USCIRF Reiterates Danger To Religious Freedoms In India; New Avatar Of Bill A Caricature Of Data Protection Legislation
US & India recall Bali Rashomon-style, Hindi growing by absorbing dialects, Madras HC seeks equality for the dead, Nair body endorses Tharoor as CM candidate, Kerala meme-binges on faith healing paper
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
Snapshot of the day
November 24, 2022
The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to produce files pertaining to the appointment of Arun Goel as Election Commissioner. Goel was appointed on November 19 and took charge on November 21. A five-judge bench led by Justice KM Joseph asked Attorney General R Venkataramani to produce the files. The apex court added that it would have been proper to hold the appointment, pending the outcome of the hearing before the constitution bench on the selection mechanism of CEC and ECs (the bench has reserved its judgement). “Because this appointment was made after we began hearing this case, let’s see how the appointment is made. You should not have any danger since you say everything is hunky-dory,” the bench said. Sushil Chandra’s retirement as chief election commissioner in May 2022 left the post of one commissioner in the three-member ECI vacant.
The Supreme Court is hearing the demonetisation matter today. P Chidambaram argued that “there was no application of mind by the RBI, the Central Board, or the Cabinet. The procedure was premeditated… No one, not the [RBI] Board, nor the Cabinet, was told that 86% of the total currency would be withdrawn.”
Religious freedom and related human rights in India are under ongoing threat, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom said on Tuesday in an unusual year-end update of the status of its assessment of religious freedom in the country. In its 2022 Annual Report early this year, the body appointed by Congress recommended that the US Department of State designate India as a ‘country of particular concern’ for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations, as set forth by the International Religious Freedom Act. The US State Department did not act on the recommendation. Reiterating its recommendations of early this year, USCIRF argued that such a designation would reinforce US concern regarding the conditions discussed in this country update and would encourage the Indian government to diverge from policies that violate religious freedom and promote communal divides.
Billionaire Gautam Adani is considering raising $5 billion in equity and has approached sovereign wealth funds after lenders asked his conglomerate to reduce leverage, reports Bloomberg News. Adani’s potential move mirrors a push by fellow billionaire Mukesh Ambani, who raised more than $27 billion in 2020 from global investors by selling stakes in Reliance Industries.
Meta has received 55,497 requests by the government of India concerning user data during the first half of 2022, up from around 50,382 received in July-December 2021. This is the second-highest count in the world. Earlier this month, Facebook’s oversight panel flagged concerns about content being removed against the Community Standards on the request of government bodies.
The Union government has put on hold a proposal to change the procedure for adding new communities as Scheduled Tribes (STs), pending for over eight years. The proposal to change the procedure was based on the recommendations of the Task Force on Scheduling of Tribes constituted in February 2014, headed by the then Tribal Affairs Secretary, Hrusikesh Panda, According to a government task force, which found the procedure “defeats the constitutional agenda for affirmative action and inclusion” and is “cumbersome” and “time-consuming”.
Congress Leader Jaya Thakur has filed a review petition against the Supreme Court judgement upholding the constitutional validity of the 103rd Amendment concerning reservations for Economically Weaker Sections. The review has been filed against judgements authored by Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, Bela Trivedi and JB Pardiwala.
Lump sum gross inflows into equity, excluding new fund offers, were Rs 17,900 in October, the lowest since November 2020, according to the latest report by Motilal Oswal Financial Services. High net worth individuals (HNIs) are not investing with the equity market close to a new high. There are weak flows from lower-end customers in rural areas, and reduced NFO activity by large fund houses, the report said.
Indian Railways, among the world’s largest networks, is not generating enough clean energy to meet its own target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. The organisation had 142 megawatts of rooftop solar and 103.4 megawatts of wind energy installed in August, but it is meeting only 0.8% of its targets.
The Mizoram Cabinet has approved temporary shelters and other amenities for Bangladeshi Kuki-Chin refugees fleeing military action in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hills Tracts against the Kuki-Chin National Army, which has been demanding a separate state and safeguards for the Kuki-Chin-Mizo communities in Bangladesh. They are being referred to as “officially displaced persons” in state government records, as India does not have a law on refugees.
“Hindi recorded stupendous growth in the number of speakers in five decades — from making up 30.39% (13.34 crore) of India’s population in 1961 to 43.63% (52.83 crore) in 2011. But there is a catch that the policymakers tend to forget,” writes John Brittas. “The purported spike came at the cost of other languages bearing similarities with it. In 1961, only 10 mother tongues were categorised as dialects under Hindi, but by 2011 this number rose to 56, even as native speakers strive to attain the status of separate scheduled languages. Ironically, even this deceptive figure doesn’t make India a Hindi-majority country.”
While the IPS in many states is becoming top-heavy, UP has the highest number of additional director-general (ADG) and director-general (DG) rank officers ― 15 and 63 respectively, against a sanctioned strength of seven and 21! On the other hand, it has too few IGs and DIGs ― 31 and 39, though 51 and 50 posts are sanctioned. Many high-ranking police officers hold posts that have very little to do with policing, like DG (Special Inquiry), DG (Power) and ADG (Telecom).
French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu will be on board aircraft carrier INS Vikrant off the coast of Mumbai on November 27 even as the last of the contracted 36 Rafale fighter jets land at Jamnagar air base in India from France on December 13. The French Rafale-M is one of the two contenders for the floating airfield, the other being the US Boeing manufactured F-18 fighter.
In a significant development, the CBI has concluded that Bollywood talent manager Disha Salian’s death was an accident. Disha (28) had allegedly fallen from the 14th floor of Galaxy Regent building at Malad, Mumbai on the night of June 8-9, 2020. That was five days before the body of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput (34) was found at his Bandra flat on June 14, 2020. BJP leaders including Union MSME Minister Narayan Rane and his son Nitesh Rane had been claiming that the incidents were linked. They claimed that Disha was raped before she was murdered, and when Rajput came to know about this, he was killed too as he wanted to expose the guilty.
US, Indian impressions of Modi-Biden meet differ widely
A statement from the White House on a meeting between PM Modi and US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit contradicts the one issued earlier by the Ministry of External Affairs. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked Monday about the importance of the India-US relationship in the context of the stalled nomination of Biden’s pick for US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti. “India is a very important relationship that we have. You… you saw the President greet and meet very briefly with PM Modi just last week when he was in… in Bali,” Jean-Pierre told reporters.
A week earlier, the MEA had issued a detailed statement saying that the meeting on November 15 that “reviewed” bilateral ties, among other things. “They reviewed the continuing deepening of the India-US strategic partnership, including cooperation in future-oriented sectors like critical and emerging technologies, advanced computing, artificial intelligence, etc. They expressed satisfaction about the close cooperation between India and US in new groupings such as the Quad, I2U2, etc,” read the statement. It added that the two leaders also discussed various global and regional developments, and that Modi thanked Biden for his “constant support” in strengthening India-US relations.
Madras HC decrees equality for the dead
The Madras High Court has called for common burial grounds. Justices R Subramanian and K Kumaresh Babu directed the State to construct common burial grounds in villages and districts, without caste distinctions. In a grim order passed on November 21, they said that at least after death, one must be spared caste discrimination. “Though 75 years have passed since Independence, we are unable to break the shackles of casteism and even the secular government is forced to provide for separate burning and burial grounds on communal lines. Equality has to commence at least when the person travels to his/her maker,” the Court said.
Fallout of firing in Meghalaya grows
Cars bearing Assam number plates were set ablaze and the Khasi Students’ Union held protest marches across Meghalaya as the state remained tense in the aftermath of the Mukroh firing that left six people dead Tuesday. They fell to bullets fired by Assam Police and forest guards in Mukroh village, 2-3 km from the Assam-Meghalaya border. Among the deceased were Thal Shadap (45), Nikasi Dhar (65), S Talang (55), Tal Nartiang (40) and Shirup Sumer (40) of Mukroh village. The sixth person who died was identified as an Assam forest guard. The Meghalaya government angrily said that the Assam Police and forest guards entered the state and “resorted to unprovoked firing”. The Assam government, on the other hand, said that the incident took place when their forest officials tried to stop a truck smuggling out illegal timber, and that the personnel fired in self-protection.
Yesterday, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma visited the families of the deceased and handed them ex gratia cheques of Rs 5 lakh each. Around the same time, the Khasi Students’ Union organised black flag rallies in district headquarters. A delegation led by Sangma is to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi today to demand an investigation by a central agency.