BBC News – Is affirmative action in India becoming a gimmick?

India’s affirmative action programme is one of most comprehensive in the world.

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 10 January 2019. It is built into the country’s 68-year-old constitution, and reserves seats in parliament and state assemblies for the country’s most socially disadvantaged groups, as well as government jobs and places in educational institutions.

“Reservations” or quotas have been given to the caste-based groups, mainly Dalits (previously known as “untouchables”) and tribes-people, to rectify historical wrongs perpetrated by the country’s harsh and toxic Hindu caste hierarchy.

There’s ample evidence to prove that these quotas have helped to empower and uplift the socially deprived.

The programme is also controversial. Identity and caste-based groups clamour for fresh quotas as formal jobs and quality education remain chronically scarce.

This has forced the Supreme Court to cap reservations at 50% of the total jobs and seats. No wonder affirmative action has become a tool for politicians to win quick votes.

Earlier this week, fresh evidence of this surfaced when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP-led government proposed that 10% of government jobs and seats in educational institutions should be reserved for economically-backward upper caste citizens, those who earn less than 800,000 rupees ($11,500) annually and own less than five acres of land.

Since all parties are complicit in mining caste to dole out patronage, few MPs resisted this move. A bill to amend the constitution to allow for the new quotas was passed by the lower house in a record 48 hours. The upper house passed it late on Wednesday.

The timing of the move is evidently suspect.

The BJP is facing crucial general elections in a few months. The shock defeat of the ruling party in three major states recently has energised, and united, the often fractious opposition ahead of the summer elections.
Mr Modi, a charismatic campaigner and his party’s prime vote-getter, no longer looks unbeatable. Formal jobs have dried up, and farmers across the country are struggling because of poor crop prices.

“This is an eleventh-hour ploy to shape a pre-election economic narrative,” says Milan Vaishnav, a senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

It is difficult to argue otherwise. India’s economy may be reasonably buoyant, but the rising tide is no longer lifting all boats. Put simply, there aren’t enough jobs.

To make matters worse, the country lost 11 million jobs last year, according to a startling report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. People in both cities and villages have been hit.

Two-thirds of Indians live in villages, where the majority of the job losses have taken place. Even people belonging to politically influential, upper caste groups have fallen upon hard times.

Wooing back voters

Mr Modi’s party hopes that this quota announcement will help it woo back the upper castes, traditionally the party’s faithful base, who are now economically struggling because of a lack of jobs and a sluggish business environment.

But, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta, vice-chancellor at Ashoka University, says, announcing a quota to tackle what is essentially a dire jobs crisis is “cynical politics, cynical policy”.

Many believe it is cynical because it will be difficult for Mr Modi’s government to honour this promise. For one thing, there isn’t enough time to enforce it before the elections, which must be held by May.

Secondly, this move may still run into legal challenges, and the top court may yet strike it down. Thirdly, it could trigger another wave of affirmative action demands from other groups like minorities and women.

Most importantly, there aren’t enough government jobs to honour the quota. There were 17 million jobs in the government in 2012, down from 19 million in 1991.https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-46806089

“The fact is that an increasing number of people in India are clamouring for a consistently shrinking number of government jobs. More people want a slice, but the pie is getting smaller each year. This may be good politics, but it also reflects a sense of desperation about India’s jobless growth trajectory,” says Mr Vaishnav.

The summer elections will prove whether it’s good politics. After all, as political scientist D Shyam Babu says, Indian voters are astute. “They are very suspicious of pre-election promises of this kind”.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-46806089

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Sikh24.com – Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s birthday celebrated with extreme devotion and fervor at Sri Harmandr Sahib

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 13 January 2019. The 352nd birthday of the tenth Sikh master Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji was celebrated today with an extreme devotion and fervor at the holiest Sikh shrine Sri Harmandr Sahib.

Thousands of devotees from all over the world paid obeisance and took a holy dip in the sacred ‘sarovar’ of Sri Harmandr Sahib to receive the blessings of Guru Sahib.

A special manifestation of sacred Sikh artifacts was organized by the SGPC inside the sanctum sanctorum Sri Harmandr Sahib and Gurdwara Baba Atal Rai Ji (situated in Sri Harmandr Sahib Complex). Devotees thronging into the central Sikh shrine blessed their souls by having a glimpse of these sacred Sikh artifacts.

Beside it, the SGPC also organized a religious program to celebrate this sacred day at Diwan Hall of Gurdwara Sri Manji Sahib. Sri Akhand Path Sahib, which was laid on January 11, was culminated following which the head ‘granthi’ of Sri Harmandr Sahib Giani Balwinder Singh read the sacred ‘Hukamnama’ (order of the almighty Lord).

Renowned Raagis, Dhadis, Kavishars, Poets and Preachers addressed the religious discourse to the program attendees on this occasion.

Like every year, students of various schools performed Kirtan near the supreme Sikh throne Sri Akal Takht Sahib to express their devotion for Guru Sahib.

https://www.sikh24.com/2019/01/13/guru-gobind-singh-jis-birthday-celebrated-with-extreme-devotion-and-fervor-at-sri-harmandir-sahib/#.XD4DLs17nIU

Dawn – Sikhs celebrate Guru Gobind’s birth anniversary

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 14 January 2019. The 352nd birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh was celebrated here on Sunday amid tight security and people from various minority groups participated in the event.

The celebrations in connection with the birth anniversary had commenced on Friday and concluded in Gurdwara Bhai Joga Singh at Mohallah Jogan Shah Qissa Khwani, Peshawar, on Sunday.

According to a statement, the three-day event was organised by the Waqf, Religious and Minority Affairs Department, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to show harmony and celebrate inclusiveness.

Waqf secretary says budget allocated for religious festivals of minorities

On the first day, a procession was held which was marked by rendering of hymns by Sikh community, including men and women. Over 5,000 Sikh devotees from across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa took part in the procession and then other rituals followed by Langar.

Adequate measures were put in place by the police department to ensure full security for smooth celebration of the event.

The chief guests included MPAs Ravi Kumar and Wazirzada and Sikh community leader Ranjeet Singh besides some government officials. The major attraction of the procession was the display of ‘Gatka,’ a famous Sikh martial art and other sword exercises.

On this occasion, MPA Ravi Kumar paid tribute to the slain Soran Singh and said that his services as adviser to the chief minister and his personal efforts for the communities would always be remembered.

He also said that such events would build understanding of traditions and beliefs of minorities and people here had shown a sign of interfaith harmony. In response to the demand of Sikh community, he said that Shamshan Ghat would soon be set up.

In this regard, MPA Wazirzada said that celebration of minorities’ events would help spread love and peace. He maintained that the minorities were allowed to practice their religion freely.

Waqf department secretary Hidayat Jan stated that they had allocated budget for religious festivals of minorities of KP. Guru Gobind Singh was the 10th Sikh Guru, a spiritual master and philosopher.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1457384/sikhs-celebrate-guru-gobinds-birth-anniversary

The Hindu – Gujarat riots: Supreme Court to hear Zakia Jafri’s plea after 4 weeks

New Delhi – India, 15 January 2019. The Supreme Court on January 15 said it would hear after four weeks a plea by Zakia Jafri challenging the clean chit by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the 2002 Godhra riots.

Zakia, the wife of Ehsan Jafri, an ex-MP who was killed in one of the worst incidents during the riots, has challenged the Gujarat High Court’s October 5, 2017, order rejecting her plea against the SIT’s decision.

The matter came up for hearing before a bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and Ajay Rastogi, and the counsel appearing for the petitioner said they have circulated a letter seeking an adjournment of the hearing.

“You are asking for four weeks and we are giving you four weeks. List the matter after four weeks,” the bench said.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sc-to-hear-after-4-weeks-zakia-jafris-plea-against-clean-chit-to-modi-in-guj-riots/article25998649.ece

The Statesman – 1984 anti-Sikh riots: Supreme Court notice to CBI on Sajjan Kumar’s plea challenging Delhi H C order

The Delhi High Court on December 17 convicted Sajjan Kumar and sentenced him to life imprisonment in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case.

New Delhi – India, 14 January 2019. The Supreme Court on Monday issued a notice to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on an appeal filed by former Congress leader, Sajjan Kumar challenging the Delhi High Court verdict convicting and sentencing him to life imprisonment for criminal conspiracy to commit murder in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case.

The bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Ashok Bhushan and Sanjay Krishan Kaul sought a response from the probe agency and posted the matter for hearing after six weeks.

Sajjan Kumar had on December 31 surrendered in Delhi’s Karkardooma Court and was sent to the Mandoli jail in east Delhi.

Earlier on December 21, the high court had dismissed Sajjan Kumar’s plea which sought more time to surrender. Kumar had moved an application before the Delhi High Court seeking 30 days to surrender, saying he had to settle family affairs.

The Delhi High Court on December 17 convicted Sajjan Kumar and sentenced him to life imprisonment in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case, describing the mass killings as “crimes against humanity”.

The case relates to the killing of five Sikhs in Raj Nagar part-I area in Palam Colony in South West Delhi on November 1-2, 1984, and burning down of a Gurudwara in Raj Nagar part II during that period.

Reversing the acquittal order of the trial court, the high court held him guilty of the crime and ordered him to surrender.

Besides Kumar, Captain Bhagmal, Girdhari Lal and former Congress councillor Balwan Khokhar were also sentenced to life imprisonment. Kishan Khokkar and former legislator Mahender Yadav were sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The 1984 riots followed the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984. Hundreds of innocent Sikhs were killed, mainly in Delhi.

According to reports, over 3000 people were killed in the riots in and outside Delhi.

https://www.thestatesman.com/india/1984-anti-sikh-riots-sc-notice-cbi-sajjan-kumar-plea-challenging-delhi-hc-order-1502724501.html

The Tribune – Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary celebrations in USA

Washington DC – USA, 14 January 2018. Year-long celebrations of Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary have kicked off in the US to spread his message of brotherhood and sharing.

The Indian Embassy and Consulates have chalked out a calendar of activities, said India’s new Ambassador Harsh V Shringla.

He was addressing people gathered to celebrate the occasion; artiste Bhai Baldeep Singh played devotional music on Saturday.

“Guru Nanak was one of greatest philosophers and social reformers. His voice was an empowering call to unshackle the human mind of centuries of religious and political tyranny,” he said.

I do not see what this has to do with the Indian Embassy. The Sikh community in the USA is well able to celebrate Guru Nanak and do not need or want help from the Indian Embassy
Man in Blue

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/guru-nanak-s-550th-birth-anniv-celebrations-in-us/713282.html

Express and Star – Wolverhampton’s Sikh students help raise thousands during sleep-out

Daring students braved the winter chill and dozed off on the floor as they united for a commemorative sleep-out.

Annabal Bagdi

Wolverhampton – West Midlands – United Kingdom, 14 January 2018. Young people at Wolverhampton’s Khalsa Academy joined hundreds of their peers across the country for the 12-hour televised fundraiser.

More than £ 40,000 has since been raised for good causes across the country, including cash for medics treating sick children in the region.

The five-day nationwide telethon marked Saka Sirhind, which recognises the sacrifices made by the young sons and mother of the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh.

Nick Singh Kandola, chief executive officer of Khalsa Academies Trust which manages the school, said: “This amazing event demonstrated the significance of the unique sacrifices made over 300 years ago whilst raising funds to support children’s wards in NHS hospitals and a homeless project across the country.

“One of the most important values that are taught at these schools is ‘seva’ which means to help those in need.

“We are immensely proud of all the students, parents and the wider, community and would like to thank them and the Sikh Channel who have made this amazing event possible.”

More than 500 students and their parents came, representing a total of four schools, came together during the Christmas break to take part in the fundraiser.

Each school hosted the sleep-out for one night, with the UK-based Sikh Channel broadcasting the fundraising efforts.

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/2019/01/14/wolverhamptons-sikh-students-help-raise-thousands-during-sleep-out/

Dawn – Mr President, halt Khizar’s execution

Editorial, 13 January 2019. The urgency could not be more acute. With Khizar Hayat’s execution still under debate following the issuance of his death warrant, and the suspension till further orders on Saturday of his sentence by the chief justice, the fate of not just one man but of the country’s criminal justice system and its moral conscience lies in the balance.

As this paper maintains, capital punishment is unjustifiable under any circumstances.

Besides the ethical question of its place in a humane and just society, it serves no utilitarian purpose in the prevention of crime, discriminatory targets the poor and other vulnerable groups, and is often imposed after unfair trials in which due process is violated.

For such a penalty to be imposed on someone suffering from severe mental illness would not only be an irreversible but also perverse miscarriage of justice.

Beyond sense or reason, this is how the chief justice of Pakistan described giving judicial sanction to the execution of people with mental illness or disabilities in April last year, an issue now up for determination before a Supreme Court bench constituted following a review of death sentences handed to Kaniz Fatima and Imdad Ali, two other death-row convicts with acute psychiatric conditions.

Khizar Hayat’s death warrant, signed off on by a districts and sessions court on Friday, is in blatant violation of the National Commission for Human Rights’ orders last month barring authorities from handing him a date of execution prior to the broader issue’s adjudication in the apex court.

In terms of international law, moreover, the matter is clear: as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Pakistan is obligated to not execute prisoners with serious psychosocial or intellectual disabilities.

To contravene this legal and moral point would only further eat away at the scaffolding upon which our fundamental rights are affirmed and erode the social contract between the state and its people.

Is this why the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted, to sentence people who lack mens rea to death? Diagnosed in 2008 with treatment-resistant paranoid schizophrenia and unanimously confirmed by court-ordered and independent evaluations since, Khizar has no awareness of his surroundings or situation.

He is vulnerable and has faced near-fatal attacks by fellow inmates in the past. For him to be sent to the gallows instead of a psychiatric facility is inhumane and unjust.

Right now, there is one person with the constitutional authority to immediately determine his fate and, by extension, the course of this country’s moral arc, and bend it towards justice.

Before President Arif Alvi lies pending Khizar’s petition for clemency and, with it, the first true test of the might and mercy of his fledgling presidency. Mr President, put an end to this injudicious travesty and spare Khizar’s life once and for all. Sign his mercy plea.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1457205/mr-president-halt-khizars-execution

The Hindustan Times – Citizenship Bill plunges Assam into political uncertainty ahead of LS polls

As protests rage in Assam against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the BJP insists there is no danger to its government.

Utpal Parashar

Guwahati – Assam – India, 13 January 2019. The Asom Gana Parishad’s (AGP) withdrawal of support BJP-led government in Assam last week in protest against the Bill has triggered political uncertainty and fuelled speculations about new political equations.

The BJP on Sunday played down an offer from the Congress to support Assam chief minister Sarbanabda Sonowal if he forms a breakaway government in the light of a massive public opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

The Congress sees an opportunity for a comeback in the current political turbulence and has urged Sonowal to quit the saffron party along with MLAs loyal to him.

“It’s an old offer. Sonowal himself and many BJP MLAs have said in the past that they will never support any cause which is detrimental to Assam or Assamese people.

Since a large section in Assam is opposed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, Sonowal along with his supporters should quit the BJP,” said senior Congress leader Debabrata Saikia.

“We are willing to support a Sonowal-led government, from within or outside, if the chief minister takes up our offer,” Saikia, who is leader of opposition in the Assam assembly, added.

The BJP has 62 seats in the 126-member assembly while coalition partner Bodo Peoples’ Front has 12. The AGP has 14 MLAs, the Congress 24 and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has 13.

The ruling party insists that Sonowal ditching the BJP is unthinkable.

“Saikia’s offer is completely hypothetical. Sonowal is a mass leader who knows that the Bill is going to benefit the people of Assam in the long run. He is not hungry for power and there’s no question of him leaving BJP to join hands with Congress,” said BJP’s Assam unit chief Ranjit Dass.

The Bill which seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians, Jains and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, was passed in the Lok Sabha last week and is expected to come up for voting in Rajya Sabha in the next session beginning on January 31.

Fears of threat to indigenous populations from immigrants from Bangladesh due to passage of the Bill has led to protests in all seven states in the region and some BJP allies have threatened to follow the AGP if the amendment is passed in Rajya Sabha.

Amid the turbulence, the AGP on Saturday gave indications of joining hands with the BJP again if the saffron party withdraws the Bill in the interest of Assam.

“It seems highly improbable that the BJP would backtrack on its support to the Bill now. But if they do, we may reconsider our earlier stance. Otherwise there’s no question to supporting them again,” said AGP president Atul Bora.

The former minister in the Sonowal cabinet denied speculations that AGP might form an alliance with the Congress or AIUDF. Bora also refused to comment on whether his party will contest Lok Sabha polls alone or join an alliance.

“We are not thinking on those lines at all at the moment. Our aim now is to join forces with the people of Assam and those groups who are opposing the Bill,” he said.

The BJP said it is open to welcoming AGP if the regional party gives up its opposition to the Bill.

“Both BJP and AGP are united in our opposition to the Congress. Our party is committed to passing the CAB in parliament. But if AGP wants to join us again, without any pre-conditions, we will welcome them,” said Dass.

In another development, opposition by tribal groups in the state to the Centre’s move to grant scheduled tribe (ST) status to six more communities has turned a volatile situation even more fraught.

On Friday, the Coordination Committee of Tribal Organisations in Assam (CCTOA) had called a 12-hour shutdown across the state in protest against the Centre’s move to give ST status to Tai Ahoms, Muttocks, Morans, Adivasis, Koch Rajbongshis and Chutias.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is wrong because it is based on the religious or ethnic background of refugees. Hazaras from Balochistan and Afghanistan and Rohingiyas from Myanmar are genuine refugees, just like Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Man in Blue

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/citizenship-bill-plunges-assam-into-political-uncertainty-ahead-of-ls-polls/story-WaexZI6r2AboAPZ94dpp1K.html

Sikh24.com – Harvinder Singh Phoolka constitutes Sikh Sewak Army to end politicization of SGPC

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 13 January 2019. Advocate HS Phoolka on January 12 announced the formation of the Sikh Sewak Army (SSA) after holding “Ardas” at Sri Akal Takht Sahib. He was accompanied by his supporters belonging to the Sikh Sewak Sangathan (SSS) constituted by him few days back.

Interacting with media, HS Phoolka informed that the Sikh Sewak Army has been constituted to give an end to the politicization of the apex Sikh body Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhik Committee and to work against the Drug menace in Punjab.

“The Sikh Sewak Army will have two units. One having members with untrimmed hairs will work for ending political influence on the SGPC and the second will work against the Drug menace in Punjab” he added.

He further said that anyone who believes in the ideology of the Sikh Sewak Army, can become its member.

There is no separate category of Sikh with untrimmed hair
There are amritdhari and non-amritdhari Sikhs but both should be on the same path
Man in Blue

https://www.sikh24.com/2019/01/13/hs-phoolka-constitutes-sikh-sewak-army-to-end-politicization-of-sgpc/#.XDtGGc17nIU