BBC News – Rohingya crisis: Are Suu Kyi’s Rohingya claims correct?

Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been speaking about the violence and refugee crisis in Rakhine State.

The BBC’s South East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, who has been covering the story of the Rohingya people from both sides of the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, assesses her claims.

Rangoon, 19 September 2017. Aung San Suu Kyi: “There have been no conflicts since 5 September and no clearance operations.”

On 7 September, I was on a government-organised media trip in the town of Alel Than Kyaw, where we heard automatic weapons fire in the distance and saw four large columns of smoke, indicating villages being burned.

Later that same day, we came across the Rohingya village of Gaw Du Thar Ya being set alight by Rakhine Buddhist men, in front of armed policemen and close to a police barracks.

Now, from Bangladesh, we have seen columns of smoke on the other side of the Naf River large enough to suggest villages being burned.

Aung SanSuu Kyi may not term these “clearance” operations, but given the heavy military and police presence in these areas, close to the riverbank, it is difficult to believe they do not have at least tacit approval from the authorities there.

Aung San Suu Kyi: “Action will be taken against all people’s regardless of their religion, race or political position who go against the laws of the land and who violate human rights as accepted by our international community.”

In more than 70 years of recorded abuses by the Burmese armed forces, there are almost no records of military officers being disciplined in Rakhine State or in the many other areas where armed conflicts continue inside the country.

It is hard to see that happening now, with the military insisting all of the more than 400,000 Rohingyas who have fled did so because of their involvement in the attacks by the militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

One colonel in Maungdaw told me the many allegations of rape made by Rohingya refugees could not be true because his men were too busy fighting to rape and would find the Rohingya women too unattractive.

Aung San Suu Kyi: “All people living in the Rakhine State have access to education and health care services without discrimination.”

This is patently untrue. Rohingyas have been subjected to discriminatory restrictions for many years barring them from moving, even getting married, without official permission, which often involves paying bribes.

Since the 2012 communal violence, Rohingyas have had even tighter restrictions imposed on them.

Many in the displacement camps within Myanmar are confined to those areas unless they have special permission to leave, which is hard to get.

I know students inside the camps whose education has been halted for the past five years.

Four years ago, I visited the Rohingya village of Ah Nauk Pyin, south of Rathedaung, where the inhabitants were unable to leave even for medical treatment because of the hostility of the surrounding Rakhine Buddhist communities.

On Monday, in Bangladesh, I met Abdulmajid, from Gaw Du Thar Ya – the village I saw being burnt.

He told me for “the last five years, we couldn’t go outside our village for work”.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41312931

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BBC News – Why inequality in India is at its highest level in 92 years

Did India’s economic reforms lead to a sharp rise in inequality?

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi, 12 September 2017. New research by French economists Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty, author of Capital, the 2013 bestselling book on capitalism and increasing inequality, clearly points to this conclusion.

They studied household consumption surveys, federal accounts and income tax data from 1922, when the tax was introduced in India, to 2014.

The data shows that the share of national income accruing to the top 1% of wage earners is now at its highest level since Indians began paying income tax.

The economists say the top 1% of the earners captured less than 21% of the total income in the late 1930s, before dropping to 6% in the early 1980s and rising to 22% today. India, in fact, comes out as a country with one of the highest increase in top 1% income share concentration over the past 30 years,” they say.

To be sure, India’s economy has undergone a radical transformation over the last three decades.

Up to the 1970s, India was a tightly regulated, straitlaced economy with socialist planning. Growth crawled (3.5% per year), development was weak and poverty endemic.

Some easing of regulation, decline in tax rates and modest reforms led to growth picking up in the 1980s, trundling at around 5% a year. This was followed by some substantial reforms in the early 1990s after which the economy grew briskly, nudging close to double digits in the mid-2000s.

Growth has slowed substantially since then, but India still remains one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

The ongoing slowdown, growth was 5.7% in the April-June quarter, the slowest pace in three years, largely triggered by feeble demand, a controversial cash ban, declining private investment and weak credit growth, is a cause for concern.

And the need for fast-paced growth, according to Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen, is “far from over since India, after two decades of rapid growth, is still one of the poorest countries in the world”.

From their latest work on income inequality, Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty contend that there has been a “sharp increase in wealth concentration from 1991 to 2012, particularly after 2002”.

Also, they conclude, India has only been really shining for the top 10% of the population – roughly 80 million people in 2014 – rather than the middle 40%.

The economists plan to release the first World Inequality Report, produced by a network of more than 100 researchers in December, where they will compare India’s inequality with other countries and suggest ways to tackle it.

Striking transition

They agree that unequal growth over a period of time is not specific to India, but market economies are not bound to be unequal.

India’s case is striking in the fact that it is the country with the highest gap between the growth of the top 1% and that of the full population. Incomes of those at the very top have actually grown at a faster pace than in China.

The economists contend that the growth strategy pursued by successive governments has led to a sharp increase in inequality. China also liberalised and opened up after 1978, and experienced a sharp income growth as well as a sharp rise in inequality. This rise was however stabilised in the 2000s and is currently at a lower level than India.

In Russia, the move from a communist to a market economy was “swift and brutal” and today has a similar level of inequality to India.

“This shows that there are different strategies to transit from a highly regulated economy to a liberalised one. In the arrays of possible pathways, India pursued a very unequal way but could probably have chosen another path,” Dr Chancel told me.

While inequality is rising in most parts of the world, certain countries are resisting this trend. For example, he says, the rise in inequality is much lesser in western Europe than in the Anglo-Saxon world or in emerging markets.

“This largely owes to social security mechanisms that are relatively more favourable to workers than capital as compared to other parts of the world, to relatively more efficient tax systems and government investment in public goods such as education, housing, health or transport.”

Clearly, the new research should help promote a vigorous debate on what more can be done to promote more inclusive growth in India and the need for more transparent income and wealth data.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-41198638

BBC News – Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh shot dead in Bangalore

Bangalore-Karnataka-India, 6 September 2017. A prominent Indian journalist critical of Hindu nationalist politics has been shot dead in the south-western state of Karnataka, police say.

Gauri Lankesh, 55, was found lying in a pool of blood outside her home in the city of Bangalore.

She was shot in the head and chest by gunmen who arrived by motorcycle. The motive for the crime was not clear.

Indian journalists are being increasingly targeted by radical Hindu nationalists, activists say.

Gauri Lankesh, who edited a weekly newspaper, was known as a fearless and outspoken journalist.

She had returned home in her car on Tuesday night and was opening the gate when the attackers shot her, police said. She died on the spot.

Officials said they suspected she had been under surveillance by the gunmen. An investigation has been opened.

Her death has been widely condemned, with Karnataka state’s chief minister Siddaramaiah calling it an “assassination on democracy”.

Ms Lankesh came from a well-known family, and edited Lankesh Patrike, a newspaper founded by her father P Lankesh, a left-wing poet and writer.

She was the sister of award-winning filmmaker Kavitha Lankesh.

Who was Gauri Lankesh?

Known for her secularist criticism of right-wing and Hindu nationalists, including members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

Sympathetic to the Naxalites, or Maoist rebels, and was involved in the reintegration of former rebels

Worked for The Times of India and later ran the newspaper Lankesh Patrike, which her father founded, with her brother Indrajit for several years

She left to start several publications, including her own newspaper Gauri Lankesh Patrike

Ms Lankesh was convicted of defamation in 2016 for a report she published on local BJP leaders.

She was sentenced to six months in jail, and was out on bail and appealing the conviction at the time of her death.

In an interview with Narada News last year shortly after her conviction, she criticised BJP’s “fascist and communal politics” and added: “My Constitution teaches me to be a secular citizen, not communal. It is my right to fight against these communal elements”.

“I believe in democracy and freedom of expression, and hence, am open to criticism too. People are welcome to call me anti-BJP or anti-Modi, if they want to. They are free to have their own opinion, just as I am free to have my opinion.”

‘They come on motorbikes, kill, and vanish’

Her killing follows several assassinations of outspoken secularists or rationalists in recent years, including scholar Malleshappa Kalburgi, anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar, and politician Govind Pansare.

Noted writer K Marulasiddappa told the BBC: “The attack on the select writers is obviously happening because they are able to mould public opinion… there is a pattern in the way assailants come on motorbikes, kill, and vanish.”

“There cannot be any personal reasons attributed to her death because she had no personal enemies. So, the possibility is only political.”

The watchdog Reporters Without Borders said that radical nationalist journalists have targeted other writers, with online smear campaigns and threats of physical reprisals.

“With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media,” the group said.

India ranked 136 out of 180 countries in the group’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-41169817

BBC News – How a divided India fuelled the rise of the gurus

Soutik Biswas India correspondent

New Delhi, 25 August 2017. The followers of a popular Indian guru* in northern India have rampaged through towns, vandalising property, setting railway stations on fire, smashing cars, setting media vans alight and clashing with security forces. Several lives have been lost in the violence.

They are angry because a court found Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh guilty of raping two women at the headquarters of his religious group, known as Dera Sacha Sauda, in 2002.

To his millions of supporters, mostly underprivileged, lower caste men and women, Singh is a protean leader of his flock. He mutates effortlessly from spiritual leader to flashy entertainer.

He talks about a life lived in “reasonable restraint”, but himself lives opulently. The guru of bling, as some call him, is the main actor in garish, self-produced films and the lead singer in noisy open air concerts packed to the gills by a captive audience of devoted follower-fans.

His first music album was curiously titled Highway Love Charger and apparently sold millions of copies.

The guru’s social outreach is equally intriguing. Singh runs charities, and so-called movements to promote blood, eye and cadaver donations.

He campaigns for vegetarianism. But he also makes gay men sign declarations vowing to “give up homosexual behaviour” under his “holy guidance”, and was once accused of forcing followers to undergo castration to “get closer to god”.

A journalist who visited the sprawling headquarters of Singh’s dera, a religious group, Punjab has more than 100 of them, told me she was struck by buildings with human ear-shaped windows and high turquoise walls topped with multi-coloured fruit-shaped water tanks.

“It seemed to me,” she told me, “that he’s a guru who lives out his dreams and fantasies, movie star, rock singer, do-gooder, political influencer, through his group and his devotees. In the process, he also helps his followers to dream big.”

India has always had gurus for as longer as one can remember. There are global gurus like the flamboyant Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to whom the Beatles turned to for spiritual salvation in the 1960s. And there are domestic gurus for rich and poor with huge followings.

The gurus count politicians, film and cricket stars, bureaucrats and ordinary people among their devotees. They run schools and hospitals. They peddle influence as superstitious politicians run to them for advice and votes of their devotees.

Proximity to a guru legitimises a politician and adds to his power. Gurus like Singh virtually run parallel states, providing services to followers.

The 50-year-old Singh, who will be sentenced on Monday, is one of the more controversial ones. In the past, gurus – or “godmen” as they are called in India, have been accused of murder, rape, trafficking, assault, sexual abuse and fraud.

Singh himself has been accused of mocking Sikh and Hindu figures, and investigated for murder and rape. Although the bulk of his devotees are lower caste, poor and underprivileged, his core group include highly-educated professional followers.

Many believe that millions of people flock to the dozens of religious groups like Singh’s because they feel that mainstream politics and religion have failed them. In what they feel is an increasingly inequitable world, they feel let down by their politicians and priests, and turn to gurus and shamans for succour.

“In many ways the rise of gurus like Singh tells us something about how conventional politics and religion have been failing a large number of people. So they turn to unconventional religion to seek some dignity and quality.

Such groups have arisen in many parts of the democratic, modern world. They find equality by sharing common spaces and ceremonies with millions of fellow followers,” sociologist Shiv Visvanathan told me.

Not without reason Singh’s followers share a common invented surname, Insan (Human), as opposed to an individual surname which reveals your caste and place in society.

Clearly, the rise of the gurus and religious groups tells us how deeply divided and hierarchical India remains. Friday’s violence once again showed how such gurus can end up running a parallel state, and the seeming powerlessness of the state itself.

  • Guru means bringer of light into darkness, the Bling Guru did the opposite !

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-41052605

BBC News – Why is Kashmir’s ‘special status’ under threat in India?

Jammu & Kashmir, 15 August 2017. India’s Supreme Court is hearing a batch of petitions that challenge a property law unique to Indian-administered Kashmir. According to this law, widely known as Article 35A, only long-term residents of the state can own land there.

Senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari explains its importance.

What is Article 35A?

Article 35A allows the legislature of Indian-administered Kashmir to define the state’s “permanent residents” and what distinguishes them. It applies to all of Indian-administered Kashmir, including Jammu and Ladakh.

All identified residents are issued a permanent resident certificate, which entitles them to special benefits related to employment, scholarships etc. But the biggest advantage for permanent residents is that only they have the right to own and, therefore, buy, property in the state.

All those who were living in the state as of 14 May 1954 when the law came into effect; and those who have lived in the state for 10 years anytime since, are counted as permanent residents.

The state legislature can also alter the definition of a permanent resident or other aspects of the law by a two-thirds majority.

How did it come about?

The Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, first passed the law in 1927 to stop the influx of people from the northern state of Punjab into the state. Reports say he did this on the urging of powerful Kashmiri Hindus. The law still exists in parts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

In India, the law in its current form was introduced in 1954. It’s part of Article 370, a constitutional provision that grants Kashmir a unique status within India. It allows the state its own constitution, a separate flag and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications.

When the Jammu and Kashmir constitution was adopted in 1956, it ratified the then two-year-old permanent resident law.

What is its significance?

It protects the state’s distinct demographic character.

Since Indian-administered Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in India, many Kashmiris suspect Hindu nationalist groups of encouraging Hindus to migrate to the state. This doesn’t sit well with Kashmiris given their tumultuous relationship with India, there has been an armed revolt in the region against Indian rule since 1989.

India blames Pakistan for fuelling the unrest, a charge Islamabad denies.

Both countries claim Kashmir in its entirety but only control parts of it. Since India’s partition and the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two wars and a limited conflict over the territory.

Why is it being debated now?

We the Citizens, a little-known non-governmental organisation, petitioned the Supreme Court in 2014 to abolish the law on the grounds that it was “unconstitutional”. The state government headed by the regional Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has defended the law in court.

The federal government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has said in court that it wants a “larger debate”.

Before it was elected to power in the summer of 2014, the BJP had spoken in favour of revoking the special status granted to Indian-administered Kashmir. But now it’s ruling the state in a coalition with the regional PDP, which is unlikely to agree to a change in the law.

Also, constitutional expert AG Noorani says, the Indian parliament cannot “make laws” with respect to the people of Indian-administered Kashmir. Only the state government has the “absolute sovereign power” to do so.

What do those who defend the law say?

They say abolishing the law would dishonour the Indian government’s promise to protect Kashmir’s special status.

They also fear that it would open up the state for outsiders to settle, eventually changing its demographics.

Former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted that removing the law would have “grave consequences” for Jammu and Ladakh.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has warned that it would destroy India’s fragile relationship with the state.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40897522

BBC News – UK South Asian women ‘hiding cancer because of stigma’

Amber Haque

London, 9 August 2017. A number of UK women from South Asian backgrounds who have cancer hide it because of a perceived stigma about the disease, the BBC has learned.

One woman chose to “suffer on [her] own” through chemotherapy for fear of her family’s reaction, and questioned whether God was punishing her.

Experts said others were seeking help too late, causing preventable deaths.

In one case a woman sought treatment only when her breast was rotten. She later died as the cancer had spread.

‘Very dark days’

Pravina Patel, who told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme about her own experience, stumbled upon a lump in her breast when she was 36.

She grew up in a strict Indian community where even talking about the disease was considered shameful. When she was diagnosed, she decided to hide it.

“I just thought if people hear the fact that I’ve got cancer, they’re going to think it’s a death sentence,” she said.

She remembered worrying that people would say she had lived a “bad life” and God was punishing her for it.

Ms Patel continued to keep the disease a secret when seeking treatment, saying she felt “extremely lonely” during chemotherapy.

“I was going through chemo sessions on my own… I had some very dark days,” she explained.

Pooja Saini, the lead researcher at CLAHRC North-West Coast, a research arm of the NHS that looks into health inequalities, said her own review into the issue “really surprised” her.

“Some women went to the extent of not even having treatment because, if they went, people would know as they’d lose their hair,” she explained.

She added others “feared it might affect their children because no-one would want to marry them”.

It is difficult to say how widespread the problem was, because little information has been collected on ethnicity and mortality.

But in 2014, research from Bridgewater NHS found Asian women between 15 and 64 years old had a significantly reduced survival rate for breast cancer of three years.

Ms Saini said her research suggests the influence of men in the family and elders in the wider community may be contributing to the issue.

“If they didn’t think women should go for screening, then they didn’t go,” she said.

Cultural expectations

The stigma surrounding cancer in South Asian communities spans different forms of the disease.

Ms Patel said there was a reluctance for women to go for a smear test because they did not want to be “defiled” or be considered “no longer pure”.

She has now completed her chemotherapy and is in remission.

Ms Patel and her husband got divorced during her treatment, something she says was partly because of cultural expectations about how a wife should be.

Some experts are concerned that women are suffering unnecessarily.

South Asian women are more likely to be from poor, deprived backgrounds, meaning their levels of awareness of cancer are likely to be lower.

National screening statistics show people from ethnic minority communities do not go for screening as much as their white counterparts.

Madhu Agarwal, a cancer support manager who has worked in the field of cancer for more than 30 years, fears this is leading to South Asian women dying unnecessarily.

“Because of the ignorance of not presenting early, not examining the breasts… the disease has already spread [when they do seek help] and it’s very difficult to manage it with treatment.

“Then the mortality is high, so there is a stigma attached, that when you get cancer you’re going to die.”

She said one of her patients had come for treatment so late that her breast was “fungating” and “rotten”.

She recalled: “It was smelling so much that you couldn’t even sit next to it.”

The woman, who had young children, died because the cancer had by then spread to other parts of her body, Ms Agarwal explained.

The Victoria Derbyshire programme has heard several other accounts of the effects the stigma surrounding cancer can have.

Samina Hussain said one of her family told her to wear hijab to hide her cancer, saying “you can cover this up now”.

Iyna Butt said her aunt refused chemotherapy as she felt “God had given [cancer] to her”.

‘Help save women’

Ms Saini is now calling for more data on screening uptake by ethnicity to be recorded, so findings can be used to provide more tailored support to communities.

Public Health England’s screening director Anne Mackie said when Ms Saini’s research is published it will look to implement its suggestions.

“We’ve got every reason to believe that will help save women from [South] Asian backgrounds’ lives as well as others from deprived backgrounds,” she said.

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-40802527

BBC News – What is India’s president actually for?

New Delhi, 2 August 2017. Does the Indian president serve a purely ceremonial role? Is this a mere figurehead who, in the words of former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is a “head that neither reigns nor governs”, and holds a position of “authority or dignity” more than anything else?

Last month’s election of Ram Nath Kovind as the republic’s 14th president reignited the debate. In his inaugural speech, President Kovind, a former spokesman for the ruling BJP, promised citizens he would “stay true to the trust that they have bestowed me”.

So do Indians need an assertive or pliant president? Should they be merely a titular head? Are Indian presidents mere “rubber stamps”? And what happens when the president acts in an assertive and/or partisan manner?

The Indian presidency differs from most presidencies across the world. The president does not exercise executive powers, he is the head of the state, and is required by the constitution to act on the advice of ministers.

So the role is more akin to that of the British monarch or monarchs in countries like the Netherlands or Spain: a referee over a parliamentary system where ministers possess the real power. Countries like Germany and Israel have presidencies similar to India’s.

But James Manor, a professor at the London-based Institute of Commonwealth Studies who has extensively researched the presidency, says Indian presidents are “not entirely rubber stamps”.

They can ask ministers to reconsider actions, offer them private advice and convey warnings. They also make public speeches which indicate, at least subtly, “some differences of view with the government, and which may swing public opinion”.

Also, more importantly, after elections, presidents are free to act, and must act, without the advice of ministers if no party has been able to garner a parliamentary majority. They also have some freedom to decide whether to accept a prime minister’s request for dissolving the parliament to enable a general election.

India’s first president, Rajendra Prasad, frequently disagreed with prime minister Nehru and sometimes subtly criticised the government in his public statements.

In what many believe was a shameful low for the presidency, the fifth president, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, readily acquiesced to former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s demand for a declaration to impose a state of emergency, when civil liberties were suspended in 1975.

Stormy relationship

The seventh president, Giani Zail Singh, a former Congress government home minister who once told the parliament that he admired Adolf Hitler, had a stormy relationship with the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

In 1987, he withheld assent from a controversial bill passed by the parliament. (The bill was later withdrawn.) There were reports that Mr Singh, who died in 1994 , had even considered sacking Mr Gandhi’s government over an arms purchasing scandal.

The ninth incumbent Shankar Dayal Sharma returned two executive orders to the cabinet in 1996 because they had been “inappropriately” issued before a general election.

And his successor, K R Narayanan, a London School of Economics-educated former diplomat and Dalit (formerly known as “untouchable”), was arguably one of India’s most assertive presidents. He delivered speeches which many believed were not vetted by the government and, in a surprising break from protocol, even gave an interview to a senior journalist.

Mr Narayanan also sent back a proposal to impose direct rule in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh to the cabinet, asking the ministers to reconsider it. He bluntly said: “I am not a rubber stamp.”

And he angered many in the government and the media for chiding visiting US president Bill Clinton at a state banquet, provoking the New York Times to comment that “the tensions inherent in forging an Indian-American friendship surfaced with Mr Narayanan’s speech”.

His successor A P J Kalam, one of the most popular Indian presidents, was more restrained, once returning an office of profit bill for reconsideration. The parliament returned the bill to him without changes, and he signed it into law.

‘More assertive’

Professor Manor believes Mr Kovind’s predecessor, Pranab Mukherjee, a veteran Congress party leader and a former senior minister, was “more assertive than nearly all previous presidents”.

Although he rejected a record 28 mercy pleas of death row convicts during his tenure, Mr Mukherjee defied the advice of the government and commuted the death sentences of four convicts in January.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40772945

BBC News – Why is the India-China border stand-off escalating?

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi, 20 July 2017. If you browse through the latest headlines about the now month-long border stand-off between India and China, you might think the Asian rivals are teetering on the brink of an armed conflict.

The rhetoric is full of foreboding and menace. A Delhi newspaper says China is warning that the stand-off “could escalate into full-scale conflict”. Another echoes a similar sentiment, saying “China stiffens face-off posture”.

In Beijing, the state-run media has begun reminding India of its defeat in the 1962 war over the border, digging out old reports and pictures of the conflict.

Global Times has been particularly bellicose, first accusing India of undermining Bhutan’s sovereignty by interfering in the road project, and then declaring that if India “stirs up conflicts in several spots, it must face the consequences of all-out confrontation with China”.

The latest row erupted in mid-June when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China.

The plateau, which lies at a junction between China, the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, is currently disputed between Beijing and Bhutan. India supports Bhutan’s claim over it.

India is concerned that if the road is completed, it will give China greater access to India’s strategically vulnerable “chicken’s neck”, a 20km (12-mile) wide corridor that links the seven north-eastern states to the Indian mainland. And since this stand-off began, each side has reinforced its troops and called on the other to back down.

There is a dreadful sense of deja vu about the way the stand-off appears to be escalating.

This is not the first time the two neighbours who share a rocky relationship have faced off on the ill-defined border, where minor incursions by troops have been common. The region saw armed clashes between China and India in 1967, and a prolonged stand-off and build-up of troops along the border in Arunachal Pradesh in 1986-87.

Delhi believes that Beijing is testing India’s commitment to Bhutan in the latest stand-off, writes analyst Ajai Shukla. “China has always been galled by this close relationship, which has withstood sustained Chinese pressure to divide it,” he says.

This time China has upped the ante against India. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday that Indian forces should leave the area to avoid an “escalation of the situation”.

Not a bluff

Indian analysts believe China’s warnings cannot be ignored. “In general, the Chinese pattern of use of force has been to prepare the ground with adequate statements and warnings. Hence, I think we should not take them lightly or see it as a bluff,” a China expert told me.

In 1962, the state-run news agency Xinhua warned well in advance that India should “pull back from the brink of war”.
During the Korean War in 1950 which pitted the US and its allies against the USSR, North Korea and communist China, the Chinese warned the US through India that if they crossed the Yalu River the Chinese would be forced to enter the war.

To be true, this doesn’t mean that China is girding up for war. As things stand, both sides can share some blame for the stand-off in what is a strategically important area.

In 2012, India and China agreed that the tri-junction boundaries with Bhutan and Myanmar (also called Burma) would be finally decided in consultation with these countries. Until then, the status quo would prevail.

India believes China violated the status quo by building the road. Indian troops were sent to resist their Chinese counterparts in the area only after Bhutan, which has close ties with India, requested India to help.

China insists Indian troops invaded Doklam/Donglang to help Bhutan, and it was a violation of international law. Mr Lu says India should not “take trespass as a policy tool to reach or realise their political targets”.

Some analysts say India possibly made a mistake by openly conflating the building of the road with talk of potential “serious security implications for India”.

“I agree that there were security concerns, but it was wrong for India to voice them strongly. We could have just said that China had breached the status quo. By overplaying the security angle, we may have scored an own goal, and the Chinese are exploiting it,” an analyst told me.

Tricky situation

He has a point. Long Xingchun, an analyst at a Chinese think-tank, says “a third country’s” army could enter the disputed region of Kashmir at Pakistan’s request, using the “same logic” the Indian army has used to stop the Chinese troops from building the road in Doklam/Donglang.

“Even if India were requested to defend Bhutan’s territory, this could only be limited to its established territory, not the disputed area.”

Clearly, for the stand-off to end, all three sides need an agreeable solution without losing face. As China hardens its position, many believe that finding a “three-way, face saving solution” would be tricky and time consuming. Relations between the two countries are also at their lowest ebb in many years.

Both sides possibly passed up an opportunity to resolve the crisis earlier this month when a potential meeting between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg did not happen.

India said a meeting with Mr Xi had never been on Mr Modi’s agenda; and China’s foreign ministry had said the atmosphere was not right for a meeting.

There’s another window of opportunity coming up. India’s influential National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is to visit Beijing for a meeting of Brics nations later this month. Mr Doval, who is also the special representative for the India-China border, is likely to meet his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi.

“Both sides have made it a prestige issue. But diplomacy is all about keeping things going in difficult circumstances,” a former diplomat says.

Despite the deteriorating relationship, a war is unlikely to break out.

“I don’t think either side wants an armed conflict. Nobody is interested in a war. Nothing in the [stand-off] area is worth a conflict. But both sides see their reputations at stake and that could lead to a prolonged stand-off,” Srinath Raghavan, a senior fellow at the leading Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research think-tank told me.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40653053

BBC News – Why was Mother Teresa’s uniform trademarked?

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi, 12 July 2017. For nearly half a century, Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun who worked with the poor in the Indian city of Kolkata (Calcutta) wore a simple white sari with three blue stripes on the borders, one thicker than the rest.

Senior nuns who work for Missionaries of Charity, a 67-year-old sisterhood which has more than 3,000 nuns worldwide, continue to wear what has now become the religious uniform of this global order.

On Monday, news washed up that this “famous” sari of the Nobel laureate nun, who died in 1997, has been trademarked to prevent “unfair” use by people for commercial purposes.

India’s government quietly recognised the sari as the intellectual property of the Missionaries of Charity in September last year, when the nun was declared a saint by the Vatican, but the order had decided not to make it public.

Biswajit Sarkar, a Kolkata-based lawyer who works pro-bono for the order, says he had applied for the trademark in 2013.

“It just came to my mind that the colour-identified blue border of the sari had to be protected to prevent any future misuse for commercial purposes,” he told me. “If you want to wear or use the colour pattern in any form, you can write to us and if we are convinced that there is no commercial motive, we will allow it.”

The austere blue-trimmed white sari has long been identified with the nun and her order. The story goes that in 1948, the Albanian nun, with permission from Rome, began wearing it and a small cross across her shoulder.

According to some accounts, the nun chose the blue border as it was associated with purity. For more than three decades, the saris have been woven by leprosy patients living in a home run by the order on the outskirts of Kolkata.

Accordingly, Mr Sarkar helped the order to trademark her name two decades back. Still, nuns of the order have complained that Mother Teresa’s name was being exploited for commercial gain: a school being run in her name in Nepal where teachers complained of not receiving salaries; a priest raising funds in Romania using the order’s name; shops near the order’s headquarters in Kolkata telling customers that proceeds from memorabilia sales were donated to the order; and a cooperative bank in India curiously named after the nun.

“So we decided to do something about it,” says Mr Sarkar. “Through this we are trying to tell the world that her name and reputation should not be misused.”

Owning a trademark on a colour can be a tricky business. In 2013 Nestle won a court battle against confectionery rival Cadbury, over the latter’s attempt to trademark the purple colour, known as Pantone 2865c, of its Dairy Milk bars.

It is also not clear how this trademark on the famous blue striped sari will be enforced. Many online shopping sites already sell variations of “unisex Mother Teresa dress”, blue bordered sari, and a long sleeved blouse.

Also, the move is bound to raise the hackles of the nun’s critics, and she has her fair share of them, who have accused her of glorifying poverty, hobnobbing with dictators, running shambolic care facilities and proselytising.

“How can anybody appropriate a sari, which has been a traditional Indian dress,” one of them asked me, preferring to remain unnamed.

Designers like Anand Bhushan differ. “Some designs of the traditional Indian towel called gamcha, for example, have been trademarked. There’s nothing wrong in trademarking a distinctive and iconic design or pattern like Mother Teresa’s sari. It’s not like anybody is beginning to own the sari.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40566352

BBC News – The stigma stopping Sikh women getting help with alcohol addiction

Gurvinder Gill, BBC Asian Network

15 July 2017. Punjabi Sikh women with drinking problems are less likely to come forward for help because of the fear of stigma and shame, a West Midlands alcohol support group says.

Drinking alcohol is often associated with the Punjabi culture, but is prohibited in Sikhism. Baptised Sikhs are forbidden from drinking but some non-baptised Sikhs do consume alcohol.

Whilst the vast majority of those who do drink have no problem, a small number of Punjabi Sikh women are affected.

Data collected by Birmingham-based charity Aquarius showed 16% of service users who received help for alcohol misuse in 2011-2012 identified as Asian or Asian British.

A small survey carried out by the charity found 57% of people from this community, the majority of whom were Sikh, said shame was a reason for not getting help.

Professor Sarah Galvani from Bedfordshire University, who carried out the research, said younger women’s drinking was seen to be increasing.

“The reason for that was primarily that these women were growing up in much more westernised communities, where women’s drinking was acceptable,” she said.

“They were adopting some of those behaviours of the community they were growing up, but still living within a community that had quite traditional views about women’s drinking.”

Jennifer Shergill from the Shanti project, which encourages people to get help with their addictions and offers services in Punjabi, says the issue seems to be religion versus culture.

“Culture is kind of the thing that we need to focus on when we’re talking about Punjabi alcohol misuse, the kind of culture that’s prevalent in media, when people get together, in weddings and birthday parties, that kind of drinking in social groups,” she said.

Pardip Samra, from Edgbaston, Birmingham, is setting up a women-only support group, helping Asian women who may be addicted to alcohol.

She said she also had an issue with drinking.

“I became dependent on it almost every day. I blamed it on work, I blamed it on family but it was never the drink, it was always something else,” she said.

Ms Samra believes alcohol dependency-related issues need to be spoken about more and wants other women to know there is help available.

Mandeep’s story

Mandeep, not her real name, is a Punjabi Sikh in her 30s. She started drinking alcohol with her friends when in college and 10 years ago realised she had a drinking problem.

“I subconsciously knew my drinking wasn’t normal because I could easily consume more than those around me. It’s like just drinking to shut off your head and make yourself numb again,” she said.

When she told her family she was an alcoholic, some of her relatives were in denial.

“They were like, ‘No you haven’t, no you haven’t’. They didn’t really react because they didn’t really believe in the fact that it’s a problem.”

In the past, Mandeep has relapsed but this time, with the help of the Shanti project, she is hopeful about her recovery and wants to help other Punjabi Sikh women like herself in the future.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-40613289