Myanmar floods kill at least 10, force 54,000 people from homes

People wade through a flooded street in Bago, Myanmar, July 27, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 29 July 2018

Myanmar floods kill at least 10, force 54,000 people from homes

  • Surging floodwaters have killed at least 10 people and forced tens of thousands from their homes across swathes of Myanmar
  • Vast areas of farmland have been submerged by muddy water stretching to the horizon

BAGO, Myanmar: Surging floodwaters have killed at least 10 people and forced tens of thousands from their homes across swathes of Myanmar, a government official said Sunday as more heavy monsoon rain battered the region.
Vast areas of farmland have been submerged by muddy water stretching to the horizon, with only the rooftops of some houses visible.
Some stranded people were plucked from the churning waters by rescuers in boats, while volunteers used rafts made from barrels and pieces of wood.
Other flood victims waded through waist-deep water to escape, carrying children on their shoulders while trying to keep precious belongings out of the water.
“There have been 10 people killed by the floods,” a Ministry of Social Welfare official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that the figure included three soldiers whose deaths were confirmed on Sunday.
“There are more than 54,000 displaced people affected by the flooding around the country.”
Evacuation orders had been issued in several areas, while some 163 camps have been set up for displaced people in southern, eastern and central parts of the country.
“There are normally floods, but not like this year. This year is the worst ever,” said Myint Myint Than, one of the hundreds taking refuge in a shelter in Bago.
Others are holding firm, refusing to leave their flooded homes in spite of the warnings from authorities.
“I’m not going to the shelter yet because some shelters don’t have any places left. But if the flooding gets any worse than this, I will have to escape,” Khin Mar Yee told AFP through the upper window of her submerged house.
The floods in Myanmar come as a particularly heavy monsoon pummels the region, bringing downpours that contributed to the collapse of a dam last week in Laos, which left scores dead or missing.
Myanmar is hit by severe flooding every year and climate scientists in 2015 ranked it top of a global list of nations hardest hit by extreme weather.
That year more than 100 people died in floods that also displaced hundreds of thousands across the country.
Myanmar’s worst natural disaster of recent times was Cyclone Nargis, which lashed huge stretches of the country’s coast and left at least 138,000 dead or missing in May 2008.


India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

Updated 50 min 45 sec ago

India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

  • The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Modi’s government gives overt support to Hindu nationalist causes
  • Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid

NEW DELHI: India’s largest Muslim political groups are divided over how to respond to a Supreme Court ruling that favors Hindus’ right to a disputed site 27 years after Hindu nationalist mobs tore down a 16th century mosque, an event that unleashed torrents of religious-motivated violence.
The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government gives overt support to once-taboo Hindu nationalist causes.
“We are pushed against the wall,” said Irfan Aziz, a political science student at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. “No one speaks about us, not even our own.”
The dispute over the site of the Babri Masjid mosque in the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state has lasted centuries. Hindus believe Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born at the site and that Mughal Muslim invaders built a mosque on top of a temple there. The December 1992 riot — supported by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — sparked massive communal violence in which some 2,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims.
The 1992 riot also set in motion events that redefined the politics of social identity in India. It catapulted the BJP from two parliamentary seats in the 1980s to its current political dominance.
Modi’s party won an outright majority in India’s lower house in 2014, the biggest win for a single party in 30 years. The BJP won even more seats in elections last May.
Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid. But now, friction among Muslim groups has spilled into the open, with one side challenging the verdict and the other saying they are content with the outcome.
Hilal Ahmad, a political commentator and an expert on Muslim politics, said India’s Muslims feel isolated and even divided over the verdict because policies championed by the BJP have established a populist anti-Muslim discourse.
Muslims in India have often rallied around secular parties. However, after Modi won his first term in 2014, religious politics took hold. The BJP’s rise has been marked by the electoral marginalization of Muslims, with their representation in democratic institutions gradually falling.
The 23 Muslim lawmakers in India’s Parliament in 2014 was the lowest number in 50 years. The number rose slightly to 27 in 2019 — out of these, only one is from the BJP.
India’s population of more than 1.3 billion includes more than 200 million Muslims.
The unanimous court verdict last month paves the way for a Hindu temple to be built on the disputed site, a major victory for the BJP, which has been promising such an outcome as part of its election strategy for decades. The court said Muslims will be given 5 acres (2 hectares) of land at an alternative site.
But the Muslim response has been far from unanimous.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, two key Muslim parties to the dispute, have openly opposed the ruling, saying it was biased.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has filed a petition with the court for a review of the verdict. Its chief, Maulana Arshad Madani, said the verdict was “against Muslims.”
“We will again fight this case legally,” Madani said.
Asaddudin Owaisi, one of India’s most prominent Muslim leaders and a member of Parliament, told reporters in November that it was “the right of the aggrieved party” to challenge the verdict.
But another influential Muslim body, Shia Waqf Board, said it accepts the verdict.
It believes any further court procedures in the case will keep the festering issue alive between Hindus and Muslims, said the organization’s head, Waseem Rizvi.
“I believe Muslims should come forward and help Hindus in construction of the temple,” he said.
Swami Chakrapani, one of the litigants in the case representing the Hindu side, said both Hindus and Muslims had accepted the verdict, and “the matter should be put to rest now no matter what some Muslim parties have to say.”
For many Muslims, the verdict has inspired feelings of resignation — of having no choice but to accept the court’s ruling — and fear.
“Our leaders have no consensus and the community is just scared and helpless,” Aziz said.
Disenchanted with the attitude of the religious and political leadership of Muslims, Aziz said the community lacks a “unified voice.”
The divisions are likely to worsen as some Muslim parties start to lean toward the BJP, either as a result of pressure or in an attempt to gain greater Muslim representation in it. With no national Muslim political party to represent them, the community is likely to remain divided over its politics.
“The lack of Muslim representation in Indian politics will marginalize us more,” Aziz said.
Ahmad said the temple verdict could further inflame a dangerous perspective on religious communities in India which portrays Muslims and Hindus as hostile opponents. He said some Muslim groups use issues like Babri Masjid to maintain support, while some Hindu groups thrive on presenting Muslims as “the other,” resulting in greater friction between the communities.
“The fear is evident among the Muslims. The Hindu and Muslim religious elites, as well as political parties, employ this fear to nurture their vested interests,” he said.