Indian farmers observe ‘black day’ in fight over new agricultural laws

Farmers burned an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday while observing a “black day” to mark six months of protests against controversial new agricultural laws. (Supplied)
Farmers burned an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday while observing a “black day” to mark six months of protests against controversial new agricultural laws. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 May 2021

Indian farmers observe ‘black day’ in fight over new agricultural laws

Farmers burned an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday while observing a “black day” to mark six months of protests against controversial new agricultural laws. (Supplied)
  • Effigies of PM Narendra Modi were burned during demonstrations marking six months of protests against deregulation of farming sector

NEW DELHI: Farmers in the Indian capital New Delhi and surrounding areas observed a “black day” on Wednesday to mark six months of protests against agricultural laws they say favor private businesses at the expense of the growers they buy from.

Thousands of farmers from the mostly rural states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have set up camp in the outskirts of the capital to protest against three laws that were passed in September.

A few weeks into the protests, which began in late November, their numbers rose to about 300,000 and peaked in January, when nearly a million arrived from across the country, braving scorching heat and fears of coronavirus.

Farmers say the new laws will hit their incomes and leave them at the mercy of corporations because the legislation clears the way for the unregulated entry of private companies into the farming sector, which provides employment for more than 50 percent of the country’s population.

Despite a spike in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks as a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic rages across the country, hundreds converged on Delhi and its surrounding areas on Wednesday to take part in the “black day” demonstrations. Some chanted slogans and burned effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a show of anger, amid complaints that their concerns have been ignored.

“For six months we have been sitting at the protest site but the government has not been listening to us,” Anil Kasana, a leader of the Indian Farmers’ Union in Greater Noida, in the suburbs of Delhi, told Arab News. “We will continue agitating against the three farm laws until they are withdrawn.”

Farmers fear the laws will usher in the privatization of traditional agricultural markets, leading to market-driven pricing of produce and the elimination of the minimum support prices the government sets each year for certain produce.

The government held 10 rounds of talks with farmers and offered to postpone the implementation of the new laws for 15 months in an effort to reach an agreement. However the protesters rejected the offer and continue to demand the laws be revoked. Farmers said that if they continue to put pressure on the authorities, the government will be forced to given in to their demands.

“This is our way to tell the government that despite the pandemic, the farmers’ movement is alive and it has the widespread support of the people,” said Sarwan Singh Pandher, general secretary of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, a farmers’ group in Punjab.

At least 40 groups and unions that represent farmers across the country are protesting under the banner of Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or the Joint Farmers’ Forum. On Friday, the group wrote to Modi demanding his “intervention to resume talks” and warning that the failure of the government to give a “constructive response” would lead to “intensified” protests.

Pandher told Arab News: “We knew there wouldn’t be any response from the government. We expressed our intention for talks and if the government does not respond, then it will have to answer to the people. They will have to go to the people sooner or later. Agitation is the only option left to us.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government continues to stand firm on the new laws and said it is up to the farmers to find a way to move forward in the negotiations.

“The unions should either be positive to our offer or provide us with an alternative,” Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said on Saturday, the day after the farmers delivered their renewed offer of talks to Modi.

Political analysts described the government reaction as “unpragmatic.”

“Farmers are in for a long haul,” Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst in New Delhi, told Arab News. “The government of India has made this a matter of the prestige of the prime minister. I don’t think there has been any government that has been so unpragmatic.”

Devinder Sharma, a Punjab-based expert on agriculture, echoed this view and urged the government to be more “magnanimous” and understand the “pain of the farmers.”

“The government should withdraw the laws so that farmers can go home,” he told Arab News. “What is so sacrosanct about these laws?

“If the farmers have put their lives at stake and are protesting for six months, that shows they have a pain that is severe, they have a pain we need to understand, which the nation needs to understand.”

Wednesday’s protests coincided with the seventh anniversary of Modi becoming prime minister.

However Mukhopadhyay said that Modi’s “shortsightedness” in his handling the protests could prove to be “politically costly for him even if he manages to send the farmer back home.”

He explained: “Modi might win the battle against the farmers but he has lost the war to regain their support. The farming communities in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan hold sway over 100 parliamentary constituencies, and the BJP will feel the impact in the next elections.”


UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise
Updated 18 October 2021

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise
  • Survey: Thousands of Muslims miss out on university every year because they cannot access Shariah-compliant finance
  • Implementation of Islamic loan system a ‘question of political priority,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: MPs, campaigners and Islamic finance professionals will deliver a letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday urging him to take action that would end the annual exclusion of thousands of British Muslims from higher education.

A survey by the Muslim Census, published on Monday, found that thousands of young British Muslims choose not to go to university every year because the loans they rely upon to fund their studies bear interest.

“There is a genuine and widespread need for ASF (alternative student financing), and its absence is leading to unequal access to university,” reads the letter signed by Lord Sharkey, MP David Timms, Islamic Finance Guru CEO Ibrahim Khan, Rizwan Yusoof of the National Zakat Foundation and Asha Hassan, a student finance campaigner.

It is religiously prohibited for Muslims to borrow or lend money upon which interest is paid. This means British-Muslim students are forced to pay up to £9,000 ($12,361) per year upfront for their education, as well as cover all their own living expenses.

Muslim Census found that of its survey’s 36,000 respondents, roughly 10 percent missed out on higher education entirely because of a lack of alternative financing options.

A further one in six self-financed their education, which “resulted in severe restrictions with regards to which course and university they decide to attend,” it said.

Extrapolated to the UK’s Muslim population as a whole, these results mean that more than 4,000 potential students are forgoing a university education every year, while close to 6,000 are forced to self-fund.

In 2013, then-Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to deal with the inequity in access to education for Muslims, saying: “Never again should a Muslim in Britain feel unable to go to university because they cannot get a student loan simply because of their religion.”

But nearly 10 years since that promise was first made, Muslims are still being forced to choose whether to pursue an education or stick to the principles of their religion, Hassan told Arab News.

“This is really important to our community, but we’ve so far felt like we have no voice. This letter is hopefully a chance for the prime minister to see that this is a big issue,” she said.

“There are thousands and thousands of students who have the grades, the ambition, the aspiration, but because they don’t feel like they can compromise on their religious convictions, they’re left with no option,” she added.

“Four out of five Muslims who do take out loans feel conflicted by it, but they’re in a position where they feel like they can’t do anything else about it.”

Omar Shaikh, managing director of the UK Islamic Finance Council, told Arab News that the creation of a financing system for British Muslims is “workable” and that its creation is a matter of politics, not practicality.

“UKIFC was appointed by the Department of Education to put together a detailed product that’s efficiently implementable and works at parity with the existing student loans system,” he said. 

“Following various workshops and input from the Student Loans Co., Shariah scholars, the Department for Education and lawyers, we were successfully able to create a workable pragmatic structure. We know it can be done and isn’t onerous to do so,” he added.

“It’s now a question of political priority. We look forward to the government progressing matters, and commend the Department for Education for driving this inclusive policy.”


French ambassador ordered out of Belarus in diplomatic spat

French ambassador ordered out of Belarus in diplomatic spat
Updated 18 October 2021

French ambassador ordered out of Belarus in diplomatic spat

French ambassador ordered out of Belarus in diplomatic spat
  • France’s Foreign Minister said ambassador’s departure on Sunday was due to the “unilateral decision” of Belarusian authorities
  • Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the emergency departure of the French ambassador is connected with his unwillingness to present his credentials to Lukashenko

PARIS: France says that its ambassador to Belarus has been ordered out of the country.
In a communique Monday, France’s Foreign Minister said that Ambassador Nicolas de Lacosate’s departure on Sunday was due to the “unilateral decision” of Belarusian authorities.
Local media say the move to kick the ambassador out is linked to a fallout over the non-recognition by France, and other European Union countries, of Lukashenko’s re-election in August 2020.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that the emergency departure of the French ambassador from the country is connected with his unwillingness to present his credentials to Lukashenko.
“The head of the French diplomatic mission did not express readiness to complete the procedure for assuming office as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Belarus, which is stipulated by international law and generally recognized practice,” said Anatoly Glaz, press secretary of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.
France’s Foreign Ministry explained that de Lacoste did not present his credentials to Lukashenko because it was “in line with the common European position of not recognizing the legitimacy of the outcome of the August 2020 presidential election.”
Lukashenko claimed victory in a sixth presidential term but the election was marred by claims of widespread voter fraud. More than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands beaten by police for protesting against Lukashenko’s sixth term after an election in August 2020 that the opposition condemned as fraudulent and many Western countries refused to recognize as valid.
The French ambassador arrived in Minsk after the controversial presidential election. In December, he handed copies of his credentials to the Belarusian foreign minister, but did not want to meet with Lukashenko.
De Lacoste actively met with representatives of civil society and politicians in Belarus. Among the latest meetings were negotiations in Minsk with activists of the opposition “Tell the Truth” movement, which was closed by the authorities. And also a meeting on Oct. 16 with the ex-leader of Belarus Stanislav Shushkevich, who sharply criticizes the current government.
Belarusian opposition figure Pavel Latushko — a former Belarusian ambassador to France — called on the French ambassador to continue his mission from Lithuania.
“The French Ambassador may continue his mission in the interests of developing relations between France and Belarusian society from Vilnius,” Latushko said. “The regime is entering open conflict both with neighboring countries and with the leading states in world politics.”
Calling it an “unjustified decision,” France said it has taken proportionate measures regarding Belarusian diplomats in France. Belarusian Ambassador to France Igor Fisenko was recalled to Minsk for consultations, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said.


Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north
Updated 18 October 2021

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north
  • Heavily armed gangs known locally as bandits have terrorised northwest and central Nigeria for years, raiding and looting villages
  • "We're not sure of the (death toll) figure. But it is 30 something," Sokoto's government spokesman Muhammad Bello said

ABUJA: Gunmen from a suspected criminal gang attacked a village market in northwest Nigeria’s Sokoto’s state killing dozens of people, the state government said Monday.
Heavily armed gangs known locally as bandits have terrorized northwest and central Nigeria for years, raiding and looting villages, but attacks have become even more violent in recent months.
“We’re not sure of the (death toll) figure. But it is 30 something,” Sokoto’s government spokesman Muhammad Bello said in a statement, adding that the attack occurred on Sunday evening in Goronyo district.
“It was a market day and there were many traders,” Bello told AFP by phone.
Police spokesman Sanusi Abubakar also confirmed that bandits attacked Goronyo late on Sunday.
“Our sercurity operatives are there to conduct investigations,” Abubakar added, without giving details.
Phone networks in the area have been suspended for weeks to disrupt the gangs’ operations, making information-gathering tricky.
A gang raided another village market on October 8, in Sabon Birni district near the border with Niger, killing 19 people.
Since last month, Nigerian troops have been conducting air and ground operations on bandit camps in neighboring Zamfara state.
Telecom services were also shut down in Zamfara, and parts of Kaduna and Katsina states.
Officials in Sokoto are worried that bandits are relocating to the state as a result of operations in Zamfara.
“We’re faced and bedevilled by many security challenges in our own area here, particularly banditry, kidnapping and other associated crimes,” wrote Bello, on behalf of the state governor.
Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, he said, had requested “the presence of more forces in the state and the deployment of more resources.”
Last month 17 Nigerian security personnel were killed when gunmen attacked their base in Sabon Birni, an assault the military blamed on Islamic State-aligned jihadists.
Bandits have no known ideological agenda, but concerns have grown of jihadist inroads in the region.
Violence has spiralled in recent months across the northwest, forcing thousands of already vulnerable people to flee their homes in a situation that aid agencies fear risks becoming a humanitarian crisis.
Since January 2020, about 50,000 people fled from their homes in the northwest alone, according to the International Organization for Migration.
And more than 80,000 additional people have fled to neighboring Niger over the past two years.
Increasingly, bandits have turned to mass kidnapping and have kidnapped hundreds of schoolchildren since December. Most have been freed or released after ransom but dozens are still being held.
The violence is just one challenge facing Nigeria’s security forces, who are also battling a 12-year jihadist insurgency in the northeast that has killed more than 40,000 people.


Muhammad again among UK’s most popular baby names

Muhammad again among UK’s most popular baby names
Updated 18 October 2021

Muhammad again among UK’s most popular baby names

Muhammad again among UK’s most popular baby names
  • Muslim names including Ibrahim and Yusuf continue to gain popularity
  • Pop culture and royalty informing naming trends for new parents

LONDON: Muhammad was the fifth most popular name for male British babies in 2020, the UK’s Office for National Statistics revealed on Monday.

Mohammed and Mohammad were also among the 100 most popular baby boy names in the UK – ranking 32 and 74 – though neither came close to the Muhammad spelling.

Noah, an important figure in all three Abrahamic religions, was the fourth most popular name for male British babies.

Two other Muslim names — Ibrahim and Yusuf — made it into the top 100 for 2020. All three spellings of the prophet’s name, as well as Yusuf and Ibrahim, have been climbing in popularity consistently since 1996, ONS data shows.

Muslims from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds transliterate the name Muhammad differently into English, but all are named in reverence of Islam’s most loved figure.

Despite being spelled differently by different groups, the origins and intention behind the naming are likely shared by each culture and ethnicity employing it. 

It is likely that the name is even more popular than the ONS rankings suggest, but the methodology of dividing names based on their spellings makes it unclear exactly how it ranks against other top names.

Other popular names for male British babies included George, Oliver, and Arthur. The eldest child of Prince William and Kate Middleton is called George, while the middle name of their third child is Arthur.

Sian Bradford, a statistics officer at the ONS, said: “Popular culture continues to provide inspiration for baby names, whether it’s characters in our favorite show or trending celebrities. Maeve and Otis, characters from the program ‘Sex Education,’ have seen a surge in popularity in 2020. While the name Margot has been rapidly climbing since actress Margot Robbie appeared in the film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’”

Archie leapt into the top 10 of baby names for boys — likely because Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle chose that name for their firstborn.


Italian police use water cannon on port protesters

Italian police use water cannon on port protesters
Updated 18 October 2021

Italian police use water cannon on port protesters

Italian police use water cannon on port protesters
  • Dozens of police in riot gear faced off against hundreds of remaining demonstrators and port workers
  • They began blocking one of the port entrances Friday to protest the introduction of the "Green Pass"

ROME: Police in Italy used water cannon and tear gas against protesters at the northeastern port of Trieste on Monday following a three-day demonstration against a new mandatory workplace Covid pass.
Dozens of police in riot gear faced off against hundreds of remaining demonstrators and port workers who began blocking one of the port entrances Friday to protest the introduction of the “Green Pass.”
“Liberty, liberty!” shouted protesters, as others yelled “We’re not violent, put down your shields.”
Police managed to clear the entrance after a few hours of standoff, pushing demonstrators to a nearby parking lot from which they then marched toward the city center.
Italian news agency AGI reported that by Friday afternoon, more than a thousand protesters were participating in a sit-in at Trieste’s main plaza.
Trieste dock workers had called a strike Friday despite being offered free Covid tests, and their protest attracted demonstrators from out of town.
The Green Pass, which offers proof of vaccination, recent recovery from Covid-19 or a negative test, became mandatory in all workplaces on Friday throughout Italy.
The new regulation spurred a wave of protests across the country, although most were small and not disruptive.
More than 6,500 people demonstrated at the Trieste port, however, at the height of the protest Friday.
Although more than 85 percent of Italians over the age of 12 have received at least one vaccine dose, qualifying them for the pass, there remain up to three million workers estimated to be unvaccinated.