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Top 10 events that made headlines in India

Intro: Apart from Covid-19 that dominated the news, in India, the foundation stone was laid for the Ayodhya Ram Temple, key state elections were conducted and several mass protests were held amid deadly Delhi riots.

Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh became the epicentre in the CAA protests. (File photo)

CAA protests shook the nation

Protests continued in 2020 over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists and Christians fleeing religious persecution from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh if they entered India on or before December 31, 2014. People protested against the CAA in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area for over a month that ended on March 24 as pandemic lockdowns began in India.

Riots broke out at many places in north-east Delhi in February, in protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The violence erupted on February 22 but the riots continued for 4 days, claiming 53 lives and around 600 people were injured. Several dead bodies were retrieved from a nullah, where mutilated bodies were dumped.

The Delhi riots were triggered through social media, and this medium was used as a weapon to execute the conspiracy as per the chargesheet filed by Delhi Police.

The agitating farmers have announced to take out a tractor rally towards Delhi on Republic Day. (File photo)

Farmers’ protest refuses to die

Thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh have been protesting at the borders of the national capital demanding the repeal of the three key farm laws, among other issues.

The Singhu border, ground zero of the snowballing protests, saw thousands of farmers blocking highways from Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan leading to Delhi. The farmers agitation continued after the ministerial level talks between the farmers leaders and the Central government failed to reach a consensus.

The agitating farmers have announced they will take out a tractor rally towards Delhi on Republic Day, besides a series of programmes in a bid to intensify their protest.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi performing the ‘Bhoomi Pujan’. (File photo)

Work begins on Ram Temple in Ayodhya

Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed the ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ and laid the foundation stone for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on August 5. Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra trust had announced in September that Ram Temple will have 1,200 pillars which will go 200 feet deep. It is expected that the Ram Mandir would be 161 feet tall.

In a related development, nearly 28 years after the Babri Masjid was demolished, the Special CBI court on September 30, 2020, acquitted all 32 accused in the case, including former deputy prime minister LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti.

Arvind Kejriwal back as Delhi CM

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal took oath as the chief minister of Delhi on February 16, for the third time at the Ramlila Maidan Ground. 

The Aam Aadmi Party swept the Delhi Assembly election 2020, bagging 62 out 70 seats and decimating its rivals BJP and Congress. The BJP bagged eight seats, while the Congress failed to open its account and the party’s 62 candidates lost their deposit.

Kejriwal’s oath-taking ceremony at the Ramlila Maidan also assumed significance as it was from this ground that he along with noted anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare led a massive anti-corruption agitation.

Nitish Kumar back as Bihar CM too

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) registered a victory in the Bihar assembly election and JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar once again sat on the chair of the Chief Minister. This was the seventh time Nitish Kumar became the Chief Minister of the state. After the ruling alliance’s victory, Nitish Kumar took to Twitter to thank the people of the state and he also expressed his gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his co-operation.

The JD(U) chief got the full backing of all constituents of the NDA, including the BJP, which has outperformed his party in the assembly elections. The BJP secured 74 seats while the JD (U) managed only 143.

Covid-19 spreads in India

The first case of the coronavirus in India was found in Kerala on January 30 through a medical student who had returned from Wuhan. This was followed by the second and third cases in February.

Mass gatherings such as the Tablighi Jamaat event at Delhi’s Nizamuddin, held between March 1-21, became super spreaders. As cases increased, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns on March 24, halting most economic and social activities, closing borders and allowing only essential services to continue.

Over 10 months later, India has crossed 1 crore cases, while the death toll touched over 1.5 lakh.

Several migrants died of hunger, heatstroke and exhaustion. (Photo: Courtesy, PTI)

Migrant exodus got international attention

As the coronavirus spread, India saw a humanitarian crisis, with the lockdown impacting nearly 40 million migrants. What started as groups of migrants walking from Mumbai and neighbouring districts to their hometowns in Gujarat and Rajasthan slowly grew into the largest mass exodus since the Partition, in March.

Many traveled thousands of miles on foot to reach their villages in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, while others traveled by the special Shramik trains that were launched by the government. Not all reached their destinations, though.

According to data compiled by road safety NGO, 198 migrants lost their lives in road accidents during this lockdown period, while many more have died of hunger, heatstroke and exhaustion.

India-China clashes at border

On May 5, a scuffle broke out between Indian and Chinese forces, who had encroached into the Indian border at the Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh. Soldiers from both sides engaged in stone-pelting and fistfights and around 11 soldiers were injured.

On June 14, Indian army soldiers were attacked with iron rods and barbed wires, unprovoked. In the resultant hand to hand combat, during the interluding night between June 15 and 16, 20 Indian army personnel and nearly 43 Chinese soldiers were killed.

The Indian government reacted by banning over 200 mobile apps developed in China, along with several infrastructural projects for which Chinese companies had won contracts.

GDP shrinks a record 23.9 percent

India recorded a GDP drop of 23.9 per cent, in the period April-June 2020. This was the worst contraction since India started reporting GDP data in 1996. The stringent lockdown measures, which put a huge dent on the economy, caused all sectors, apart from agriculture to suffer huge losses. The gross value added growth (GVA) in the manufacturing sector shrank by 39.3 per cent, while industries such as construction, trade, travel and hospitality, were all badly affected.

The country began its term on January 1, 2021. (File photo)

India finally elected to UNSC 

India was formally elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for a period of two years on June 18, 2020, after winning with an overwhelming majority. This is the 8th term for the country, the previous one being in 2011-12.

India was the sole candidate from the Asia-Pacific region for the 2021-22 term. Since long, India has been pushing to get a permanent seat at UNSC. The country began its term on January 1, 2021, joining 15 other members – five permanent and 10 non-permanent at the Council.

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Salman Khurshid, Prashant Bhushan named in Delhi riots chargesheet

New Delhi: From politicians to lawyers and activists, names of various prominent personalities have come up in the charge sheet filed by the Delhi Police in the Delhi riots case. This includes the name of Congress leader Salman Khurshid and advocate Prashant Bhushan.

Their names have come up in the disclosure statement of the former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan and one accused Khalid Saifi. Such statements are inadmissible under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act.

In her disclosure statement, Ishrat Jahan said that various personalities such as former External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, advocate Prashant Bhushan, activist Harsh Mander and activist-turned-politician Yogendra Yadav took part in the protests.

A similar statement was also given by Khalid Saifi and other witnesses.

On September 16, the police filed a voluminous charge sheet against the accused under various sections of the UAPA, the Indian Penal Code, the Arms Act and the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act. The copy of the charge sheet was supplied to their counsels on Monday.

The charge sheet was filed in little less than 200 days of the filing of an FIR to investigate the conspiracy angle behind the riots that rocked northeast Delhi in February this year.

Clashes between the citizenship law supporters and protesters had spiralled out of control, leaving at least 53 people dead and around 200 injured.

The charge sheet names Tahir Hussain, Safoora Zargar, Gulfisha Khatoon, Devangana Kalita, Shafa-ur-Rehman, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Natasha Narwal, Abdul Khalid Saifi, Ishrat Jahan, Meeran Haidar, Shadab Ahamd, Talsim Ahmad, Saleem Malik, Mohammed Salim Khan and Athar Khan.

Tahir Hussain has been named as a main accused in the charge sheet. The charge sheet, however, does not name Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Mohammed Pervez Ahmad, Mohammed Ilyas, Danish and Faizal Khan.

Their names will be added in the supplementary charge sheet.

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Are Indian Muslims victims of their ‘victim’ mindset?

By A Faizur Rahman

In the recent past, Muslims in India have been demonized, abused, suspected and some even lynched with impunity.

A case in point is the merciless killing of Pehlu Khan, a poor dairy farmer from Haryana who was bludgeoned to death by a mob of about 200 cow vigilantes in April 2017 while legally transporting cows for his farm. On what basis can anyone dismiss as unwarranted (or fake) the victimhood, trepidation and helplessness of Khan’s family?

Indeed, institutional recognition of the victimhood of such Muslims who have been psychologically affected by the fate of victims like Pehlu Khan came when the Supreme Court condemned “horrendous acts of mobocracy” and asked Parliament to enact an anti-lynching law against cow vigilantism and lynch mobs.

And a few days ago in a landmark ruling, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court called out the scapegoating of some Tablighi Jamaat members and observed that it was an “indirect warning to Indian Muslims.”

Obviously the court was aware that hate-incidents against Muslims saw a sharp rise after it came to light that several participants in the Tablighi Jamaat’s Delhi conference held in March this year had tested positive for Covid-19. News portals carried horrifying accounts of how Muslims were mercilessly assaulted on suspicion of intentionally spreading the coronavirus. The brutalities included the display of posters banning the entry of Muslims into towns and villages and the circulation of anti-Muslim videos.

Truth be told, the distrust of Muslims goes back a long way to pre-Partition days when the Pan-Islamic politics surrounding the Khilafat Movement was imputed to the entire community and it was charged with harboring extra-territorial loyalties. Historian Neeti Nair’s Changing Homelands provides deep insights into this grim reality. It recounts how during a unity conference in 1925 Lala Lajpat Rai felt that Muslim assertions about their love for India and their “readiness to resist foreign invasions” were so hemmed in by “ifs” and “buts” that they left an “atmosphere of distrust in many Hindu minds.”

Rai’s antagonistic attitude may have been the result of his close association with Arya Samaj which had already come into conflict with the Muslims in the late 1800s when it tried, as Nehru put it in The Discovery of India, “to become a defender of everything Hindu, against what it considered as the encroachments of other faiths.”

According to historian N Gerald Barrier, Arya Samaj’s systematic attack on Islam amplified Hindu-Muslim rivalry and produced a regularized pattern of conflict. In an article in the May 1968 issue of the Journal of Asian Studies, Barrier mentions fifteen major riots between 1883 and 1891 over ‘kine-slaughter’, ‘kine’ being another word for cow.

But the historical Muslimophobia, as the citations suggest, has more to do with the political insecurities of Hindus than any fear of the Muslim religion except perhaps in the case of the Arya Samaj whose raison d’être was to protect Vedic Hinduism from not just the “alien” faiths of Islam and Christianity but also the idolatrous beliefs within Hinduism. At the same time, distorted historical accounts added to the problem by portraying Muslims as products of Islamic intrusions into India.

In India’s Islamic Traditions, 711-1750 renowned historian Richard M Eaton writes that modern textbooks routinely characterize the advent of Persianized Turks in India as a ‘Muslim conquest’, and the entire period from the 13th to the 18th century as India’s ‘Muslim Era’. “That is to say, the agent of conquest is not a people as defined by their ethnic heritage or place of origin, but rather, a religion, the Islamic religion”, he laments.

In comparison, even when the 16th century Spaniards justified their conquest of Mexico in religious terms, modern texts never speak of a ‘Christian conquest’ of America, nor is the post-1492 period ever called America’s “Christian Era.” It is always the ‘Spanish conquest’ of Central and South America and ‘European settlement’ in North America.

Eaton blames medieval Indo-Persian chroniclers for promoting the notion of ‘Islamic conquest’ of India and identifying Islam with the fortunes of their royal patrons. However, Sanskrit sources claim that from the 8th to 14th centuries, Rajput, Brahman and other contemporary Indian elites referred to the invaders not by their religion but by their linguistic identity — most typically as Turks or Turuska. “These findings,” says Eaton, “permit dramatically new ways of conceptualising the character of cultural encounters at the dawn of the appearance of Muslims in north India.”

The challenge for those genuinely interested in India’s rise lies in correcting the skewed annals of Muslims in South Asian historiography and de-linking religion from their imperial past. They must also be part of efforts to mitigate the mutual distrust between Hindus and Muslims by legally neutralizing the purveyors of hate who polarize society for their narrow ends through the fabrication and spread of fake news. Advising any one community to rewrite its victim mindset will only deepen the misgivings.

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‘Right to Investigate’ in International Law

Intro: Is the Indian government justified in their refusal of visas to the USCIRF team? 

By Justice Markandey Katju,
Former Judge, Supreme Court
& Aiman Hashmi
Law student, Delhi University

The Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar has denied visas to a delegation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for visiting India to investigate allegations of atrocities on minorities and assess religious freedom in India. A question arises whether this denial is valid under international law. We submit it is not.

The Peace of Westphalia 1648 gave birth to the principle in International Law that each state has exclusive sovereignty over its territory.  The notion of a “Nation state” by the 18th century would be molded to refer to a community which had a common descent or language. Eventually, these principles would age into the 20th century rise of ethnic nationalism, most infamously effectuated by the Nazi Regime.

After the Cold War, states began to contemplate a post-Westphalian order whereby states would intervene in circumstances of human rights abuses. On the flip side, for a post-colonial nation such as India’s, however, the term ‘intervention’ often carries reminders of imperialist invasions. ‘Humanitarian interventions’ have also been criticized by some to be trojan horses for justifying or veiling invasions by foreign powers.

USCIRF is a non-governmental advisory body to the US Congress.  Mr Jaishankar stated that it “lacks locus standi to pronounce on the state of Indian Citizens”. USCIRF has recommended to the U.S. administration that India be designated as a “country of particular concern”, the first time since the 2002 Gujarat ‘pogrom’.

The USCIRF in April 2020 had stated a concern coming from many quarters that religious freedom has taken a downward turn in India. It referred to the CAA-NRC issue, scrapping of special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Delhi riots in February, creating a “culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities”. According to Mr. Jaishankar, statements upon the fundamental rights of Indian citizens is “misrepresentation” and “unwarranted”.

So is the Indian Government justified in their refusal of visas to the USCIRF teams?  It cannot be disputed that many in the Muslim minority feel persecuted.  Contrast it with the “culture of impunity” which sees Union ministers garlanding lynchers, communalizing instances of animal violence, etc.

There is also weaponization of media, which is complicit in demonizing minorities – note how the religious congregation of the ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ is covered as Muslims being the carriers of Covid 19.

In our opinion, in today’s world neither can a state government claim total impunity relying on an absolute Westphalian principle of state sovereignty, nor can foreign nations claim the right to invade a country giving the pretext of a humanitarian crisis within that country. A middle ground has to be found in International Law. After all, today’s world has become smaller and globalized. What happens in one country may well have an effect on another country.

We therefore submit that while a foreign country cannot validly invade another country on the ground of a humanitarian crisis but it can certainly investigate into what is going on within that country where there is prima facie proof of oppression of minorities or such other atrocities.

After all, states cannot reserve sovereignty over systematic persecution of its citizens. To allow for independent experts to look into allegations of human rights violations is not something that the international body is a stranger to – The Universal Periodic Review also allows for independent assessment apart from reports submitted by States.  To meet an attempt to assess ground realities with vehement denial and disparagement does not bode well for any international standing.

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