Millions strike in India amid citizenship law backlash

Demonstrators hold placards and flags as they attend a protest rally against a new citizenship law, in Hyderabad, India, January 4, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 09 January 2020

Millions strike in India amid citizenship law backlash

  • Trade union strikes reflect frustration with the government’s economic policies

GUWAHATI: Popular resistance against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is gaining momentum as millions of workers have joined the opposition to the Indian government’s “anti-people” policies.

Banks and markets were shut down in several parts of the country on Wednesday, as 10 leading trade unions went on strike.

“The attitude of the government is that of contempt towards labor, as we construe from its policies and actions,” the unions said a joint statement.

Angry with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, people have been taking to the streets since December, when a new citizenship law was passed. Large-scale demonstrations have been held across the country against the law that protesters refer to as “discriminatory.”

While trade unions are demanding “better wages, rollback of some of the policies that are adversely affecting the lives and livelihood of the workers,” student groups also participated in the rallies.

In the northeastern state of Assam, different student organizations joined the labor platform to protest against the government.

For almost a month, different Assam campuses have been calling for the new citizenship law — the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) — to be repealed as it poses a threat to their ethnic identity. The Assamese feel that under the CAA, immigrants in the state would become citizens, although they have not met the criteria of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which Assam released in August last year.

Some 1.9 million people in the state, mostly Hindus, were not on the NRC list, but the CAA will now accommodate them. The Assamese feel the move is a betrayal by the BJP government.

Under the CAA, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi and Christian minorities from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are eligible to become citizens, if they came to India before Dec. 31, 2014. Muslims are not included.

HIGHLIGHT

Under the CAA, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi and Christian minorities from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are eligible to become citizens, if they came to India before Dec. 31, 2014. Muslims are not included.

“We will continue the agitation till the government withdraws CAA,” Samujjal Bhattacharya, secretary-general of All Assam Students Union, told Arab News.

Wednesday’s labor strikes were also supported by students in the eastern Indian state of Bengal. In New Delhi, the protests were mild, but most of the government-owned banks were closed. Their employees were barred from participating in the rallies.

A BJP youth leader from New Delhi, Pappu Nirala, said that trade unions belong to the past and “don’t understand the dynamics of the changing world. Most of their demands are archaic.”

Meanwhile, the opposition Congress Party extended support to the protesting trade unions. Its leader, Rahul Gandhi, said on Twitter that Modi government’s “anti-people, anti-labor policies have created catastrophic unemployment and are weakening the PSUs (public sector units).”

Political analyst Pawan Pratay told Arab News that “the continuous protests in different parts of the country show that the BJP is gradually losing the political narrative and people are getting disenchanted,” especially economically, as people are becoming insecure about their future. 

The union strikes, Pratay said, reflect “frustration with the government’s economic policies.”

Pratay added: “If the government fails to arrest the economic slide there would be further resistance. Failure on the economic front will be disastrous for the Modi regime.”


Manila turns ships, hotels into isolation centers

A fireman sprays disinfectant from the back of a firetruck to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 during a localized quarantine in Manila. (AP)
Updated 36 min ago

Manila turns ships, hotels into isolation centers

  • Duterte unveils record $4bn aid package as number of COVID-19 cases passes 2,000

MANILA: The Philippines on Tuesday started earmarking hotels, ships, gyms, and convention centers for use as quarantine areas as the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases swept past the 2,000 mark.

The move coincided with an announcement by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte to allocate 200 billion pesos ($4 billion) toward helping low-income households severely affected by the health crisis.
“They are the ones in the informal sector and those who live day-to-day on subsistence wages or ‘no-work, no-pay’ arrangements,” he said.
On Tuesday the Philippines recorded 538 new COVID-19 infections – the highest single-day increase since the start of the outbreak — taking the total number of cases in the country to 2,084, with 88 deaths and 49 recovered patients.
Cabinet secretary and spokesman for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, Karlo Nograles said the country’s health, transportation, and defense departments would be working together to ensure delivery of personal protective equipment for “the front-liners on the ground” fighting the spread of COVID-19.
He added that authorities had been asked to identify suitable buildings and facilities that could be used as quarantine or isolation centers.
Following the arrival of more COVID-19 test kits from abroad, Duterte’s government announced extra measures to tackle the pandemic in anticipation of a further surge in the number of infection cases.
Nograles said the Department of Transportation had been tasked with identifying maritime vessels that could serve as floating quarantine centers, while the Department of Tourism had been asked to draw up a list of hotels and accommodation establishments that could also be made available for patient care.
Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works and Highways, in cooperation with private entities, will convert the Philippine International Convention Center, World Trade Center, and the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex into isolation facilities.
Local government units (LGUs) will be in charge of furbishing provincial, city, municipal, and barangay quarantine facilities.

FASTFACT

Luzon island, the country’s largest and most populous island, has been under lockdown since March 17 and will remain so until at least April 12.

The LGUs have also been ordered to help in the provision of basic necessities and local transport for residents, and identify individuals to carry out intensive contact tracing, assessments and disinfection operations in their respective localities.
Luzon island, the country’s largest and most populous island, has been under lockdown since March 17 and will remain so until at least April 12.
In an address to the nation on Monday, Duterte announced that the government was undertaking several key measures to overcome and recover from the effects of the pandemic.
“We have allotted 200 billion pesos for low-income households who are severely affected by the current crisis,” he said, adding that it was the largest aid package in the Philippines’ history to make up for the loss of economic opportunities due to the quarantine measures.
He also gave reassurances over supplies of food and other essential goods while imposing a price freeze on commodities.
“We are marshaling and deploying the resources of government to provide our frontline health workers with everything they require so they can save as many lives as possible.
“We are now procuring medical supplies, devices and personal protective equipment. About 1 million medical protective items are being acquired right now, with the government and the private sector working together to purchase or produce the necessary quantities,” Duterte added. The country’s capacity to conduct broader tests has also been ramped up to help give a more accurate picture of the spread of COVID-19 in the country.