In India, wearing hijab bars some Muslim students from class

In India, wearing hijab bars some Muslim students from class
Indian girl students who were barred from entering their classrooms for wearing hijab speak to their principal outside the college campus in Udupi, India, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. (Bangalore News Photos via AP)
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Updated 08 February 2022

In India, wearing hijab bars some Muslim students from class

In India, wearing hijab bars some Muslim students from class

NEW DELHI: When the students were barred last month from entering their classrooms and told not to wear hijab, a headscarf used by Muslim women, they began camping outside the all-girls high school.
The story cascaded across the Internet, drawing news crews to the front of the government-run school in Udupi district, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
Battle lines were swiftly drawn. The students began protesting outside the school gate and sat huddled in a group, reading their lessons. The school staff, which said the students were defying uniform rules, remained unmoved.
A month on, more schools have begun implementing a similar ban on hijabs, forcing the state’s top court to step in. It will hear petitions filed by the protesting students on Tuesday and rule on whether to overturn the ban.
But the uneasy standoff has raised fears among the state’s Muslim students who say they are being deprived of their religious rights. On Monday, hundreds of them, including their parents, took to the streets against the restrictions, demanding that students should be allowed to attend classes even if they are wearing hijab.
“What we are witnessing is a form of religious apartheid. The decree is discriminatory and it disproportionately affects Muslim women,” said A. H. Almas, an 18-year-old student who has been part of the weeks-long protests.
So far several meetings between the staff, government representatives and the protesting students have failed to resolve the issue. The state’s education minister, B. C. Nagesh, has also refused to lift the ban. He told reporters Sunday that “those unwilling to follow uniform dress code can explore other options.”
For many Muslim women, the hijab is part of their Islamic faith. It has for decades been a source of controversy in some western countries, particularly in France, which in 2004 banned it from being worn in public schools. But in India, where Muslims make up almost 14 percent of the country’s near 1.4 billion people, it is neither banned nor is its use restricted in public places.
In fact, women wearing hijab are a common sight in India, and for many of them, it symbolizes religious identity and is a matter of personal choice.
Because the debate involves alleged bias over a religious item worn to cover hair and maintain modesty, some rights activists have voiced concerns that the decree risks raising Islamophobia. Violence and hate speech against Muslims have increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party, which also governs the Karnataka state.
“Singling out hijab for criticism is unfair and discriminatory. Those opposing it are on record decrying secularism and for openly espousing majoritarianism,” said Zakia Soman, founder of a Muslim women’s group, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan.
Others contend it underscores the potential isolation and marginalization of Muslims who feel Modi and his Hindu nationalist party are slowly isolating them, compounding an already growing unease felt by the minority community, in a multicultural country that has guarantees of religious freedom enshrined in its constitution.
“What we are seeing is an attempt to invisibilize Muslim women and push them out of public spaces,” said Afreen Fatima, a New Delhi-based student activist. She said the ban is the culmination of a growing climate of hate against Muslims “which has now manifested itself in the physical realm.”
The protests have drawn public condemnation, with the hashtag #HijabIsOurRight circulating widely on social media, but also led to a rather unexpected pushback.
For the last week, some Hindu students in the state have started wearing Saffron-colored shawls, a symbol of Hindu nationalist groups. They have also chanted praises to Hindu gods, while protesting against the Muslim girls’ choice of headgear, signifying India’s growing religious faultlines and bitter tensions between the country’s Hindu majority and its large Muslim minority.
The events have prompted the state government to ban clothes it said “disturb equality, integrity and public order” and some high schools to declare a holiday to avoid communal trouble.
On Monday one of the schools yielded partially and allowed its Muslim students to attend class with a hijab but made them sit in separate classrooms. The move was heavily criticized, with Muslim students alleging the staff of segregating them on the basis of faith.
“It is humiliating,” said Almas. “How long are we going to accept that citizens can be stigmatized because of their religion?”


UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 migrants

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 migrants
Updated 9 sec ago

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 migrants

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 migrants
LONDON: UK police on Tuesday arrested a man suspected of playing a “key role” in the deaths of at least 27 people who drowned attempting to cross the Channel in a dinghy last November.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the 32-year-old was arrested at an address near Cheltenham, southwest England, on suspicion of being “a member of the organized crime group who conspired to transport the migrants to the UK in a small boat.”
NCA investigators are working with the French authorities to track down those responsible for the tragedy.
French prosecutors have so far charged 10 people for their alleged role in the disaster on November 24 last year.
It was the worst accident in the Channel since 2018, when the narrow strait became a key route for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia attempting to reach England from France.
The vessel sank after leaving the French coast, leading to the death of all but two of those aboard. Four people remain missing.
The suspect will appear before London’s Westminster Magistrates Court on Wednesday, where extradition proceedings will commence.
“This is a significant arrest and comes as part of extensive inquiries into the events leading to these tragic deaths in the Channel,” said NCA deputy director Craig Turner said.
“The individual detained today is suspected of having played a key role in the manslaughter of those who died.
“Working closely with our French partners we are determined to do all we can to get justice for the families of those whose lives were lost,” he added.
Among the 27 — aged seven to 47 — were 16 Iraqi Kurds, four Afghans, three Ethiopians, one Somali, one Egyptian and one Vietnamese migrant.

UK charity to help Pakistan flood victims with cryptocurrency fundraising

UK charity to help Pakistan flood victims with cryptocurrency fundraising
Updated 29 November 2022

UK charity to help Pakistan flood victims with cryptocurrency fundraising

UK charity to help Pakistan flood victims with cryptocurrency fundraising
  • Penny Appeal joins Crypto Giving Tuesday
  • Last year $2.4m raised from digital-asset holders

LONDON: UK-based humanitarian charity Penny Appeal has announced that it would take part in Crypto Giving Tuesday, the biggest day for cryptocurrency generosity, to raise digital donations for its efforts to support the victims of Pakistan’s floods.

Devastating floods since June have killed more than 1,700 people, displaced 7.9 million, and inflicted billions of dollars of damage. Pakistan’s authorities estimate property damage could be as high as $40 billion.

“Bitcoin is more than just an investment; it can also be used to make charitable donations, that’s why on Nov. 29, crypto enthusiasts around the world will be taking part in Crypto Giving Tuesday,” the international charity said in a statement.

“Just as Black Friday and Cyber Monday kicked off the holiday shopping season, Crypto Giving Tuesday is a day for people to show their support for charities and nonprofit organizations that accept cryptocurrency donations,” it added.

Penny Appeal said it has been utilizing platforms like The Giving Block, which helps facilitate cryptocurrency fundraising for nonprofit organizations, to make it easy for people to donate using their digital assets.

The charity’s projects include humanitarian response work, solar-powered water wells, climate-smart villages and education sponsorships for orphans. They are currently working on building permanent homes for those who have lost everything in the floods in Pakistan.

“We’re extremely excited to be able to receive cryptocurrency donations,” said Adeem Younis, founder of Penny Appeal. “Cryptocurrency is playing an increasingly important role in philanthropy, and we hope that Crypto Giving Tuesday will encourage more people to donate cryptocurrencies to support life-saving aid for millions of victims of the Pakistan floods.”

Last year, the day raised over $2.4 million and saw nonprofit participation rise by 839 percent, according to data provided by The Giving Block.

“This year, the team behind Crypto Giving Tuesday is hoping to build on that success and raise even more money for charity,” Penny Appeal said.


Ukraine detains Kherson official suspected of aiding Russian occupiers

Ukraine detains Kherson official suspected of aiding Russian occupiers
Updated 29 November 2022

Ukraine detains Kherson official suspected of aiding Russian occupiers

Ukraine detains Kherson official suspected of aiding Russian occupiers
  • The unnamed Kherson official cooperated with the occupation authorities and helped with the functioning of public services under the Russians
  • The official, who could not be reached for comment, faces up to 12 years in prison under the allegations if prosecuted and found guilty

KYIV: Ukraine has detained a deputy head of newly liberated Kherson’s city council on suspicion of aiding and abetting Russian occupation forces that seized control of the city in March, Ukraine’s state prosecutor said on Tuesday.
The Kherson official, who was not named in the statement, cooperated with the occupation authorities and helped with the functioning of public services under the Russians, the prosecutor said.
The official, who could not be reached for comment, faces up to 12 years in prison under the allegations if prosecuted and found guilty. The official was in custody, but could post bail, the prosecutor said.
Ukraine proclaimed the liberation of Kherson on Nov. 11 after Russian forces who invaded Ukraine in February pulled out of the city in the south of the country and crossed to the other side of the Dnipro River.
The withdrawal ended more than eight months of Russian occupation of Kherson, which was home to almost 300,000 people before the war, but Russian forces are now frequently shelling the city from across the Dnipro.
Ukraine faces a challenge restoring order in Kherson. Tens of thousands of residents have fled, electricity and basic utilities are unavailable and security forces are hunting for possible collaborators and Russian soldiers in disguise.
Ukraine has legislation criminalizing the act of collaboration, but the Kherson city council official is suspected of the slightly different crime of “assisting an aggressor state.”


Students sent home, police on patrol as China curbs protests

Students sent home, police on patrol as China curbs protests
Updated 29 November 2022

Students sent home, police on patrol as China curbs protests

Students sent home, police on patrol as China curbs protests
  • Authorities have eased some controls after demonstrations in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong
  • Security forces have detained an unknown number of people and stepped up surveillance

BEIJING: Chinese universities sent students home and police fanned out in Beijing and Shanghai to prevent more protests Tuesday after crowds angered by severe anti-virus restrictions called for leader Xi Jinping to resign.
This is the biggest show of public dissent in decades.
Authorities have eased some controls after demonstrations in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong — but maintained they would stick to a “zero-COVID” strategy that has confined millions of people to their homes for months at a time.
Security forces have detained an unknown number of people and stepped up surveillance.
With police out in force, there was no word of protests Tuesday in Beijing, Shanghai or other major mainland cities that saw crowds rally over the weekend. Those were the most widespread protests since the army crushed the 1989 student-led Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement.
In Hong Kong, about a dozen people, mostly from the mainland, protested at a university.
Beijing’s Tsinghua University, where students rallied over the weekend, and other schools in the capital and the southern province of Guangdong sent students home. The schools said they were being protected from COVID-19, but dispersing them to far-flung hometowns also reduces the likelihood of more demonstrations. Chinese leaders are wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism including the Tiananmen protests.
On Sunday, Tsinghua students were told they could go home early for the semester. The school, which is Xi’s alma mater, arranged buses to take them to the train station or airport.
Nine student dorms at Tsinghua were closed Monday after some students positive for COVID-19, according to one who noted the closure would make it hard for crowds to gather. The student gave only his surname, Chen, for fear of retribution from authorities.
Beijing Forestry University also said it would arrange for students to return home. It said its faculty and students all tested negative for the virus.
Universities said classes and final exams would be conducted online.
Authorities hope to “defuse the situation” by clearing out campuses, said Dali Yang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Chicago.
Depending on how tough a position the government takes, groups might take turns protesting, he said.
Police appeared to be trying to keep their crackdown out of sight, possibly to avoid drawing attention to the scale of the protests or encouraging others. Videos and posts on Chinese social media about protests were deleted by the ruling party’s vast online censorship apparatus.
There were no announcements about detentions, though reporters saw protesters taken away by police and social media posts said people were in custody or missing.
Police warned some detained protesters against demonstrating again.
In Shanghai, police stopped pedestrians and checked their phones Monday night, according to a witness, possibly looking for apps such as Twitter that are banned in China or images of protests. The witness, who insisted on anonymity for fear of arrest, said he was on his way to a protest but found no crowd there when he arrived.
Images viewed by The Associated Press of photos from a weekend protest showed police shoving people into cars. Some people were also swept up in police raids after demonstrations ended.
One person who lived near the site of a protest in Shanghai was detained Sunday and held until Tuesday morning, according to two friends who insisted on anonymity for fear of retribution from authorities.
In Beijing, police on Monday visited a resident who attended a protest the previous night, according to a friend who refused to be identified for fear of retaliation. He said the police questioned the resident and warned him not to go to more protests.
On Tuesday, protesters at the University of Hong Kong chanted against virus restrictions and held up sheets of paper with critical slogans. Some spectators joined in their chants.
The protesters held signs that read, “Say no to COVID panic” and “No dictatorship but democracy.”
One chanted: “We’re not foreign forces but your classmates.” Chinese authorities often try to discredit domestic critics by saying they work for foreign powers.
China’s “zero-COVID” policy has helped keep case numbers lower than those of the United States and other major countries, but global health experts have increasingly criticized the methods as unsustainable.
Beijing needs to make its approach “very targeted” to reduce economic disruption, the head of the International Monetary Fund told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.
“We see the importance of moving away from massive lockdowns,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in Berlin. “So that targeting allows to contain the spread of COVID without significant economic costs.”
“Zero COVID” means few Chinese have been exposed to the virus. Meanwhile, elderly vaccination rates lag other countries as seniors decline the shots, and China’s domestically developed vaccines are less effective than those used abroad.
Public tolerance of the onerous restrictions has eroded as some people confined at home said they struggled to get access to food and medicine.
The Chinese Communist Party promised last month to reduce disruptions, but a spike in infections has prompted cities to tighten controls.
The protests over the weekend were sparked by anger over the deaths of at least 10 people in a fire in China’s far west last week that prompted angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by anti-virus controls.
Most protesters over the weekend complained about excessive restrictions, but some turned their anger at Xi, China’s most powerful leader since at least the 1980s.
In a video that was verified by The Associated Press, a crowd in Shanghai on Saturday chanted, “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!” Such direct criticism of Xi is unprecedented.
Sympathy protests were held overseas, and foreign governments have called on Beijing for restraint.
“We support the right of people everywhere to peacefully protest, to make known their views, their concerns, their frustrations,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to Bucharest, Romania.
Meanwhile, the British government summoned China’s ambassador as a protest over the arrest and beating of a BBC cameraman in Shanghai.
Media freedom “is something very, very much at the heart of the UK’s belief system,” said Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian disputed the British version of events. Zhao said the journalist, Edward Lawrence, failed to identify himself and accused the BBC of twisting the story.
Asked about criticism of the crackdown, Zhao defended Beijing’s anti-virus strategy and said the public’s legal rights were protected by law.
The government is trying to “provide maximum protection to people’s lives and health while minimizing the COVID impact on social and economic development,” he said.
Wang Dan, a former student leader of the 1989 demonstrations who lives in exile, said the protest “symbolizes the beginning of a new era in China ... in which Chinese civil society has decided not to be silent and to confront tyranny.”
But he warned at a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan, that authorities were likely to respond with “stronger force to violently suppress protesters.”


Number of Muslims in UK up 44% in a decade

Number of Muslims in UK up 44% in a decade
Updated 29 November 2022

Number of Muslims in UK up 44% in a decade

Number of Muslims in UK up 44% in a decade
  • Latest census shows 6.5% of population are adherents of Islam
  • Second most common ethnic group is “Asian, Asian British or Asian Welsh”

LONDON: The Muslim population of the UK has risen 44 percent in a decade, according to the latest census figures published by the Office for National Statistics. Of the country’s total population, 6.5 percent — 3.9 million people — are adherents of Islam.

Meanwhile, the second most common ethnic group in the UK is now “Asian, Asian British or Asian Welsh,” making up 9.3 percent of the population.

In figures showing that the UK has diversified apace since the last census in 2011, London is now two-thirds ethnic minority, while other major cities such as Leicester, Luton and Birmingham have become home to “minority majorities,” driven by significant increases in Asian communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and East Africa.

The census is a survey of trends across the UK that is undertaken every 10 years to provide as accurate a picture of the makeup of the country as possible.

The 2021 census found that around 10 percent of UK households now contain members from at least two different ethnic groups, an increase of 8.7 percent.

It also found that Punjabi and Urdu have become the fifth and sixth most common languages spoken in the UK, with 291,000 and 270,000 speakers respectively, making up around 1 percent of the total population.

The deputy director of the census, Jon Wroth-Smith, said: “Today’s data highlights the increasingly multicultural society we live in. The percentage of people identifying their ethnic group as ‘White: English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or British,’ continues to decrease. Whilst this remains the most common response to the ethnic group question, the number of people identifying with another ethnic group continues to increase.

“However, the picture varies depending on where you live. London remains the most ethnically diverse region of England, where just under two-thirds identify with an ethnic minority group, whereas under one in 10 identify this way in the North East.

“But despite the ethnically diverse nature of society, nine in 10 people across England and Wales still identify with a UK national identity, with nearly eight in 10 doing so in London.”