The Hindu – Adultery law weighted in favour of men: Supreme Court

Section 497 of the IPC treats only the man as the offender and the married woman as a victim

Krishnadas Rajagopal

New Delhi-India, 9 December 2017. The Supreme Court on Friday said the dusty Victorian provision of adultery in the Indian Penal Code treats a married woman as her husband’s “subordinate”.

The court admitted a petition to drop adultery as a criminal offence from the statute book.

“Time has come when the society must realise that a woman is equal to a man in every respect,” the Supreme Court recorded in its five-page written order.

Section 497 of the IPC mandates that “Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery and shall be punished”.

Issuing notice, the court would examine two aspects of the penal provision. One, why does Section 497 treat the man as the adulterer and the married woman as a victim.

Two, the offence of adultery ceases the moment it is established that the husband connived or consented to the adulterous act. So, is a married woman the “property” of her husband or a passive object without a mind of her own?

“The provision (Section 497) really creates a dent in the individual independent identity of a woman when the emphasis is laid on the connivance or consent of the husband. This tantamounts to subordination of a woman where the Constitution confers (women) equal status”, the Supreme Court declared.

Further, only a husband or the person in whose care the husband has left his wife can file a complaint under Section 497. The petition challenges the validity of Section 198 (1) and (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure which deems that only a husband can be an aggrieved party in offences against marriage like adultery and only he can go to court.

Arguing for petitioner Joseph Shine, advocates Kaleeswaram Raj and Suvidutt M.S., submitted that the penal section was framed at a time when women were considered a man’s property. They have asked the court to annul Section 497 as unconstitutional.

Equal status

The Constitution confers equal status to a man and a woman. The time has come when society has to realise that a woman is equal to her husband in every respect, Chief Justice Dipak Misra recorded in the order.

Justice D Y Chandrachud paraphrased the petitioner’s arguments that it amounts to a violation of a women’s fundamental right against discrimination under Article 15 when law “assumes a patronising attitude to women”. “By presuming the woman to be a victim, has the law made a patronising assumption” he asked.

Why is prosecution under Section 497 completely dependent on the husband’s word. So much so that, a woman can enter into an adulterous relationship if her husband consents. The debate in the court centered on the question whether Section 497 demeans a woman to the extent of her being considered the husband’s “commodity”.

“Does this relegate her to the level of a commodity?” Justice Chandrachud asked.

Terming the provision “quite archaic,” the court observed in the order that when society progresses, rights are conformed and a new generation of thoughts should spring forth.

The apex court had earlier on three separate occasions, in 1954, 1985 and 1988, upheld the constitutionality of Section 497.


The Hindu – The Hindu – ‘Unforgivable’: Editorial on 7 December 1992, on the Babri Masjid demolition

Op/Ed, 6 December 2017. It was religious fanaticism at its ugliest in Ayodhya yesterday, with the country’s worst fears coming true in the nightmarish spectacle of the brutal destruction of the 450 year old Babri Masjid by thousands of frenzied kar sevaks.

The disputed mosque was razed to the ground with a barbaric savagery reminiscent of the crude traditions of settling scores in medieval history. The demolition of the Masjid has delivered a lethal blow to the image of a secular and democratic India.

Yesterday’s catastrophe underlines the validity of the misgivings that a permissive attitude to the kar seva would have disastrous consequences. Sunday was a dark day for India. The Hindu shares the nation’s sense of deep anguish at this painful moment.

The BJP Government in Uttar Pradesh has forfeited its right to rule in the State by its brazen and shameless abdication of its constitutional responsibility.

Its assurances to the Centre that it would not violate the court order and that it would discharge its constitutional obligations proved insincere as it appeared to actively collude with the savage and destructive attitude of the kar sevaks surging forward to capture the disputed structure.

The State police, completely outnumbered by crowds of trishul-wielding kar sevaks, withdrew from the site as the unruly mob charged into the complex.

For the better part of the day, the inaction of the State police force coupled with the refusal of the district magistrate to permit the Central forces to act implied that the State Government endorsed the mosque’s wanton destruction.

The Central forces had to fight their way in, even as they were prevented by the State troops from bursting teargas shells to disperse the crowd.

The barricades that the State authorities had put up to guard the disputed structure were hopelessly inadequate, making a mockery of the State Government’s claim that it would take all steps to protect the disputed structure.

The resignation of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr Kalyan Singh does not absolve his Government or the BJP of culpability for the kar seva’s sordid conclusion.

The BJP and its militant allies, the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal stand exposed as having brought on this horrific denouement even as the essentially destructive and fascist nature of its strategy and tactics cannot be in doubt any more. The BJP’s claim to be a defender of the national interest lies in shreds today.

Much as Mr L K Advani and his colleagues would like to disown the savagery of Sunday, they cannot escape the responsibility for having whipped up passions to the extent that it reflected in the blind mob hysteria which culminated in the attack on the Babri Masjid.

The shrill tenor of the Hindutva campaign, the continual jibes at “pseudo secular policies”, the inflammatory propaganda that minorities are being appeased all served to present a dangerous and false picture of Indian social reality to the public, breeding the sort of ugly fanaticism that surfaced in Ayodhya yesterday.

The Narasimha Rao administration will face the criticism that it did not adequately forestall Sunday’s development. In retrospect, it was a mistake to have put any faith in the sincerity of the Uttar Pradesh Government’s assurances that it would uphold the rule of law.

Thereby, the Centre had jeopardised the safety of the Babri Masjid. The Government should not have taken this risk, given that the disputed mosque had come to be a symbol of the fate of India’s commitment to secularism.

This administration had in fact been fortified by support from the non-BJP opposition parties which had promised to endorse any strong action in defence of the integrity of the disputed structure. Yet the Narasimha Rao Government hesitated in seizing the initiative in ensuring the mosque’s safety.

The wisdom of this Government’s strategic approach to the Ayodhya issue will be sharply questioned in the days to come, within the ruling party and outside.

But what is vital is to recognise that this is a defining moment in India’s history, a moment at which the country can be plunged into a dark abyss of primitive emotions threatening to erase four decades of a successful track record of a progressive secular democracy.

All the secular political forces must rally to the defence of the country and pull it back from the brink. A first step would be to rebuild the destroyed Babri Masjid as a gesture towards the minority community and as a reaffirmation of an unwavering commitment to the vision of a democratic India, free of any kind of bigotry.

This Editorial has been republished on the occasion of the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition on 6 December 2017. The original Editorial was published by The Hindu on 7 December 1992.

The Hindu – Ayodhya title dispute: SC refuses plea to defer hearing till after 2019 elections

Bench fixes the date for final hearing on February 8, 2018. The appeals are against a September 2010 judgment for a three-way partition of the disputed site in Ayodhya.

Krishnadas Rajagopal

New Delhi-India, 5 December 2017. The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused requests by appellant parties belonging to the minority community to defer the hearing in the Ramjanmabhoomi–Babri Masjid land dispute till after 15 July 2019, that is, post the next general elections.

On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the demolition of the 16th century Babri Masjid by kar sevaks, a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra remained undeterred by submissions that a Supreme Court verdict in the Ayodhya title dispute hearing right now would invite serious repercussions across the country.

The Bench, also comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, fixed the date for final hearing on 8 February 2018.

“Serious ramifications”

The court did not entertain, for now, a plea to refer the 13 appeals, including one filed by the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board, to a five-judge Constitution Bench. The appeals are against a September 2010 judgment delivered by a three-judge Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court for a three-way partition of the disputed site in Ayodhya.

The appellants Mohamed Hashim, M Siddiq, Misbahuddeen and Farooq Ahmad, represented by senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Rajeev Dhawan and Dushyant Dave, respectively, said the dispute was not just any other civil suit but probably the most important case in the history of India which would “decide the future of the polity”.

“The appeals will have My Lords decide whether this is a country where a mosque can be destroyed. This is not just another title suit. These appeals go to the very heart of our secular and democratic fabric,” Mr. Dhawan argued.

“Government is keen to have the court hear these appeals. Don’t fall into the trap,” Mr. Dave joined in.

Mr Sibal said the government was using the judiciary to realise its agenda for a Ram Mandir assured in the ruling BJP’s 2014 election manifesto. A hearing now fits the Sangh Parivar assurances to realise their promise of a temple through legal means, he said.

Mr Sibal also dissuaded the Supreme Court from hearing the appeals now, saying a “decision in the case will invite serious ramifications. Now is not the right time to hear it. It will have repercussions. It is already happening. Post it after July 15, 2019, when everything is over. We will not ask for an adjournment then”.

Uttar Pradesh government said it was ready to argue and reminded the court that it had refused, in the previous hearing in August, to entertain any adjournments when it posted for opening statements today. Mr Sibal protested, saying there were 190,00 documents involved in the case and it would only be fair on the part of the court to allow the lawyers more time to prepare.

“This case will be the most important case in India’s history. This will decide the future of India,” Mr Sibal submitted.

“Just a case like any other” vs “Not an ordinary suit”

Justice Ashok Bhushan, on the Bench with Justice S Abdul Nazeer, reminded Mr Sibal that it was the appellants who had wanted an early hearing in December/January of 2017. “Your submissions are non-serious,” Justice Bhushan observed.

At one point, Sibal, Dhawan and Dave made as if to leave the courtroom when the Bench refused their pleas and turned to hear senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, for the deity Ram Lalla, who offered to kick-off the hearing by making the opening statement.

In his counter, senior advocate Harish Salve for the respondents said the court need not be bothered by any repercussions outside. That is not the lookout of the court. As far as the court is concerned, the Ayodhya title dispute is just “a case” like any other before it, Mr Salve submitted.

“I’m not for a cause but for a client here… the strongest statement this court can make is to treat this case like any other and get on with the hearing,” Mr Salve submitted.

But Mr Sibal countered Mr Salve by pointing to how a five-judge Bench led by then Chief Justice of India M N Venkatachaliah had refused a Presidential reference in 1994 on the question whether Ram Mandir should be built in the disputed land and on the question of acquisition of land on 7 January 1993.

The Bench had also pronounced a token punishment to former UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, under whose watch the monument was demolished.

“It was a rare occasion when the SC refused a Presidential reference… so this is not just an ordinary suit,” Mr Sibal said.

Mosque as an essential part of Islam

Mr Dhawan objected to Mr Salve, saying the case covers religion and faith and dates back to the era of King Vikramaditya.

The senior counsel said the question of whether a mosque was an essential part of Islam had to be decided. The senior counsel referred to the 1994 three-judge Bench judgment of the Supreme Court in the Dr M Ismail Faruqui case, which had held that “the right to practise, profess and propagate religion guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution does not necessarily include the right to acquire or own or possess property. Similarly this right does not extend to the right of worship at any and every place of worship”.

“So is the mosque not an essential part of Islam? Muslims cannot go to the garden and pray,” Mr Dhawan submitted. He said the appeals should be referred to a five-judge Bench as it dealt with an important constitutional issue.

Mr Salve however countered that a reference to a larger Bench need to be made only as and when such an “occasion or context” arose, and not now.

The Hindu – What is the Babri Masjid case all about?

Krishnadas Rajagopal

2 December 2017.

What is it?

At the core of the nearly 70-year-old Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute is the belief that Lord Ram was born 9,00,000 years ago in the Treta Yuga, in a room located under what was the central dome of the Babri Masjid.

The masjid was built on the orders of Mughal emperor Babur in the 16th century and had occupied 1,482.5 square yards before its demolition by kar sevaks on 6 December 1992.

On September 30, 2010, a three-judge Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court upheld the Hindu belief, reasoning that the “world knows” where Ram’s birthplace is. The Bench ordered a partition of the site occupied by the Babri Masjid equally among the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla, the deity.

In May 2011, on appeals by the Sunni Waqf Board and other parties, the Supreme Court stayed the judgment, calling it a “leap of faith.” The stay ensured status quo, which meant that a lone priest would continue to worship in the makeshift temple built at the site, a custom legitimised in the Ayodhya Act of 1993.

The ban continued on any mode of activity on the 67 acres acquired by the Centre following the Supreme Court orders of March 13 and 14, 2002. Now, the appeals are due for hearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on December 5.

The hearing coincides with the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition. The case banks mostly on documents written in languages as varied as Persian and Arabic, dating back to the 16th century.

How did it come about?

The idols of Ram Lalla were placed “surreptitiously” under the central dome of the Babri Masjid in 1949. The next year, Gopal Simla Visharad filed the first suit in the Faizabad civil court for rights to perform puja to Ram Lalla.
Paramahansa Ramachandra Das filed a suit for continuation of puja and keeping idols in the structure.

In 1959, Nirmohi Akhara filed a third suit, seeking a direction to hand over charge of the disputed site. The UP Sunni Central Wakf Board filed the fourth suit in 1961 for declaration and possession and a fifth was filed in 1989 in the name of Ram Lalla Virajman for declaration and possession.

In 1986, the district court ordered locks to be removed for the site to be opened for Hindu worshippers. In 1991, the Uttar Pradesh government acquired land around the structure for the convenience of devotees coming for Ram Lalla darshan.

In 1993, the Centre took over 67 acres of land around the area and sought the Supreme Court’s opinion on whether there existed a Hindu place of worship before the structure was built. In 1994, the litigation reached the Lucknow Bench. The suits were heard from 1996 till September 2010.

Why does it matter?

The Supreme Court’s decision will be a deciding factor in the backdrop of the movement for building a Ram temple at the disputed site gaining momentum. The Ram temple was a major promise in the BJP manifesto.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, in April 2017, decided to revive the criminal conspiracy charges against senior BJP leaders, including L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, in the Babri Masjid demolition cases.

What next?

With just days left for the Supreme Court to hear the appeals on December 5, UP Central Shia Waqf Board chairman Syed Waseem Rizvi informed the court about a settlement reached between the Board and “non-Muslim stakeholders” for the building of the Ram temple at the disputed site.

The Board said it would bear the expenses and construct a mosque in Lucknow. Rizvi had earlier claimed the Babri Masjid was a Shia waqf (endowment), and termed the Sunnis, who had been at the frontlines of the title dispute, as “hardliners.”

The so-called settlement may face resistance from the Sunni faction in court. Though the Supreme Court has leaned in favour of an out-of-court settlement, this Sunni-Shia rift may compel it to adjudicate the dispute.

The Hindu – The lost Jews of Churachandpur

Arguing that they are the Bnei Menashe, one of the ten lost tribes of Israel, a secton of Kukis wants to emigrate to Israel. But they cannot do so unless they formally embrace Judaism. Prafulla Das reports on the strange predicament of people torn between a contested history and an uncertain future.

Prafulla Das

Churachandpur-Manipur-India, 2 December 2017. Seventy-year-old Avihu Singsit, a native of Churachandpur district in Manipur, is excited about migrating to Israel. “I have been waiting to go to the holy land which God chose for my ancestors,” he says. He is among the thousands of tribal people of Manipur keen to leave India for Israel.

Although their Jewish connections became apparent in the 1950s, Singsit and others began practising Judaism in Manipur sometime in the 1970s, after coming to know that they were the ‘Bnei Menashe’ (Hebrew for ‘the sons of Manasseh’), descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, which is one of the 10 ‘lost tribes of Israel’ that were exiled by the Assyrian empire more than 2,700 years ago.

Singsit and his wife Zivah Singsit (65), who have lived all their life in Manipur, embraced Judaism formally in 2009, four years after he retired as a Zonal Education Officer at Kangpokpi. Both adopted Jewish names after converting to Judaism — Avihu Singsit was earlier Thangkam Singsit and Zivah Singsit was Aneng Singsit.

So far, around 3,000 people from Manipur and Mizoram have already emigrated to Israel after embracing Judaism. But there are still more than 7,000 Bnei Menashe living in India and practising Judaism, nearly all of whom wish to immigrate to Israel.

A batch of 162 persons from Churachandpur, who had been shortlisted in 2014, moved to Israel a few weeks ago, attracting prominent coverage in the Israeli press.

The fabled past

Singsit had heard his grandfather tell him stories about their ancestors who lived in caves before fleeing to India. While there is no historical record of this mass migration, the Bnei Menashe tribe believes that they settled in northeastern India and in countries adjoining the region several centuries ago, and that, while passing through China, they lived in caves to escape religious persecution.

A section of the Kuki population living in the hilly areas of Manipur believe they are the Bnei Menashe just as some of the Mizos in neighbouring Mizoram do. It is believed that they practised their ancient Jewish traditions for centuries, unaware that they were the descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel.

A majority of them converted to Christianity in the 19th century. It was only after they were introduced to the Bible that the Bnei Menashe identified Manmasi or Menasia, a legendary ancestor of theirs, as the Biblical Manasseh, the son of Joseph.

The community’s belief in a Jewish identity was reinforced in the early 1950s when Mei Chalah, a priest in Mizoram, dreamt that his people belonged to Jerusalem. According to veteran Kuki leader P S Haokip, president of the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), all the Kuki tribals are Bnei Menashe with Jewish roots, and about 90% of those in Manipur are Christians.

He claims that “they were brothers and descendants of Manasseh, as God clearly revealed to His servants, Reverend Chomlhum and Pastor Hnamthinkhum, in 2011”. Before converting to Christianity, these tribal people who followed Jewish customs were worshippers of nature, of pythons, lakes, and hills, he adds.

The long wait

While they await the green signal from the Israeli government, Singsit and Zivah have shifted to a rented accommodation in the district headquarters town of Churachandpur.

In their home, the Star of David hangs on the wall. Singsit wears the Kippah, like many others in Churachandpur, which indicates that they are followers of Judaism.

They have given up eating pork, a dietary mainstay of the tribal community, and have switched to chicken, beef and vegetables. They also recite their prayers in Hebrew thrice a day, and observe Sabbath on Saturday, in keeping with the faith.

Their two older sons have not embraced Judaism and live in their village Keiphelmandi, in Kangpokpi district, about 100 km away. But they are not alone as their third and youngest son, Naomi Singsit, and his wife, Meir Singsit, have embraced Judaism and are living with them.

“We love India as we were born and educated here. But we want to go and live in Israel, the land of our forefathers,” says 31-year-old Naomi.

Some of their relatives are already living in Israel. While Aviala, the widowed daughter of Singsit and Zivah, emigrated to Israel along with her son and daughter in 2007, Zivah’s father and brother have also moved to Israel.
Aviala’s son has already joined the Israeli defence service after completing his military training, as it is mandatory under law to join the armed forces on turning 18.

Uncertainty, however, prevails over the Singsit family’s planned move to Israel as they have not been shortlisted so far, even as those shortlisted two years ago are yet to leave.

The process of immigration is a complicated one involving extensive counselling of the Bnei Menashe and intense scrutiny of their religious orientation by a rabbi sent by Shavei Israel, an Israel-based voluntary organisation that facilitates the immigration of the followers of Judaism.

Strengthening the ‘living link’

After verifying the applicants’ ability to recite prayers in Hebrew and observe the tenets of Judaism, the Bnei Menashe Council and Shavei Israel shortlist the names of those who qualify for immigration.

Shavei Israel facilitates the entire process of immigration in coordination with the Israeli government, and arranges funds for aspiring emigrants. Those shortlisted by Shavei Israel in 2014 are now leaving in phases.

While taking care of his family with his pension money, Singsit spends time at Bnei Menashe Council India, which operates from the premises of the Shavei Israel Hebrew Centre in Churachandpur town.

Other followers of Judaism, including women and children, offer prayers at the synagogue there. The Bnei Menashe Council observed its silver jubilee in 2001.

The Shavei Israel Centre, founded in 2004 by Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei Israel, claims that it does not proselytise or support any form of missionary activity.

But it does sponsor rabbis and teachers to work with various groups of lost Jews in places as far as India, and in many other countries where the ‘lost tribes’ have been found to be living.

As conversion to Judaism remains a precondition for the Bnei Menashe tribals to immigrate to Israel, Shavei Israel offers various educational options in Israel, including Machon Miriam, the only Spanish-language conversion and return institute in Jerusalem.

For the past 15 years, Shavei Israel has been assisting members of the Bnei Menashe community of northeastern India to fulfil their dream of returning to the Land of Israel, according to Freund.

In an email interview, Freund said: “Shavei Israel invests a great deal of time, energy and resources in helping the Bnei Menashe with their absorption in the Jewish state and we will continue to do whatever we can to facilitate this process.

As relations between Israel and India continue to grow stronger, I am confident that the Bnei Menashe will play an increasingly important role in bringing our two countries even closer together.”

Observing that the Bnei Menashe people are a living link between two great countries and civilisations, Israel and India, Freund pointed out that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel earlier this year in July, hundreds of Bnei Menashe immigrants gathered to greet him, along with other Indian Jews living in the country.

“This is a tangible sign of how the Bnei Menashe people help deepen the bond between our countries. It is a testament to India and its democracy that the Bnei Menashe people are free to practise their faith openly.

Unlike Jews in Europe, who are experiencing a growing wave of anti-Semitism, the Bnei Menashe have not experienced any discrimination or hatred in India, and we are grateful to the Indian government for enabling the Bnei Menashe to observe the tenets of Judaism without fear,” said Freund.

The Bnei Menashe people who have immigrated to Israel receive Israeli citizenship and new immigrant status after completing various bureaucratic processes that could take several months. “The pace of the immigration as well as various other aspects is decided by the Israeli government, not by Shavei Israel,” he clarified.

“Judaism is not a missionary religion. Hence, Shavei Israel works only with those Bnei Menashe who observe the tenets of Judaism.”

He added: “At the current pace, it could take over a decade for the immigration to be completed, which is far too long. I hope that the Israeli government will speed up the process so that the Bnei Menashe can return to the land of their ancestors as soon as possible.”

The reluctant non-converts

As uncertainty haunts the followers of Judaism, about 100 km from Churachandpur, a large group of people offering prayers at the Bnei Menashe Messianic Council synagogue at Kangpokpi tell this correspondent that they too wish to immigrate to Israel, but are stuck as they don’t want to convert to Judaism.

More than 40 people from Kangpokpi immigrated to Israel between 1997 and 2017, after they accepted Judaism as their religion. About 200 people who have started practising Judaism are waiting for their turn to go there, says T Menashe, president of the Messianic Council.

While he says that Christians are abandoning Christianity and embracing Judaism in the hope of a better quality of life in Israel, other locals claim that they are leaving only because of their conviction that they are descendants of the lost tribes of Israel.

Pointing out that those who follow Judaism believe in the Old Testament of the Bible and don’t accept the inspiration of the New Testament, Menashe says that the members of the Messianic Council in Kangpokpi, numbering about 1,000, who follow some Jewish traditions but are actually followers of Jesus Christ, cannot go to Israel unless they change their religion from Christianity to Judaism.

“Although many messianic people have been living in Israel, the messianic tribal people of Manipur wanting to return to the land of their ancestors are unable to go because the Shavei Israel organisation is not accepting them or facilitating their immigration.

We have given several memorandums to the Israeli government and Shavei Israel to take us to Israel without requiring us to convert to Judaism,” he says.

“As a lost tribe of Israel, we long to go back to our promised land. We envy those of our brothers who have immigrated to Israel. The reason we cannot go is our faith in Yeshua (Jesus Christ), our adherence to Christianity,” says Joel Janglun, a senior member of the Messianic Council.

His daughter, Kimeha, married to a rabbi of the locality, immigrated to Israel with her husband and has been living there for the past eight years.

While some Kukis who embraced Judaism in recent years have immigrated, and many are eagerly awaiting their turn to leave, there are lakhs of Kukis in the hill districts of Manipur who have no plans to leave India.

According to Haokip, the hopes and aspirations of this vast majority flow in a different direction. They are more interested in fighting for a separate State for the Bnei Menashe tribal people within the framework of the Indian Constitution, he says.

“We are descendants of Manasseh, but don’t want to immigrate to Israel. We are happy as Indians,” says Haokip. He, however, is not opposed to any member of the Kuki tribe embracing Judaism and emigrating to Israel. “I don’t oppose those emigrating to Israel. It’s a question of faith and religion.”

Claiming that there are about six lakh Kuki tribal people in Manipur, Haokip says that he wants the establishment of a Kuki State comprising the six hill districts of Churachandpur, Chandel, Tengnoupal, Kangpokpi, Pherzawl and Kamjong.

The KNO is not the only organisation of Kuki tribal people fighting for a separate State. Many Kuki outfits that have been fighting separately for long are now coming together to take up this demand and put an end to the economic disparity that exists between the valley and the hilly areas of Manipur.

They point out that the valley and the hills are yet to have a rail link connecting them despite the fact that it was the latter that contributed the Manipuri classical dance to the country and polo to the world, and continues to supply jawans and officers to the Indian defence forces and officers to the police service.

Haokip has been organising Kut, an annual festival of brotherhood in Manipur where Bnei Menashe tribes from different northeastern States and neighbouring countries are invited. The festival aims to promote unity among the Bnei Menashe descendants.

“It is sad to see one-sided news reports, and news channels claiming that there are only 8,000 people in Manipur and Mizoram who belong to the lost tribes,” says Caleb Boigund, a Manipuri Christian whose father, Khuplam Milui Lenthang, has written a book on tribes in northeast India with Jewish links.

“In fact, there are several lakhs of Kuki-Mizo (Menashe) tribal people in northeast India, where 7,000-8,000 people have converted to Judaism. But migration to Israel requires unnecessary conversion into Judaism.

I believe in my own faith and I am also happy being an Indian. Until conversion to Judaism and an immigration trial cease to be preconditions for the Menashe tribes to immigrate to Israel [which is unlikely], I will happily live here,” Boigund says.

Says Rebecca Jubai, a young girl from Kangpokpi town: “We don’t wish to emigrate to Israel since we were born as Indians. But we have come to know of the religion that our forefathers used to practise, and we are now doing the same.”

A matter of identity

George T Haokip, assistant professor of Political Science and Human Rights at the Indira Gandhi National Tribal University, echoes her sentiments.

“I am a Christian with Jewish roots. But I do not think it is obligatory or necessary to emigrate to Israel as a Jewish descendent. There are Jewish populations everywhere. It is a matter of one’s identity, history and origin.
Some Kukis who are adopting Orthodox Judaism would think of Israel as their religious ‘original home’ or Zion.

It is their individual faith and conviction. Having Jewish ancestry does not mean that Kukis are refugees in India. In Manipur, Kukis are as old as the land itself and they have their own right to self-determination,” he says.

He, however, observes that the ‘lost tribe fever’ has overwhelmed the Kukis of Manipur, particularly in recent years, sparking claims and counterclaims between pro-Jewish and Christian groups.

“Though all the Kuki people agree that they are the descendants of Israel, there is a division among them,” George says. “This is seen in the adoption of different religions. No Christian can immigrate into Israel. It requires a rigorous study of the Hebrew language and conversion rituals.

There are many Christians in Manipur who believe that converting to Judaism in order to immigrate to Israel is an attempt to escape poverty. Pro-Jewish groups, however, justify emigration as the fulfilment of a dream they have carried with them during their exile.”

In the lush green valleys and hills of Churachandpur, the disengagement of the state with its people becomes apparent. In 2006, it was categorised as one of the country’s most impoverished districts by the Central government.

The vast majority of its population, the Kukis, depends on agriculture and the forest for their livelihood. For many of them, Israel is not only the land of their ancient past but also a metaphor for a better future.

The Hindu – India loses billions to air pollution: UN

High-level political commitment stressed

Special Correspondent

New Delhi-india, 28 November 2017. India had the highest share of welfare costs (or a loss of income from labour), of about $220 billion (about ₹1.4 trillion), in South and South-East Asia, of a combined total of $380 billion from mortality due to air pollution, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The global mortality costs from outdoor air pollution are projected to rise to about $25 trillion by 2060 in the absence of more stringent measures.

At regional and national scale, China’s welfare costs from mortality were the highest at nearly $1 trillion followed by the Organisation for Economic Corporation and Development (OECD) countries with a combined total of $730 billion, the report added quoting a 2016 projection by the OECD.

Although certain forms of pollution have been reduced as “technologies and management strategies have advanced,” approximately 19 million premature deaths are estimated to occur annually as a result of the way societies use natural resources and impact the environment to support production and consumption, it notes.

Serious burden

“If consumption and production patterns continue as they are, the linear economic model of ‘take-make-dispose’ will seriously burden an already-polluted planet, affecting current and future generations,” the report’s foreword concludes.

To curb pollution in various forms, the UNEP called for strong high-level political commitment and engagement of the local government, civil society and other stakeholders.

“Pollution is a universal challenge [but] the good news is that we already know what we need to do to prevent and reduce it,” UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim said in a statement, stressing that “now the responsibility is on governments, businesses, cities and local authorities, civil society and individuals around the world to commit to act to beat pollution in all its forms.”

To achieve high level political commitment in key economic sectors, there is a need to go beyond the environmental ministries and include other relevant ministries such as finance, agriculture, industry, urban, transport, energy and health.

There is also a need to engage the local government, civil society organisations, business leaders, industries, trade unions and citizens at large. Reporting on the progress that comes from acting on pollution – whether through voluntary measures or formal laws, is a crucial step in this transition.

The report, ‘Towards a pollution-free planet’, was launched during the first Conference of Parties for the Minamata Convention, which addresses mercury issues, and ahead of the annual U.N. Environment Assembly, to be held in early December.

The Hindu – We cannot compel Centre to ratify UN convention against torture, says Supreme Court

Krishnadas Rajagopal

New Delhi-India, 27 November 2017. The Supreme Court on Monday said it respects the government’s “political compulsions” and will not compel the Centre to ratify the UN Convention against Torture or command it to frame a standalone anti-torture legislation.

The decision to refrain from passing any positive orders from a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra came in a PIL filed by former Union Law Minister Ashwini Kumar for a standalone anti-torture law. Mondau’s decision to dispose of the PIL came almost a year after the court had been entertaining it.

During the weekend, the judiciary had faced a repeated barrage of criticism for its “judicial activism.” Government ministers, speaking at Law Day and Constitution Day functions, had said that PILs cannot replace governance and policy decisions of the Executive.

Chief Justice Misra had strongly responded that the Supreme Court has never crossed its limits and upholds the code of mutual respect between judiciary and the government.

“How can we compel the government to make a law? Can we ask the government to ratify a treaty by way of a mandamus?” Chief Justice Misra asked Mr Kumar.

Justice D Y Chandrachud, on the Bench, said “the government has to take a political decision on whether it should ratify the treaty.”

Mr Kumar said the government has given a commitment to the international community to address torture, especially custodial torture.

“The government has made a commitment to the international community. It is conscious of its obligations. We would be crossing judicial limits by issuing a mandamus to the government. We have to respect the political compulsions of the government,” Justice Chandrachud observed.

Mr Kumar argued it was the duty of the court to fill the gaps in written laws. “But it is a policy matter,” Justice A M Khanwilkar observed.

Attorney General K K Venugopal intervened to submit that the government is considering an anti-torture law.

The Law Commission of India has already recommended the Centre to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and frame a standalone anti-torture law directly making the State responsible for any injury inflicted by its agents on citizens.

The Law Commission has suggests that the State should not claim immunity from the actions of its officers or agents.

“The State should own the responsibility for injuries caused by its agents on citizens… while dealing with the plea of sovereign immunity, the courts will bear in mind that it is the citizens who are entitled for fundamental rights, and not the agents of the State,” the Law Commission of India has advised the Centre.

Though India had signed the UN Convention against Torture in 1997, it is yet to ratify it. Efforts to bring a standalone law against torture have lapsed. The National Human Rights Commission has been strongly urging the government to recognise torture as a separate crime and codify the punishment in a separate penal law.

The Supreme Court, while hearing the PIL filed by Mr Kumar, had described torture as an instrument of “human degradation” used by the State.

It was after the scathing remarks of the apex court, the government had earlier referred the question of a law on torture to the Law Commission, its highest recommendatory body on laws.

In its 273rd report handed over to the Law Ministry on October 30, the Commission has proposed a new anti-torture law titled ‘The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017’ which provides a wide definition to torture not confined to physical pain but also includes “inflicting injury, either intentionally or involuntarily, or even an attempt to cause such an injury, which will include physical, mental or psychological in nature.”

The draft Bill has recommended punishments for torture ranging from fine to life imprisonment on the perpetrator. In case a person in police custody is found with injuries, it would be “presumed that those injuries have been inflicted by the police.” The burden of proof is on the police to explain the injury on the undertrial.

The Bill proposes to give the courts to decide a justiciable compensation for the victims taking into consideration his or her social background, extent of injury or mental agony. The compensation should suffice to pay for the medical treatment and rehabilitation of the victim.

The Hindu – Four train accidents within 12 hours kill seven

Lucknow-UP-India, 25 November 2017. Four train accidents in less than 12 hours in Uttar Pradesh and Odisha killed seven people and injured at least 11, officials said on Friday.

Three of the accidents were reported from Uttar Pradesh and one from Odisha. There were two derailments, including one in Uttar Pradesh’s Chitrakoot district that killed three people early on Friday morning; one incident of an engine decoupling from the wagon and a train hitting a car at an unmanned crossing.

The spate of accidents began at 7.19 p.m. on Thursday.

A local train hit a Bolero vehicle at an unmanned crossing near Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, killing four people and injuring two.

Then, at 4.18 am, 13 coaches of the Vasco Da Gama-Patna Express, on its way from Goa to Patna, derailed near Manikpur in Uttar Pradesh, killing three people, including a six-year-old boy and his father, and injuring nine.

The Patna-bound passenger train, which derailed soon after leaving the Manikpur Railway Station in Chitrakoot district, was moving slowly as a result of which casualties were fewer, officials said. According to ADG (Law and Order), Anand Kumar, prima facie a fractured railway track led to the accident.

The Hindu – Can Pakistan ensure safety of Kulbhushan Jadhav kin, asks India

Islamabad offered to allow wife to visit him

New Delhi, 23 November 2017. The former Navy official Kulbhushan Jadhav’s mother and wife will travel to Islamabad if Pakistan gives sovereign guarantees for their safety during the visit, India said on Thursday.

Explaining the contents of a letter regarding the visit of Mr Jadhav’s family members, the Ministry of External Affairs said India has also said an official of the Indian High Commission should be allowed to accompany them.

Guarantees sought

“In our response, we have conveyed that the wife of Mr Jadhav would like to travel along with her mother-in-law for the meeting.

We have also sought sovereign guarantees from the Government of Pakistan to ensure the safety, security and wellbeing of the wife and mother of Mr Jadhav and that they shall not be questioned, harassed or interrogated during their visit and stay in Pakistan.

We have further asked that a diplomat of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad shall be allowed to accompany them at all times, including during the meeting,” said spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.

The Hindu had earlier reported about India’s response to the humanitarian gesture of the Pakistan government to allow the wife to meet Mr Jadhav, who has been in the custody of the Pakistan military.

Unconfirmed reports suggested that Pakistan is at present evaluating the Indian proposal.

Pakistan’s decision came months after India urged it to allow Mr Jadhav’s mother to meet him.

The gesture is a significant point in the case which began in March 2016 when Pakistan arrested the former Navy officer and presented him to the world at a dramatic press conference.

The Ministry of External Affairs had applied more than a dozen times for consular access to Mr Jadhav but Islamabad has not obliged it. The Ministry said on Thursday that India will not give up its campaign to free Mr Jadhav.

“Let me underline that such a meeting (between Mr Jadhav and his family members) offer does not absolve Pakistan of the violations of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and Human Rights and not following the due process in treating Mr Jadhav who remains incarcerated in Pakistan and faces death sentence through a farcical process and on concocted charges,” said the spokesperson.

“We are determined to pursue all measures with full vigour so as to secure the final release of an innocent Indian,” he added.

Mr Jadhav has the option of putting in mercy petitions to the highest offices of the Pakistani state but the government of Islamabad is already under criticism for allegedly being soft on the Indian captive who in his ‘video-taped confession’ stated that his role was to ensure sabotage and violence in Balochistan province.

In another Balochistan-related issue, the MEA spokesperson said the government is not aware of any request for application that the exiled Baloch leader Brahumdagh Bugti was supposed to file.

Mr Bugti announced on social media on Wednesday that Switzerland had rejected his application for asylum after seven years of consideration even as his followers took to the social media urging India to grant him asylum.

The Hindu had reported in September 2016 that Mr Bugti had initiated the process of seeking asylum in India in order to seek greater freedom for his activism to ‘free’ Balochistan.

The Hindu – Meerut tense over murder of RSS cadre

Staff Reporter

Meerut-UP-India, 20 November 2017. Meerut was tense on Monday after the body of a trader was found in a sack. City police said the deceased, Sunil Garg, was a prominent iron trader and was missing since Sunday evening. He was associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

Sunil Garg was last seen campaigning for a BJP candidate in the civic body polls on Sunday evening. “There were injuries on the face, which seem to have been inflicted with sharp weapons,” said the Superintendent of Police (city) Meerut, Man Singh. Police recovered his bike from the parking lot of a local hospital.

“At this stage, we are not in a position to say much more. We are probing,” he said.

Meanwhile, workers of the BJP and the RSS took to the streets to protest against the State and district administration. A large group of protesters sat on a dharna in the heart of the city demanding that the culprits be booked under the stringent National Securities Act .

Vineet Sharda, head of the State BJP traders’ cell, said the family must be given protection immediately. Also, a job must be given to a family member.

“Garg left his house at 4 in the evening, after telling his wife Rashmi that he would be back soon. He went to campaign for the BJP candidate from Surajkund ward Anshul Gupta,” Mr. Sharda told The Hindu.