The Hindu – #MeToo: M J Akbar threatens to take legal action against journalists who accused him of harassment

Special Correspondent

New Delhi – India, 14 October 2018. Akbar attributed the allegations to motives other than the #Metoo movement’s aims to out sexual predators.

Union minister M J Akbar on Sunday threatened to take legal action against several women journalists who had accused him of sexual harassment at two newspapers where he had been editor.

There was no suggestion in Mr Akbar’s statement that he would resign from the Union Council of Ministers.

In a detailed statement to ANI, Mr Akbar, who returned this morning from Africa where he had been leading an Indian delegation on various events, said that “accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections.

Whatever be the case, now that I have returned, my lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action”.

Mr. Akbar attributed the allegations to motives other than the #Metoo movement’s aims of outing sexual predators. “Why has this storm risen a few months before the general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge. These false, baseless and wild allegations have caused irreparable damage to my reputation and goodwill,” he said.

“Lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped into a frenzy. This is deeply distressing. I will be taking appropriate legal action,” he added. Referring to journalist Priya Ramani, who had first spoken about Mr. Akbar’s alleged behaviour with female colleagues, he said, “Priya Ramani began this campaign a year ago with a magazine article.

She did not, however name me as she knew it was an incorrect story. When asked recently why she had not named me, she replied, in a tweet, ‘never named him because he didn’t do anything’.”

“If I didn’t do anything, where and what is the story? There is no story, but a sea of innuendo, speculation and abusive diatribe has been built around something that never happened. Some are total unsubstantiated hearsay, others confirm on the record that I didn’t do anything,” he added.

Mr Akbar’s statement seems to suggest that calls for his resignation were not going to be entertained by the Union government. He is scheduled to meet External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj later in the evening.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/metoo-mj-akbar-threatens-to-take-legal-action-against-women-journalists/article25220032.ece?homepage=true

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The Hindu – Maneka Gandhi proposes committee of legal experts to look into #MeToo cases

She asserts that she believed in the “pain and trauma” of every complainant.

New Delhi – India, 12 October 2018. The Women and Child Development Ministry plans to set up a panel of legal experts to look into allegations of sexual harassment that have surfaced in the #MeToo campaign, Minister Maneka Gandhi said on Friday. She asserted that she believed in the “pain and trauma” of every complainant.

More women should come out and address the issue of sexual harassment and narrate their experiences, she said.

“I believe in all of them. I believe in the pain and trauma behind every single complainant,” she told PTI in an interview.

Ms Gandhi did not comment on the allegations of sexual harassment against her colleague M J Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs, who has been accused by several former colleagues of sexual harassment when he served as editor at various media organisations.

Film director Sajid Khan and actor Alok Nath are among those accused of sexual misconduct and more.

“I am proposing to set up a committee with senior judicial and legal persons as members to look into all issues emanating from the #MeToo campaign,” Ms. Gandhi said.

The committee will look into the legal and institutional framework in place for handling complaints of sexual harassment, including some of the complaints if required, and advise the ministry on how to strengthen these, she said.

‘Elephants in the rooms for the last 25 years’

“It takes a lot for women to come out like this. These cases have been elephants in the rooms for the last 25 years. The question here is how can they prove these after all these years… they have faced verbal assault, they have been touched, pinched, their clothes have been pulled…

“The first thing to do is naming and shaming these monsters. Naming and shaming will go a long way in lessening the pain these women have been carrying,” she said.

The next step, she said, was to set up a committee that could listen to the women.

Urging women to come out with their stories, Ms. Gandhi said men who sexually harassed them depend on them to be shamed into keeping quiet.

She said her Ministry had created a woman-friendly environment in which they could complain to her directly. Even anonymous complaints would be addressed.

Ms Gandhi said women could complain through the She Box (www.shebox.nic.in), which provides a single window access to every woman, irrespective of her work status to register complaints related to sexual harassment.

Complaints could also be lodged at min-wcd@nic.in, she said. All the cases would be closely monitored by the Ministry.

“Regarding taking action against those that are in office, I am really hopeful that the system will react because I believe that these complaints are true,” she said.

According to the Minister, protecting women had been the watchword of the present government with the ”Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” campaign one of its flagship schemes.

“The Prime Minister has always given top priority to the rights of women. The first programme that he launched was Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. We don’t save our daughters to allow big shots to insult them later in life. I will do what I can do to help them,” she said, adding that women should raise their voices.

“They should speak out and in one jolt finish off this matter altogether so that men are frightened from ever sexually assaulting or making women uncomfortable.”

India’s #MeToo movement, which started with actor Tanushree Dutta alleging that actor Nana Patekar harassed her during a film shoot in 2008, has escalated sharply with increasing number of women coming forward with their complaints.

Demands for action against Mr. Akbar have also been rising.

While most BJP leaders and ministers have refrained from commenting, on Thursday, Textiles Minister Smriti Irani said Mr Akbar himself would be better positioned to speak on the issue.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/maneka-gandhi-proposes-committee-of-legal-experts-to-look-into-metoo-cases/article25206186.ece?homepage=true

The Hindu – No comment yet from Ministry of External Affairs on journalist’s charges against Minister M J Akbar

Special Correspondent

New Delhi – India, 09 October 2018. Senior journalist Priya Ramani alleges she was harassed by him in a hotel room when he was editor of a newspaper.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is yet to comment on senior journalist Priya Ramani allegation that she was made to feel uncomfortable and harassed by Minister of State (MoS) for External Affairs M J Akbar in a hotel room when he was the editor of a newspaper (The Asian Age).

The Samajwadi Party (SP) has called for the Minister of State to step down from office. Its spokesman Ghanshyam Tiwari was quoted as demanding Mr Akbar’s resignation.

The Minister, who served as editor of several leading publications over the last four decades, is yet to respond to the allegation.

Minister in Nigeria

Mr Akbar is leading a 70-member business delegation to Nigeria for a conclave. The event will conclude on Tuesday. He has not posted any new comment on his social media handles over the last three days after which the allegation surfaced.

The allegation against Mr Akbar comes amid a series of charges of sexual harassment by a large number of women against some leading Bollywood personalities and editors / senior journalists.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/no-comment-yet-from-ministry-on-charges-against-akbar/article25165353.ece

The Hindu – Deportation fears rise at Rohingya camp in Delhi

Rohingya refugees say they will not go back till the Indian government assures their rights, safety.

Saurabh Trivedi

New Delhi – India, 06 October 2018. The 235 Rohingya refugees staying at the Kalindi Kunj camp are worried about their future after the government deported seven of them on Friday. Most of refugees in the camp earn a living as daily-wage labourers and e-rickshaw or autorickshaw drivers.

They alleged that the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) had refused to extend their visas, which expired in 2017.

Abdullah,who stays at the camp, said, “We are already suffering. By deporting us, they [the Indian government] are pushing us to certain death. Why are we treated as refugees and not human beings?

We do not know what freedom means. We are happy in India and get what we never got in Myanmar. We want to live here like any other Indian citizen.”

The refugees said a police team had visited the camp on Monday and distributed a six-page nationality verification form titled ‘Personal Data Form’. The police asked each of them to fill the form, complete with a photograph, by Thursday.

“A policeman came to collect the forms [on Thursday] but most of us refused to fill them. We do not want to go back till the Indian government assures our rights and safety in Myanmar.

The Indian government will send these forms to Myanmar, where the authorities will forge details and use them as needed,” said Mohammad Shakir, who stays at the camp with his family.

Sanjida Begum, who lives here with her 17-year-old son, said she will only go back to Myanmar once the situation is back to normal.

“My house in Myanmar was set afire and my husband remains untraceable. My son is too young to get a job, and my community does not allow me work. NGOs and the government have been taking care of us,” she said.

A major fire broke out in the camp on April 16. The residents were rehabilitated on an adjacent piece of land, with the government providing all basic necessities.

“We lost everything, including our United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] cards. However, they were reissued within two days. We were provided with all facilities, including electricity and ration.

Our visa, which were issued in 2014, expired in 2017 but the FRRO refused to extend [them] citing procedural delay,” said Samil Mullah, a refugee who runs a grocery shop in the camp.

The refugees said they will be killed in Myanmar if get deported.

“We want the Government of India to assure our freedom in Myanmar. If it cannot do this, let us stay here peacefully. We will never demand anything,” said Faiyaz Ahmed.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/by-deporting-us-they-are-pushing-us-to-certain-death-rohingya-refugees/article25137455.ece

The Hindu – Crimes against women in Haryana: As they rise, men push them back

Last month in Rewari, a student on her way to class was abducted, drugged, and gang-raped by three young men. The author reports on how the growing crimes against women in Haryana are stifling their freedom and aspirations.

Ashok Kumar

Rewari – Haryana – India, 06 October 2018. Rewari’s Civil Hospital is a drab, double-storey structure that caters to roughly 15 lakh people living in and around the district.

Sitting on a wooden bench in the hospital premises, in a small park littered with plastic cups, cigarette butts and polythene bags, is a frail man, mostly unnoticed by the crowd of visitors hurrying past him.

In his late forties, he is a meagrely paid Physical Training Instructor at a local school. He augments his modest income by training kabaddi students in his village.

He fought against all odds, including the violently patriarchal mindset entrenched in Haryana’s culture, to fulfil the aspirations of his teenage daughter, a Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) topper in Haryana.

On this September afternoon, he cuts a forlorn figure. His “little princess”, sexually assaulted by three men from his own village on the morning of September 12, is undergoing treatment inside the hospital.

“Having struggled all my life to make both ends meet, I just wanted to see my daughter stand on her own feet and get a government job,” he says.

The girl’s teachers and friends fondly remember the teenager as “obedient”, “studious” and “industrious”. In 2016, she was invited by the Ministry of Defence for the Republic Day parade, and was part of a select group of students that met the President, a proud moment for her family.

“Most of the girls in the village quit studies after middle school (Class VIII) as they have to walk 4-5 km to the nearest senior secondary school,” says Ram Prasad, a local villager. “There is no public transport, and that is enough for concerned parents to pull their girls out of school.

But despite his limited resources, the teenager’s father got her admitted to a private school in Mahendergarh (around 25 km from their village) where he is an employee. The father-daughter duo would commute together in a school bus everyday.”

The 19-year-old opted out of regular college and enrolled at a coaching institute, located about 20 km away, which was an hour’s ride by bus. She had represented her school in kabaddi and baseball at State-level competitions, and also excelled in academics. She devoted herself to preparing for competitive examinations.

On that fateful morning, she left as usual for her coaching class in Mahendergarh. But unbeknownst to her, three young men from her own village began following her in a car and two motorcycles.

When she got down at her usual stop near her coaching centre, the trio allegedly abducted her, drugged her, and transported her to a secluded tube-well room on the outskirts of their village, where they took turns to rape her for several hours.

“We found out much later that they had been trailing us right from our village,” says the father. “Both of us boarded the school bus from our home at seven in the morning. When my daughter got down at her designated bus stop, I waved her goodbye.”

Insensitivity of the police

The teenager’s father is deeply pained that among the alleged rapists was someone who he had trained in kabaddi. Pankaj, an army jawan, had been his student since the age of ten.

The father also feels let down by the system in his quest for justice.

A man with limited financial resources, he borrowed a few thousand rupees from his relatives, hired a vehicle, and reached the Women’s Police Station, set up in all the districts of Haryana to deal specifically with crimes against women, in Rewari around midnight, along with his wife and daughter, to report the crime.

But the Station House Officer, Sub-Inspector Heeramani, who was later suspended, threw their complaint out. She accused the victim of fabricating stories to implicate “innocent boys” and deprive her of sleep in the middle of the night.

Claiming that she had dealt with a similar case two days ago, she chose to interrogate the hapless teenager, who was already in deep distress, and embarrass her in front of her parents.

A Zero First Information Report (an FIR which can be registered at any police station) was eventually registered two hours after the parents and the teenager came to lodge a case. But their bureaucratic nightmare had only just begun.

The incident had taken place under the jurisdiction of the Kanina Police Station in Mahendergarh, and the Rewari Police did not inform their counterparts about the case for more than 24 hours, thereby providing ample time for the accused to abscond.

Recounting the sequence of events that took place in the 48 hours following the registration of the FIR, the teenager’s father says that one of the accused, Nishu, came to their house the morning after they had lodged the FIR and threatened them with dire consequences if they did not withdraw their complaint.

“While the accused were roaming freely, the Kanina Police told me on the evening of September 13 that they were yet to receive the FIR from Rewari. It was only the next morning that the FIR was finally received by the Mahendergarh Police.

More than 30 hours had elapsed since the registration of the case,” he says. And this was a simple procedure that takes barely a few minutes and is done at the click of a button.

The Haryana Police, however, took another 24 hours to fathom the gravity of the crime and constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT). Though Nishu was arrested four days after the crime took place, the SIT took another week to nab Pankaj and his accomplice Manish.

Meanwhile, the Superintendent of Police, Rewari, Rajesh Duggal, was shunted out following allegations of laxity.

Series of rapes

As the investigation progressed, it emerged that the accused are named in a series of gang-rapes, giving credence to rumours that unlawful activities had been going on at the tube-well room for more than a year.

In a press conference held on September 23, the SIT head, Nazneen Bhasin, said that the accused had lured several women from outside the village over the past few months and raped them. She added that the victims could not be positively identified and no complaints were received so far in this regard.

Bhasin also made an appeal to the victims to come forward and lodge complaints. Following her appeal, another woman from the same village has come out and accused Nishu of attempted rape and criminal intimidation.

She said that in September last year, when she was returning home from the fields in the evening, Nishu grabbed her from behind, but fled after she raised an alarm. She finally gathered the courage to complain and lodged an FIR on September 30.

Ram Avtar, a panchayat member from the girl’s village, says: “Everyone knew that the tube-well room had turned into a den of crime, but the villagers were too scared to speak out. The families of the accused were also in the know, but they too chose to keep mum.”

Besides, rumours in the village had it that a girl from a neighbouring village, who had been gang-raped by the accused about a year ago, was murdered, allegedly by her family to protect their honour, further emboldening the culprits.

The tube-well room in question is a single room located far out in the fields and not frequented by the villagers. When the police personnel raided the place, they found it well-stocked with food and liquor in a refrigerator.

Victim, accused knew each other [bold]

The victim and the three prime accused in the case knew each other well and had studied at the same school in Mahendergarh at different points in time. Nishu, a promising wrestler, had trained at Mahavir Phogat’s Dadri akhara (made famous by the Bollywood hit Dangal) for almost four years.

He was arrested just four days before his scheduled medical examination for a job in the Merchant Navy. As his father, Rajesh Phogat, had lost his right leg in a road accident seven years ago and become bed-ridden, the family’s hopes were pinned on Nishu.

“My son is innocent. He has been framed. It was all done by Pankaj,” claims Rajesh Phogat. He says that Pankaj was alone with the girl at the tube-well room, and when her condition deteriorated, he called Nishu, who was then sleeping at home, to arrange for a doctor.

However, Nishu’s Facebook posts tell another story. They are replete with innuendoes and vulgar remarks. The villagers maintain that Nishu was the most notorious among the three and was sacked from the job of a school bus driver just a month prior to the incident, after school girls complained about his misbehaviour.

Pankaj got married a year ago, after he joined the Indian Army. His seven-month pregnant wife walked out of the marriage after he was named in the FIR, breaking all ties with him and his family.

His mother, Silochna, says that Pankaj had been visiting the teenager’s house since he was in Class V. As a widow, she does not even have the resources to hire a lawyer for her son, she says.

Eighteen-year-old Manish, the youngest of the three accused, just finished his senior secondary school in Mahendergarh and was preparing for a job in the Indian Air Force. His father Om Prakash says that his son, the youngest among four siblings, was framed due to political rivalry in the village.

“Manish and Nishu were not present when Pankaj allegedly abducted the girl. He [Manish] had only gone to drop the girl back to the bus stand in the evening at the insistence of Pankaj,” he says.

Besides the three, five more persons, including a medical practitioner, have been arrested so far by the SIT, on charges of criminal conspiracy, concealment of information, and harbouring the criminals while they were on the run. The medical practitioner, Sanjeev, has two daughters who go to college and a minor son.

When the blood pressure of the teenager dropped dangerously, the accused allegedly telephoned him and told him that a labourer in the fields had fainted. Sanjeev gave first aid to the girl and in a way saved her life.

But the police have charged him with concealment of the crime since he did not inform the police. Local villagers sympathise with him as they believe that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Joblessness and skewed sex ratio

Gangs of unemployed and unmarried youngsters have emerged as troublemakers in almost every village of Haryana over the past few years.

The trend has been attributed to several factors, ranging from lack of employment opportunities and a skewed sex ratio to growing drug addiction. Taken together, these have created a law and order situation marked by rising crimes against women.

As per the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures, Haryana recorded 191 cases of gang-rape in 2016, the highest among Indian States in terms of crime rate, number of crimes reported per lakh of population.

While the national average for gang-rapes in 2016 was 0.3, it was 1.5 for Haryana, earning it the dubious distinction of being the ‘gang-rape capital’ of India.

Haryana stood sixth among all the States in 2016 in terms of crimes against women, with a total of 9,839 cases, contributing to 2.9% of the total.

In one of the most high-profile cases, State Bharatiya Janata Party chief Subhash Barala’s son Vikas and his friend Ashish were arrested in August last year for chasing the daughter of a senior IAS officer in Chandigarh in their car late at night, allegedly in a bid to abduct her.

Both were booked for stalking and drunken driving amid allegations that the police had invoked lighter sections of the Indian Penal Code.

Abductions and killings

In May last year, a 23-year-old woman was abducted on her way to work, gang-raped, and brutally murdered in Haryana’s Sonipat district after she had refused the accused’s proposal for marriage. Her mutilated body was found by a passer-by. Stray dogs had bitten away the victim’s face and the lower portion of her body.

Similarly, the death of a Dalit teenager in Kurukshetra in January this year remains a mystery. The girl’s mutilated body was found in a canal in Haryana’s Jind with 19 injuries. Not satisfied with the probe, the family has been seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the matter.

Human rights activist and former general secretary, All-India Democratic Women’s Association, Jagmati Sangwan, says that Haryana’s girls have been proving their mettle in every sphere of life, be it sports, academics or beauty contests, but they lack a safe environment to realise their dreams.

Referring to an indefinite hunger strike by a bunch of Class IX and X girls at Rewari’s Gothra Tappa village over a year ago, she says the girls were only seeking better facilities in their village school. The government approved their demands on paper, but the situation on the ground has remained unchanged.

While the girls are aiming high, there is no infrastructure in place, y way of stadiums or sports clubs, to help channelise the energies of the unemployed young men in the right direction and nurture their talent.

“Though the villages may not have stadiums, liquor vends at the bus stops are hard to miss, hinting at the priorities of the government,” says Sangwan. Frustrated by the lack of job opportunities and unable to get married due to a skewed sex ratio, the youth have turned into rebels, asserting their masculinity in problematic ways.

Not just young girls, even women in the State are now seeking a greater role in decision-making at the household level, but are denied by men. The various provisions of the law pertaining to crimes against women are rarely implemented due to lack of budget, resources and commitment, says Sangwan.

Need to change mindset of police

Rajbir Deswal, a retired IPS officer, points out that Haryana Police is not unaffected by the “rabid patriarchy” in the State. He adds that there have been attempts to improve the thinking of the police personnel but there is still a long way to go when it comes to being sensitive to women, children and the elderly.

He says the setting up of Women’s Police Stations across the State three years ago has led to an increase in demand for women police personnel, but since there are not enough trained women police officers, inexperienced women personnel and those recruited under the sports quota have to be deputed in these police stations to bridge the demand-supply gap.

“The workload in these women police stations has increased several-fold as most of the cases involve women. Earlier, the women police personnel were not involved in serious investigation and mostly dealt with regulatory jobs.

In fact, the overall policing in the State has been affected adversely by the creation of the Women’s Police Stations in an unprecedented hurry, as they are both understaffed and under-trained for tackling these serious crimes,” says Deswal, now an advocate at the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Deswal, who retired as Additional Director-General, Human Rights and Litigation, believes that changes in the functioning of the khap panchayats have also contributed to the crisis: “In the past, the much misunderstood khaps would rise above petty and partisan considerations in their decisions.

But today, they are dominated by misguided men seeking a shortcut to a political career, and they keep issuing problematic diktats. This has damaged a key social institution that used to play a constructive role.”

Meanwhile, the distraught father is struggling to understand why his daughter has to suffer. “I still cannot find one reason why she had to undergo all this pain and trauma. Is it because she is a woman? Perhaps she was wrong to have big aspirations despite being a woman in this male-dominated society.

But could staying indoors have guaranteed her safety? Maybe, maybe not,” he says. “It is not just those three youngsters but the entire society and the system seem to have conspired to rape her.”

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/as-they-rise-men-push-them-back/article25138135.ece?homepage=true

The Hindu – Kulbhushan Jadhav case: World court to hold four-day public hearing from 18 February 2019

The Hague – Zuidholland – Netherlands, 03 October 2018. The hearings will be streamed live and on demand in English and French on the International Court of Justice’s website as well as on UNO Web TV.

The International Court of Justice will hold a four-day public hearing in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case at The Hague starting 18 February 2019, a statement issued by the principal judicial organ of the United Nations said on 03 October.

Jadhav, 47, was sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on spying charges in April 2017. India moved the ICJ in May 2017 against the verdict. The world court has halted Jadhav’s execution on India’s appeal pending the final verdict by it.

Both India and Pakistan have already submitted their detailed pleas and responses in the world court.

“The hearings will be streamed live and on demand (VOD) in English and French on the Court’s website as well as on UNO Web TV, the United Nations online television channel,” said the press release issued by the ICJ.

Pakistan says its security forces arrested Jadhav from Balochistan Province in March 2016 after he reportedly entered the country from Iran.

In its submission to the ICJ, Pakistan had stated that Jadhav is not an ordinary person as he had entered the country with the intent of spying and carrying out sabotage activities.

India denies all the charges and maintains that Jadhav was kidnapped from Iran where he had business interests after retiring from the Navy and that he has no links with the government.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kulbhushan-jadhav-case-world-court-to-hold-four-day-public-hearing-from-february-18-2019/article25114510.ece?homepage=true

The Hindu – Supreme Court: a crusade for women’s rights

Supreme Court’s challenge to patriarchy has been on-going across Benches, CJIs

Krishnadas Rajagopal

New Delhi – India, 01 October 2018. The past two years have seen the Supreme Court progressively question patriarchy in religion to ensure emancipation for women, and set the course for the future.

But majority decisions in the court continue to take cover behind legal technicalities when it comes to politically-charged cases like the Ayodhya dispute and the arrest of five activists in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case.

The court has not shied away from confronting age-old personal law practices, usages and customs which were considered taboo.

Gender bias

Chief Justice Dipak Misra belled the proverbial cat when he wrote in his main opinion that “historically, women have been treated unequally”. No philosophy has so far convinced the large population of this country to open up and accept women as equal partners journey of spirituality, the Chief Justice wrote in the Sabarimala case.

In Sabarimala, the court held that the ban on women, based on their menstrual status, considering them as “polluted” and a distraction for worshippers vowed to celibacy, is a “form of untouchability”.

In no uncertain terms, the court told the world that India still practices untouchability 63 years after the social evil was abolished under the Untouchability (Offences) Act in 1955.

The fact that the court, despite the changes in Chief Justices, has remained steadfast in its objective to realise the equal status of women in religion was witnessed in October 2016 when a Bench led by then Chief Justice of India T S Thakur drew a parallel between the restriction on women worshipping in the Sabarimala temple and Mumbai’s famed Haji Ali Dargah.

Chief Justice Thakur had observed that ‘exclusion’ is practised by both Hindus and Muslims and the “problem needs to be addressed”.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/supreme-courts-challenge-to-patriarchy-has-been-on-going-across-benches-cjis/article25090136.ece

The Hindu – Who is an urban naxal, asks Romila Thapar

New Delhi – India, 30 September 2018. Eminent historian Romila Thapar, who petitioned the Supreme Court against the house arrest of five Left-leaning activists, has asked government to define the phrase “urban naxal”, saying either they do not understand the meaning of the term or the activists like her do not.

Talking on the house arrests of five activists Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha, she said these are the people who are fighting against social injustice.

“We were all born Indians, lived as Indians all our lives. These activists are fighting for good causes and terming them urban naxal is a political move,” she said.

“Do they even know what urban naxal means, first ask the government to define the term urban naxal and then tell us how we fall into this category.

It is very easy to call us urban naxal. And also tell us how we have become urban naxal, either the government does not understand the meaning of urban naxal or we don’t understand the meaning of the term,” Ms. Thapar told PTI.

She was speaking on the sidelines of a press conference held by the petitioners after the Supreme Court judgement on September 28 refused to interfere with the arrest of the five rights activists and declined to appoint a Special Investigation Team to probe their arrests.

The five activists have been under house arrest since 29 August 2018.

Politicians including Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis have referred to the five activists as “urban naxals”. Many social media users have enlisted themselves as “urban naxals” in a show of solidarity with the arrested Left-leaning activists as #MeTooUrbanNaxal trended on Twitter.

They countered that the term “urban naxal” was a mere creation of some sections to malign those who have an anti-establishment stance.

Ms Thapar, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociology professor Satish Deshpande and human rights lawyer Maja Daruwala were the petitioners who filed a case in the Supreme Court after the five lawyers, journalists and civil rights activists were arrested across the country on August 28 and charged with abetting acts of terror under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

“Any democratic institution cannot take law into its hands. It has to go through a certain procedure. Arrests are the last step of a probe it is not the first step of an investigation,” Ms Thapar said. “Arbitrary arrests on implausible charges means the police can walk into our homes and arrest us, either without a warrant or a warrant written in a language we don’t understand and then accuse us of activities about which we know nothing.”

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/who-is-an-urban-naxal-asks-romila-thapar/article25088465.ece

The Hindu – Canada strips Aung San Suu Kyi of honorary citizenship

Ottawa had given the long-detained democracy advocate and Nobel laureate the rare honour in 2007.

Ottawa – Ontario – Canada, 28 September 2018. Canada’s parliament has voted unanimously to effectively strip Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary Canadian citizenship over the Rohingya crisis.

Ottawa had given the long-detained democracy advocate and Nobel laureate the rare honour in 2007.

But her international reputation has become tarnished by her refusal to call out the atrocities by her nation’s military against the Rohingya Muslims minority, which Ottawa last week declared a genocide.

“In 2007, the House of Commons granted Aung San Suu Kyi the status of honorary Canadian citizen. Today, the House unanimously passed a motion to remove this status,” said Adam Austen, spokesman for Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, on Thursday.

A brutal military campaign that started last year drove more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh, where they now live in cramped refugee camps, fearful of returning to mainly Buddhist Myanmar despite a repatriation deal.

Many have given accounts of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and arson.

The military has denied nearly all wrongdoing, justifying its crackdown as a legitimate means of rooting out Rohingya militants.

But after a fact-finding mission, the United Nations on Thursday set up a panel to prepare indictments against Myanmar’s army chief and five other top military commanders for crimes against humanity.

Ms Suu Kyi’s democratically-elected government remains in a delicate power balance with the generals, whose presence in parliament gives them an effective veto on constitutional changes.

Mr Austen cited Ms Suu Kyi’s “persistent refusal to denounce the Rohingya genocide” for the withdrawal of the Canadian honour, which is symbolic and comes with no special privileges.

“We will continue to support the Rohingyas by providing humanitarian assistance, imposing sanctions against Myanmar’s generals and demanding that those responsible be held accountable before a competent international body,” he added.

Honorary Canadian citizenship has only been granted to five others including the Dalai Lama, girls education advocate Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandela.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/canada-strips-aung-san-suu-kyi-of-honorary-citizenship/article25067947.ece?homepage=true

The Hindu – Ayodhya case: Is mosque essential part of Islam?

Supreme Court to decide today on plea for hearing by larger Bench

Legal Correspondent

New Delhi – India, 27 September 2018. The Supreme Court is scheduled to pronounce a judgment on Thursday on whether to refer the question if a “mosque as a place of prayer is an essential part of Islam” in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid appeals to a Constitution Bench.

A three-judge Bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer had taken up the long-pending Ayodhya land title appeals against the Allahabad High Court judgment of 2010, which ordered the three-way partition of the disputed land.

Chief Justice Misra had in the beginning observed that the appeals would be decided like any other civil suit, shorn of any “religious sentiments” displayed by the parties.

However, as the hearings progressed in the appeals, the Muslim appellants pressed that the place of a mosque in Islam and the importance of the practice of offering prayers inside a mosque should be first decided by a five-judge Bench.

They said this question should be answered before the court goes into the main title dispute.

The bone of contention here is an observation made in a 1994 judgment of the Supreme Court in Ismail Farooqui case that “a mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaz (prayer) by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in open”.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, for the Muslim appellants, argued that the observation in the Ismail Farooqui judgment has affected the status of mosques in Islam.

“If the congregation part of Islam is taken away, a large part of Islam goes worthless. Mosques are meant for congregation and prayer”, Mr. Dhavan had argued on why mosques are “essential”.

Senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, for one of the contesting Hindu bodies, had countered that the observation in the 1994 judgment, read in its entirety, only points to the fact that all places of worship are equally susceptible for government acquisition.

In fact, the particular paragraph in the judgment reads that “a mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaz [prayer] by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in open.

Accordingly, its acquisition is not prohibited by the provisions in the Constitution of India.

Irrespective of the status of a mosque in an Islamic country for the purpose of immunity from acquisition by the State in exercise of the sovereign power, its status and immunity from acquisition in the secular ethos of India under the Constitution is the same and equal to that of the places of worship of the other religions, namely, church, temple etc. It is neither more nor less than that of the places of worship of the other religions”.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ayodhya-case-is-mosque-essential-part-of-islam/article25052278.ece