Modi Govt Stand on ‘Right to Convert’ an Attack on Freedom of Conscience; India is a "Country at Risk for Mass Killing', Says New Report
SC curious about GM mustard mania, malaria vaccines developed, Nepali Congress ahead, UK parliament & BBC remember Bhopal disaster, Ramdev called ‘king of adulterators’, is ‘Char Botal Vodka’ off air?
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Snapshot of the day
December 2, 2022
“I will stand and fight again, against what is wrong and for what is right,” said Bilkis Bano, who has moved the Supreme Court challenging the premature release of 11 convicts in the 2002 case concerning her gang rape and the murder of seven of her family. In a statement yesterday, she said,
“The decision to once again stand up and knock on the doors of justice was not easy for me. For a long time, after the men who destroyed my entire family and my life were released, I was simply numb. I was paralysed with shock and with fear for my children, my daughters, and above all, paralysed by loss of hope… But the spaces of my silence were filled with other voices; voices of support from different parts of the country that have given me hope in the face of unimaginable despair; and made me feel less alone in my pain. I cannot express in words what this support has meant to me.”
Bano has challenged the premature release of the convicts by the Gujarat government on August 15, saying that it has “shaken the conscience of society”.
The Economist reports that “as Ayodhya ultimately shows, it is much easier to build a temple than an economy. And if only a sizeable minority of Indians care deeply about such gestures, they are easily sufficient to put their champion in power. Mr Modi won a historic parliamentary majority in 2019 with 37% of the vote. Moreover, even if the prime minister wished to set Hindu rabble-rousing aside (for which there is no evidence), the Hindu activist network he emerged from will not. Its members have their sights fixed on a 17th century mosque in Varanasi, built on the site of an older Hindu temple, and on other Muslim sites around the country. Even the iconic Qutb Minar, a 12th century minaret in Delhi, may be imperilled.”
The US is keeping any eye on the communal rhetoric used for election campaigning in India and has raised this with the Indian government, the US charge d’affaires in Delhi told reporters today. Countries at Risk for Mass Killing 2022–23: Early Warning Project Statistical Risk Assessment Results cites India as a consistent cause of concern since 2017-18, and the second-highest at risk of mass killing, last year. The Early Warning Project, a joint initiative of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College, has produced a global risk assessment every year since 2014. This is what they have to say about India:
Remember how India’s PM got up from the dinner table to shake hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but did not tweet or talk about it? It reflects a deep dilemma for India, as it struggles to tackle its neighbour but not talk about the panda in the room. China has India trapped on their disputed border, writes Sushant Singh in Foreign Policy, “as Beijing’s military and infrastructure advantage has transformed the crisis and left New Delhi on the defensive.” (See Item 1)
Russia has been India’s top oil supplier for three months now. But the fate of Russian supplies this month depends on a price cap that Western nations plan to impose on Monday. India and China are yet to agree to a ceiling while Moscow has threatened to stop shipments. India will be unable to use Western tankers or insurers if it doesn’t agree to the price cap, and, unlike China, it solely depends on them to ship its fuels.
The government says it is still pursuing the case of eight former Indian Navy personnel imprisoned in Qatar since August even as their families are allowed more frequent access to them. “We remain seized of this matter. Our embassy is actively pursuing the case. We understand the detained Indians are able to speak to their families in India over telephone on a regular basis,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told a weekly media briefing. While India seeks further consular access, the Qatari authorities have not stated why they were detained (but it supposedly has to do with spying).
The Union government yesterday reduced the windfall tax on crude oil to Rs 4,900 per tonne, effective today. It has also slashed the export tax on diesel to Rs 8 per litre. Earlier, on November 16, the government had hiked the windfall tax on domestically produced crude oil while reducing the rate on export of diesel.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge has accused the BJP of continuing with its “fuel loot” despite international crude prices hitting a 10-month low and former party chief Rahul Gandhi targeted PM Modi. He said that global crude oil is down 25% in the last six months, but the government has not cut pump prices.
The Indian Railways, which was witnessing freight growth upwards of 8-9% every month this financial year (2022-23), saw its second consecutive month of tepid growth in November. The Railways registered just a 5% increase against last year, according to the provisional data.
A plea in the Supreme Court yesterday challenged the third extension of tenure granted to Director of the Enforcement Directorate Sanjay Mishra, in “violation of a Supreme Court judgment”, which “destroys the democratic process”.
Indian traders and civil society organisations in Moreh have started expressing their concerns over the protracted “sealing of the Manipur Myanmar border”, which is putting thousands of small traders out of work. It was sealed on March 9, 2021, due to the pandemic. Officials feared that the free entry of people from the other side of the international border would aggravate the situation. Displaced persons had entered India through Manipur and Mizoram in large numbers.
The Financial Times reviews India’s desire to become the lead lender in the region, to try and counter China. “Even as critics in India and elsewhere point to the shortcomings of China’s BRI, they say it will take years for India to prove it can scale up its ambitions to those of its larger neighbour,” says the paper. “Going abroad has its own sets of challenges,” said Srinath Raghavan, a historian at Ashoka University. “Politics can take its own turn.”
BJP MP Brijbhushan Sharan Singh called yoga businessman Ramdev the “king of adulterators” and threatened to launch a nationwide agitation against Patanjali products. The MP from Kaiserganj in UP alleged that ghee marketed by the Patanjali Yogpeeth was “fake”, and asked people to keep cows and make their own ghee.
A UP court has ordered the state police to arrest former BJP minister Chinmayanand and produce him on December 9 in a case of sexual exploitation lodged on the basis of a complaint of sexual exploitation registered by a disciple against the founder of Mumukshu ashram.
The Supreme Court yesterday asked the government whether there is a “compelling reason” for it to press forward with the release of GM mustard. It asked if Indian agriculture would be “doomed” without GM crops.
The World Meteorological Organization reports an increase in water flow through river channels of the Indo-Gangetic Plain owing to glacial melt. Importantly, despite this, the total water storage of the region has declined. This alarming trend has been unveiled in the report of the ‘First State of Global Water Resources 2021’ conducted by WMO, published on November 29.
The India Meteorological Department has forecast a warmer winter over most parts of Northwest and Northeast India, with temperatures “normal” to “above normal”. But both the minimum and maximum will remain below normal in southern peninsular and central India in the same period.
The crypto party in India is showing signs of trouble amid a wider market meltdown. The lure was 3,100% growth at one time.
Indian-origin Opposition MP Navendu Mishra, Labour MP for Stockport and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for India (Trade and Investment), has tabled a motion in the UK Parliament in time to mark the 38th anniversary of the Bhopal gas leak later this week, among the world’s worst industrial disasters. Mishra tabled the Early Day Motion (EDM) entitled ‘Campaign for justice for the victims of the Bhopal gas leak’ on Wednesday with the backing of 40 MPs. (See Listen Up)
Al Jazeera finds that an Indian wedding photographer and his family are struggling with zooming inflation that is playing havoc with household budgets.
A few days ago, an FIR was filed in UP against one Manoj Kumar for “cruelly” drowning a rat in a drain by tying stones around its neck and feet. Amar Ujala reports that a post mortem of the victim has revealed that the rat died of suffocation and not drowning. The water in the drain did not reach the rat’s lungs.
India will exercise with anyone it wants, but won’t talk about Chinese buildup
India’s spokesperson for External Affairs has responded to China’s terse view of border exercises with the US in Uttarakhand: “These exercises going on with the US in Auli has nothing to do with the 1993 & 1996 [India-China] agreements. The Chinese side needs to reflect and think about its own breach of these agreements. India exercises with whomever it chooses and it doesn't give a veto to third countries on this issue.”
No questions were asked on reports of Chinese activity on Pangong Pso and in Depsang, which affect India. Yesterday, Opposition politician and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi asked if it is not a shame that the US Congress knew more about happenings on the Ladakh border than the Indian Parliament.
mRNA vaccines against malaria developed
Two new mRNA vaccines apparently reduce malaria infection and transmission. Researchers said they induced a powerful immune response regardless of whether they were given individually or in combination. “Malaria elimination will not happen overnight but such vaccines could potentially banish malaria from many parts of the world,” said Nirbhay Kumar of George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. The study was published yesterday in the journal NPJ Vaccines.
‘Char botal vodka’ to go off the air?
The Centre has cautioned FM channels against playing songs or broadcasting content glorifying alcohol, drugs, weaponry and gangster/gun culture. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has asked them to adhere to the terms and conditions prescribed in the Grant of Permission Agreement (GOPA) and Migration Grant of Permission Agreement (MGOPA) and not air violative content. “Any violation shall entail such penal action as is deemed fit,” the advisory said.
Nepali Congress leads the field
The Nepali Congress, which has emerged as the single largest party in the parliamentary elections, has intensified consultations with other political parties in its bid to form the next government. The NC has bagged 55 seats under direct election to the House of Representatives while the Opposition CPN-UML has won 44. So far, results of 162 seats have been declared. In the 275-member House of Representatives, 165 will be elected through direct voting and the remaining 110 through a proportional electoral system.
The Long Cable
Modi Government’s Stand on ‘Right to Convert’ is Attack on Freedom of Conscience
In curious proceedings before the Supreme Court with far-reaching implications for the constitutional guarantee of freedom of conscience, the Narendra Modi government has submitted a formal affidavit declaring that the “right to freedom of religion does not include a fundamental right to convert other people to a particular religion”.
The government has said this even though it quotes Article 25 of the Indian constitution which guarantees all persons in India (and not just citizens) freedom of conscience and the right to free profession, practice and propagation of religion. The shoddy draftsmanship of Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s babus on North Block refers to the “right to conscious” but we shall let that pass. The crucial argument made by the government is that the Supreme Court has, in its Stanislaus judgment of 1977, already declared that the right to ‘propagate religion’ under Article 25 does not include the right to convert but rather “is in the nature of the positive right to spread once [sic] religion by exposition of its tenets”.
The context of this argument is not academic. A number of states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party have enacted or are seeking to pass stringent laws criminalising any religious conversion – and especially conversions linked to inter-religious marriage – which does not have the sanction of the government. As if this were not bad enough, a serial litigator from the BJP has now moved the Supreme Court demanding that the Union government and all states be directed to take “stringent steps to control fraudulent religious conversion”.
The fundamental flaw in the Modi government’s argument is that the right of a person, say X, to adhere to a religion of her choosing, or to none at all, and to change that adherence at will, falls under X’s freedom of conscience and has nothing to do with whether Y’s right to propagate a religion includes the right to convert another person or not.
Given that freedom of conscience includes every manner of belief, including political ones, this is analogous to X’s right to adhere to any political view she wishes to. Y has the right to try and convince X to join their party but Y obviously has no fundamental right to induct X as a member. The Constitution grants X the right to take her own decisions based on her freedom of conscience and this includes deciding which religion to follow and which political party to support. Once X makes a decision to convert to a particular religion or join a particular party, it is surely up to the officeholders of that religion or party to induct them as per their own rituals.
The religious convert may be baptised or subjected to ‘shuddhi’, and the political convert may be garlanded and fed laddoos. Just as it would violate the constitution and basic democratic morality for the state to demand that X inform the local authorities (that too, in advance) about which party she intends to join, so is the requirement that she inform the district magistrate about any change in her religious beliefs. Earlier laws seeking to regulate religious conversion, such as the 1968 Madhya Pradesh’s Dharma Swatanrya Adhiniyam, had the fig leaf of making it mandatory for the person performing the act of conversion to inform the government in advance. But the new crop of laws in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh go one step further and require the person converting to essentially secure government approval first.
The Madhya Pradesh high court last month stayed the operation of the new Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 on the grounds that this provision ran counter to the fundamental right to privacy upheld by the Supreme Court in 2017. The court also cited Justice Deepak Gupta’s landmark 2011 judgment (when he was a judge of the Himachal high court) striking down similarly worded sections of a state law on the grounds of freedom of conscience:
“A person not only has a right of conscience, the right of belief, the right to change his belief, but also has the right to keep his beliefs secret. No doubt, the right to privacy is, like any other right, subject to public order, morality and the larger interest of the State… However, this does not mean that the majority interest is the larger public interest. Larger public interest would mean the integrity, unity and sovereignty of the country, the maintenance of public law and order. Merely because the majority view is different does not mean that the minority view must be silenced…
“A man's home is his castle and no invasion into his home is permissible unless justified on constitutional grounds. A man's mind is the impregnable fortress in which he thinks and there can be no invasion of his right of thought unless the person is expressing or propagating his thoughts in such a manner that it will cause public disorder or affect the unity or sovereignty of the country.
“Why should any human being be asked to disclose what is his religion? Why should a human being be asked to inform the authorities that he is changing his belief? What right does the State have to direct the convertee to give notice in advance to the District Magistrate about changing his rebellious thought?
“A person's belief or religion is something very personal to him. The State has no right to ask a person to disclose what is his personal belief.”
What Justice Gupta wrote 11 years ago has been further strengthened by Puttuswamy. The attempts by BJP state governments to press ahead with this dangerous assault on the freedom of conscience and the Modi government’s own attempts to weaken Article 25 need to be firmly resisted.
What’s up with cybersecurity in vital services? Yesterday, Mumbai airport reported inconvenience and delays due to server downtime. All systems were down at Terminal 2 and massive queues developed. AIIMS’ eHospital in Delhi has been out of commission since November 23. A series of ‘investigators’ are said to be on the job but the source of the hacking is not known. Staff are forced to work manually. Are ransomware attacks increasing in India?
Prime Number: Rs 2-10 per kg
Agricultural produce prices have crashed in Karnataka. At the Yeshwanthpur Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) Yard in Bengaluru, onion prices dropped to Rs 2-10 per kg a few days ago. It has now stabilised at Rs 12-18 per kg, depending on quality. “Even Rs 12 a kg is a pittance. A lot is spent on transportation, loading and unloading, and in growing the crop," an onion grower in Bengaluru rued.
Himal gets under the hood of the repatriation process for trafficking survivors between India and Bangladesh. As per India’s official criminal records, of 4,680 victims of human trafficking rescued in India in 2020, only 24 were from Bangladesh.
Op Eds you don’t want to miss
Hartosh Singh Bal writes on the importance of independent news networks amidst super-concentration of India media among a few corporates. “The few such entities that exist need to be fostered, and new ones supported by people who search for integrity in a newsroom. Even though this alternative will remain a small counterpoint in an increasingly bleak media scene, it is still a better alternative than a future where every minute will be taken up by the corporate media offerings of the Adani and Ambani groups.”
Frontal attacks on the process of judicial appointments are indicators of democratic backsliding. Sruthisagar Yamunan writes that Rijiju’s comments are setting the stage for a new normal that could eventually lead to delegitimisation of the court.
Himanshu writes that decline in inequality is not a result of any transfer of income from the rich to the poor, or faster growth of the latter’s income, but is the result of a faster decline in income among the middle class and well-off.
An energy transition in India will likely be bottom-up, writes Omair Ahmad.
Journalism can be so much more than stenography. Ravish Kumar taught us that, writes Kalpana Sharma.
Arun Kumar writes that the “absence of persons with impeccable integrity at the helm is the bane of India’s democracy.”
Read IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on the new draft of the data protection bill.
Humra Qureshi writes that gentle words cannot assuage the pain of Indian Muslims, who see the political ground realities turn blatantly communitarian. They see the threats to their identity and survival as the political class ‘others’ them relentlessly.
Sana Goyal asks if there will be “a domino effect of the double Booker win for South Asian writers, or is it too soon to tell?”
NHRC’s radio silence on the absence of an express definition of torture in Indian law and jurisprudence is deafening, writes Ravi Nair.
Nadav Lapid is a conscience-keeper of society and has raised his voice for justice and peace in a time of hatred and violence. He is right: The Kashmir Files is propaganda, writes Ashok Kumar Pandey.
Saradha U takes a look at the representation of plus-sized characters in Tami, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi films.
BBC has done a podcast series to mark the Bhopal Gas disaster, which took place on the night of December 2-3 in 1984. It is the story of the journalist Rajkumar Keswani, who foretold the world’s worst industrial accident. Unfortunately, nobody believed him.
“Ashamed by Israeli Ambassador’s outburst; I had a duty to speak out about The Kashmir Files”— Israeli filmmaker and head of the IFFI jury in Goa, Nadav Lapid, told Karan Thapar.
Over and Out
Around 1700, artists in Udaipur began creating immersive paintings that express the moods (bhava) of the city’s palaces, lakes, and mountains. These large works lit by lived experience set a new direction in Indian painting. An exhibition at the Smithsonian till spring 2023, “reveals the environmental, political, and emotional contexts in which the new genre emerged. A splendid land explores the unique visual strategies that artists developed to communicate emotions, depict places, and celebrate water resources.”
First with Bulbbul and now with Qala, released just now, writer-director Anvitaa Dutt continues to carve out her own sub-genre. Can this be labelled the “feminist fantastical”?
That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you on Monday, on a device near you. If The India Cable was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) book your own copy by SUBSCRIBING HERE.