is likely to be much higher: an economics professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University estimated it as 6.5 crore.

Even if all these workers chose to return, the total cost of their train fares would come to around Rs 4,200 crore, researchers working with the Stranded Workers Action Network have calculated. “To put this number in perspective, the cost of the Statue of Unity in Gujarat is reportedly Rs 3,000 crore,” they wrote in an article. “The PM-Cares as per news reports from early April had Rs 6,500 crore.”

Why couldn’t the government have borne the cost of travel for destitute, working-class migrants?

6. It simply abandoned migrants who are walking home

On Saturday, the Ministry of Railways announced that it had transported 15 lakh migrants in Shramik trains. This looks impressive but is a tiny fraction of the number of migrants wanting to travel. Even a conservative estimate of only a quarter of interstate migrants wanting to go back home would come to 1.4 crore people.

No wonder, millions of Indians are on the road.

Some are walking long distances with their children. Others have hired rickety cycles, one worker wrote an apology note after he was forced to steal one since he did not have money and needed to take his disabled child home. Others are stuffing themselves into container trucks, paying thousands of rupees for standing space.

Playlist for the prime minister: 12 videos of migrant journeys that the Modi government must watch

On the way, there is no certainty over what they would encounter. In the initial weeks, the police were stopping workers and herding them into shelters, forcibly detaining them to prevent them from getting to their villages, presumably to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This only pushed migrant workers into taking more dangerous routes.

In recent weeks, as the lockdown was extended repeatedly, the police began to overlook migrants travelling on the highways, allowing many to get home after arduous journeys.

But the authorities made no efforts to reduce the pain of the journey: barring sporadic instances of policemen offering biscuits and namkeen to hungry migrants, no highway kitchens were set up to feed them on the way.

Now, even this benign neglect is set to change for the worse. The Modi government has once again instructed states to disallow migrants from walking on the highways. This has already resulted in Uttar Pradesh stopping migrants from crossing over into the state. One district has even passed orders prohibiting local residents from extending any help to them.

With the Modi government digging in its heels, refusing to fully accept the scale of human suffering underway, this man-made disaster is unlikely to be over anytime soon. will continue to track it closely. You can read our reports here.