Indian scholars decry government move to vet Kashmir forums

Indian scholars decry government move to vet Kashmir forums
Barbed wire on a deserted road during restrictions in Srinagar, Kashmir, August 5, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 February 2021

Indian scholars decry government move to vet Kashmir forums

Indian scholars decry government move to vet Kashmir forums
  • BJP orders inspection measures on seminars covering ‘internal matters’
  • Kashmir-based academics have labeled the decision a ‘totalitarian move’

NEW DELHI: Scholars in Kashmir and across India expressed outrage on Tuesday over a government order for all public universities and institutions to seek approval before hosting international online forums on Kashmir and other “internal matters.”

Experts have said the decision creates an “iron curtain” over free thought.

The Indian education ministry’s “revised” circular dated Jan. 15 requires central educational institutions, publicly-funded universities and government-owned or funded organizations to seek permission from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) before organizing online seminars covering Indian border issues, including Kashmir, among other topics.

“While giving permission, the MEA should ensure that the subject matter for online events is unrelated to security of state, borders, the North East and UT (Union Territory) of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh or any other issues that are clearly/purely related to India’s internal matters,” the education ministry said in a statement.

The revised guidelines will be implemented with “immediate effect.”

As part of the new measures, those taking part in seminars must also have their names recorded and approved by the government.

“The guidelines come into force with the date of it being released,” Saroj Kumar Choudhary, government undersecretary, told Arab News.

Before the latest guidelines, prior approval was required from the MEA to organize foreign conferences or seminars in India — specifically those involving non-Indians arriving in the country on a conference visa — with the latest order being extended to webinars, too.

Kashmir-based academics have labeled the decision a “totalitarian move.”

Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain of Srinagar-based Central University of Kashmir said: “They are trying to raise iron curtains around India, which is unsustainable.

“This is the inception of a totalitarian state, and that is how totalitarian states behaved in the past.”

He added that a university “should be a universe where academics discuss issues without any restrictions and where new ideas are generated.”

Therefore, the guideline is a “problem for those who want to discuss issues and also a problem for academics.”

The disputed territory of Kashmir faced several new restrictions in August 2019 when New Delhi scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, which granted autonomy to the region.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government also divided the state into two federally administered units — the Union Territory of Ladakh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The move was followed by a crackdown on political activity, mass arrests of hundreds of political leaders and activists, and a total lockdown of the region.

Kashmir has yet to have its democratic rights restored, with 4G internet services suspended and many political workers kept in jails.

Hussain said with the government’s latest order, “the regimented atmosphere of Kashmir is being extended to the whole of India.”

He added: “It will destroy all the structures of academics.”

Prof. Siddiq Wahid, a Srinagar-based international scholar and academic, said the guidelines were “a very scary proposition.”

He added: “It forces and encourages something more diabolical than a law that is self-censorship on the part of individuals and institutions.

“You deny scholarship and knowledge to people through such steps. The direction India is going in is a matter of deep worry.

“By the time the world realizes, it might be too late.”

Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat, a former leader of Kashmir’s pro-freedom alliance, the Hurriyat Conference, said that by issuing such “restrictive” guidelines, India was trying to escape “stark realities.”

He said: “You cannot establish peace if you don’t address the disputes. How long will you continue fighting over Kashmir? India and Pakistan cannot escape the reality of rising to the occasion and addressing the issues of Kashmir.”

He added that any solution “has to be Kashmir resolution-specific rather than restricting discussion on the issue.”

A BJP spokesperson refused to comment on the matter when contacted by Arab News on Tuesday.

Scholars, however, bemoaned the “end of intellect” in India.

“It’s the end of scholarship and intellect in India,” Prof. Apoorvanand Jha from Delhi University, told Arab News.

“The Indian government claims that they are going to establish world-class institutions and invite Ivy League universities ... with guidelines like these, how can you expect any free thought to prosper and flourish in India?” Jha said.

“The BJP regime is anti-knowledge and anti-intellect.

“Universities in India are already in a semicoma because in the last few years all the central universities are being controlled by plaintiff vice-chancellors appointed by the government,” he said.

Prof. Ghulam Mohmad Shah of Delhi-based Jamia Millia University said: “Democracy has already been in decline in Kashmir under the BJP regime.

“It is in a terminal decline and hopeless state.”


Funding secured for Indonesia, UAE project to build southeast Asia’s largest floating solar plant


Funding secured for Indonesia, UAE project to build southeast Asia’s largest floating solar plant

Updated 06 August 2021

Funding secured for Indonesia, UAE project to build southeast Asia’s largest floating solar plant


Funding secured for Indonesia, UAE project to build southeast Asia’s largest floating solar plant


JAKARTA: A 145-megawatt floating solar power plant, the largest in Southeast Asia, being built by Indonesia and the UAE could start operating next year, officials announced on securing final funding approval for the project.

Made up of more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia aims to achieve 23 percent renewable energy use by 2025, and 30 percent by 2050. Currently, 13 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources.

The development, built atop the Cirata reservoir in West Java province, will be the country’s first photovoltaic power plant. It is 51 percent owned by PT PJBI, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s state power utility Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), with UAE renewable energy company Masdar owning the other 49 percent.

Masdar and PJBI have secured $140 million from multinational lenders for the project’s financing.

During a press conference, PJBI chief executive officer, Gong Matua Hasibuan, said: “We passed the critical phase of reaching financial close on Aug. 2 when our lenders Standard Chartered bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., and Societe Generale confirmed that we have fulfilled all the requirements to get funding for this project.”

Addressing the same briefing, Indonesia’s state-owned enterprises deputy minister, Pahala Nugraha Mansury, said: “The Cirata floating power plant is expected as a venue for a transfer of technology in renewable energy development from UAE’s leading global renewable energy firm.”

He added that Indonesia hoped the link up would strengthen cooperation with the UAE.

The power plant is one of the projects under $22.9 billion investment agreements secured by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Abu Dhabi last year.

Construction of the floating photovoltaic power plant has already started, and when completed it will cover around 3 percent, or 250 hectares, of the total area of the Cirata reservoir, where PJBI already operates a 1,008-megawatt hydropower plant.

PLN’s chief executive officer, Zulkifli Zaini, said: “We are optimistic that with all the stakeholders’ support, this environmentally friendly power plant project could start its operation on target by the end of 2022.”

He added that the floating power plant would be a “revolutionary development” for the country’s national renewable energy targets, generating enough electricity to power the equivalent of 50,000 homes, and offsetting 214,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

“The Cirata floating solar power plant will contribute about 0.2 percent to our renewable energy mix,” Zaini added.

PLN currently operates power plants that produce 63 gigawatts of energy, out of which 7.9 gigawatts come from renewable sources.

While the Cirata project will be Indonesia’s first plant of its kind, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources has estimated that the country could generate about 40 gigawatts from similar ones that could be developed in 375 locations on lakes and reservoirs.

According to a recent report by the Jakarta-based Institute for Essential Services Reform, it was feasible for Indonesia to use 100 percent of renewable energy in the power, heat, and transport sectors, but it would require at least $20 billion investment per year for the rest of this decade, increasing to $60 billion per year from 2030 to 2040.


Italy makes COVID-19 health pass mandatory for teachers

Italy makes COVID-19 health pass mandatory for teachers
Updated 05 August 2021

Italy makes COVID-19 health pass mandatory for teachers

Italy makes COVID-19 health pass mandatory for teachers
  • Green Pass is a certificate that shows if someone received at least one jab, tested negative or recently recovered coronavirus
  • Cabinet widened the Green Pass requirement to all teachers, university students and long-distance transport from Sept. 1

ROME: The Italian government ruled on Thursday that teachers must have proof of immunity from COVID-19 before entering the classroom. The so-called Green Pass was also made mandatory for travelers on trains, planes, ships and inter-city coaches.
The Green Pass is a digital or paper certificate that shows if someone has received at least one jab, has tested negative or has recently recovered from the coronavirus.
Looking to speed up vaccinations to counter the highly contagious Delta variant, the government had already decreed that from Aug. 6 the pass would be required to eat indoors in restaurants and use an array of services and leisure activities.
On Thursday, despite misgivings in the ruling coalition and small street protests, Mario Draghi’s cabinet widened the Green Pass requirement to all teachers, university students and long-distance transport from Sept. 1.
“The choice of the government is to invest as much as possible in the Green Pass to avoid closures and to safeguard freedom,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza told reporters.
Teachers will not be able to work without the certificate and after five days of absence they will no longer be paid.
Italy is following in the footsteps of France, which was the first European country to say it was making proof of immunity mandatory to access a range of services and venues.
The move by President Emmanuel Macron triggered larger protests than those that have been seen in Italy. Opponents of the measures say they trample on freedoms, discriminate against the unvaccinated, and flout European Union rules.
On Thursday France’s top court ruled that the health pass did not contravene the constitution.
Italy reported 27 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday against 21 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 7,230 from 6,596.
The country has registered 128,163 COVID deaths since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the eighth-highest in the world. It has seen 4.38 million cases to date.
In March, just a month after taking office, Draghi made it obligatory for health workers to be vaccinated.
A growing number of countries are seeking ways to convince reluctant sections of their populations to get COVID-19 jabs.
US President Joe Biden said last week it will be compulsory for federal workers to get vaccinated or face regular testing, mask mandates and travel restrictions.
While France saw a surge in vaccinations following Macron’s announcement of the health pass requirement, the picture in Italy has been less clear.
The pace of inoculations actually slowed in the two weeks following Draghi’s July 22 announcement of the first Green Pass restrictions, but this may be due to the time lag between booking a jab and actually getting one, and to summer holidays.
“The vaccination hesitation among the over 50s persists,” Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italian public health think-tank GIMBE, told Reuters.
As of Aug. 4 some 65 percent of Italians had received at least one shot against COVID-19, of whom 54 percent were fully vaccinated. The figures are broadly in line with those of most European countries.


Belarus runner used quick thinking to avoid being sent home

Belarus runner used quick thinking to avoid being sent home
Updated 05 August 2021

Belarus runner used quick thinking to avoid being sent home

Belarus runner used quick thinking to avoid being sent home
  • Krystsina Tsimanouskaya described Thursday a dramatic series of events at the Olympics that led her to decide not to return to Belarus
  • The sprinter said she was told to pack her bags and team officials told her to say she was injured and had to go home early

WARSAW, Poland: A Belarusian Olympic sprinter who feared reprisals back home after publicly criticizing her coaches at the Tokyo Games used quick thinking to get help.
She used her phone to translate a plea and show it to Japanese police as she tried to avoid being forced onto a plane.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya described on Thursday a dramatic series of events at the Olympics that led her to decide not to return to Belarus, where an authoritarian government has relentlessly pursued its critics. She fled instead to Poland, arriving Wednesday.
After posting a message on social media that criticized the way her team was being managed, Tsimanouskaya said she was told to pack her bags. Team officials told her to say she was injured and had to go home early.
On her way to the airport, she spoke briefly to her grandmother, who explained that there was a massive backlash against her in the media in Belarus, including reports that she was mentally ill. Her grandmother, she said, advised her not to return. Her parents suggested she could go to Poland.
At the airport, she sought help from police, using Google translate to convey her plea in Japanese. At first, they didn’t understand, and a Belarusian official asked what was going on. She claimed she forgot something at the Olympic village and needed to return. Police eventually took her away from the Belarusian officials.
As the drama unfolded, European countries offered to help her, and the runner ended up at the Polish embassy, where she received a humanitarian visa. Many of Belarus’ activists have fled to Poland to avoid a brutal crackdown on dissent by President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, tweeted to say he was “Reassured to see that the athlete Krystsina #Tsimanouskaya arrived safe in Poland.” He deplored, however, that “One more proud Belarusian has however been forced to flee her own country due to the actions of the Lukashenko regime and Olympic truce been violated.”
At a news conference in Warsaw on Thursday, Tsimanouskaya thanked the people who supported her during the standoff.
“It was the whole world, and these people make me much stronger,” she said. She added that she feels safe now.
She also had a message for her fellow Belarusians.
“I want to tell all Belarusians not to be afraid and, if they’re under pressure, speak out,” said the runner, who spoke in both English and Russian at the news conference.
Still, she expressed concern for the safety of her family back home. Her husband, Arseni Zdanevich, fled Belarus this week shortly after his wife said she would not be returning. Poland has also granted him a visa.
The events have drawn more attention to Belarus’ uncompromising authoritarian government. When the country was rocked by months of protests following an election that handed Lukashenko a sixth term but that the opposition and the West saw as rigged, authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown. Some 35,000 people were arrested and thousands of demonstrators beaten. The government has also targeted independent media and opposition figures.
In a sign of the lengths authorities are willing to go to silence their critics, Belarus officials diverted a passenger jet to the capital of Minsk in May and arrested a dissident journalist who was on board.
While Tsimanouskaya’s criticism was aimed at team officials, her defiance may not sit well with political authorities. Lukashenko, who led the Belarus National Olympic Committee for almost a quarter-century before handing over the job to his son in February, has a keen interest in sports, seeing it as a key element of national prestige.
But Tsimanouskaya has insisted that she is no political activist, never intended to flee Belarus and only wanted to be allowed to run in her preferred event at the Olympics. The standoff began after she complained that she was scheduled to participate in a race she had never competed in.
Tsimanouskaya has called for an investigation into what happened, and the International Olympic Committee said it opened a disciplinary case “to establish the facts” in her case.
The main opposition challenger to Lukashenko in last August’s disputed election said Tsimanouskaya’s case showed the lengths his government would go to.
“The message now is that even if you are not involved into opposition movement, even if you have never participated in any demonstrations, but you show your disloyalty to the regime because you do not agree with actions, you are under attack,” Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told The Associated Press in an interview.
The 24-year-old runner said she hadn’t thought about seeking political asylum and hoped to return home one day, when it is safe. She also said she wanted to figure out soon how she might continue her career. She said she will speak with Polish officials on Friday about her next steps.
“I just wanted to run at the Olympics, it was my dream,” she said. “I still hope that these were not the last Olympics in my life.”


7 jailed for life in UK after murder of Lebanese law student 

7 jailed for life in UK after murder of Lebanese law student 
Updated 05 August 2021

7 jailed for life in UK after murder of Lebanese law student 

7 jailed for life in UK after murder of Lebanese law student 
  • Aya Hachem, 19, had just completed her second year of studies at Salford University when she was killed
  • The innocent student was not the intended target of the shooting, which was ordered by a businessman in an attempt to kill a rival tire firm boss

LONDON: Seven British men have been jailed for life for murdering a Lebanese-born law student who was mistakenly shot dead during a drive-by attack last year. 

Aya Hachem, 19, had just completed her second year of studies at Salford University when she was killed. Her family had settled in Blackburn in the north of England after her father rescued them from violence in Lebanon.

She was shot on May 17 last year while collecting groceries ahead of an iftar meal with her family.

Hachem died in hospital after a bullet entered her left shoulder, passed through her body and lodged into a pole behind her. 

The innocent student was not the intended target of the shooting, which was ordered by a businessman in an attempt to kill a rival tire firm boss. 

Pachah Khan, 31, owner of Quickshine Car Wash, angered Feroz Suleman, boss of neighbouring RI Tyres, when Quickshine began to sell tires and became direct competition.

Suleman, 40, who ordered the attack, was sentenced to a minimum of 34 years before he can be considered for parole.

The gunman, Zamir Raja, 33, who missed his first shot before striking Hachem with the second, was jailed for a minimum of 34 years. His driver, Anthony Ennis, 31, must serve 33 years. Ennis accelerated the vehicle before Hachem was shot, and drove around the tire firm three times before the attack occurred on the fourth drive-past. 

Fellow accomplices Ayaz Hussain, 36, Abubakr Satia, 32, Uthman Satia, 29, and Kashif Manzoor, 26, were sentenced to minimum jail times of 32 years, 28 years, 28 years, and 27 years, respectively.

Manchester-based hitman Raja and his driver Ennis were given the job of killing Khan after Hussein was tasked with hiring a killer.

Abubabkr Satia acquired the vehicle used in the attack, which was paid for by his associate Suleman.

Judy Chapman, 26, drove her boyfriend — Uthman Satia — and Raja and Ennis from Bolton to Blackburn. She collect them after the attack. Chapman was convicted of manslaughter and will be sentenced in October. 

Manzoor was involved in the murder by preparing the car, using jump-start cables and leaving the engine running.

The judge, Mr Justice Turner, told Suleman: “You were the driving force behind the whole deadly enterprise from beginning to end, and followed through this plan with obsessive determination.

“When you were in prison you commented to Abubakr Satia you were the captain of the ship and if you were to go down then everyone would down with you. How right you were.”


Kashmir marks ‘black day’ anniversary with shutdown, tightened security

Kashmir marks ‘black day’ anniversary with shutdown, tightened security
Updated 05 August 2021

Kashmir marks ‘black day’ anniversary with shutdown, tightened security

Kashmir marks ‘black day’ anniversary with shutdown, tightened security
  • On Aug. 5, 2019, New Delhi abrogated special autonomous status of Kashmir
  • Anticipating anti-India protests, government forces barricaded roads and set up checkpoints

SRINAGAR: Troops and paramilitary forces were deployed to the streets of Srinagar on Thursday to anticipate protests as shops and businesses in the main city of Indian-controlled Kashmir shut down to mark a "black day" — the second anniversary of New Delhi's annexation of the disputed region.

On Aug. 5, 2019, India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the country's constitution that granted special autonomous status to the region, and divided the state into two federally administered units.

The move was followed by a crackdown on political activity, arrests of hundreds of political leaders and a series of administrative measures allowing more outsiders to settle in Kashmir and raising concerns over attempts at engineering a demographic change in the Muslim-majority region.

Anticipating anti-India protests, police barricaded roads and set up checkpoints. They have also reportedly forced some of the shops and businesses to reopen.

Kashmir's last chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who spent nearly a year in detention following the 2019 crackdown, tried to march with her supporters to Lal Chowk in Srinagar's center, but they were stopped by security forces.

"The BJP is celebrating the day as victory day, but this is a black day for Kashmiris," Mufti said, as police stopped her group.

BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh responded to the protest attempts by saying that leaders such as Mufti are "trying to disrupt the positive narrative in Kashmir."

He said in a statement issued in Srinagar that after Aug. 5, 2019, "an atmosphere of development and progress has built in the region giving people new hope."

But hope is hardly seen on the streets of Kashmir.

"The Indian government claimed to give us a new Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 but the situation in Kashmir is worse today," Srinagar-based shopkeeper Umar Habeeb told Arab News.

"Atrocities have increased in Kashmir and more and more people are being arrested without any reason," he said as he kept his shop closed on Thursday despite pressure from the local administration.

"Police forced some of them to open the shops. Despite that many shops remained closed this shows what is the will of the people," Habeeb said.

Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Association president Bashir Ahmad Rather confirmed the administration had instructed businesses to remain open.

"We did not receive any written order but yes some instructions were given to traders bodies to keep our shops open on August 5," Rather said, but added his organization could not force people to open their shops.

"It's their will," he said.

"Kashmir is sad, angry, helpless, dispossessed and disempowered than before," Srinagar-based journalist and political analyst Gowhar Geelani told Arab News.

"Civil liberties continue to remain suspended, media gagged, and unemployment at an all-time high, but the propagandist attempts continue to contain the Kashmir story with the aim to paint deceptive calm as permanent normalcy," he said. "There is despair."