Chinese Diplomat Says ‘Indo-Pacific’ a US Fabrication to Rope in India; Anti-Conversion Laws Turning Religious Communities Into Ethnic Groups
Supreme Court says circumstantial evidence of corruption sufficient, 10th anniversary of Delhi gangrape, PhD candidate makes Panini’s language algo machine-ready, Ranjan Gogoi is not in the House
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
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Snapshot of the day
December 16, 2022
Today, it’s 10 years since the brutal gangrape and murder of a young paramedic student in Delhi. Her parents say that nothing has changed for Delhi’s women. “In the last 10 years, we do not think anybody except Nirbhaya got justice. No change has come,” her mother said. Her father lamented that women are not safe even today: “Criminals are continuously committing crimes.” But Nirbhaya’s mother, Asha Devi, said more sexual assault survivors are speaking up now.
Amid reports that Indian authorities prevented Chinese smartphone maker Vivo from exporting 27,000 smartphones worth $15 million for more than a week, Chinese state publication Global Times says that Indian officials should ensure compliance, increase transparency and protect the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese company. Whether this Vivo incident can be resolved will have a strong demonstration effect on a vast number of other foreign companies, said a commentary in the publication, adding that it has once again put off Chinese companies from India.
The Hindu reports that China is building a ropeway and roads near the tri-junction in Bhutan. China has been increasing deployment along the eastern LAC and there is a lot of activity near Doklam, where there was a long face-off in 2017. Last year, China and Bhutan reached an agreement on a three-step roadmap to resolve their boundary issues. Bhutan does not want India to get involved.
Days after the Tawang clash, China and India were far apart in discussions on reformed multilateralism and counterterrorism at the UN Security Council in New York. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar criticised “some members” for putting on hold “evidence-based proposals without assigning adequate reasons”. China countered by asking “all parties” to “abandon geopolitical calculations and ideological bias” in tackling terrorism, mentioning the East Turkestan movement as a top priority. Jaishankar exited the room before these remarks and returned after the Chinese envoy had finished speaking.
A top Chinese diplomat has said that the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept has been created by the US to rope in India and its other allies as the Asia-Pacific is not enough to contain China. The Indo-Pacific is a biogeographic region comprising the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific, including the South China Sea. “In fact, there is no such concept as ‘Indo-Pacific’ in geopolitics,” China’s Ambassador to France, Lu Shaye – one of China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats – said during a media interaction on December 7. “In the past, we used to talk about the Pacific or the Asia-Pacific region, never about the ‘Indo-Pacific’.”
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera yesterday again questioned the government’s unwillingness to hold a debate on the Tawang clash. Referring to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s demand for a special session of Parliament during the 1962 India-China war, Khera said, “Had Nehruji wanted, he could have called him (Vajpayee) an agent of China for the demand. But he didn’t do that. He accepted the demand.”
There has been some tough reporting on the Adani group and power crises in several states which support its profits. Today, there are allegations that over the past two months, “a transmission line that is meant to deliver power generated at the Adani Group’s coal-power station at Mundra… to the northern state of Haryana, was used in reverse, to take power from Haryana to Gujarat instead.” The report concludes, that “not only was the Adani power plant not supplying to Haryana, it was also apparently part of a scheme to ‘divert’ electricity from Haryana to Gujarat (the home state of Adani and PM Modi) during those summer months, and again in November and December, during elections in Gujarat.” Earlier this week, Scroll looked at Adani’s ability to suck benefits out of the public system: “millions of tonnes of coal from the block have been landing at three Adani-owned power plants,” thanks to the central government tweaking the rules.
US Republican Senator James Lankford has written to Secretary of State Antony Blinken seeking a “robust discussion” with India on the deteriorating religious freedoms of minorities. The State Department had not followed the recommendation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom that India be designated a country of particular concern. Langford wants it to justify its inaction to the US Congress.
Imports continue to shoot up, rising to $55.88 billion in November against $53 billion in the same month last year. India’s exports are flat at $31.99 billion in November as against $31.8 billion in November 2021. This is cause for concern.
According to RBI’s bimonthly Consumer Confidence Survey released earlier this month, most consumers were negative about their current economic situation. The report’s details, though, were not discussed adequately. An analysis here breaks down the numbers: The situation index is now at 83.5. Anything below 100 is negative. Consumers were asked about their perception of the economic situation, and 55.7% said that it has worsened while 28% feel that it has improved. About income, 32.9% said it has decreased while 20.9% said it has increased. As many as 84.7% say expenditure on essentials has increased. Close to 44% say expenditure on non-essentials has decreased.
The public tussle between the Modi government and the Supreme Court on how judges should be appointed continued as Law Minister Kirin Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha that a new appointment system was needed. Recently, the Vice President had commented on the SC striking down the NJAC Act. Rijiju said that several jurists, lawyers and politicians have opined that the decision was not correct. The Supreme Court has taken on the Law Minister after his statement. The RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya has carried a seven page cover story criticising judicial appointments.
A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court yesterday held that the demand and acceptance of bribes or illegal gratification by a public servant can be considered by a court as sufficient circumstantial evidence. The Bench led by Justice S Abdul Nazeer said the “stink of corruption” has a “pervasive impact” on administration and governance and has become a “gigantic problem”. Large-scale corruption retards nation-building, to the detriment of all, the Court observed. “We hope and trust that complainants and prosecution make sincere efforts to ensure that corrupt public servants are brought to book,” Justice BV Nagarathna said.
Regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir have hit out at new land laws which have ended owners’ right to hold on to properties on lease in the Union Territory and pave the way to outsource these properties afresh online.
The Hindu Mahasabha’s Karnataka state president Rajesh Pavithran was arrested on Wednesday by Surathkal police on charges of threatening to leak the private information of a businessman on social media. Pavithran, 42, allegedly tried to extort gold and cash from the businessman, identified as Suresh, and threatened to make his private information public.
More than eight years after bifurcation, the Andhra Pradesh government has moved the Supreme Court, seeking its intervention in the division of assets with Telangana. The undivided assets are worth nearly Rs 1,42,601 crore, and about 91% of them are in Hyderabad, hugely benefiting Telangana, Andhra Pradesh has said.
The University of Portsmouth in the UK was found to have racially discriminated against Indian lecturer Dr Kajal Sharma, appointing a white candidate with no experience in her place instead of reappointing her. Read the details here.
Shrinking glaciers must worry both India and China. The Parlung No 4 glacier is causing concern about water supply, flood risks and the viability of hydropower, a key element of both countries’ plans to become carbon neutral, reports The Third Pole.
A grammatical problem that has confounded Sanskrit scholars since the 5th century BCE has finally been solved by an Indian PhD student, Rishi Rajpopat (27) at the University of Cambridge. Panini’s Ashtadhyayi is an algorithm for generating all possible grammatical forms of Sanskrit words from a root, but the misreading of a rule had introduced uncertainty. Rajpopat’s thesis, published yesterday, establishes the correct way to read the rule. The University of Cambridge asserts that Panini’s algorithm is now fit to run on a computer. Now, prepare for yet another slew of articles claiming that Sanskrit is the only human language that machines can understand. It’s an evergreen mania.
Dabholkar’s son launches clinic for ‘black magic’ victims
Almost a decade after rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar was assassinated, his son Dr Hamid Dabholkar will inaugurate Maharashtra’s first psychiatric clinic for victims of ‘black magic’ in Parbhani today. Dr Hamid Dabholkar, a psychiatrist himself, said that while such victims are now legally protected against exploitation, the clinic would be the first dedicated facility to treat them. Dr Narendra Dabholkar and his organisation – the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) – had waged a tireless war against faith healers who claim to treat victims of “black magic”. “Often, such victims are nothing but patients of psychiatric illnesses like schizophrenia, psychosis or others. Instead of faith healers, such patients require systematic treatment from trained doctors,” Dr Hamid Dabholkar said.
Typhoid vaccine urgently needed
After measles, medical experts say, India needs to be worried about the burden of typhoid. “It’s high time that kids in Indians get that vaccine as India has a huge burden of typhoid fever,” said Dr Sushant Sahastrabuddhe, associate director general at the International Vaccine Institute in South Korea. Increasing drug resistance could also raise the burden of disease.
In Shaheen Bagh, Muslim teens have come of age
The landmark anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi ended almost three years ago but they fuelled new energy among young Muslim women in the neighbourhood, sparking a million small mutinies every day on issues ranging from the hijab to menstruation and resisting bulldozers. While the headlines are focused on Shaheen Bagh leaders arrested under UAPA, the long sit-ins and nightlong vigils during the CAA protests have introduced teens to public action. The ‘kagaz nahin dikhayenge’ slogan gave them a voice. When 25 women from Shaheen Bagh went to protest the hijab ban in Karnataka colleges earlier this year, the police deployed three times as many personnel as there were demonstrators.
Ranjan Gogoi marked absent
Meetu Jain has prepared a summary of the performance of Ranjan Gogoi, who was nominated to the Rajya Sabha barely four months after he retired as chief justice of India (in ignominy, following a sexual harassment probe). Jain finds that he is hardly ever seen in Parliament and has not taken part in any debate, bunks committee hearings and his attendance during his tenure has been 24%. The average attendance rate of parliamentarians is 79%. These figures are from the performance index maintained by PRS Legislative Research.
The Long Cable
Anti-conversion laws and the mobilising of coercive power
On December 1, the VHP launched a nationwide campaign against ‘love jihad’ and forced religious conversion, seeking a national law against these alleged activities and accelerating its efforts as a vigilante group and self-styled paramilitary force to fight it. This comes alongside the central government taking a formal stance (in an ongoing Supreme Court petition) denying any incongruence between Article 25 and the enactment of anti-conversion laws. Within days, the Gujarat government also filed an affidavit in the SC supporting stricter regulation of conversions.
This concerted push for a nationwide law to govern conversion – and consequently, marriage and family – is happening despite several BJP-led states already having passed anti-conversion marriage laws since 2020.
Objections from Christians and Muslims across India reflect patterns of harassment and wrongful incarceration that derive legitimacy from these laws. At least 302 attacks against Christians took place in the first seven months of 2022, according to the United Christian Forum. UP reported the highest tally of 80 incidents, many of which invoked forced conversions as justification. Fatehpur, for example, where local VHP and Bajrang Dal chapters have accused Christians of “conversion rackets” for several years, saw unprecedented levels of police action on these claims throughout 2022.
The anti-conversion laws are reconfiguring RSS cadres and Hindu right wing organisations’ fight against conversions and interfaith relationships, into spaces of legitimate action. Recent activities include demanding data from the government regarding how many Hindus have converted under the Act (mandatory public notices are trespassing on privacy), openly conducting ward/district level drives to make regions ‘conversion-free’, increased mobilisations against the construction of churches and mosques, even demolishing these structures if deemed necessary, and accelerating coercive drives to convert Muslims, Christians, and adivasi communities to Hinduism.
The regime is formalising its hostility towards converts. The Union government just acceded on principle, betraying the Constitution; Uttarakhand’s recently-amended, more stringent law is based on the UP law; Madhya Pradesh is set to move Supreme Court to challenge the High Court’s interim order calling the state’s law unconstitutional; demand for a ‘love jihad’ law in Maharashtra disingenuously invokes the Shraddha Walkar case. The on-ground project of solidifying boundaries between religious groups is well underway.
Inter-religious and inter-caste marriages in India are minuscule: the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 listed 12.6% of marriages as inter-caste and only 2.6% interfaith, meaning that social dynamics have been essentially frozen in place. India does not structurally favour inter-religious marriage but it must now consider conversion for marriage a crime. This is not simply an extension of conservative control over gender and intimacy, it is a process of racialising different religious communities, freezing them as separate ethnic groups. Regimes fixated on ethnic purity invoke ‘traditional religious values’ to disguise their need for racialised citizens, not dissimilar to Israeli apartheid – here, arguments based on fear of demographic change are already making their way into judgements related to the ‘love jihad’ laws.
According to the Union government, this legislation is necessitated by the menace of organised, sophisticated and large-scale illegal conversions, targeting women and backward classes. The state-wise laws are claimed to be necessitated by the same massive-scale conversions, which is unsupported by data. In reality, women are important sites of battle for the Hindu right, vessels for the nurturing of a pure Hindu race. On the other hand, criminalising ‘mass conversions’ targets Dalit communities, whose conversions to escape caste oppression directly threaten Brahminical order, not just racialised boundaries between citizens.
Colonial governments essentialised religious practices and communities to create governable populations, and the present-day regime remains just as ignorant of the fluidity of faith and faith-based practices in India. Should these laws be allowed to continue to exist, let alone be strengthened by a nationwide policy, both institutions and everyday practices of faith will be micromanaged by state administrations and vigilante groups – two forces with increasingly collapsed distinctions, both of whom have taken up the cause of naturalising the Hindu patriarchal family. Even now, no political party openly advocates for inter-community marriage because the submerging of caste identity in particular would be damaging to electoral strategy. This stage of Hindutva statecraft has strategic density – the various anti-conversion laws read as though formed through legal mimicry of each other, and are the consequence of years of work by right wing groups. Resisting religious hegemony must then not only happen in courtrooms, but also at neighbourhood and the community level, against segregated housing, in building family and kinship networks, and it must account for protecting Dalit peoples’ right to convert.
(Shambhavi Madan researches citizenship, urbanisation and technology, and also works with Galileo Ideas.)
The BJP in West Bengal is again in chaos, with its vice-president not helping Suvendu Adhikari get out of a spot. Three people were killed in a stampede this week during a blanket distribution programme in Paschim Bardhaman district, where Leader of Opposition, Suvendu Adhikari was the main person, though he had left when the deaths occurred. BJP national vice president Dilip Ghosh yesterday said the organisers cannot escape responsibility. “It is one thing to put the entire blame on police… But, organisers … cannot escape responsibility,” Ghosh told reporters. The party there is finding it hard to blame Nehru for this, it seems.
Prime Number: 20,583
That is the number of villages, or 17% of all villages in India, without mobile network coverage, Devusinh Chauhan, minister of state for communications, told the Lok Sabha day before yesterday. The minister blamed it on remote and rugged terrain, scattered population and commercially unviability.
The media has tried to reduce the Shraddha Walkar murder to ‘Muslim boyfriend kills Hindu partner’. But a rash of similar killings in recent months is triggering speculation about whether these were copycat murders. In each case, the victim was killed, dismembered and stuffed into a refrigerator or a suitcase.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
Apoorvanand writes that the India Against Corruption agitation incubated AAP. It would be wrong to say that AAP steered clear of an ideology. “AAP does have an ideology – its unique, majoritarian nationalism.”
Prem Panicker writes that BJP’s 2022 report card could alter its plans. Its election losses have been submerged in the flood tide of hyperbole about the win in Gujarat, but only for now.
The Centre scrapping the Maulana Azad National Fellowship and other schemes reverses gains made following the Sachar Committee report, writes Khushbu Sharma.
Himanshu sees a sharp deceleration in crop sector growth compared to the pre-2014 period, when it grew over 2.5% annually. The splendid performance of the agricultural sector as a whole may be misleading.
The Yangtse clash does not augur well for the restoration of peace on the disturbed border. When, not if, the Chinese open a second front, the centre of gravity will be Yangtse and Tawang, writes Maj Gen Ashok Mehta (retd).
Manvendra Singh writes that the Tawang crisis should be read as a part of China’s pattern of probing Indian preparedness, provoking a reaction, and then consolidating its position.
Ethics is now a marginal construct belonging to the defeated. When goodness becomes an embarrassment, it is time for citizens to wake up, writes Shiv Vishvanathan.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes that there is a suspicion that the government won’t admit to loss of territory or patrolling rights, because it might make it look weak.
We would benefit from transparency on the China border issue. Instead we are fed historical video clips and myths about how India was deliberately denied a seat in the Security Council, writes Aakar Patel.
A decade after the December 2012 gangrape case in Delhi ignited a firestorm, while we focus on tackling VAW, we should not believe that women are safe indoors and at risk outdoors, writes Ashwini Deshpande.
A variety of essential health services in India slowed down during the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in a fall in measles vaccination rates and the current outbreak, says K Srinath Reddy.
Former foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale joins historian Srinath Raghavan to discuss the increasingly fraught India-China relationship, in light of the recent clash in Tawang.
At the Kolkata International Film Festival, Shah Rukh Khan spoke of cinema and its ability to bring together a million diversities of colour, caste, creed, faith and more.
Over and Out
The 19th Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES COP19, held in Panama City on November 14-25, has concluded with a slew of new protections for South Asian species: “Key decisions included a massive expansion of the number of shark species subject to global regulation, meaning the majority of the international trade in shark fins will be regulated for the first time; the first new CITES protections for songbirds in 20 years; and new controls on trade in reptiles and amphibians sold as pets.”
Ace boxer Mary Kom's husband Onler Karong has sparked a controversy by expressing dissatisfaction about the looks of a statue of her wife. Nineteen statues of the state's Olympians, including that of Mary Kom, were recently installed at Manipur Olympic Park.
Live only over the weekend, this is the archival video recording of the original Marathi production of Ghasiram Kotwal by Theatre Academy, Pune. Directed by Jabbar Patel, it was recorded in 1989 in Delhi during the Nehru Shatabdi Natya Mahotsav. The first performance was on this day, fifty years ago ― December 16, 1972.
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