Fear and cautious hope for India's Muslims in Modi era

Updated 18 May 2014
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Fear and cautious hope for India's Muslims in Modi era

AHMEDABAD, India: Millions of India's Muslims fear Narendra Modi's landslide election will fuel religious discrimination, intolerance and even bring bloodshed, but some are also prepared to give him a chance.
Modi stormed to victory at the polls, throwing the left-leaning secular Congress from office and handing his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a powerful mandate for promised sweeping reforms.
Critics warn the size of the victory will empower Modi, steeped in nationalist ideology and tainted by riots, to run roughshod over religious minorities, particularly India's 150 million Muslims.
But some, at least, are hopeful that Modi's promise during the campaign of jobs and development to revive the stalled economy will benefit all classes, castes and religions, not just the Hindu majority.
"My hopes have been rekindled, I am looking forward to better days under his rule," said Abdul Salaam, 29, a Muslim tailor in Varanasi, a Hindu holy city which has a sizeable Muslim community.
Salaam pointed to the prosperity of western Gujarat state, where Modi was chief minister for 13 years, saying he hoped these policies could be reproduced nationally.
Muslim widow Parveen Banu, whose family was killed in communal riots in Gujarat, said the BJP leader would not dare turn against Muslims after weeks on the campaign trail preaching national unity.
Banu remembers running through the blood-splattered alleys of Gujarat's main city of Ahmedabad to escape the Hindu mobs that killed her husband and four children.
Banu, 40, has since rebuilt her life and now runs a shop selling mutton minutes from her home in a slum — 12 years after the riots that killed at least 1,000 people.
As chief minister at the time, Modi is dogged by allegations he failed to stop the bloodshed, although he has been cleared by a court investigation.
"Of course Modi hates Muslims, but as prime minister can he really afford to show it?" Banu said.
"Plus, he has spoken of cultural unity and he has to live up to our expectations and I believe he will. He's not crazy.
"I just hope Allah shows him the right way."
Despite the optimism that some Muslims have, many fear life under a Modi-led government and voted in large numbers against him. According to a nationwide post-poll survey, only nine percent of Muslims voted for the BJP while 43 percent opted for Congress.
"Muslims are the only community to vote in big numbers for Congress," Sanjay Kumar, whose Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies conducted the poll, said.
Congress, India's national secular force that has ruled for all but 13 years since independence, was obliterated, winning just 44 seats in the 543-member parliament.
Modi secured the strongest mandate of any Indian leader for 30 years, after the BJP won 282 seats, dominating even in states with large Muslim populations such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The number of Muslim lawmakers dropped from 30 in the outgoing parliament to a record low of 24, limiting their clout for the next five years, The Times of India said.
Nazma Begum, who runs a small cloth-dyeing business in Varanasi, said she feared few could now stop Modi and the hardline groups that are allied to the incoming prime minister.
"I find Modi scary. I never imagined he would have such a big win. It's sad because now he will have a free rein, he will do as he pleases. Who would dare to question him?" the 40-year-old Muslim widow said.
Modi himself struck a note of unity in his first comments after his win, saying: "I want to take all of you with me to take this country forward."
But while Modi has stressed inclusiveness and development, his top aide Amit Shah was briefly banned from campaigning for inflammatory comments seen as a bid to polarise voters along religious lines.
Modi also fought and won the seat of the sacred city Varanasi, viewed as an effective way of burnishing his nationalist credentials.
In the only Muslim-majority state, where an insurgency has long raged against Indian rule in favor of independence or merger with Pakistan, some Muslims are hopeful for Modi for different reasons.
Chief Muslim cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said he wanted the new government to take "bold steps" to solve the dispute over Kashmir.
Modi told media during the campaign that he would pursue the policies followed by former BJP premier Atal Behari Vajpayee, who sought several times to make permanent peace with Pakistan over Kashmir.
"Modi has won on the promise of development and progress which can happen when there is peace, but an unresolved Kashmir issue is a hindrance to peace," Farooq said.


Millions malnourished in Pakistan despite abundance of food

Updated 18 min 32 sec ago
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Millions malnourished in Pakistan despite abundance of food

  • In Pakistan, only 38 percent of babies are fed breast milk exclusively during their first six months
  • This low figure is blamed on local traditions, the heavy workloads of mothers and powerful marketing by the milk industry

KARACHI: A frantic mother cradling her seven-month-old baby rushes toward the special paediatric ward in a desolate Pakistan town, his eyes are blank and he is smaller than most newborns.
He is starving in a country that has no shortage of food, but which has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and where malnutrition is rife.
The infant weighs just 2.5 kilograms — the average for a healthy child of that age is almost three times that.
His case is not unique for the doctors at the Mithi Civil Hospital in hunger-stricken Sindh province where millions survive on less than $1 a day.
Of the 150-250 patients who come in each day, roughly one fifth are suffering from malnutrition, Dr. Dilip Kumar, head of the paediatric department, tells AFP.
Inside the ward, nine other malnourished infants are crying inside glass incubators. A young mother, Nazeeran, clutches the hand of her toddler.
“Her weight is dropping, even though we consulted many doctors,” the 25-year-old says.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a poverty and hunger watchdog, estimates around one in five of Pakistan’s more than 200 million people are malnourished.
And yet, the nation is not short of food — in fact, according to the US Department of Agriculture, it is projected to export 500,000 tons of wheat from May 2018 until April 2019, and 7.4 million tons of rice in the same period.
Dawn, the English-language daily newspaper, even reported a potato glut earlier this month.

The issues, experts say, are socio-economic — that is, just because food is available, does not mean people can access it.
“There are four key pillars of food security in Pakistan: The first is availability, then accessibility, utilization and stability,” says Dr. Ambreen Fatima, senior research economist at the Applied Economic Research Center of the Karachi University.
In Tharparkar, where Mithi Civil Hospital is, all four are lacking, she explains, adding that in other parts of the country they are present only to varying degrees.
“Pakistan is quite well off in wheat production,” comments Dr. Kaiser Bengali, a veteran economist, who has done field research on poverty and hunger in the country, but adds that much of it is sold for export.
This means ordinary people in the country may not have access to it, and if they do they may not have the resources to pay for it.
“Affordability is the biggest challenge here in Pakistan,” he says.
Karachi is Pakistan’s financial capital, but Bengali says he has seen alarming examples of poverty and deprivation there.
“In our surveys we came across the kids who had never eaten an apple, and when we offered him an apple he was reluctant to take the bite wondering whether it was an edible thing or not,” Bengali reveals.
“In another case a family had never had eggs in their whole lives,” he adds.
A survey of the state-run Planning Division in 2017 found that 40 percent of Pakistan’s population lives in multi-dimensional poverty.
That means they are not just short of money, but are also facing a shortage of basic needs, including health, clean water, and electricity, among other factors — all of which can impact their access to food.

“Poor physical infrastructure, particularly in the remote rural areas throughout Pakistan is also a limitation on access to food and influences market prices,” according to a recent statement from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“This is also linked to inadequate water and sanitation, education and health service delivery, which together with the lack of awareness of appropriate dietary intake contributes to greater food insecurity and malnutrition.”
Tharparkar district is frequently highlighted in Pakistan’s media because of its high rate of child deaths, with politicians blaming the situation on drought — but economists and physicians say that is not the sole explanation.
“Causes of malnutrition are multiple pregnancies, young-aged marriage, iron deficiency in mothers, (lack) of breastfeeding, weak immunization, and early weaning,” Dr. Kumar insists.
Bearing large numbers of children from a young age takes its toll on women’s health, but also impacts the well-being of the fetus and ability to breastfeed a newborn.
In Pakistan, only 38 percent of babies are fed breast milk exclusively during their first six months in line with UN recommendations.
This low figure is blamed on local traditions, the heavy workloads of mothers and powerful marketing by the milk industry.
Many mothers are told to feed their newborns tea, herbs, which can stunt growth. Some are unnecessarily persuaded to use formula instead of breastmilk by doctors.
This can introduce health problems if the water use to make it is unclean, or if poor families scrimp on the amount of powder to create the drink.
Sindh’s high number of child deaths are the result of a vicious poverty cycle that begins with malnourished mothers, agrees Bengali.
He adds: “An infant is not fed with wheat or solid food.”