– UK Sikh couple who were told they cannot adopt a white child win case against racial discrimination

The court awarded them nearly £120,000 (approximately Rs 1.12 crore) in damages.

Steve Evans

A Sikh couple living in the United Kingdom won a landmark court battle against a local council that refused to let them adopt a child because of their Indian heritage. The court ruled that it was discriminatory and awarded them nearly £120,000 (approximately Rs 1.12 crore) in damages, The Guardian reported.

Sandeep Mander and Reena Mander were not allowed to join a list of approved adopters in 2016 because of their heritage. Adoption agency Adopt Berkshire told them “not to bother applying” and to try to adopt from the Indian subcontinent.

The agency had said that only white pre-school children were available for adoption. The couple, who are in their 30s and live in Maidenhead in Berkshire, eventually adopted a child from the US.

They tried to get the decision overturned and got the support of their then MP Theresa May as well as the Equality and Human Rights Commission. With the panel’s support, the Manders sued the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council for discrimination.

Judge Melissa Clarke of the Oxford County Court ruled that the “defendants directly discriminated against Mr and Mrs Mander on the grounds of race”. She awarded them general damages of £29,000 each and special damages of £60,000.

“I consider that there is clear evidence that Mr and Mrs Mander, who I have found expressed willingness to consider a child of any ethnicity, received less favourable treatment than would a comparable couple of a different ethnicity,” the judgement said.

“All of this discloses, in my judgment, what the unknown social worker stated in the very first phone call with Mr Mander, namely that Adopt Berkshire operated a policy of placing adoptive children with parents who come from the ‘same background’ namely race,” Clarke wrote in her judgement.

“I am satisfied that race was the criterion by which the unknown social worker decided not to book an initial visit with Mr and Mrs Mander, because the defendants have not satisfied me that there was any other criterion applied by that unknown social worker.”

The evidence shows that Adopt Berkshire refused to progress the Manders “on the assumption that it would not be in a putative child’s best interest to be matched with prospective adopters” of a different race, the judge said.

“This assumption was a stereotype which gave race a disproportionate importance as a factor regarding the welfare of children.”

The couple and their lawyers were elated and called it a landmark law. “This decision ensures that no matter what race, religion or colour you are, you should be treated equally and assessed for adoption in the same way as any other prospective adopter,” Sandeep Mander said.

His wife Reena Mander called the judgement a relief and said that they can now move on “knowing we have changed something for the better”.

The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead said it was disappointed by the judgement. “We have reviewed our policies to ensure they are fit for purpose and are confident that we do not exclude prospective adopters on the grounds of ethnicity,” a spokesperson said.

“Finally, we always put the best interests of the children at the heart of any adoption decisions and are committed to best practice in our provision of adoption services.” – India is the fifth most vulnerable country to effects of climate change, says new report

In 2018, India saw extreme weather conditions, causing economic losses of Rs 2.7 lakh crore, nearly as much as its defence budget.

Bhasker Tripathi

Bonn – North-Rhine-Westphalia – Germany, 07 December 2019. India is the fifth most vulnerable of 181 countries to the effects of climate change, with its poorest being the most at risk, according to a new report released on 04 December. Japan is the most vulnerable, followed by the Philippines, Germany and Madagascar.

India had 2,081 deaths in 2018 due to extreme weather events caused by climate change, cyclones, heavy rainfall, floods and landslides, found the 15th edition of the Global Climate Risk Index 2020, prepared by Bonn-based think-tank Germanwatch. It had the highest number of deaths compared to other countries.

Overall, India’s economic losses due to climate change were the second-highest in the world, with a loss of Rs 2.7 lakh crore, nearly as much as its defence budget in 2018, the report said. This translates to losing about 0.36% per unit of gross domestic product.

The report comes as representatives of 197 countries around the world meet at Spain’s capital, Madrid, for the annual climate discussions, at the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – COP25.

The Global Climate Risk Index is based on an analysis of worldwide data on extreme weather events provided by German reinsurer MunichRe’s NatCatSERVICE, a comprehensive database of natural catastrophes. The index does not take into account the slower processes of rising sea levels, glacier melting or more acidic and warmer seas due to climate change.

Extreme weather events

India’s overall ranking on the index slipped nine points from 14th in 2017 to fifth in 2018 because of extreme weather events. “The yearly monsoon season, lasting from June to September, severely affected India in 2018,” the report said, explaining the reason for the drop in the ranking.

In Kerala, 324 people died because of drowning or being buried in the landslides set off by the flooding; over 220,000 people had to leave their homes; 20,000 houses and 80 dams were destroyed, with the damage amounting to Rs 20,000 crore, the report said.

India’s east coast was also hit by two cyclones, Titli and Gaja, in October and November 2018, respectively. With wind speeds of up to 150 km per hour, cyclone Titli killed at least eight people and left around 450,000 without electricity, the report said.

India also suffered from one of the longest ever recorded heatwaves in 2018, with temperatures rising to 48 degree Celsius, resulting in hundreds of deaths. This, compounded with a water shortage, led to prolonged drought, widespread crop failures, violent riots and increased migration.

The worst-hit regions in the central, northern and western parts of the country, were also among India’s poorest, the report said.

Since 2004, India has experienced 11 of its 15 warmest recorded years since record-keeping began in 1901, and an estimated 25,000 Indians have died as a result of heatwaves since 1992, the report said.

India is particularly vulnerable to extreme heat due to low per capita income, social inequality and a heavy reliance on agriculture. India would lose 5.8% of its working hours due to heat stress by 2050, which is equivalent to 34 million full-time jobs out of a total of 80 million worldwide.

In India, agriculture and construction, the two biggest employers, will bear the brunt of this loss in productivity, the report said.

India’s overall ranking on the index has been fluctuating over the past five years. But it has always been the country with one of the five highest economic losses due to climate change. It has also had the most deaths due to extreme weather events in four of five years.
The index ranked 181 countries in 2018, 124 in 2017, 182 in 2016, 135 in 2015 and 138 in 2014. Source: Global Climate Risk Index.

Poor countries worst-hit

Germanwatch also created a long-term index of climate change vulnerability, based on data on the impact of climate change over 20 years between 1999 and 2018. India ranked 17th among the most vulnerable countries. Puerto Rico was the most vulnerable followed by Myanmar, Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan.

Of the 10 most affected countries and territories in the long-term index, seven are low income or lower-middle income, two, Thailand and Dominica, are upper-middle income and one, Puerto Rico, is a high income country. Lower income countries are the hardest hit by climate change and have lower coping capacity, the Germanwatch report said.

This is a daily reality for millions of people in the global south living on the frontline of the crisis. It is the communities in India whose lives and livelihoods were devastated by two severe cyclones this year, and the increasingly severe and deadly flooding and torrential rainfall, Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change for ActionAid, a non-profit, said.

The Germanwatch report suggested that the ongoing COP25 take steps to support countries that suffer future loss and damage, make financial resources available for these countries, and strengthen measures for adapting to climate change.

The civil society report held the US and the EU responsible for 54% of the cost of climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Rich countries and polluting industries responsible for climate change should put together a new fund to support survivors of climate disasters, Singh said. “COP25 is a crucial opportunity to change the current, unjust system that is pushing countries and communities further into poverty and debt.”

This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit. – Hindutva politics: Pragya Thakur’s Godse praises: What is a terror-accused doing in Parliament in the first place?

Punishing the MP by removing her from a parliamentary panel is like yelling at a thief for stealing after you handed him the keys to your house.

Rohan Venkataramakrishnan

New Delhi – India, 27 November 2019. Is anyone surprised that Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Pragya Singh Thakur called Mohandas Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse a “deshbhakt”, a patriot, in Parliament?

Thakur has made no secret of her admiration for Godse and indeed, called him a patriot even in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections after she was made a BJP candidate.

At the time, she had to apologise, and the BJP insisted that its views were not the same as hers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi even said he will never be able to forgive Thakur for her comments.

Yet nothing about her candidature changed and her electoral victory was celebrated.

On Thursday, a day after Thakur called Godse a deshbhakt in the Lok Sabha, and despite others in the party trying to claim she wasn’t talking about Gandhi’s assassin, the BJP has decided to take some action.

Thakur has been removed from the Parliamentary panel on defence. BJP working president J P Nadda said she will not be allowed to participate in parliamentary party meetings this session.

If that sounds like an appropriate punishment, it isn’t. Punishing Thakur by removing her from the Parliamentary defence panel is like yelling at a thief for stealing after you handed him the keys to your house. Why was he inside in the first place?

In the same vein, the question is not whether the punishment is apt, but why Thakur was even on a defence panel, and indeed, in Parliament in the first place.

Let’s not forget, Thakur has been accused of terrorism. She is among the alleged conspirators in the Malegaon blasts case, where explosives hidden in a motorcycle killed six people and injured more than 100 others in Maharashtra in 2008.

Her initial comment defending Godse also came in the context of terrorism, in which she said people should not call him a terrorist because he was actually a patriot.

Clearly, she subscribes to or, at the very least, admires Godse’s violent philosophy and has also been accused of committing terror herself, two data points that should have meant no mainstream political party even considering her for a Lok Sabha ticket, let alone a spot on a Parliamentary panel overseeing India’s defence.

But this is what the BJP chose to endorse. It should now hardly be surprising that Thakur espouses the views she has always held. Modi’s “will never forgive her” comments seemed to achieve nothing. And it is equally doubtful that the current punishments will somehow prompt a change of heart from Thakur.

At most, it seems as if the party is mildly embarassed by her comments because of the headlines they result in, not because of the implication that the BJP is endorsing and actually promoting a strain of thought that believes in hatred and violence. Indeed, for many in the party, that is a selling point, as the support for Thakur online on Wednesday demonstrated.

This is the India that the BJP wants: one where the ruling party openly encourages bigoted behaviour and policies, where any criticism is labeled anti-national, where those who were part of lynch mobs are garlanded. This is the India that the BJP has helped create. How can anyone be surprised that praise for Gandhi’s assassin made its way to Parliament?

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We welcome your comments at – In charts: Did Delhi’s odd-even vehicle plan help improve its air pollution problem?

Research shows that the scheme, along with suitable weather conditions, led to a marginal improvement in Delhi’s air quality in 2016.

Vijayta Lalwani & Nithya Subramanian

New Delhi – India, 23 November 2019. The National Capital and the areas around it struggled for breath in October and early in November as pollution levels reached hazardous levels .

Contributing to the filthy air was smoke from crop stubble burnt in the nearby agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana, vehicular and industrial emissions in the capital as well as dust from construction work. Low temperatures during the period strengthened the smog blanket as the colder air made it more difficult for the pollutants to disperse.

As pollution levels rose, Delhi’s Graded Response Action Plan went into effect. Construction activity was halted and schools were ordered shut.

Significantly, the odd-even scheme went into effect. The scheme, which allows vehicles with odd-numbered licence plates on the road on dates with odd numbers and those with even-numbered plates on others, was implemented for the first time in 2016 in two phases. It ran from 8 am till 8 pm on all days except Sundays. Two-wheelers and vehicles driven by women were exempt from the scheme.

The third edition was enforced from November 4 to 15, but was suspended on November 11 and November 12 on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti.

Compared to the second phase in April 2016, the fines levied by the police on motorists violating the scheme this year fell by 50%. In April 2016, fine had been imposed on 9,576 motorists, reported the Hindustan Times. This year, action was taken against 4,885 motorists.

But did reducing the number of vehicles on the road result in lower pollution levels? Experts are wary of drawing conclusions from the data, adding that an analysis of pollution levels must consider multiple factors, including weather conditions.

What data shows

For this analysis, picked four air-quality monitoring stations spread around Delhi, RK Puram in South Delhi, Anand Vihar in East Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Central Delhi and Punjabi Bagh in West Delhi.

All four stations are monitored by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, an autonomous body under the Delhi government. Daily averages were used from the hourly data recorded from 9 am till 9 pm between November 4 and November 15. On some days, data was not recorded by the monitoring agency for a few hours.

In the chart below, it can be seen that PM 2.5 levels started to increase after October 27.

See original article

Particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (or about a ten-thousandth of an inch) is particularly dangerous to human health. Such particles are small enough to travel deep into the respiratory system, potentially hurting lung function. The National Ambient Air Quality Standards require PM 2.5 concentration be less than 60 micrograms per cubic metre of air, in any given 24 hour period.

On 03 November, levels peaked as Delhi experienced its worst air quality during the season.

On 04 November, on the first day of odd-even, these levels suddenly dropped and the city had cleaner air to breathe. On the next day, the air quality improved further as the wind speed picked. This trend continued until November 10 after which PM 2.5 levels started to increase steadily.

Similar trends were also noticed in PM 10 levels or particulate matter the size of 10 micrometers. also analysed the 24-hour average PM 2.5 concentrations in the regions adjoining Delhi, where the scheme was not implemented.

In Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh and Gurugram, Haryana, a similar drop in particulate matter in the air was observed between November 4 to 10. Both places, because of their proximity to Delhi, could be expected to experience similar wind patterns as the capital. The data indicates that Delhi’s PM 2.5 levels were marginally lower than its adjoining regions, but this was also true on some of the days before the odd-even scheme was introduced.

Outcome in 2016

On 15 November, the Supreme Court expressed concern about the effectiveness of the odd-even policy. Studies about the operation of the scheme in 2016 showed that there were marginal improvements in Delhi’s air quality as a result of several factors.

When the policy was first implemented between 01 and 15 January 2016, particulate matter 2.5 levels fell by 4%-6%, found a study by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, The Energy Research Institute and National Physical Laboratory in Delhi, and Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune.

The study noted that this was not a significant consequence of the policy, considering that it was taken as an emergency measure. “The failure is attributed to stable meteorological conditions (winds are not strong enough to disperse PM 2.5 away) during the period and there was no control over PM 2.5 outside the periphery of the city,” the study states.

Another study concluded that the first phase of odd-even in 2016 led to a reduction of 13% in particulate matter concentrations. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard University. The study noted that the reduction in particulate matter was highest in the mornings from 11 am till 2 pm, but no such improvement was noticed at night.

The study also found that compared to levels in other states, Delhi did not show any significant improvement in the second phase of the policy in April 2016.

Interestingly, the study noted that similar car rationing schemes implemented in China and Mexico did not yield satisfactory results because of non-compliance.

The Central Pollution Control Board also carried out a study of the two phases in 2016. It concluded that a single factor could not result in substantial reductions in pollution and that an “integrated approach” was needed.

“With no clear trend and wide fluctuations observed in the concentrations, it is evident that the meteorology and emissions from other polluting sources have been major factors impacting air quality of Delhi during the period,” the study noted.

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To see the charts click on the link below – Ayodhya Verdict – What explains the silence among Muslim communities on the Ayodhya judgment?

Ipsita Chakravarty

Ayodhya – UP – India, 15 November 2019. “People had already decided that we will accept whatever decision the court makes. This is about respecting the court,” said the 45-year-old businessman in Varanasi. He was referring to the city’s Muslim community.

The court decision that had been accepted calmly was the ruling on the Ayodhya land title dispute, which paves the way for a Ram temple on the site where the Babri Masjid had been demolished. The Supreme Court had also ordered the allocation of five acres of land for a mosque in Ayodhya.

“It does not mean that we are happy with it,” the businessman said. It had been a property dispute but the court seemed to have no evidential basis for its judgment, and was there no other land to build a temple?

A young Muslim journalist based in Varanasi was more blunt. “We had expected that there would be a decision, not justice,” she said. “But we had not expected the judgment to go so much against us.”

There was no proof of a Ram mandir ever having existed on the site, she pointed out, and the Supreme Court had admitted that a mosque built by Babur had stood there. “The Supreme Court gave such a baffling judgment,” she said.

But if there is bitterness, both businessman and journalist also speak of keeping the peace, of not wanting “more damage to the country”.

The businessman preferred to dwell on how people from all faiths had been invited to a chhat puja on the ghats of Varanasi, how Eid-Milad-un-Nabi processions had passed off peacefully a day after the verdict.

An unquiet silence

With the November 9 judgment, the Supreme Court decided on an matter that has riven the political life of India post Independence. What began as a sullen legal dispute in 1949, when idols were smuggled into the inner sanctum of the mosque, became a communal flashpoint after 1992, when a Hindutva mob demolished the mosque.

Since then, the dispute has triggered riots that killed thousands, cut through the social fabric of villages across North India and poisoned political speeches, especially those of the Hindu Right. For close to three decades, Ayodhya has been a byword for polarisation in Indian politics.

The final judgment, decades in the making, has been read by many as serving majoritarian interests. Yet there have been few protests from the minority, whose claims to the site have been dismissed.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi rejected the offer of alternative land for a mosque, and has found growing support on social media. A few voices have urged a review petition.

But, on the whole, Muslim political and socio-religious leaders said the verdict in favour of a Ram temple had to be accepted. Even in North India, where Ayodhya resonates the most, Muslim communities took in the judgment with stoic calm.

Going by reports, Muslims in Ayodhya expressed sorrow and helplessness. In Old Delhi, Muslim shopkeepers were more worried about businesses that had struggled after demonetisation and a shrinking job market.

After years of contestation, what explains this lack of protest? There are no easy answers. But social scientists point to the place of the Babri Masjid in the Muslim faith, how the dispute figured in Muslim identity politics, the absence of a monolithic Muslim identity in India, as well as a growing majoritarian consensus.

Not a special mosque

“Babri was a mosque for us but not a special mosque,” said the businessman from Varanasi. “It is not like Muslims from all over the country came to pray there. For us, the important places are Mecca and Medina.”

The Babri dispute has always been a mix of the sacred and secular. For a section of Hindus, the site was the birthplace of Ram. For Muslims, it was consecrated ground. But it was not central to the faith, many argue.

“Babri wasn’t even a grand mosque like Jamia Masjid,” said Saeed Naqvi, journalist and author of Being the Other: The Muslim in India. “If you say Ramchander ji was born here and I say Prophet Muhammad was born here then we have a contest.”

Over the years, the Mughal-era mosque had paled in religious significance for Muslims. Even if the plot had been allotted to Muslims, the journalist from Varanasi explained, they would not have been able to pray there, the tenets of Islam said prayers could not be offered on disputed land.

Political scientist Hilal Ahmed even contends that Babri had become an “irrelevant mosque” for Muslims, especially after 1992. “The mosque or at least the structure of it, was demolished in 1992, hence, there is no mosque at all there on the disputed land,” he explained.

“On the other hand, there is a functional Hindu temple, which is open to all Hindus.

A Hindu can visit this temple, offer bhog to the deity and commemorate lord Ram’s birthplace on the site where Babri Masjid once stood. However, this is not the case with Muslims. A Muslim is not allowed to offer prayers on this land.

This legal restriction discourages the Muslims from asserting their religious claim on this site for regular namaz etc, as the Babri Masjid does not have any special religious status for Muslim communities.”

A secular debate

Rather, Muslim claims to the site have been rooted in questions of historicity and legality.

In his book, Muslim Political Discourse in Postcolonial India: Monuments, Memory, Contestation, Ahmed writes that the dominant Muslim position on the dispute hewed close to the “secular, objective” position: that there was little evidence to support the presence of a Ram temple on the site, the monument was a part of India’s national heritage, the dispute was not just a local issue but spoke to the rights of religious minorities in India.

Local Muslim narratives, Ahmed argues, connected legal and historical facts with myths and folklore.

The deserted hilltop in Ayodhya had been a site for Sufi worship, according to local folklore. The prayers of Sufi mystics had helped Babur win the Battle of Panipat against Sikander Lodhi, and so the victorious Mughal ordered the construction of a mosque on the spot.

Local histories also note the presence of Hindu bairagis who forced their way in and built a platform in the outer courtyard of the mosque but continued to worship there at the indulgence of the nawab of Awadh. The Hindu-Muslim unity of Awadh was only disrupted by the British, who created the dispute, according to the local narrative.

At least some of these ideas still endure in the former kingdom of Awadh. For centuries, Hindus and Muslims had lived together and fought together, said the businessman from Varanasi. “It was the British who created these divisions to get power,” he explained.

Both dominant and local Muslim positions sought negotiations in the domain of law. It was only briefly, in the 1980s, that these legal contestations entered the political domain, Ahmed argues.

The political Babri

The 1980s saw Muslim political responses shaped by an increasingly animated Hindu Right. In 1984, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad started an active campaign for the Ram temple and in 1986, the Faizabad district court allowed the mosque to be unlocked after decades.

With that, Babri entered a wider current of Muslim identity politics, Ahmed argues, becoming the symbol of a “collective Muslim resistance”.

The Babri Masjid Action Committee was formed soon after the gates were unlocked, Muslim parties such as the AIMIM as well as Muslim political and religious leaders joined in political mobilisations, mostly in North Indian cities.

It was a decade marked by other battles of identity, the Shah Bano case, which triggered a debate over Muslim personal law, and the Satanic Verses, the Salman Rushdie novel which incurred a fatwa.

The Babri case was folded into the demand for a law to protect the right to worship in other mosques. But the Muslim agitations could not prevent the performance of the shilanya, or stone laying, for a Ram temple in 1989. That same year, Ram Lalla Virajaman, the deity itself, represented by a “sakha” or “friend”, became a party to the title suit.

It proved to be an inflection point for Muslim identity politics around Babri. “The common Muslims, who were mobilised in the name of protecting the mosque, were always told that Babri Masjid was a political failure for them,” said Ahmed.

There was a victory of sorts in 1991, when the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act was passed, ensuring that the religious character of places of worship would be maintained as it existed on August 15, 1947. But while it boosted the legal proceedings, political mobilisations receded, especially after the demolition.

“All Muslim parties and groups decided to recognise the AIMPLB’s [All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s] High Power Committee as the core body to look after the legal case on Babri Masjid after its demolition,” said Ahmed. “The Babri Masjid Action Committee passed a resolution on December 1, 1993, to suspend all the agitational programmes and activities.”

Which Muslim politics?

In the decades after the demolition, the Ram Mandir became a core issue for the Bharatiya Janata Party and its Hindu nationalist project, which involved the attempt to construct a homogenising Hindutva politics.

It helped propel the party from two seats in 1984 to over 300 seats in 2019, Naqvi observes. But after the mobilisations of the 1980s, no such consolidated identity politics was visible among Muslim communities across the country.

Naqvi, for one, is indignant when asked about a “Muslim response” to the Babri dispute. Muslims in India were a diverse group, ranging across states, speaking different languages, with varying political impulses and responses.

Most Indian Muslims wanted social harmony, he said, it was a section of the religious and political leadership which kept Babri alive to stay relevant.

Besides, social scientists and writers point out, Muslim communities wanted to be identified as political subjects outside “Muslim issues”. But they had been boxed in, by socio-religious and political leaders from within the community and by the wider sweep of politics, even apparently secular politics.

“Muslims wanted jobs, security, entrepreneurial help. But what has the system imposed on them? Babri, Shah Bano, Satanic Verses,” said Naqvi.

Living in a majoritarian state

Beneath the quiet after the Ayodhya judgment, there is also a dry-eyed recognition of political realities. Even if the court had awarded the land to the Muslim parties, Naqvi says, they would never have been able to build a mosque their in the current climate of majoritarian bullying.

Some of the silence is dictated by fear. The journalist in Varanasi spoke of FIRs against Muslims in Uttar Pradesh who had criticised majoritarian policies or politics on social media. The businessman did not want to be named, “you know what the political situation is”.

It had created silences in personal relationships. “Even with Hindu friends, we don’t discuss the the mandir-masjid issue. We don’t want to ruin our relationship with them,” said the journalist.

As for protests, there was no space for the political articulations that were possible even a couple of decades ago. “Earlier, there were politicians who would listen to us. Now, no one will listen to us,” said the journalist.

The sense of political marginalisation was sealed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech after the Ayodhya verdict. “He congratulated Hindus for the mandir but did he talk about Muslims even once? What are they getting?” she asked.

Dawn – Article 370 gone and Ram Temple on the way: What does Modi’s New India look like?

So much has been accomplished by the Hindutva forces in the last 10 months that it is hard to predict what comes next

Rohan Venkataramakrishnan – 10 November 2019. When the year began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announcing, introducing and passing a Constitutional Amendment introducing a 10 per cent quota for the upper-caste poor, we should have known this would have been a year in which just about anything could happen.

The massive mandate Modi’s government was given in the Lok Sabha polls in May only cemented this impression.

And so, this weekend, following a landmark Supreme Court verdict, it became clear that Ayodhya is going to get a Ram Temple on the spot where an organised Hindutva mob in 1992 demolished a 16th-century mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, sparking riots around the country.

If you’re unfamiliar with the history of this case, here’s an extremely basic recap: For over a century, Hindus and Muslims have clashed over this spot in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid stands, with the Hindus claiming it is the birthplace of Ram, one of the avatars of Vishnu.

In 1949, Hindutva organisations conspired to place a Ram idol in the mosque, effectively turning it into a makeshift Hindu temple and leading to a court case over who owns the land.

Then in the 1980s, the BJP and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, used a nationwide campaign for the building of a Ram temple on the spot as a means of whipping up passions (and sparking off violence), culminating in mass-scale vandalism that demolished the mosque on December 6, 1992.

Since then the case had been in court, although it has always been politically volatile, with the BJP promising a Ram temple.

Many faultlines about Indian politics and society were exposed by the case, from the tremendous emotive power of Hindu nationalism to the difficulty other political parties have had in defending secularism, from India’s insistence on turning back to disputes from centuries ago to the growing marginalisation of Muslims.

This reading list should get you caught up on the background

On Saturday, the Supreme Court sat on the weekend to pronounce its decision in the case, after a record 40 days of arguments and two abortive attempts at mediation.

The short version of the verdict: The land goes to the Hindus, and the government has to set up a trust that will oversee all activities on it, including the construction of a temple. To make up for the mosque demolition, the Muslim parties will get another plot of land, double the size, but somewhere else, to be decided by the (BJP-run) state government.

The political implications are myriad, some of which Shoaib Daniyal has collected here.

Here’s my thread on’s coverage of the judgment and The Weekend Fix also collected the most interesting reads from around the web on the subject yesterday.

Even earlier this year, before the elections, there were some people who believed that a Ram temple might not be built in their lifetimes, partly because the promise of one seemed more potent politically than the temple itself.

Yet, things have moved swiftly since then. Modi managed to unilaterally alter the position of Jammu and Kashmir, though until the people of the Valley are free to speak their mind, the fallout of that move remains unclear.

Now, the Supreme Court has cleared the decks for a Ram temple. The question to ask is: What next? Article 370 gone, Ram temple on the way, what could the Modi government have in mind following this?

Its socio-cultural agenda is, to some extent, clear:

  • A pan-India National Register of Citizens, as Home Minister Amit Shah has been promising for some time now, along with the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which combined would essentially mean state-sanctioned harassment of Muslims.
  • A Uniform Civil Code: A long-standing right-wing demand that seeks to abolish the personal law of individual religions, essentially forcing minorities to follow the laws of the majority.
  • An anti-conversion law: Another old demand, in place in a few states, that ties into the Hindu Right’s belief that poor Indians are often converted to Christianity through “bribes”.

In many of these cases, the question is not if but when. Will the BJP find it useful to push everything now, in the hopes that it can blunt the impact of what appears to be a severe slowdown?

Or will it hold on to some of these moves, so that they can be used as selling points ahead of major state elections, or even the Lok Sabha polls in 2024?

So much has been accomplished by the Hindutva forces in the last 10 months that it is hard to predict what comes next. But what is clear is that, despite setbacks at the state-level and an economic slowdown, on the national stage, the BJP’s flag is flying high and for now it can attempt to accomplish just about anything.

This article was originally published in Scroll.In and has been reproduced with permission.
Illustration: Nithya Subramanian – In India, over 56% of multidrug-resistant TBC cases remain undetected and over 64% untreated

Less than 5% of eligible drug-resistant TB patients in India receive the appropriate WHO-recommended medication.

Swagata Yadavar,
New Delhi – India, 06 Tuberculosis cases in India declined by 1.8% from 2.74 million in 2017 to 2.69 million in 2018, but the rate of decline is not enough to meet India’s target of eliminating TBC, a disease that killed one in six of those infected in 2018, by 2025, according to the World Health Organisation’s 2019 Global TBC report.

The rate of decline in India, 1.8% per year, is comparable to the global decline at 2% per year, but given that India has a large number of TBC cases, it needs to reduce TBC cases by 10% every year to meet its TBC elimination target, five years before the global target of 2030.

India accounts for 27% of the 10 million TBC cases globally, the highest in the world and three times the share of TB cases in China, the country with the second-most TBC cases or 9% of global.

An estimated 550,000 TBC cases were not registered with the Indian government and could have been undiagnosed or untreated. About 56% of drug-resistant TBC cases, a more virulent and harder-to-treat variant of regular TBC in which the TBC bacteria becomes resistant to some TBC drugs, were undiagnosed. This makes India’s fight against this infectious disease harder, as those with untreated TB can infect others.

Missing cases

Globally, 7 million new cases were reported out of the estimated 10 million cases, which means 3 million were missing from government records. This gap is due to a combination of underreporting of detected cases and underdiagnosis, which means that people with TBC either do not access healthcare or are not diagnosed when they do.

The Indian government had made notification, registration of TBC patients, mandatory for private health providers since 2012. In 2018, the government said chemists, laboratories and doctors could face jail if they failed to notify TBC patients to the government, as IndiaSpend reported in March 2018.

Notifications of new cases in India rose from 1.2 million to 2.15 million between 2013 and 2018, an increase of 60%, found the Global TBC report. In 2018, about 537,836 cases or, 26.8% of all TBC cases notified, were reported by the private sector, an increase of 35% compared to 2017, according to the government’s 2019 TB report.

About 550,000, or 25% of estimated cases, as we said, were missing from government records. The number of cases not in government records could be higher than these estimates, as about 60% of patients seek treatment in the private sector, according to various studies, and only 25% cases notified were from the private sector in 2018.

These missing cases could be unreported, undiagnosed or untreated. TB is an infected disease and spreads if left untreated, as we said.

Ten countries accounted for about 80% of the gap between reported and estimated cases. The most missing cases were in India (25%) followed by Nigeria (12%), Indonesia (10%) and the Philippines (8%). “In these countries, in particular, intensified efforts are required to improve reporting of detected TB cases and access to diagnosis and treatment,” the Global TB report said.

Quality of patient care

Notification of TBC cases does not mean much, said Chapal Mehra, convenor of Survivors against TBC, a patient advocacy group. While we can see that the reach and quantity of TBC services have expanded, there isn’t any improvement in TBC treatment quality, he said.

“It is one thing to detect and put patients on treatment, another to ensure if the treatment is the correct one,” he said, adding that it wasn’t clear whether patient outcomes were improving.

In the public sector, the treatment success rate for patients was 79% while it was 35% in the private sector, according to the 2019 India TBC report. Treatment success rate by the government’s definition means the completion of treatment, even though the Standard of TBC Care says that a patient should be tested six months and 12 months after the treatment is complete and then classified as treated, as India Spend reported in November 2016.

Partially-treated TBC patients may infect others, or result in drug-resistant TBC, at least partially nullifying India’s attempts to eliminate TBC.

IndiaSpend sought a response from KS Sachdeva, Additional Director General of the Central TB Division, on October 18, but received no response.

Drug-resistant TBC cases

India had an estimated 130,000 drug-resistant TBC cases, 27% of the world’s cases, and double the number of cases in China, the country with the second-most cases of TBC.

In 2018, India diagnosed 44%, or around 58,347 of the estimated multidrug-resistant cases or MDR-TBC, in which the TBC bacteria is resistant to at least two of the main anti-TBC drugs. Of these, 46,569, or around 35.8% of estimated cases, were put on treatment, the Global TB report said. This leaves 56% of estimated MDR-TB patients undiagnosed and 64% untreated.

India and China accounted for 43% of the gap between the estimated incidence of MDR-TBC and its treatment.

One of the barriers to access to treatment of drug-resistant TB is that management of TB is centralised and over-reliant on hospitals, the Global TBC report said. “Greater decentralisation of services and expansion of ambulatory models of care are needed.” – India has decided to eliminate one of the root causes of terrorism, Modi says in Thailand

The prime minister added that his government wanted to develop North East India as the gateway for South East Asia.

Bangkok – Thailand, 02 November 2019. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said India had eliminated a big reason for terrorism and separatism, in apparent reference to the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and the reorganisation of the state.

“You are aware that India has decided to eliminate one of the root causes of terrorism and separatism,” Modi said while addressing the Indian diaspora in Thailand, PTI reported. “When a decision is right, its echo is heard across the globe.” He said that his government was trying to do things that were earlier thought impossible.

He was speaking in Bangkok’s Nimibutr Stadium at the ‘Sawasdee PM Modi’ event. Sawasdee is the Thai word used for greetings.

The prime minister in Thailand on a three-day visit to attend the 16th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit, the 14th East Asia Summit, and the third Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Summit. Modi and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will co-chair the ASEAN-India summit on Sunday.

When Modi referred to Article 370 during his address to the diaspora, he received a standing ovation, reports said. “This standing ovation from you is for the Parliament of India,” Modi said in response, according to the Hindustan Times.

India had on August 5 rescinded the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution, paving the way for the creation of the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. These came into existence on October 31.

Modi also referred to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory in the Lok Sabha elections held in April and May this year. “India is the world’s biggest democracy, and in this year’s elections, our people blessed me even more than last time,” he said, while listing his government’s projects. He attributed the voter turnout during the elections to his government’s achievements.

He also praised the “deep friendly and historical relationship” between Thailand and India, and added that his government wanted to connect North East India to Thailand. “We want to develop it as the gateway for South East Asia,” Modi said.

“Once the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway is opened, there will be seamless connectivity between both our countries,” he added. “I am glad that all of you will have a chance to be part of this story.”

Does the Prime Minister really think that by making Delhi rule over Jammu & Kashmir even more oppressive Terrorism and Seperatism will ‘disappear’ ? Or is the next step declaring all Muslims in J & K as Pakistanis and sent them across the border ?
Man in Blue – Gandhi vs Mahatma – Gandhi’s racism: It’s time for the Mahatma to become a properly historical figure with all his flaws

I prefer a flawed Gandhi to his saintly effigy, just as I prefer the problematic figures of his political descendants Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

Faisal Devji

Op/Ed, 28 October 2019. If the memory of Mahatma Gandhi lives on today, then it is mainly thanks to his enemies, who seem unable to forget him. The Mahatma’s followers, on the other hand, have turned him into a saint whose teachings can safely be ignored as the words of a superior being to be admired from afar.

Given the ritualistic respect offered to Gandhi in India, which is received with public indifference, it is puzzling why he remains so alive for his critics. Perhaps they are the only ones who continue to feel betrayed by Gandhi’s loss of sainthood.

For Indians, this betrayal is renewed with each new generation, as scholars and activists discover yet another of the Mahatma’s failings. During the 1980s in the wake of second-wave feminism in India, it was his treatment of women that came under the spotlight.

And in the 1990s, with the rise of caste politics in India, it was Gandhi’s views about untouchability that were questioned. In our own time, the worldwide focus on racism has unsurprisingly led him to be accused of this sin as well.

What is unprecedented about the condemnations of Gandhi’s racism, however, is that they are not limited to India but have become global, with statues of the Mahatma being attacked in South Africa and removed in Ghana.

I had a taste of this myself earlier this year, when I suggested on the Oxford and Colonialism Working Group email list that we might begin our efforts to make imperial history visible in the University by marking Gandhi’s visit there in 1931.

This would be followed by commemorations of other anti-colonial figures who had visited Oxford with conferences, rooms named in their honour, and plaques, for example.

Political naivete

I was opposed by a former student and fellow academic who had been active in the Rhodes Must Fall movement in Oxford, which sought to follow South Africa’s precedent by removing a statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College. The movement was attacked in the press and finally failed once alumni and donors threatened to pull their donations from the college.

His was not the only critique, however. He was followed by another academic activist interested in caste issues who had been a student at Oxford, and then by a student from Birmingham who accused both Gandhi and Nehru of being anti-Sikh.

As this debate was going on, I received private messages of support from many others, who were perhaps uncomfortable with making their views about race known in public because they were white.

The only Oxford student who intervened in the debate, and the only Indian citizen to do so, pointed out how politically naïve it was for these critics in effect to make common cause with the most violent elements of India’s far right, who also accuse Gandhi of racism while celebrating his assassination. Gandhi, he pointed out, is no longer the enemy for progressives there.

Like other critics of Gandhi’s racism, those who commented on my proposal offered personal rather than properly historical analyses of it, thus falling into the very moralism they despise in Gandhi and revealing their frustrated desire for the saint he has failed to be.

I prefer a flawed Gandhi to his saintly effigy, just as I prefer the problematic figures of his political descendants Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, whose sexual and other lapses have not resulted in their statues being vandalised or names banned from commemoration.

Personality over politics

The Rhodes Must Fall activists who had complained about Oxford bowing to outside pressure were now the outsiders trying to prevent us from making colonial history visible in the University.

The academic who led the campaign to remove Gandhi’s statue from the University of Ghana had likewise focused on his personality rather than his politics, making moral virtue the benchmark for commemoration and thus establishing a competition in purity.

Should statues of the dictator Kwame Nkrumah be removed from Accra as well? And how might anti-colonialism be understood if such figures are all written out of its history?

South Africa plays an interesting role in terms of virtue signalling on university campuses and in liberal society in the West more generally. The fact that the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa attacked African and Indian professors, eventually descending into violence, does not seem to worry the movement’s followers in Oxford.

South Africa’s belated independence represents an opportunity for the West to be on the right side of imperial history for the first time, by re-running the script of de-colonisation to condemn apartheid and celebrate the emergence of a “rainbow nation”. This means that finally white liberals can claim the virtue of anti-colonialism.

Yet such invocations of diversity also emerged out of the African colonies, whose administrators used the term “multi-racialism” to describe societies in which whites needed to hold the balance between Africans and Indians (and sometimes Arabs as well).

Seen as a source of both moral and political corruption, Indians – but not Europeans – were often (and sometimes still are) forbidden from owning agricultural land so as to protect Africans from their rapacity. Indians in Africa thus came to occupy the role of alien middlemen familiar in anti-Semitic discourse.

Anti-Indian rioters

But there is more to the story of Gandhi’s racism than such campus controversies. The global interest in the Mahatma’s moral failings has just as much to do with the dissolution of anti-colonial solidarity worldwide. The growth of India and China as economic and military powers has lifted them out of the old world order of Afro-Asian unity to compete for their own status vis-à-vis the West.

Gandhi would have been against this development of course, but he must nonetheless pay for it through loss of reputation, being the most famous representative of India and Indians globally.

Attacks on statues of Gandhi, therefore, are also attacks on Indian communities in places like South Africa, where his house and settlement at Phoenix were destroyed by anti-Indian rioters in 1986.

Such attacks on minorities also include the murderous violence against African migrants from neighbouring countries (which South Africa dominates economically in fulfilment of the aims of apartheid).

The arguments deployed against Indians by men such as the South African militant Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, continue to follow a classically anti-Semitic script in their depiction of an insular and exploitative community.
Credit: AFP

It is no coincidence that Julius Malema and his violent followers have selected Gandhi as a favourite target, even using a book written by two of the Mahatma’s critics in South Africa to support them. This volume, which has become the standard account of Gandhi’s racism, was published by Stanford University Press in a series for which I am an editor.

While disagreeing with its views on this issue, I had reviewed, approved and even endorsed it for describing the independent political activism of the Mahatma’s compatriots in South Africa.

Having been reduced to useful stooges for Malema’s movement, while at the same time being attacked by him for defending the very Indians they wanted to bring out from under Gandhi’s shadow, these authors will now have to rethink their politics.

Because Gandhi’s racism stands in for Indian racism in general across sub-Saharan Africa, with long-standing anti-Indian narratives there drawing on tropes that were once invoked by Idi Amin to expel tens of thousands of Indians from Uganda.

Caste and race

Brutal forms of racism undoubtedly exist in India, as any African student or businessperson there will attest. However, prejudiced as they may be, the Indian minorities in African countries cannot be accused of holding any real race power there, although, like the Jews, they are often charged with using financial inducements to exercise power surreptitiously.

In fact, Indian communities have been socially and legally discriminated against in a number of African countries, and occasionally they have even been forced to leave their homes.

Gandhi’s critics never link their accusations about his racism in South Africa with the present-day African context of racialised attacks on Indians.

Instead, the racial character of such attacks is often concealed under the fig-leaf of solidarity between Africans and low-caste or Dalit Indians, who serve as exceptions to the racist norm represented by the Mahatma and Indian minorities generally.

Comparisons between Dalits and African-Americans in particular go back to the “untouchable” leader Ambedkar himself, who was both the Mahatma’s contemporary and his enemy.

Apart from the questionable merits of using caste to think about race and vice versa, this revival of a black political rather than ethnic identity is as deeply nostalgic as the celebration of South Africa as a rainbow nation re-writing the script of decolonisation that other African nations can be seen to have betrayed.

In Britain, meanwhile, where it had been pioneered in the 1970s, the rise of Islamism and other religious forms of identity broke black politics by the end of the 1980s, ushering in new kinds of religious solidarity as well as new forms of discrimination such as Islamophobia.

Two charges have been levelled against Gandhi. The first is that he never spoke for the liberty of Africans or involved them in his movement, and the second is that he considered Africans to be inferior and sought to keep Indians separate from them. However, unless he was invited to do so, the Mahatma never spoke for any community of which he was not a member.

He conceived of non-violence as an exemplary rather than prescriptive practice, which would attract emulation to maintain an anarchistic social plurality. And of course, had he presumed to speak for Africans, it is certain that today he would be accused of patronising and appropriating their struggles, as indeed he often is by Dalit activists.

Legal compulsions

South Africa was a society whose racialised populations were treated differently by law. As a lawyer hired to defend Indian privileges, Gandhi was unable to challenge the legal system itself.

And the law ensured he could only defend these privileges by making sure Indians were not identified with Africans, as was the case with all non-white minorities throughout eastern and central Africa.

Although he likely approved of this separation personally, in line with his caste-defined ideas of plurality, Gandhi also insisted on treating wounded Zulus in the ambulance corps he led during the Bambatha Rebellion, with whom his political sympathies also lay.

When he was no longer serving as a lawyer, Gandhi’s derogatory comments about Africans ceased, and in his book Satyagraha in South Africa he contrasted Zulus favourably with Indians on every count.

Eventually, he would see African-Americans as the most hopeful agents of non-violence worldwide and would prove to be a significant influence on their struggle. Nonetheless, given their legal status as British subjects of the Raj, the Mahatma had to fight for his compatriots as Indians, since no such juridical or political subject as “South African” existed.

His demand was therefore an international rather than a South African one, and consisted in compelling India to uphold the status of her citizens across the British Empire.

Calling the Mahatma’s first satyagraha (passive resistance) a South African action, as he himself did, is, therefore, something of a misnomer, as it depended on the involvement of India, and therefore London, for traction. And expecting Gandhi to fight for the freedom of all South Africans is anachronistic.

South Africa was only one site of this struggle, with Gandhi interested in the status of Indians all over the British Empire, from Kenya to Mauritius to Guyana, Fiji and Trinidad. His movement became a global one when Gandhi sought to, and in fact succeeded in, abolishing indenture, which was the Indian successor to African slavery and supplied labour for much of the Empire.

Perhaps Gandhi was a racist, but we get no sense of this from his enemies, whose personalised arguments deprive his thought of integrity and ignore the many contexts in which he operated.

After all, even accusing Hitler of racism is a meaningless generality, since we can only understand Hitler’s violence by taking its intellectual justification and historical context into consideration as well. Instead of merely turning the saint into a sinner, then, it is time for the Mahatma to become a properly historical figure with all its flaws, for his friends as much as for his enemies.

Faisal Devji is Professor of Indian History and Director of the Asian Study Centre at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. – Canada: 18 Sikh leaders elected to Parliament, five more than India

One of the Sikh leaders, Jagmeet Singh, is being seen as a kingmaker because Justin Trudeau, who lost majority, will need his help to form the government.

Ottawa – Ontario – Canada, 23 October 2019. As many as 18 Sikhs were voted to the Canadian Parliament in the recently-concluded federal elections. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday won a second term after his Liberal Party secured 157 of 338 seats.

However, Trudeau will lead a minority government as his party failed to secure the majority of 170. The main opposition, the conservatives, secured 121 seats.

The number of Sikhs in the Canadian Parliament’s lower house, the House of Commons, is higher than those in India’s Lok Sabha even though Sikhs make up about 2% of the population in both countries, The Times of India reported on Wednesday. India has 13 Sikh MPs in the Lower House.

Among the newly-elected Sikh MPs in Canada, 13 are from the Liberal Party, four from the Conservative Party and one is from the New Democratic Party.

The Liberals include Harjit Singh Sajjan, Randeep Singh Sarai and Sukh Dhaliwal from British Columbia; Navdeep Singh Bains, Gagan Sikand, Rameshwar Singh Sangha, Maninder Singh Sidhu, Kamal Khera, Ruby Sahota, Sonia Sidhu, Bardish Chagger and Raj Saini from Ontario, and Anju Dhillon from Quebec.

Alberta MPs Tim Singh Uppal, Jasraj Singh Hallan and Jag Sahota, and Ontario’s Bob Saroya are Conservative members. New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh won from British Columbia province. Jagmeet Singh is being seen as a kingmaker because Trudeau’s party will need his New Democratic Party’s help to form the government.

The New Democratic Party won 24 seats, losing nearly 50% of the seats it had won in 2015 but the Left-leaning party is still expected to play a major role.