Connect with us

South Asia

USCIRF 2020: Why India Should Introspect

Prakhar Raghuvanshi



The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (the Commission) established by International Religious Freedom Act, 1998 (IRFA) with the principle aim of reviewing instances of violations of religious freedoms internationally and make policy recommendations to the department of state of the United States. In its Annual Report for 2020, the Commission has recommended India for Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedoms.

Broadly speaking, the Commission consists of nine voting members out of which three appointed by the President, four are appointed by the opposition, two are appointed by the leader of President’s political party.

India a CPC

The chapter on India in the report holds that the following the re-election of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in May 2019, the central government used its strengthened majority to implement national-level policies violating religious freedoms of minorities in India, especially Muslims.

The report has considered CAA-NRC issue extensively. It holds the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 to be fast track route to citizenship for non-muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It has critiqued the exercise of National Register of Citizens in Assam, which excluded about 2 million Hindus and Muslims stateless. In the Commission’s view, the CAA was enacted because the Central government feared possible exclusion of Hindus if and when nationwide NRC is carried out. It is pertinent to note that the Commission does not find the CAA to be problematic alone rather the coupled effect of CAA-NRC appears problematic, this has been argued by some Indians.

In addition to this, the Commission has criticised hate speech, including those given by mainstream political leaders. Among other things, the commission expressed its concern on anti-conversion laws, the violations in the state of Jammu and Kashmir post the partial abrogation of Article 370 and cow slaughter related mob-lynchings.

The Road that Led India

There are numerous factors responsible for India’s classification as a CPC. Recent events, like relentless slandering of Muslims in the garb of Tablighi Jamaat incidents, suggests that India is not expected to improve substantially in the near future. Although the Prime Minister of India can be seen advocating for non-discrimination, his sub-ordinates preach the opposite.

Even the Commission has acknowledged this and said “Yogi Adityanath pledged “revenge” against anti-CAA protestors and stated they should be fed bullets, not biryani.”(emphasis supplied). The statement is clearly directed towards protesters and in particular towards Muslims protestors. This is perhaps one of the primary reason why India ended up in the CPC list.

The episodes of mob-lynching are rising in India, majority of the victims of these mob-lynchings are Muslims in India. The state governments as well as the central government, have failed repeatedly to respond effectively to mob-lynchings and enact stricter laws despite being directed by the Supreme Court. In a nutshell, due process is being flouted in India. Another extreme example is the direction given by the Home Ministry of the Union of India to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The Ministry has instructed the NCRB to completely omit and exclude the mob-lynching from the Annual NCRB Report of 2019. This step is taken without any rational and will affect not only policymaking in India as well as research.

Moreover, the mainstream media in India has a particular role to play in India’s classification as a CPC. There have been numerous instances of biased reporting, demonizing of Muslims and ignoring the atrocities against minorities. Ranging from a biased view of the attack on students in Jamia Milia Islamia University to the 2020 Delhi riots. Ignoring the arbitrary acts of police or executive in general of stopping minorities while offering prayers and so on are only a few facets of the bias in the mainstream Indian media. Even the commissioners who dissented from the majority in the Annual report of USCIRF have accepted that media in India is biased to some extent.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of India is equally responsible for the rising majoritarian conception. Constitutional experts and scholars have expressed their concern regarding the hearing of habeas corpus petitions from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a settled doctrine that habeas corpus petitions are accepted to be of utmost importance. However, the Indian Supreme Court in recent times has failed to give this importance to these petitions.

The long-standing restriction on internet services in J&K is yet another example. Although the Supreme Court held right to freedom of speech through the internet as a medium a fundamental right in Anuradha Bhasin’s case, the services are not restored in the state till date. It would not be far-fetched to say that in times of COVID-19 when almost everything is on the web, deprivation of 4G internet services in the state is a violation of the right to life and personal liberty itself.

The story doesn’t end here. Two important judgments were given by the Supreme Court in recent years concerning religion, viz the Sabarimala Judgment and the Ramjanmabhoomi Judgment/Babri-Masjid ruling. Briefly, the SabrimalaJudgmentis concerning the rights of women to enter and worship in the Hindu temple Sabrimala whereas Ramjanmabhoomi Judgment was, in essence, a property dispute and related with the birthplace of Lord Rama/Mosque built by Barber. The Sabrimala Judgment which recognised the rights of women to enter and worship in the Sabrimala temple was not well received by the Hindu community whereas the ruling in Ramjanmabhoomi Judgment was widely appreciated.

A review petition was filed in both these cases, the Sabrimala Judgment was accepted whereas Ramjanmabhoomi Judgment was rejected from the chamber without giving an opportunity of an open court hearing. I am not questioning the rejection of review the latter case, however, I am questioning the acceptance of review in the Sabrimala Judgment. To accept a review, there has to an error apparent on the face of the record in the judgment, which was not pointed out in the Sabrimala review petition.

Tackling The Defence Of Dissent

The report is being disregarded based on the fact that three out of nine commissioners in the Commission dissented from the view that India should be included in the list of CPC. It is certainly true that the report is not based on consensus. However, there are two primary objections to this defence, viz firstly the three commissioners, Gary L. Bauer, Tenzin Dorjee and Johnnie Moore, who dissented did not give India a clean chit. They have expressed their concern about religious freedom. Gary Bauer, while dissenting from the majority view, stated, “the trend line on religious freedom in India is not reassuring”(emphasis supplied). The dissenters express that India is not on the same pedestal as China, North Korea and Pakistan. Secondly, two of the three dissenters were nominees of President Trump and owing to the strong ties between PM Modi and President Trump, the dissenters might have voted against the majority view.

To conclude, diplomatically the right step was to reject the report which is what the government did. However, this does not in any way mean that the contents of the report are absolutely untrue. The leadership in India needs to introspect their actions, in particular, check their subordinates in the states. Last time when India was classified in the CPC list was 2002 after the Godhra Hindu-Muslim riots, keeping this in mind the government should decide their course of action. There is a need to balance punishment with the wrongful act, booking a journalist under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) is something India should refrain from. The report has called for the United States to impose sanctions on India, bar entry of individuals responsible in the United States and so on, these recommendations might take effect. But our course of action should not be dependent on it. Introspection is all that the leadership needs.

Continue Reading

South Asia

The Need for Pakistan’s Digitalisation Policy

Syeda Dhanak Hashmi



Change is the only constant and one has to keep evolving through new trends in order to compete with the changing dynamics of the world. There is no denying the fact that any country’s economic growth is now directly linked to one factor i.e., adoption of information and communications technology. The adoption of digitalisation is the new reality where majority of population has access to mobile phones and internet than to basic necessities of life. Digitalisation is not a choice, it is the need of the hour, therefore, the governments are now determining their policies and strategies for digitalising every sector, to promote and strengthen their socio-economic fabric.

Keeping in view the current scenario, the COVID-19 has had a major impact on almost all socio-economic sectors, the digital world has never been more important than it is today, Digitalisation is the new normal where consumers are buying everything online whether it is to buy groceries and essentials or to socialise and virtually reach with friends and family. During this critical time, many of these adoptions will persist long even after the situation has stabilised.

Globally countries are adopting new ways through digitalisation to ease the life of their citizens by providing them with improved and rapid amenities. The access to free internet services made it possible to pave the way for effective digitalization. An exponential increase is observed in the number of internet providers and consumers which demonstrates that the world is adapting with the concept of digitalization. It is witnessed that the developed countries has already shifted all their services from the outdated ways to online portals to facilitate the masses. In recent years, Pakistan is also evolving its IT sector promptly by introducing the latest technological mechanisms in the country.

The present government has taken up the task to digitalize the entire country and is working hard to create an e-governance system to bring down corruption, to ensure accountability process and also to augment the productivity in the country. The government has been taking great strides in the advancement of technology- from the Mohafiz app to digitizing the Postal service and the introduction of Tax Asaan mobile app which provides taxpayers with quick access of verification features like active Taxpayers list (ATL), NTN/STRN inquiry and exemption certificate etc. and many more. The PTI government has been proactive in the inclusion of technology within various segments and has also launched the online FIR system where people can submit their complaints online, and will be facilitated by government officials.

Nevertheless one might assume that digitalisation and government don’t blend,but in reality this fusion is helping the government agencies and officials to represent their agendas and administrative progress directly to the people through social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.).Perhaps the defined role of government social media accounts is to serve as a source of unrestricted updates. This includes everything from present initiatives to upcoming policy reforms and breaking news. Therefore, news should be a foundation of your content strategy as a government account. For instance, we are currently seeing social media crisis management in action for government organisations, including real-time updates in response to COVID-19. This illustrates that social media actually serves as a first hand source of information and provides people with timely updates. This is the brilliance of digitalisation and government that the voters and opposition are already there and the government has only one job that is to publish content which engages the attention from the public. This also suggests educating your followers by clarifying potential misinformation, keeping in view the fact that how quickly fabricated content can spread through social media, the government accounts serve as an important source for authentic information.

Statically, as per Pakistan’s Digital2020 Report, Feb 2020: there were 76.38 million internet users in Pakistan in January 2020 which illustrates that the number of internet users has increased by 11 million (+17%) between 2019 and 2020 and internet penetration in Pakistan stood at 35%. As far as the social media users in Pakistan are concerned, the number has increased by 2.4 million (+7.0%) between April 2019 and January 2020 which shows that there were 37.00 million social media users in Pakistan in January 2020 and the penetration rate stood at 17%.The source of this penetration depends widely on mobile connections in Pakistan. Reportedly, there were 164.9 million mobile connections in Pakistan in January 2020. The number of mobile connections increased by 9.6 million (+6.2%) between January 2019 and January 2020. Surprisingly, the number of mobile connections in Pakistan was equivalent to 75% of the total population in January, 2020.

With these growth trends projected to persist in the future, Pakistan is dire need of a comprehensive ‘Digitalisation Policy’. There should be a policy that must be implemented in its true spirits, and the government should devise an efficient monitoring mechanism to evaluate the vitality of that policy.

Continue Reading

South Asia

South Asia: A COVID-19 Outlier?

Noor Aftab



International observers remain baffled at the rate of spread and impact of Corona on one of the most populous regions in the world. South Asia is home to more than a 5th of the world’s population. As is the case with other trends related to Corona, it is still not clear why the virus did not see the surge in the region that was experienced in other parts of the globe.

South Asia had been deemed as the perfect hotbed for the Coronavirus. It is densely populated, has poor public health institutions, and is geographically close to China, where the virus originated. Its people are also affected by severe levels of poverty, malnutrition, and hunger. While the countries share a similar heritage, the region happens to be one of the most poorly connected in the world, owing to bad road networks and toxic bilateral relations between some of the countries.

Despite strict guidelines from respective governments, social distancing norms are incompatible with South Asian society. It is a privilege only the elite can afford, as a vast majority of the people live in close proximity with their family members. The region also comprises of fairly religious societies, and governments have faced challenges in the prevention of congregational worship. In Pakistan, Khan was severely criticized for allowing communal prayer during the month of Ramadan.

It can be argued that the relatively lower numbers can be accounted for by low testing rates but if the health care systems in these countries had been choking up, it would have been very difficult to hide.

India, the economic giant in the region, can boast of imposing the strictest lockdown in the world. While the fatality rate is increasing with every passing day, the number of deaths is nowhere near that of Europe or the US. Migrant workers paid a heavy price for the lockdown, which was announced without prior notice, leaving millions displaced. The economic cost of the lockdown has been astounding, as an estimated 122 million Indians lost their jobs in April alone. India’s unemployment rate is now at a record peak of 27.1%,

Similarly, in Bangladesh, researchers from Dhaka University predict that around 15 million people from different sectors will become unemployed in the country due to slowdown of businesses. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the Federal Minister for Planning and Development, Asad Umar, predicted that around 18 million people might lose their jobs as a result of the lockdown.

Modi and Khan have recently eased lockdowns in India and Pakistan respectively, in spite of increasing cases, as they expressed concern for low-income groups and daily wage earners in their countries. Their concerns regarding their economies may be well-founded. According to a recent Yale study, social distancing measures may be more effective in saving lives in higher-income countries. Whereas, in lower-income countries a complete lockdown may be counterproductive, significantly increasing the economic costs. Economic benefits generated by social distancing are estimated to be 240 times larger for the United States, or 70 times larger for Germany, compared to the value created in Pakistan. The value of savings would be 59% of the GDP for the US, 85% of the GDP for Germany as opposed to 14% of Bangladesh and 19% of India’s GDP.

There are several theories about the conservative spread of the virus in South Asia. None of them have been substantiated as yet. It could be that the pandemic was taken more seriously in these developing economies because there was an acceptance of the fact that they weren’t well equipped to deal with the crisis in case it hit them with full force. Some experts credit the warmer and humid climate of the region to have kept the spread of the disease in check. Others are talking about the protection offered to South Asians by the vaccine for Tuberculosis, BCG and possibly a weaker strain of the virus in this region.

One of the more plausible explanations for this trend seems to be the extremely young population of the region. The average age of an Indian is 26.8 years. The number is less than 25 years in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. In contrast, the average age of a citizen is 45 in Italy and above 40 in Germany, France and the UK. According to the Yale study, Populations in rich countries tend to skew older, and so the mortality rate is expected to be higher in those countries, in spite of the disparity in healthcare capacity.

According to Jacob John, a virologist from India, it is not sensible to compare the situation in South Asia with Europe yet, as the region is over a month behind in terms of timeline. Therefore, the April of Europe should be compared to June in India. The epidemic is developing in different countries at different rates and it has not yet reached its full maturity in the region.

There is little doubt about the fact that Covid-19 represents one of the greatest challenges for global leaders of our times. Policy has to evolve constantly according to the trajectory of the virus in the concerned country. The choice between lives and livelihoods can never be an easy one to make.

While it’s too soon to declare any country’s approach a success, it can be acknowledged that South Asian countries enforced stringent lockdowns at a relatively early stage compared to many in the West. However, locking down for over a month hasn’t necessarily slowed down the spread of the disease and the reversal of restrictions could lead to spikes in rates of infections. This in tandem with increasing economic constraints makes it a complex dilemma for policymakers. As the virus is yet to peak in the region in the coming months, the real challenge for the leadership lies in expanding their capacity to deal with the worsening situation.

Continue Reading

South Asia

The new political game in Afghanistan



Afghanistan remains the conflict zone for the last 4 decades. Political dimensions changes not only effect inside Afghanistan but it really impacts on global politics. The fundamentalist moments are present inside Afghanistan and the Kabul government is suffering from the administration issues in different provinces. In the start of New Year, the hopes for the peace in Afghanistan were in peak. The 19 years of war, which was one of the longest conflicts in the history of Afghans, as well as the USA, look likely to be end soon. The deal called US-Taliban peace deal brings a new shining moon for the people of Afghanistan that they can see peace and prosperity.

During the 2019 elections, Ashraf Ghani started its second presidential tenure by winning the election but his rival Dr Abdullah Abdullah didn’t accept Ghani success. Due to this political instability, it directly sabotages the peace process. The USA also tries to play the role of a mediator but was initially fail due to the non-serious attitude of the Afghan politicians. In response, the USA announced to reduce their aid for Afghanistan. Afghan government several times also raises their concern regarding the peace deal. Prisoner exchange is one such example.

In a recent development, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal to end a months-long political stalemate. Reports stated that Abdullah would lead the council for peace talks and his team members would be included in the cabinet. Abdullah Abdullah, as the President of the High Council for Peace and National Reconciliation has now the responsibility to bring the Taliban to the talk’s table and achieve peace for Afghanistan. Furthermore, the report added that 50 per cent of the cabinet appointments will be made by Abdullah, and Gen Dostum will be honoured with the highest military rank of marshal and any dismissal or installation of seats will come into effect on reasonable grounds and with the consent of both parties. As this politician instability seems to be end soon. On the other hand, the Taliban response regarding this new development was that Afghans sides should focus on the real and sincere solution of the issue. The solution of the Afghan issue lies in the implementation of the Doha Accord, with avoidance from creating further hurdles. As the Taliban already believes that the Afghan government is the puppet regime of the USA so for any political development will not really impact on their movement.

However President Ghani is looking more towards the offensive used of the military. The recent attacks on 12 may which was carried out on a hospital’s in Kabul and on a funeral in Nangarhar Province resulting in the deaths of 56 people including newborn babies. No group has taken the responsibility but the Afghan government put the responsibility on the Taliban affiliated group Haqqani network. Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani also announced for the offensives military operation against insurgent groups including the Taliban. On the other side, the Taliban called for a transparent investigation on this attack. The Taliban Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that we firmly call for the transparent and impartial investigation of these attacks in order to expose the dark faces of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes and bring them to justice. Furthermore, he added that Attacks on clinics, funerals and public infrastructure have no place in our policy. In addition to, the US Representative Zalmay Khalilzad also said that the United States’ assessment, the ISIS-Khurasan conducted the attacks on a hospital in Kabul and a funeral in Nangarhar.

Furthermore, the Taliban also appointed Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the founder of the Taliban group, as the new military chief of the group following recent upheavals, involving a spike in attacks against Afghan forces.

One of the biggest problems of Afghanistan is the division on the basis of ethnicity. Majority of the Afghans are Pashtuns and then come minorities which includes Uzbek, Tajik, Hazara community etc. This ethnic division really impacts on social issues as well as the national cause.

Here the concern is that the Taliban will not remain and wait for the negotiation with the Afghan Government. After this, their attitude will also change towards offensive and movement, the activity will take some speed. Now it’s time for the Afghan politicians to have a serious attitude for bringing the peace possible.

Continue Reading



African Renaissance1 hour ago

Alcoholism: Cloud Briefly Visible For A Moment Above Zelda Fitzgerald’s Head

I think of total exhaustion and being. How it takes me from winter to summer. Then I think of you...

Americas3 hours ago

Is an Electioneering Trump Overblowing the ‘China Threat’?

As several analysts grapple over the futility of calling for greater international cooperation against the Coronavirus pandemic, US – China...

Energy News6 hours ago

World Bank: META 2 to Modernize the Energy and Mining Sectors in Brazil

The World Bank Board of Directors approved today a US$38 million loan for the Energy and Mineral Sectors Strengthening Project...

Middle East8 hours ago

Middle East: From COVID-19 invasion to an epidemic of disintegration?

The recent declaration of autonomy in southern Yemen and Khalifa Haftar’s declaring himself the ruler of all Libya once again...

Environment10 hours ago

As the world’s forests continue to shrink, urgent action is needed to safeguard their biodiversity

Urgent action is needed to safeguard the biodiversity of the world’s forests amid alarming rates of deforestation and degradation, according...

Energy12 hours ago

The greening of China’s industrial strategy

The prominence of China’s role in the global green shift currently underway may seem a paradox. Whilst it has been despoiling...

Newsdesk14 hours ago

ILO issues guidance for safe, healthy, return to work during COVID-19

Two guidance documents for creating safe and effective return-to-work conditions during the COVID-19  pandemic have been issued by the International...