The Hindustan Times – UK launches ‘Grand Trunk Road’ project to mark 70th anniversary of India’s partition

The UK-wide project was launched this week to bring British Asians of all faiths and backgrounds together to reflect on their shared history through 11 special events funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

London, 7 July 2017. The British government has launched a new project titled the ‘Grand Trunk Road’ to mark the 70th anniversary of India’s partition in August 1947 with volunteers from the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities in the UK coming together to stage special events.

The UK-wide project was launched this week to bring British Asians of all faiths and backgrounds together to reflect on their shared history through 11 special events funded by the department for communities and local government.

The aim is for the participants to remember lives lost and learn about the history of partition first-hand from those who lived through the violence, displacement and ultimately the birth of India, Pakistan and eventually Bangladesh in 1971.

“Partition and its aftermath is part of who we are, whether we call ourselves Muslim, Sikh or Hindu, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Indian,” said UK communities secretary Sajid Javid.

“I hope this brave project will encourage British Asians of all three faiths to reflect on the divisions that ripped us apart in the past, thereby bringing us closer together in the future,” he said.

Volunteers from Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities will get together to stage events, including a play written, produced and performed by a group of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs to tell the story of the 1948 London Olympics, the first time India and Pakistan met as competing nations in the country from which they had just gained independence.

An exhibition in Leicester tracing the history of migration from the subcontinent to East Africa will explore the impact of partition from a different perspective.

It will explore the relationships formed, as Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims of South Asian background were forced to flee to the UK in the wake of Idi Amin’s upheaval in 1972.

The exhibition will allow visitors to listen to the testimony of local residents.

UK minister for faith Lord Bourne said, “Just as the Grand Trunk Road has tied together India and Pakistan and their diverse cultures and faiths for millennia, this project will highlight the rich history that British Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus share.

“Events will be taking place up and down the country that will bring communities from the subcontinent together, foster new relationships and encourage friends and neighbours to document and share their memories of Partition.”

A women’s group in Slough in southeast England for Hindu, Muslim and Sikh women of all ages will also be set up to talk about the impact of partition on their own families.

The UK government said it hoped that the conversation will lead to a more formal event for the whole community.

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, the aim of all the events is to bring people together from the three main faiths of the Indian subcontinent to hold events that can explore a range of different experiences around the history of partition and its aftermath.

A focus on lived experience and testimony will help to put in context the impact of this division in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and in Britain itself.

The Tribune – Unique Partition museum to boost tourism in Amritsar, says Sidhu

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, 6 June 2017. The Amarinder Singh government has welcomed the launch of a unique initiative to commemorate August 17 as Partition Remembrance Day in memory of those, especially from Punjab and Bengal, who lost everything to Partition but went on to build a new India with their indomitable spirit and resilience.

The government will extend all support to the Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust, which is setting up the world’s Partition Museum at Town Hall in Amritsar to mark the event on 17 August, Minister for Culture and Tourism Navjot Singh Sidhu told mediapersons here.

The museum will contribute significantly to further boosting tourism in Amritsar, he added.

The inauguration of the museum, which will be attended by Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, will be preceded by a unique online campaign ‘Chalo Amritsar 17 August 2017, for Partition Remembrance Day’.

Several high-level national and international dignitaries, with a large number of NRIs from Partition-affected families, are expected to be present at the inauguration of the museum that will narrate the story of the triumph of the hope of the Partition survivors over despair, noted author and columnist, and the Chair of the Trust, Kishwar Desai, said.

The inaugural event will be followed by an evening of Sufi music, under the Aegis of the Arts and Literature Festival of Amritsar (ALFA), and a nostalgic recreation of the pre-1947 streets of Amritsar and Lahore, with street food and other memorabilia. The function will be open to the public.

The Times of India – Young Pakistani Sikh to host cricket match for expatriates

Yudhvir Rana

Bahrain, 18 May 2017. A young Pakistani Sikh consultant is organising a cricket match in Bahrain involving cricketers of India and Pakistan to entertain thousands of expatriates of both the countries in the Gulf nation.

“Bahrain cricket festival will be held on May 19 between the teams of Misbah Falcons and Irfan Eagles at the Bahrain National Stadium,” Taranjeet Singh, the host of the event for Bahrain TV, told TOI on Wednesday. Pop band Stereo Nation and Pakistani actress Neelam Muneer, will perform.

Taranjeet informed that the event organized by Bahrain Cricket Academy, in association with the ministry of youth and sports affairs, will feature top players like Misbah-ul-Haq, Irfan Pathan, Rana Naveed, Micheal Lumb and Shahid Afridi.

“This will not be just one match but an ongoing process,” he said. Taranjeet is of the view that resumption of official matches depend on the relations between the two countries.

“But Indians and Pakistanis living in Bahrain share common interests. They have common business interests and even socialize together. Besides they have the same idols want to see them in action,” he said.

Cricket is one of the oldest sport played in Bahrain with roots dating back to 1935. “We plan to host matches involving recently-retired players from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and entertain the Indian and Pakistani cricket lovers in a healthy environment in Bahrain,” he said.

The Asian Age – VHP demands law to construct Ram temple in Ayodhya

The VHP leader announced schemes for poor Hindus, such as collection of food from affluent families and distributing it among the poor.

Ahmedabad, 26 March 2017. Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Pravin Togadia on Sunday asked the Centre to tread the path of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and enact a law to pave way to build Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Addressing a ‘Hindu Sammelan’ held at GMDC ground in Ahmedabad, Togadia asked the VHP cadres to be prepared to march to Ayodhya if the Centre does not make such a law soon.

“The only way to construct Ram temple in Ayodhya is to walk the path shown by Sardar Patel. Instead of engaging in deliberations with Muslims, he just went ahead and constructed Somnath temple with the consent of Central government at that time,” said Togadia.

“The political leaders who just talk about Sardar, need to walk on that path too. To construct Ram temple, the Parliament must enact a law. This is the only way to realise our dream.

“If the government does enact such a law soon, then get ready to march to Ayodhya,” said Togadia, who is VHP’s international working president.

In his address, the VHP leader announced various schemes for poor Hindus, such as collection of food grains from affluent families and distributing it among the poor.

“I also urge the workers to eradicate unsociability from our society by making one friend from Dalit community,” said Togadia, who then gave a slogan “Hindu First.”

Thousands of VHP and Bajrang Dal workers from across the state had converged at GMDC ground to listen to Togadia and many other leaders, including VHP’s joint general secretary Surendra Jain and Bajrang Dal chief Manoj Verma.

Referring to the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh and the subsequent appointment of Aditya Nath Yogi as the state chief minister, Jain said the country is embracing the saffron colour.

“The entire nation wants to see a grand temple in Ayodhya.

We are entering into the saffron era as people who were against Ram temple were defeated,” said Jain.

Togadia also asked the government to enact a law to control Muslim population as he claimed the community members were extended benefits from the taxes paid by the Hindus.

“As per my knowledge, around 95 lakh Muslim students get free education from the taxes paid by us. The Muslim population is also rising. To stop it, a law should be enacted. I am not talking anything communal here, as this law will be applicable to everyone,” said the firebrand leader.

He also asked the government to deport illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, saying it will ensure employment to more than 3 crore Indians.

“The government must send 3 crore illegal Bangladeshi immigrants back to their country. If you do that, 3 crore Indians will get employment. Similarly, action must be taken against 1.5 lakh Rohingya Muslims settled in Jammu.

Many of them are now having their Aadhaar cards too,” said Togadia.

Dawn – India to seal border with Pakistan, Bangladesh

From the Newspaper

New Delhi, 26 March 2017. Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday said India plans to seal international borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh soon.

“India is planning to seal the international boundaries with Pakistan and Bangladesh as soon as possible. This could be India’s major step against terrorism and the problem of refugees,” Singh said while addressing the passing out parade of the Border Security Force Assistant Commandants at the BSF Academy in Madhya Pradesh’s Tekanpur area.

The home minister assured that the border with Pakistan would be sealed by 2018. The decision has been taken in the wake of an increase in infiltration attempts, he said.

“The project will be periodically monitored by the Home Secretary at the central level, the BSF from the security forces’ perspective and the chief secretaries at the state-level,” Singh said, adding that the government would apply technological solutions for sealing the border in difficult terrains.

Lauding the BSF personnel, the home minister stated that the force has changed the rules of engagement at international borders which have made it a known entity in the neighbouring countries.

“The BSF has changed rules of engagement at international borders. Now, the BSF is a known entity even in neighbouring countries,” Singh said.

He also spoke about the planning for an effective grievances redressal mechanism in the forces which will be implemented soon.

“We are planning for an effective grievances redressal mechanism in the forces. The forces are coming forward with such mechanism,” Singh said.

By arrangement with the Times of India

The Hindu – In Cox’s Bazaar, Rohingyas huddle together in shacks in a harsh winter

Suvojit Bagchi

Kolkata, 1 January 2017. The Bangladesh district struggles to provide amenities to the refugees from Myanmar.

Describing the influx of refugees from Myanmar to southeast Bangladesh as a “forgotten crisis”, Sarat Dash, chief of mission of the International Organisation for Migration in Bangladesh, has said the crisis is worsening in the Rohingya refugee camps.

Mr. Dash, who visited the camps in Cox’s Bazaar district with the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Bangladesh, said “34,000 refugees” had moved from Myanmar to Bangladesh since the recent spate of ethnic violence in Rakhine state of Myanmar.

While at least half-a-dozen international humanitarian agencies were working in the area, the situation was worsening with the advent of winter, Mr. Dash said.

Difficult times

“With severe crisis of shelter and food as the winter is approaching, there is a serious need of winter clothes; also an urgent need of medical assistance and psycho-social help,” Mr. Dash said. He said a “lot of the refugees are visibly depressed as they had traumatic experiences”.

Since the beginning of an anti-Rohingya cleansing drive in parts of Myanmar from the early 1990s, three lakh to five lakh refugees have settled in southeastern Bangladesh, according to the National Strategy on Myanmar Refugees report by the Bangladesh Government in 2013.

Besides the 32,000 officially registered refugees, there are nearly 50,000 in the makeshift settlements near the camps, says the Prime Minister’s National Strategy report.

The report also says that another three lakh to five lakh “undocumented Myanmar nationals” are living across Cox’s Bazaar. They are mainly settled in the upazilas (sub-districts) along the 62-km western bank of the Naaf river.

The Foreign Ministers and Mr. Dash visited these sub-districts and the IOM has concluded that 34,000 more refugees have arrived since early October.

Influx on

“The condition of the refugees already settled is not any good. But since they are staying over a period of time, they have managed to somewhat put together their lives.

But these new people came empty-handed and without resources and thus their living condition is worse than pavement dwellers in Kolkata. Unlike the pavement dwellers, they are living in forest land or uninhabited land,” Mr. Dash said.

As the Rohingya refugees, many of whom speak Bengali, are pouring in large numbers, on an average of 500 a day, the sub-districts are getting crowded by the hour, increasing pressure on hygiene, sanitation and security.

“But do we have an option other than to give them shelter in our tiny plastic thatched boxes,” asked Mahmudulla, a schoolteacher. Mr. Mahmudulla came to Cox’s Bazaar in the early 1990s and speaks urban Bengali.

He has documented the violence on the Rohingyas in Rakhine state on the other side of the Naaf river.

“The villages on the other side, at least 20, are decimated and we could only see the smoke, hear them screaming for help. It is gut-wrenching as I had experienced similar attacks a quarter century ago,” Mr. Mahmudulla told The Hindu on the phone from Cox’s Bazaar.

The photographs, mutilated bodies, charred corpses covered with banana leaves and burning villages, that Mr. Mahmudulla received on his mobile phone, describe the trauma that the Rohingyas are experiencing. Nearly 90 people are officially killed till last week.

While the killings are denied by the Myanmar government, Rohingya refugees in the camps in Bangladesh said they had now “stopped counting the bodies” of their family members.

Horrible stories

“Two of my family were killed and my daughter was raped in front of her mother,” said Arshad (name changed), a farmer from Khawar Bil village near Muang Daw town in Rakhine. Mr. Arshad checked in to his cousin’s house in the Nayapara refugee camp in Ukhia sub-district.

Mr. Dash said the refugees were staying with their distant relatives or acquaintances.

Fifteen to a room

“It is locally called “doubling” as the refugees are entering the semi-permanent shack of another refugee family, which perhaps arrived few years ago,” Mr. Dash said. The space shortage was acute. “Fifteen or 16 persons living in a tiny room which has only plastic on all sides.”

At night, the men take their turn to rest in the local mosque.

“The temperature is dropping and there is an immediate need to provide some basic comfort, especially to children,” Mr. Dash said. One in every three children was severely malnourished.

The IOM has set up medical camps, provided drinking water and set up toilets in the camps.

Yet Mr. Dash called it a crisis which has been “forgotten”.

He expects the situation to improve in the New Year.

The Tribune – SAARC members keen on boosting trade with India

Neha Saini

Tribune News Service

Amritsar, 8 December 2016. SAARC countries are keen to strengthen trade with India by overcoming their internal challenges, said delegates at PITEX, organised by PHDCCI, today. SAARC members were of the opinion that the South East Asia was a consumer market with India a major player in it.

The five-day trade expo attempts to bring biggest buyers and sellers from across the countries on a single platform for direct trade collaboration.

“Being at the confluence of trade routes connecting SAARC members, India is a natural trading partner for the South Asian countries. Despite this, our trade is remarkably low with them,” said R S Sachdeva, co-chairman, Punjab committee, PHDCCI.

According to the South Asia Monitor, India’s trade with the SAARC members was three per cent of the country’s total trade with the rest of the world. “Therefore, with a view to boost the intra-regional trade, we organised the Reverse Buyer Seller Meet (RBSM) supported by the Union Ministry of Commerce,” Sachdeva added.

Speaking on increasing cooperation, Asela Livera, deputy president of National Chamber of Sri Lanka, said, “There is a big potential for high quality and high-end products from Sri Lanka while we look for the ayurveda and its learning from our Indian counterparts.”

According to Hassib Rahimi, CEO, Kabul Chamber of Commerce and Industry, “Afghanistan expects expertise and technology from India. Also, the recent change in the government policy has made Afghanistan more centred towards the economy.”

Kabul is looking to ink agreements with Indian companies in the field of agro-industries and food processing.

Similarly, Kesang Wangi, deputy secretary general, Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Bhutan’s import of edible products to heavy machinery from India in lieu of hydel power could open more trade avenues.

With its ‘open door policy’ for promoting direct foreign investment, Bangladesh is looking forward to enhance collaboration, partnership and cooperation for trade and investment.

“We want to establish 100 special economic zones where investors can target both domestic and export markets,” said Mohd Abu Naser, director, Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The Hindu – Muslims should speak against violations on Hindus in neighbouring nations: Ghulam Nabi Azad

If the Muslims in India start speaking out against acts of such violence in the neighbouring countries then, “BJP’s anti-Muslim edge will be blunted”.

New Delhi, 16 November 2016. Muslims in India should speak out against any act of violence on Hindus committed by members of the majority population in Islamic countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Tuesday said.

He was a addressing a gathering here at a seminar on “Role of Muslim youth in strengthening democracy” organised by National Tricolour Association of India, a non-profit organisation.

“There have been cases of violence against Muslims, from (Mohammad) Akhlaq’s lynching in Dadri to two boys in Jharkhand who were hung from a tree.

“And, there has never been a lack of expression of secularism from Hindus in our country. You see on television, how they (Hindus) strip RSS and BJP bare, whenever such incidents happen. But, why we (Muslims) don’t raise issues when there are violations against Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh? he asked.

He added that if the Muslims in India start speaking out against acts of such violence in the neighbouring countries then, “BJP’s anti-Muslim edge will be blunted”.

Two other scholars, who spoke at the seminar held at the India Islamic Centre, underlined the “silence” of the country’s Muslim community in hours of violence in “India’s neighbourhood”.

We hear cases of violence meted out to our Hindu brothers in Bangladesh, or of Hindu temples being razed or desecrated.

But, do we (Muslims) speak out on such brazen acts of violations. We must speak out against injustice, just as we expect our Hindu brothers to stand by us in India, they said.

The Hindustan Times – Citizenship Bill: House panel is missing the wood for the trees

New Delhi. 17 October 2016. In August, the Centre introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in the Lok Sabha. The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955, to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.

Last month, under pressure from MPs who objected to the government’s move to grant citizenship to migrants from these nations on religious grounds, the Union home ministry decided to add the nomenclature “discriminated” to the Bill. The Bill, however, has no provision for Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmediyas who face persecution in Sunni-dominated Pakistan.

The Bill was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee for examination and presenting a report to the Parliament. According to a report, some Opposition party MPs cautioned that the move by India to grant citizenship to minorities from neighbouring countries on grounds of “religious persecution” was fraught with the risk of Pakistan offering a similar facility to Indian Muslims.

The public suggestions sought on the Bill by the House panel have reignited, as expected, the debate on ‘foreigners’ in Assam, a state where immigration from Bangladesh always has a strong impact on politics and was the main plank from where the BJP rode to power.

According to PRS Legislative Research, the Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion and this violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees right to equality. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill also fails on the tenets of international refugee law.

Moreover, although India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, granting refuge status based on humanitarian considerations is arguably a norm of customary international law.

There are many reasons to question the Bill, but the fear of Opposition leaders that Pakistan will give similar offer cannot be a reason to deny citizenship to those who really need it.

In fact, they should impress upon the government to ensure the country remains a safe place for all minorities and disadvantaged communities. Like many western countries, India has been always open to those who seek political asylum, and that is how it should remain.

The Hindu – Opposition, NGOs slam move to amend Citizenship Act

The Opposition has accused government of granting citizenship to minorities from neighbouring countries on religious lines

New Delhi, 14 October 2016. The NDA government’s proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955, which plans to provide citizenship to religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, is facing stiff opposition from civil society groups in Assam, Gujarat and Rajasthan, all BJP-ruled States.

The Bill has been criticised by the Opposition, which has accused the government of granting citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries on “religious lines” and wooing the majority Hindu community.

To change definition

With this amendment, the government plans to change the definition of “illegal migrants” that will enable it to grant citizenship to minorities, mostly Hindus from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who fled their countries fearing religious persecution.

The Bill creates an exception for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and plans to reduce the requirement of 11 years of continuous stay to six years to obtain citizenship by naturalisation.

The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in July.

A joint parliamentary panel, which is examining the Bill, heard petitions from several NGOs on Thursday.

One of the NGOs from Assam demanded that the requirement of 11 years of continuous stay be waived for all Hindus and that they be immediately included in the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The NRC is being updated in Assam to weed out illegal migrants who came to Assam post the 1971 war when Bangladesh was liberated from Pakistan. The cut-off date for the NRC is midnight of March 24, 1971, and all those who migrated to Assam from Bangladesh before this period would get Indian citizenship as per the Assam Accord signed in 1985.

Another NGO from Rajasthan also demanded that Hindus be exempted from the naturalisation process.

At the meeting, parliamentarians said the government was amending the Act to appease the Hindu community as the people who would be benefited the most would be Hindus from neighbouring countries.

Home Ministry officials explained to the MPs that the Bill was being brought in to provide an enabling platform for immigrants desirous of Indian citizenship.