Anger brewing on Indian archipelago over ‘anti-Muslim’ legislation

Anger brewing on Indian archipelago over ‘anti-Muslim’ legislation
Photo/Wikipedia
Short Url
Updated 26 May 2021

Anger brewing on Indian archipelago over ‘anti-Muslim’ legislation

Anger brewing on Indian archipelago over ‘anti-Muslim’ legislation
  • They warn that the changes, seen by some as blatantly anti-Muslim, threaten the peace and “COVID-free status” of the Muslim-majority archipelago

NEW DELHI: In a rare show of discontent on the Lakshadweep islands, off the coast of the southern Indian state of Kerala, locals are complaining about a string of policies initiated by a new administrator appointed five months ago.
They warn that the changes, seen by some as blatantly anti-Muslim, threaten the peace and “COVID-free status” of the Muslim-majority archipelago.
Lakshadweep is a union territory run by an administrator appointed by the central government. Only 10 of its 36 islands, which are spread across a 32-square-kilometer area in the Arabian Sea, are inhabited. Muslims account for 93 percent of the islands’ 70,000-strong population. Kerala, the closest Indian state, is 240 kilometers away.
Since India’s independence in 1947 the administration of the archipelago was always overseen by a bureaucrat, until December last year when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appointed former politician Praful Khoda Patel as its administrator. Patel was Modi’s home minister in the western Indian state of Gujarat before Modi became prime minister in 2014.
In the five months since taking up his position, Patel has announced a series of decisions that have sparked controversy, such as a proposed ban on the slaughter of cows and the consumption of beef; draft legislation that would disqualify people with more than two children from contesting local elections; and the introduction in January of the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA), a draconian law under which individuals can be detained, without any public disclosure, for up to a year.
Another contentious proposal from his office is the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021, a draft law that gives the administrator the power to remove or relocate islanders from their properties if required by planning or development activities.
Locals are outraged by what they see as the “majoritarian mindset” behind the policies, and Patel is facing opposition from islanders and politicians in Lakshadweep and neighboring Kerala.
“There is a lot of anger among locals over decisions taken by the administrator,” Dr. Ayshabi Kalpeni, chief medical officer at the Life Care Hospital in Malappuram, Kerala, told Arab News.

BACKGROUND

New administrator accused of imposing ‘unilateral, authoritarian and undemocratic’ policies in Lakshadweep that threaten peace and safety of the islands.

“Our existence has come to be questioned with these decisions and we feel that the government is working with the same majoritarian mindset here as it is working elsewhere in the country.”
She also questioned Patel’s decision to open up the islands to tourists during the COVID-19 pandemic that is raging across the country.
“(Lakshadweep) did not have a single coronavirus case in the past year but since Patel allowed tourists to visit … it has over 7,000 cases and scores of deaths,” Kalpeni said.
It is imperative that the number of infections is reduced, she said, because Lakshadweep does not have critical healthcare facilities; patients who require ventilators or other advanced forms of treatment have to be flown to Kerala.
“By the time you airlift the patient and take them to a hospital on the mainland, crucial time is lost; that’s why many people have lost their lives,” she added.
According to media reports, nearly 2,000 local residents have been removed from public roles in the past few months. Kalpeni said this has added to the increasing mood of discontent on the islands.
“The way the government is trying to settle outsiders in Kashmir, I feel a similar design is at work on the islands,” she added.
Some have also questioned the need for the PASA legislation. Authorities argue that it is designed to control antisocial and anti-national activities, but Anees Nasir, president of the Lakshadweep Student Association, said that the territory has a very low crime rate and its jail is nearly empty.
“The act has injected a great sense of fear in us, and we fear we might be detained if we speak against the policies,” he told Arab News. “What is the need for an act like PASA in Lakshadweep where the crime rate is negligible?
“Some of the proposed regulations are a challenge to our way of life on the islands.”
Lakshadweep’s only Muslim parliamentarian, Mohammed Faizal, agreed and told Arab News: “The administrator wants to create fear among people so that they cannot protest against the new land laws.
“What is the need for PASA in a peaceful region like Lakshadweep, and why does the government want to ban beef in a Muslim-majority area?”
Similar sentiments are echoed by politicians and activists in Kerala who, along with islanders, have launched a “Save Lakshadweep” campaign.
“The whole idea of the BJP is to change the demography of Lakshadweep and create another Kashmir in southern India,” Tasleem Rehmani, a member of the Kerala-based Muslim Political Council of India, told Arab News.
The BJP denied the allegations.
“This is a hate campaign by Kerala-based parties and there is nothing wrong in the administrative reforms because the locals themselves were demanding development for the past 10 years,” K. Surendran, the BJP’s president in Kerala, told Arab News.
“There is no beef ban in Lakshadweep; the meat is only banned in the noon meal for school students on the advice of experts.”
However, opponents and analysts have described the recent proposals as “unilateral, authoritarian, undemocratic and anti-Muslim.”
“The (proposed) cow-slaughter ban is a clear expression of Patel’s vindictive agenda targeting Muslims,” K. A. Shaji, a political analyst in Kerala, told Arab News. “The local community is angry but helpless.
“I do believe this is a move to weaken the Muslim demography on the islands and to open up the islands to private corporations from the mainland.”


Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city

Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city
Updated 6 min 1 sec ago

Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city

Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city
  • Violence has surged across Afghanistan since early May, when the Taliban launched a sweeping offensive
  • The militants have seized scores of districts across Afghanistan, including in Herat province

HERAT, Afghanistan: Afghan and Taliban forces clashed again on the outskirts of Herat Saturday, a day after a police guard was killed when a United Nations compound in the western city came under attack.
Violence has surged across the country since early May, when the Taliban launched a sweeping offensive as US-led foreign forces began a final withdrawal that is now almost complete.
The militants have seized scores of districts across Afghanistan, including in Herat province, where the group has also captured two border crossings adjoining Iran and Turkmenistan.
Officials and residents reported renewed fighting on the outskirts of Herat Saturday, with hundreds fleeing their homes to seek shelter closer to the heart of the city.
Herat governor Abdul Saboor Qani said most of the fighting was in Injil and Guzara district — where the airport is located.
“At the moment the fighting is ongoing in the south and southeast. We are moving cautiously and to avoid civilian casualties,” Qani said.
During fighting Friday, the main Herat compound of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire that the UN blamed on anti-government elements.
The militants say they will not target foreign diplomats, but have blatantly violated international protocol before.
Afghan forces and militiamen of veteran warlord and anti-Taliban commander Ismail Khan have been deployed around the city of 600,000 in recent days.
Khan, who previously fought the Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s and then the Taliban during their hard-line regime in the 1990s, has vowed to fight the insurgents again to counter their staggering advances in recent months.


Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 

Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 
Updated 21 min 23 sec ago

Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 

Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 
  • Gen. Lord Richards: “Ungoverned space” will create opportunities for terror groups

LONDON: A former head of the UK armed forces has called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to outline the country’s strategy for Afghanistan as the war-torn nation slides into further conflict amid the Taliban’s advance.
Gen. Lord Richards, former chief of defense staff, said he is “fed up” with the government’s lack of planning for the next stage of supporting Afghanistan, where he served as the commander of coalition forces between 2006 and 2007. He lamented the West’s “defeat” in the country. 
With Western forces lined up to be fully removed by Sept. 11, Richards warned of the potential creation of an “ungoverned space” that could be exploited by terror groups for the planning of atrocities such as the 9/11 attacks.
He told the BBC that he takes a “share of the blame” for the West’s calamitous performance in Afghanistan, but that while NATO military force — chiefly from the US and Britain — largely achieved what was expected, politicians had failed to give Afghanistan sufficient economic and political support following the 2001 removal of the Taliban from power. 
“We have invested — as a country, as the West and the US particularly — 20 years of time and much money and many lives in Afghanistan,” said Richards.
“I’m getting a little bit fed up that I’ve not heard from our government — indeed from the prime minister — as to why we have reached this nadir. It’s really not good enough, and I would like to hear from the government — I think it’s a prime ministerial obligation now — as to why we’ve got into this position and what we are now going to do about it,” he added.
“It’s deflecting attention from our defeat. Added to what happened in Iraq, Libya, Syria, it’s a pretty sorry tale of Western failed geo-strategy over the last 20 years. And it’s time we had an explanation of why and what are we now going to do about it, to prevent it from happening in the way we all now fear might occur.”
The decorated former officer complained that following the invasion, the UN conducted a “light-touch” approach masterminded by envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, which meant the West failed to build on the military gains of 2001. 
Richards said the short supply of economic support meant that the Taliban returned as a threat five years later.
“As all soldiers will tell you, we know we can’t win these things by military means alone. What we hoped we were doing was providing an opportunity for governments, the whole of the West, to act in the way they needed, not just militarily but politically and economically,” he added.
“That didn’t happen … At the very moment, in 2002 to 2005, when the West should have poured in assets — and I’m talking primarily non-military by the way — we didn’t do so. The Taliban sensed an opportunity, they came back.”
Richards warned that the Taliban’s capture of Kandahar — Afghanistan’s second city — is “inevitable” without a change in strategy, which would lead to the group sweeping across the south of the country. 
“My biggest worry at the moment is, with the Western forces having pulled out with no adequate explanation of what is going to replace them, we are going to see a potential collapse in Afghan Armed Forces morale,” he said, adding that the resurgence of Taliban control would “almost certainly” facilitate the return of terror training camps.
“There will be ungoverned space … and in that ungoverned space terrorist acts may yet again be planned and executed,” warned Richards.
“I think we all forget too readily the scenes of 9/11, the Twin Towers and the attack in Washington. That is actually why we went into Afghanistan, and we’ve been spectacularly successful in achieving what we aimed to do,” he added.
“That is now being put at risk, along with all the wonderful gains in terms of education, health, and democracy, allowing people to hope for the future. All that is now, I’m afraid at great risk. We don’t have a substitute strategy and I want to hear what it should be.”


Bangladeshis rush back to work as factories reopen despite virus surge

Bangladeshis rush back to work as factories reopen despite virus surge
Updated 31 July 2021

Bangladeshis rush back to work as factories reopen despite virus surge

Bangladeshis rush back to work as factories reopen despite virus surge
SHIMULIA: Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers rushed back to major cities Saturday, besieging train and bus stations, after the government said export factories could reopen despite a deadly coronavirus wave.
With the economy badly hit by the pandemic, the government excluded the factories that supply top brands in Europe and North America from a nationwide lockdown order.
Authorities had ordered factories, offices, transport and shops to close from July 23 to August 5 as daily coronavirus infections and deaths hit record levels.
Officially, Bangladesh has reported 1.2 million cases and more than 20,000 deaths. Experts say the real figures are at least four times higher.
The government said however that the country’s 4,500 garment factories, which employ more than four million people, can reopen from Sunday, sparking a rush back to industrial cities.
The influential garment factory owners had warned of “catastrophic” consequences if orders for foreign brands were not completed on time.
Hundreds of thousands who had gone back to their villages to celebrate the Eid al Adha Muslim festival and sit out the lockdown, headed to Dhaka in any available transport — some just walking in the monsoon rain.
At the Shimulia ferry station, 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of Dhaka, tens of thousands of workers waited hours for boats to take them to the capital.
Garment factory worker Mohammad Masum, 25, said he left his village before dawn, walked more than 30 kilometers (20 miles) and took rickshaws to get to the ferry port.
“Police stopped us at many checkpoints and the ferry was packed,” he said.
“It was a mad rush to get home when the lockdown was imposed and now we are in trouble again getting back to work,” Jubayer Ahmad, another worker, told AFP.
Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment exporter after China and the industry has become the foundation of the economy for the country of 169 million people.
Mohammad Hatem, vice president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said up to $3 billion worth of export orders were at risk if factories had stayed closed.
“The brands would have diverted their orders to other countries,” Hatem told AFP.

Pakistan locks down Karachi amid new coronavirus surge

Pakistan locks down Karachi amid new coronavirus surge
Updated 31 July 2021

Pakistan locks down Karachi amid new coronavirus surge

Pakistan locks down Karachi amid new coronavirus surge
  • Lockdown began Saturday and is set to last until Aug. 8, despite opposition from the federal government and the local business community

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities have imposed a lockdown in the southern Sindh province, including the commercial hub of Karachi and other urban centers, amid an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases.
The lockdown began Saturday and is set to last until Aug. 8, despite opposition from the federal government and the local business community.
Sindh’s chief minister Murad Ali Shah said Friday that a sudden rise in virus cases has flooded hospitals in Karachi, the provincial capital. The new surge appears linked to many of the crowd-attracting activities earlier this month during the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha.
The Sindh provincial government is closing all markets, except for pharmacies, bakeries, gas stations and grocery stores, which still must close by 6 p.m. All transport between cities is halted and public busses aren’t operating. Private cars and taxis are limited to two people.
Ongoing examinations at schools and universities are also postponed until after the lockdown.
Nationwide, Pakistan on Saturday reported 65 deaths and 4,950 new virus cases in the past 24 hours. The South Asian country has reported 1,029,811 confirmed cases and 23,360 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.


COVID-19 cases surge in Sydney as police cordon deters protest

COVID-19 cases surge in Sydney as police cordon deters protest
Updated 31 July 2021

COVID-19 cases surge in Sydney as police cordon deters protest

COVID-19 cases surge in Sydney as police cordon deters protest
  • 210 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 reported in Sydney and vicinities
  • Lockdown, to last at least until the end of August, spurred violent demonstrations last weekend

MELBOURNE: Sydney’s coronavirus cases continued to surge on Saturday as police cordoned off the city’s central district, preventing a planned anti-lockdown protest from taking place.
There were 210 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 reported in Sydney and vicinities that are under a weeks-long strict lockdown while battling an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant. Saturday’s numbers bring the outbreak to 3,190 cases.
The lockdown, to last at least until the end of August, spurred violent demonstrations last weekend, with protesters vowing to return to the streets on Saturday.
But the police closed train stations, banned taxis from dropping passengers off downtown and deployed 1,000 officers to set up check points and to disperse any groups.
Australian media reported that the rally’s organizers urged their followers on Saturday to avoid gathering and regroup on a later date.
A late-July poll by the NSW-based market research firm Utting Research showed that only 7 percent of the people support the demonstrations. Compliance with public health rules has been one of the key cited reasons behind Australia’s success in managing the pandemic.
Despite its struggle with spikes of infections, mostly of the Delta variant, Australia has managed to keep its epidemic largely under control with a total of just over 34,000 cases and 924 deaths.
The country has struggled significantly with its vaccination rollout, with the government indicating on Friday it will be months before Australia’s borders reopen. [
In Sydney, there are 198 people in the hospital, 53 of them in intensive care and 27 requiring ventilation, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said. There was also one death reported, bringing the total number of deaths in the outbreak to 14.
Parts of the neighboring state Queensland entered into a three-day snap lockdown on Saturday after the state recorded six new coronavirus cases of the Delta strain, putting a number of football, rugby and other sporting events into a limbo.
“We have seen from the experience in other states that the only way to beat the Delta strain is to move quickly, to be fast and to be strong,” the state’s Deputy Premier Steven Miles said. “That is now the nationally agreed approach.”