India citizenship check-ins leave millions in limbo

Darrang District, Assam, India: On Saturday morning, Farid Ali, a farmer dressed in his best sky-blue kurta and a white prayer cap, walked quietly into his village headquarters and received devastating news.

His name wasn't on the list.

Farid Ali, a farmer (centre), looks in vain for his name on a list of verified citizens, in Shyampur, India. Lists of verified citizens were posted across the Indian state of Assam on Saturday. Those whose names did not appear — most of them Muslims — could soon be stateless. Credit:Samyukta Lakshmi/The New York Times

He looked, he waited, his legs began to shake, his dry lips began to move and he prayed there had been a mistake. But his name wasn't anywhere.

Ali's citizenship in India, where he has lived all his life, was now in question, and he could soon be separated from his family and hauled off to a prison camp.

He is one of nearly 2 million people in north-east India who were told Saturday that they could soon be declared stateless in a mass citizenship check that critics say is anti-Muslim. The news arrived in small, sunlit offices across the state of Assam, where citizenship lists were posted that drew huge crowds. Many walked away shocked and demoralised; others were joyous.

Kashmir Muslim women protesters shout anti Indian slogans during a protest against Indian rule and the revocation of Kashmir’s special status, in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir, India. Credit:Getty

Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been pushing a Hindu supremacist agenda for all of India, has eagerly jumped into this citizenship debate, stirring up anti-immigrant feelings and doing it with a clear anti-Muslim bent.

Party officials have demonised migrants much as right-wing groups have across the world. India's home minister, Amit Shah, has repeatedly referred to migrants from Bangladesh, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, as "termites."

Indian authorities are now racing to build new prisons in Assam, including an enormous one to house thousands of people they expect to round up for deportation — though how many will actually be deported, and how many will be marooned in an indefinite state of limbo, is far from clear. In any case, the walls are already going up.

A preliminary Assam citizenship list published last year left off 4 million of Assam's 33 million residents. Most applied for reconsideration, and the lists published Saturday showed that about half of them had made the citizenship cut.

The 1.9 million who did not can appeal to Foreigners Tribunals — opaque, quasi-judicial courts with a record of discrimination.

Anas Tanwir, a lawyer who has handled more than 50 appeals of Foreigner Tribunals' rulings before the Supreme Court, said many of the Muslims he represented had not gotten a fair shot.

"For years there has been propaganda against Bengali Muslims," he said. "People say Bengali Muslims will steal your kids, they'll steal your jobs. They are taking over your land and destroying your culture. That they even eat human meat.

"It's xenophobia at its best," he said.

Earlier this year, he said, a tribunal official offhandedly said of a Muslim Bengali mother whose citizenship was being questioned: "She has gifted seven children to India. It's time now to send her off."

Many ethnic Bengalis in Assam have lived in India since birth. They don't consider themselves to be from Bangladesh, and they have no documents linking them to that country, which is why they could become stateless if India denies them citizenship.

It is not as if Bangladesh, a densely populated and poor nation, is champing at the bit to absorb nearly 2 million more people.

Many of the potentially stateless come from families who settled in Assam before India became independent in 1947. Back then, there were no borders between India and Bangladesh; it was all one British-controlled territory.

Ali, for example, traces his roots in India to 1931. He has tried to meet the criteria that all of Assam's residents were told to meet: providing documents that showed he or his ancestors had lived in India before midnight on March 24, 1971, when Bangladesh split from Pakistan and became its own nation.

But vast numbers of people here, amid the rice paddies, dirt roads and flimsy, bamboo-walled houses, are poor and illiterate. They would have problems reading old property deeds or fraying birth certificates, let alone finding them.

In many cases, perhaps because of clerical errors or name changes, some people have been deemed citizens while their siblings or parents have not. For some reason, Ali and his seven children were excluded, while his wife was considered a citizen. Ali doesn't know why; he can't read.

The Home Ministry has granted everyone excluded from the list four months to appeal. Indian officials have tried to reassure an increasingly anxious public that the process will be fair.

But critics say the government's anti-Muslim bias was revealed when it tried to pass a bill this year offering citizenship to migrants from neighbouring countries — if they were Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsees or Jains. It was clear to everyone which of South Asia's major religions had been left off that list.

The government said it was trying to help religious minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. To critics, it looked like another anti-Muslim campaign.

In the past year, lawyers and human rights defenders say, anxiety over Assam's citizenship checks has driven dozens of people in the state to suicide, both Muslims and Hindus.

But overall, Hindus excluded from the list appear to be more confident that they won't actually be deported. Several politicians have said they will make sure that Hindu Bengalis can stay.

"We are banking on the word from the central and state government," said Shrichand Pareek, an upper-caste Hindu.

Many Muslims feel they have no one to turn to. This process has left them feeling frightened, helpless, alone and confused — especially children, whose heads have been filled with visions of being pulled away.

"Sometimes I imagine detention camps to be like these big tarpaulin tents set amid a vast field where my family will never be able to meet me, see me," said Noor Jahan Begum, a 13-year-old girl who had been worried about making the list. "I think the detention camp is like a monster that will eat me up."

But Saturday, she proved to be one of the lucky ones. She made it.

"We are going to buy a big chicken and prepare fish curry from the best variety of fish available to us,'' said her jubilant father, Najrul Islam. "It is the biggest relief of our lives.''

The New York Times

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India's former Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj dies at 67

Press Trust of India says Swaraj died of a heart attack at a New Delhi hospital.

    Sushma Swaraj, India’s former external affairs minister and a senior member of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has died at the age of 67.

    Swaraj died of a heart attack on Tuesday after being rushed to the emergency ward of All India Institute of Medical Science hospital in New Delhi, the Press Trust of India reported. 

    She was the external affairs minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet from 2014 to 2019.

    After undergoing a kidney transplant during her tenure as minister, Swaraj decided not to run for this year’s general election, citing health issues.

    In a series of tweets, Modi said that Swaraj’s death was a “personal loss” and that she had worked tirelessly at India’s external affairs ministry.

    “A glorious chapter in Indian politics comes to an end. India grieves the demise of a remarkable leader who devoted her life to public service and bettering lives of the poor. Sushma Swaraj Ji was one of her kind, who was a source of inspiration for crores of people,” Modi said.

    Swaraj was known for her active presence on social media, often replying to requests for help from Indians abroad.

    In her last tweets, she thanked Modi for bringing a controversial measure to India’s parliament to revoke the special status of India-administered portion of the disputed territory of Kashmir, a move that came after New Delhi imposed a clampdown in the Muslim-majority state.

    Calling it a “bold and historic decision”, Swaraj said: “I was waiting to see this day in my lifetime.”

    Opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi described Swaraj as “an extraordinary political leader, a gifted orator and an exceptional parliamentarian with friendships across party lines”.

    Swaraj received a law degree and began her political career in the 1970s closely associated with socialist leaders.

    She actively opposed an emergency rule imposed in 1975 by then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of the Congress party.

    She later joined the BJP and rose to become one of its top leaders, last serving as India’s foreign minister, only the second woman in the role after Indira Gandhi.

    Swaraj is survived by her husband, Swaraj Kaushal, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India and a former governor of Mizoram state, and a daughter, Bansuri, also a lawyer.

    Politicians, celebrities and ordinary Indians took to Twitter to express their grief over Swaraj’s death and pay tribute. Here’s a roundup of some of them: 

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    Former Indian finance minister Arun Jaitley dies aged 66

    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Arun Jaitley, the former Indian finance minister and one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s closest associates, died in hospital on Saturday, nearly two weeks after he was admitted following breathing difficulties, officials said.

    Jaitley, 66, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stepped down as finance minister in January due to ill health, just months before elections that returned Modi’s Hindu nationalists to power.

    “With the demise of Arun Jaitley Ji, I have lost a valued friend, whom I have had the honor of knowing for decades,” Modi said on Twitter. “His insight on issues and nuanced understanding of matters had very few parallels.”

    Jaitley was admitted to All India Institute Medical Sciences in New Delhi on Aug. 9.

    A diabetic, his health had worsened after he underwent a kidney transplant in May last year. He also had to skip the presentation of the interim budget in February when he was in hospital in the United States for cancer treatment.

    The lawyer-turned-politician also had triple heart bypass surgery when he was 52.

    Jaitley’s urbane and articulate manner helped him win friends across party lines and industry.

    The BJP lost another veteran party leader and former minister of external affairs when Sushma Swaraj died after a cardiac arrest earlier this month.

    During his tenure as finance minister, Jaitley led the enactment of a bankruptcy code and a national goods and services tax law that had languished for almost 20 years.

    The implementation of the GST resulted in job losses for thousands of workers in small businesses, adding to his mixed record on economic management.

    The Indian economy has been under a cloud for months, with latest government estimates showing it had slowed to a five-year low of 5.8% in January-March as a result of sluggish domestic and global demand and little growth in private investment.

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    Cricket: Virat Kohli hits unbeaten 114 as India defeats West Indies to take series 2-0

    PORT OF SPAIN (Trinidad) (AP) – Captain Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer poured on the runs again for India to beat the West Indies comfortably in the third one-day international and take the series 2-0 on Wednesday (Aug 14).

    Kohli hit an unbeaten 114 and Iyer 65 as they made a challenging chase of 255 from 35 overs look easy. Kohli hit the winning runs from his 14th boundary for India to reach 256-4 with 15 balls to spare.

    The West Indies posted 240-7 around a three-hour rain delay which cut 15 overs from its innings. Before the rain, Chris Gayle smashed a crowd-pleasing 71 from 41 balls in possibly his last ODI, and Evin Lewis added 43 from 29. Their opening stand of 115 came at a run rate of nearly 11.

    But they were out to catches in consecutive overs, and only Nicholas Pooran, with 30 from 16, lashed out like they did. Medium-pacer Khaleel Ahmed took an expensive three wickets.

    Just like in the second ODI on Sunday on the same ground, Iyer joined his captain with India wobbling at three wickets down. And just like on Sunday when they combined for 120 runs, they hit a match-deciding 125 together.

    Iyer relieved India nerves by swatting 65 from 41 balls, including five sixes. After his second straight fifty, he was caught at long off with India on 211-4 and cruising.

    Three days after knocking 120, Kohli played the anchor and brought up his 43rd ODI century, only six from Sachin Tendulkar’s world record.

    Kohli finished on 114 not out from 99 balls, receiving man of the match again and man of the series. He was dropped early behind the wickets by Shai Hope, and batted in pain after a lifter from Kemar Roach hit his hand. Afterward, Kohli said he suffered a split nail and didn’t believe his thumb was broken.

    Kohli joined his teammates in giving Gayle an informal guard of honor after catching out the cricket great with a dive at mid-off.

    Gayle wore jersey number 301 to mark his 301st and possibly last ODI, and entertained a sparse crowd by toying with the West Indies attack for 12 overs. He hit five sixes, including one one-handed over long leg off Ahmed.

    He and Lewis shared 114 in the first 10 overs, the highest 10-over score by a team batting first in ODI history. If this was his last ODI, Gayle finished in style.

    Gayle hasn’t been picked for the two-test series, which starts on Thursday next week in North Sound, Antigua.

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    Actress Priyanka Chopra accused of 'encouraging nuclear war'

    At US event, Indian actress and UN goodwill envoy is called hypocrite over February tweet amid India-Pakistan tensions.

      Indian actress Priyanka Chopra has been branded a hypocrite over a tweet she posted in February amid escalating tensions between neighbours India and Pakistan.

      The incident, which was widely shared online, took place during a cosmetics event on Saturday in the US city of Los Angeles when audience member Ayesha Malik accused Chopra, who was appointed a United Nations goodwill ambassador in 2016, of “encouraging nuclear war against Pakistan”.

      “My friend and I were walking around and we walked by Priyanka’s talk,” Malik, a US citizen of Pakistani origin, told Al Jazeera on Monday. “We did not want to watch or stick around but I heard her start talking about how she’s a humanitarian – she said we should ‘love our neighbours’ and I just thought that was very funny of her to say.”

      Priyanka Chopra tweeted during a time when we were this 👌🏽 close to sending nukes to one another. Instead of advocating for peace she tweeted in support of the Indian army pic.twitter.com/LhbMkOW59v

      In the video of the confrontation that was posted on Twitter, Malik is heard saying: “It was kind of hard hearing you talk about humanity, because as your neighbour, a Pakistani, I know you are a bit of a hypocrite, because you tweeted on February 26, ‘Jai Hind [Hail India] #IndianArmedForces””.

      “You are a UNICEF (Goodwill) Ambassador for peace and you are encouraging nuclear war against Pakistan, there is no winner in this,” she told Chopra.

      The former Miss World posted that tweet soon after Indian fighter jets crossed into Pakistani territory, conducting air raids that resulted in an escalation in hostilities between the nuclear-armed neighbours. The Indian raids followed a suicide attack in the Indian-administered Kashmir town of Pulwama earlier that month. India blamed Pakistan for the February 14 suicide bombing, a charge the latter denied.

      The venue’s security took away the microphone from Malik while she was still speaking.

      “Whenever you’re don’t venting”. Sorry, didn’t realize that speaking on a humanitarian crisis was “venting” pic.twitter.com/OqCLgjDNa1

      “I know I’m on the right side of history here. She (Priyanka Chopra) said, ‘stop yelling’. You just saw my mic being taken away, how else are you supposed to hear me if I don’t raise my voice?,” Malik told Al Jazeera.

      ‘Girl, don’t yell’

      Responding to Malik at the cosmetics event, Chopra said she was not fond of war but called herself “patriotic”. 

      “I’m sorry if I hurt sentiments to people who do love me and have loved me, but I think that all of us have a sort of middle ground that we all have to walk, just like you probably do as well,” the 37-year-old said.

      “The way you came at me right now? Girl, don’t yell. 

      “We’re all here for love. Don’t yell. Don’t embarrass yourself. But we all walk that middle ground, but thank you for your enthusiasm and your question and your voice.”

      Jai Hind #IndianArmedForces 🇮🇳 🙏🏽

      Tensions between Indian and Pakistan have been running high over the past week after New Delhi’s Hindu-nationalist government on August 5 revoked Article 370 of India’s constitution, limiting Indian-administered Kashmir’s decision-making powers and eliminating its right to its own constitution.

      India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over the disputed territory of Kashmir, which both claim in full but administer separate portions of since gaining independence from the British in 1947. A rebellion in Indian-administered Kashmir over the past 30 years has left tens of thousands of people dead. 

      Comments erupted on social media after the video of the confrontation was posted online, with some supporting Chopra for being “graceful” while others bashing her for dodging the question.

      “I appreciate all the support. I want us to have an open dialogue on both sides. War is never the answer. If there are children in danger, why are you on a side that allows that?” Malik said.

      War is not something I am really fond of but yes I am Patriotic!!!! – #PriyankaChopra 🇮🇳🙏🏻
      I am still not getting this how she became arrogant ? Just because she responded to a question asked in a way it should not have been plus with a haughty tone!! #WeSupportPriyankaChopra pic.twitter.com/I00VtlMGNY

      Priyanka Chopra being a UN ambassador is a JOKE. She doesn’t deserve that authority. She ridiculed the Pakistani woman who had the courage to speak aloud and instead of replying with respect, Chopra says “are you done venting?” VENTING. Revoke her of this position.

      So @UNICEF is Priyanka Chopra now the peace Ambassdor. Supporter of nuclear war is your Ambassdor. Kindly take notice of this. Time to take action against elements that undermine your vision and cause #Kashmir #FreedomForKashmir #KashmirBleeds

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      Thousands protest in Indian Kashmir over new status despite clampdown

      SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Indian police used tear gas and pellets to fight back at least 10,000 people protesting Delhi’s withdrawal of special rights for Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state in its main city of Srinagar on Friday, a police official and two witnesses said.

      The demonstration soon after Friday prayers was the largest since authorities locked down the revolt-torn region five days ago, cutting off telephone and internet services and detaining more than 500 political and separatist leaders.

      In a tweeted statement on Saturday, spokeswoman for India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, Vasudha Gupta, said that the estimate of 10,000 was “completely fabricated & incorrect”.

      There had been a few “stray protests” in the area but “none involved a crowd of more than 20 ppl”, she said.

      Video footage carried by international news channels, the BBC and Al Jazeera and available online, shows large crowds of people protesting in Srinagar on Friday.

      Seeking to tighten its grip on the region also claimed by neighboring Pakistan, India this week scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s right to frame its own laws and allowed non-residents to buy property there.

      Regional leaders have warned of a backlash in the area, where militants have been fighting Indian rule for nearly 30 years, leading to the deaths of more than 50,000 people.

      A large group of people gathered in Srinagar’s Soura area, a police officer said, in violation of orders that prohibit the assembly of more than four people.

      The crowd was pushed back by police at Aiwa bridge, where a witness said tear gas and pellets were used against them. “Some women and children even jumped into the water,” a witness said at Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, where pellet victims were admitted.

      “They (police) attacked us from two sides,” another witness said. The police officer said 12 people had been admitted to two hospitals in the city after receiving pellet injuries at Soura, taking the total injured in the protests this week to at least 30.

      “There were around 10,000 people at the protest in Soura,” the police officer said. “This was the biggest so far.”

      Thousands of extra paramilitary police were deployed across Kashmir just before the sweeping measures were announced on Monday to prevent large-scale protests.

      Addressing the nation on Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he had acted in Kashmir to help develop the region and that he hoped it would lead to investment and more job opportunities.

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      His Hindu nationalist-led party has long campaigned for abrogating Kashmir’s special privileges in the constitution, which it sees as an appeasement to Muslims and a hindrance to its own development.

      An Indian foreign ministry spokesman, Raveesh Kumar, played down the unrest, which he suggested was temporary.

      “Just outside Srinagar things have really come back to normal,” he said.

      Kumar added, “People are going about their business, vehicles are plying normally. If we are confident of maintaining the law and order, I think those restrictions will be relaxed, I’m quite sure.”

      ARRESTS

      But the police officer, who requested anonymity since he is not authorized to speak to the media, said that political detentions in the wake of the Modi government’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special rights were continuing.

      “Over 500 people are now arrested since Sunday,” he said, including former chief ministers, ministers, lawmakers and leaders and workers from political parties and separatist groups.

      Modi’s party and even some top opposition leaders have welcomed the decision to absorb Kashmir fully into India, and it has brought him support across the country.

      Within Kashmir, officials are hoping anger will die down. On Friday, they eased restrictions to allow residents to offer prayers in neighborhood mosques and said they were making arrangements for Eid, that falls on Monday.

      The top administrative official of the Kashmir Valley, Baseer Khan, said that essential commodities including food, grains and meat, would be trucked into villages by Sunday.

      Khan also said authorities would set up public phone booths covering every district, since communications lines have been severed by the government anticipating widespread protests.

      “More than 300 phone booths will be established in a day or two at landmark points,” he said.

      Khan added that all medical services in the valley were working normally, although when Reuters visited two major hospitals and a smaller facility, officials said that doctors and staff were having difficulties reaching work.

      Arch-rival Pakistan, which lays claims to Kashmir, has downgraded diplomatic ties with India and suspended trade in anger at its latest move.

      On Friday, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said China was gravely concerned about the situation in Kashmir, the cause of two of three wars between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

      Wang met Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Beijing and assured him that China would continue to support Pakistan to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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      Pakistan's army chief vows support for Kashmiris as India keeps up blackout

      SRINAGAR, India/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s military will “go to any extent” to support people in Kashmir, its army chief said on Tuesday, as India kept up a telecoms blackout for a second day to deter protests over its scrapping of special status for the region.

      In a move to tighten its grip on the Himalayan region also claimed by Pakistan, India dropped a constitutional provision that allowed the country’s only Muslim-majority region to make its own laws.

      After a meeting with top commanders in the city of Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s army chief expressed support for the people of Kashmir, and the prime minister said he was weighing an approach to the United Nations Security Council.

      “The Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end,” said General Qamar Javed Bajwa. “We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfil our obligations in this regard.”

      The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two of their three wars over the territory, and engaged in an aerial clash in February after a militant group based in Pakistan claimed responsibility for an attack on an Indian military convoy.

      Video images by Reuters partner ANI showed deserted streets on Tuesday in Srinagar, the main city of the region at the heart of a nearly 30-year armed revolt India accuses Pakistan of helping.

      In response, Islamabad says it only gives moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination.

      “We will fight it at every forum. We’re thinking how we can take it to International Court (of Justice)… to the United Nations Security Council,” Prime Minister Imran Khan told Pakistan’s parliament.

      Hours before Monday’s news, Indian authorities had clamped an unprecedented communications blackout on Kashmir, arresting its leaders, including two former state chief ministers.

      Although the leaders had warned that the change, which frees up land for purchase by non-residents, would provoke unrest, the blackout and a heavy deployment of troops, including tens of thousands of additional soldiers, have helped curb agitation.

      A backlash against New Delhi’s decision to tighten control over the region was imminent, however, since many saw the move as a breach of trust, said Shah Faesal, the leader of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement.

      “We might see an eruption when the guard is down,” he told Reuters. “People are taking it as an act of humiliation.”

      Kashmir’s regional politicians said they were kept in the dark about the move and feared a wider crackdown. Three leaders Reuters met on Monday at their homes in Srinagar had little knowledge of the situation outside.

      Related Coverage

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      “This will be difficult – difficult for people, difficult for political parties,” said Rafi Ahmed Mir, spokesman of the People’s Democratic Party, which was part of the BJP coalition that ruled the state until last year.

      DIVIDED FAMILIES

      Armed police on Tuesday patrolled every few hundred metres in Srinagar, where a ban on public gatherings of more than four people stayed in force. Educational institutions and most shops in residential neighbourhoods were shut.

      Some shopkeepers said stocks were running out after days of panic buying.

      “No provisions are left in my shop, and no fresh supplies are coming,” said grocery store owner Jehangir Ahmad.

      At a Srinagar hospital hit by the crackdown on telephone, television and internet communications, staff were working overtime, with ambulances sent to bring in doctors and nurses.

      “We are managing for now,” said a senior official at the 500-bed Lal Ded hospital who sought anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media.

      Security forces fired tear gas and pellets to disperse sporadic protests on Monday, said one police official who declined to be identified.

      “There was stone-pelting in some parts of the city,” he added.

      In Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-governed Kashmir about 45 km (28 miles) from the neighbours’ contested border, protests entered a second day, with hundreds of people, including children, shouting anti-India slogans.

      In the nearby Neelum Valley, where the two sides have exchanged heavy shelling in recent weeks, all shops and businesses shut in protest.

      Many Kashmiris have relatives on both sides of the border, but those on the Pakistani side say they have been unable to reach people in India for days.

      Tanveer-ul-Islam, who migrated to Muzaffarabad in 1990, said he had lost touch with his mother in Indian Kashmir since Sunday.

      “You can’t even imagine my pain,” he added. “We do not know about the well-being of anyone across the divide.”

      In Dhaka, the capital of neighbouring Bangladesh, hundreds of people protested outside the national mosque after noon prayers, chanting slogans such as “Go to hell, Hindustan. Go to hell, the Modi government. May Kashmir be free.”

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      India's Kashmir move may face legal challenges: experts

      Lawyers and experts question legality of Indian government’s decision taken while the state was under central rule.

        India’s move to strip Kashmir of special rights is likely to face legal challenges, constitutional experts and Supreme Court lawyers said, with some questioning the legality of the route used to make the change.

        On Monday, Home Minister Amit Shah announced in parliament that the government would scrap the constitution’s Article 370 that grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir state and allows permanent residents rights to property and government jobs.

        The revocation of the Himalayan territory’s special status is being seen as a bid to fully integrate its only Muslim-majority state with the rest of the country.

        To do so, the government used a provision under Article 370 of the constitution that allows the law to be tweaked by a presidential order – provided there is consensus in the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir.

        One problem, though, is that the constituent assembly of the state was dissolved in 1956.

        “They [the government] have not just struck down the provision of 370, but they have actually dismantled the state of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed in the Indian constitution,” Ajai Shukla, a defence analyst in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera.

        “It now consists of union territories which are centrally governed – Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. This is a sort of a radical new provision, which many people are saying will require a constitutional amendment,” he said.

        The government has tweaked another constitutional article so that a reference in Article 370 to “constituent assembly of the state” becomes “legislative assembly of the state”. The legality of that move, the lawyers said, could be questioned in court.

        ‘Legal faultline’

        New Delhi said all the changes were agreed to by the state government. And that, some lawyers say, could be another issue for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as there currently is no government in Jammu and Kashmir.

        For the past year, the state has been under presidential rule, after Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled away from an alliance with a regional party and dissolved the state assembly.

        “If there is president’s rule, then how does that work? Does it fulfil the requirement?” senior Supreme Court advocate Akhil Sibal told Reuters news agency. “That to my mind would be the legal faultline.”

        Malavika Prasad, a constitutional lawyer, said: “How did the government of Jammu and Kashmir concur with the changes if the state has been under presidential rule for a year now?”

        Shah said earlier on Monday that the changes would pass “every legal scrutiny”, but lawyers said they expect several petitions challenging India’s changes to Article 370.

        One group of lawyers in New Delhi is already working on a possible petition, a lawyer told Reuters. 

        “The first legal challenge will come from Kashmir itself. All of Kashmir is now on one side, including the secessionists and nationalists; everybody is outraged,” said Shukla, the defence analyst. 

        “In India as well, there will be mounting legal challenges and political opposition which has many illustrious lawyers. It can be expected that these will be heard by a constitutional bench in the Supreme Court.”

        There could also be legal objections to related government legislation concerning the division of Jammu and Kashmir into two entities, including a separate Buddhist-majority but sparsely-populated mountainous territory, Ladakh. That law will rely on the constitutional changes made on Monday.

        ‘Major tipping point’

        Critics of Modi’s government and the BJP have accused it of changing the constitution to shift Jammu and Kashmir’s demographics – it is currently majority Muslim – as well as to pander to its Hindu nationalist base that has long demanded the right to own property in Kashmir. 

        Experts and analysts believe the move could have serious consequences for the entire region.

        “There will be fear of a change in the demographic profile of Jammu and Kashmir that will sow more despair among the people and a sense of deprivation and disempowerment will be engrained further,” Kashmiri journalist Iftikhar Gilani said at a panel on South Asian politics in Turkey’s capital, Ankara. 

        “When you discredit moderates, you will encourage radicals. When you reduce humanity to a spectacle, you create a dehumanised society,” he said.

        Since 1947, Jammu and Kashmir has enjoyed special provisions to enact its own laws. The provisions also protected its citizenship law, which disallowed outsiders to settle in or own land in the territory.

        The Himalayan region is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. New Delhi’s action has provoked condemnation in Pakistan, which has disputed India’s control over Kashmir for decades.

        Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought wars in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir.

        Speaking at the same panel in Ankara, Umer Karim, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said India’s latest move “will only create further instability in the region and will further escalate tensions between the two sides”. 

        Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, tweeted: “The revocation of Article 370 is a major tipping point for an already-fraught dispute.”

        Some Kashmiri groups in the disputed region have been fighting against the Indian rule for independence or for unification with neighbouring Pakistan.


        Inside Story

        Why was India-administered Kashmir’s status revoked?

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        Four feared dead in mishap in Coal India mine in east India

        BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) – Four workers are feared dead and nine have been injured in a landslide at a Coal India Ltd mine in the eastern state of Odisha, a company spokesman said on Wednesday.

        India is one of the most dangerous countries to be a coal miner, with one worker dying every seven days on average in 2018 in mines operated by state-run Coal India and Singreni Collieries Co Ltd, according to government data.

        The open cast mine in Odisha, with production capacity of 20,000 tonnes a day, had been shut after the late Tuesday accident, Dikken Mehra, a spokesman for Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd, a Coal India subsidiary told Reuters.

        “It will take at least a week to resume operations,” Mehra said.

        India’s numerous illegal mines, often in remote hilly terrain, also have a poor safety record, although there is little data as many accidents go unreported.

        In December, at least 15 miners were trapped in an illegal “rat-hole” coal mine in the northeastern state of Meghalaya.

        Thousands of workers in Meghalaya, including children, have been killed in the so-called rat-hole mines, in which miners crawl into narrow shafts on bamboo ladders to dig for low-quality coal.

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        India prepares to land rover on moon in second unmanned mission

        If successful, India will be the fourth country after the US, Russia and China to perform a ‘soft’ landing on the moon.

          India is looking to take a giant technological leap with a second unmanned mission to the moon, aimed at landing a rover near the unexplored south pole.

          The blast-off of Chandrayaan-2 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is scheduled at 2.51am local time on Monday (2121 GMT, Sunday).

          A successful launch will be the first among several nail-biting steps planned ahead, which, if successful, will put India in a select group of spacefaring nations.

          Chandrayaan-2 is a multistage moon mission through which the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to place a spacecraft in the lunar orbit 22 days after the launch.

          Nearly a month after that, on September 6 or 7, a landing craft carrying a rover should separate from the orbiter and attempt a controlled descent to land on the surface at the south pole.

          ISRO is attempting what is called a “soft landing”, a feat achieved only by the former Soviet Union, the United States and China so far.

          With India poised to become the world’s fifth-largest economy, its space ambitions are also commercial.

          “It will foster a new age of discovery, increase our understanding of space, promote more global alliances, stimulate the advancement of technology and grow commercial opportunities in India and inspire future generations,” ISRO Chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan said.

          Economy class price tag

          Technological feat apart, India’s space programme also seeks to prove it can compete in terms of cost.

          Chandrayaan-2’s economy class $141m price tag covers the rocket, orbiter, lander, rover and the scientific payloads – $9m less than what SpaceX charges for its Falcon Heavy launch services that simply take up and drop off payloads into the low earth orbit.

          During her budget speech in parliament on July 5, weeks after she was sworn in, India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the creation of a new public sector enterprise: New Space India Ltd.

          She made it clear that ISRO’s ambitions to reach the moon and beyond are integrated into the government’s blueprint to create a $5 trillion national economy by 2025.

          “New Space India Limited has been incorporated as a new commercial arm of the Department of Space to tap into the benefits of research and development carried out by the ISRO. The company will spearhead commercialisation of various space products, including production of launch vehicles, transfer of technologies and marketing of space products,” she said.

          While India’s space industry generates $7bn in revenue, Morgan Stanley estimates say the global space revenues currently pegged at $350bn will increase to $1.1 trillion by 2040.

          ISRO chairman Sivan said 500 universities and 120 companies across India participated in developing and managing various scientific and engineering programmes to make Chandrayaan-2 ready for the launch.

          “The private sector shared 80 percent of the expenditure and 60 percent of the module work,” he said. “This mission is not only ISRO’s project, the country’s scientific community and private sector were also involved.”

          Moon vehicle

          The launch of the moon mission follows the ISRO’s successful launch of Chandrayaan-1 in 2008, which placed a spacecraft in orbit around the moon and then launched a lunar impactor.

          ISRO deliberately dispatched the 35kg Moon Impact Probe with the specific intent to smash it into the surface of the moon in order to analyse the particulates displaced by the crash.

          That is when ISRO, with the assistance of NASA’s Moon Minerology Mapper on board the orbiter, discovered water molecules on the moon.

          If Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram lander (named after Vikram Sarabhai, founder of India’s space programme) touches down safely, it will lower a ramp and release its main payload, the Pragyan rover.

          In Sanskrit, Pragyan means “wisdom” while Chandrayaan translates as “a moon vehicle”. The Vikram lander will also be carrying three scientific instruments to study seismic activity, the surface’s ability to absorb and retain heat, and the moon’s ionosphere.

          The Pragyan rover’s instrumentation will study the elements that make up the lunar surface, mainly the building blocks for water.

          Once on the moon’s south pole, the lander and the rover will be powered by the sun, meaning their mission life spans will last one lunar day. That means almost 15 earth days of science and data gathering before the sun sets on the moon.

          The orbiter has been outfitted with a variety of technologies to collect data on the moon’s surface composition and atmosphere. It will also map the terrain to probe where water in the form of ice is located.


          Al Jazeera Correspondent

          Chris Hadfield: ‘Space Lullaby’

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