Lockdown-hit Indian farmers take protest over state capital relocation plan online

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Farmers protesting in small group to avoid the spread of coronavirus. Many farmers have donated their lands in the hope of reaping the gains of having a high tech capital in their midst but now they are facing existential crisis. (Supplied)
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Farmers sit whole day long outside their houses demanding the restoration of Amaravati as the capital of Andhra Pradesh. (Supplied)
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The farmers’ protests have taken a new virtual shape with majority of the illiterate farmers have learnt the tricks of social media and are using Zoom sessions to connect with around 30,000 farmers who donated lands for the new capital of Andhra Pradesh. On the completion of 200th day of protest farmers connected through Zoom sessions not only with their local fellows but also with more than 100,000 non resident fellow Telugu settled in 35 countries. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 July 2020

Lockdown-hit Indian farmers take protest over state capital relocation plan online

  • Andhra Pradesh growers, many of them illiterate, use power of social media to rally global support during virus pandemic

NEW DELHI: Nearly 30,000 Indian farmers, the majority of them illiterate, have taken to social media to protest against relocation plans for the state capital of Andhra Pradesh (AP).

Due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak and social-distancing measures, thousands of growers from the southeast Indian state have had no choice but to go online, many for the first time, in order to continue their demonstrations.

Using Facebook and Twitter, they have been rallying global support for their objection to proposals for a decentralized three-city capital for the state instead of original plans to build a new high-tech center in Amaravati.

“Circumstances forced us to weaponize our mobile phones and social media sites and use them to protest against the AP government’s decision to shift the capital from Amaravati,” said P. Bava Sudhakar, of the Amaravati farmers’ joint action committee (JAC).

He told Arab News that farmers from 29 villages in AP’s Amaravati district had been protesting for the past 223 days against the local government’s decision. Up until March they had been organizing sit-in demonstrations and rallies to press for their demands but had to rethink their protest strategy after a nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 25 over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Villagers had learnt to use video communication apps such as Zoom to organize conferences and share grievances with supporters around the world.

In 2014, AP was divided into two separate states – Telangana and Andhra Pradesh – with a plan for Telangana to keep Hyderabad as its capital while AP would have a new capital by 2024.

AP’s previous local government zeroed in on centrally located Amaravati and thousands of farmers donated their land for the construction of the new capital which would have been built with the support of Singapore companies.

However, Chief Minister Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who was elected to office last May, decided to cancel the project calling it “too ambitious and an unnecessary expense for a debt-ridden state.”

In December, Reddy instead announced plans to create three capitals, with the coastal city of Vishakapatnam to be the executive capital with all government offices, Kurnool to become the judicial capital, with courts, and Amaravati to be the legislative capital.

“The earlier government pegged the estimated cost of building Amaravati’s basic infrastructure at 1,090 billion rupees ($14.5 billion), while the spending capacity of any state government is only 5 billion rupees. At 10 percent of the estimated cost, we can develop places that already have basic infrastructure into capitals,” he had said in the assembly in December.

Since then, thousands of farmers have been demanding a rollback of the decision.

One of them, Pudota Sneha, 22, of Pedaparimi village, near Amaravati was helping her illiterate mother master the use of social media.

“We had three acres of land, and we gave two acres for the building of the capital with the hope that we would be part of the development of the new high-tech city. Now my family is left with just one acre of land, which is not adequate to live and earn,” she told Arab News.

Sneha said her mom had joined countless others on the 200th day of the protests when farmers held a Zoom session with expatriate Telugus in 35 other countries.

Another protester, Sudhakar, who donated 12 acres of land, said: “The idea is to organize opinion of fellow Telugus worldwide and put together a joint campaign against the AP government’s decision to annul the capital project.

“We have at least 100 million Telugu speakers worldwide, and they are all emotionally attached to their motherland. They are also unhappy with the government’s decision.”

The opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) of AP has described the chief minister’s move as “vendetta politics.”

TDP spokesperson, Pattabhi Ram Kommareddy, told Arab News: “The decision to make Amaravati the capital was taken after the recommendation of a committee and after proper survey. People came out openly to support the project and gave their land without any dispute. But the chief minister (Reddy) is guided by narrow political vision.”

Analysts said that the issue had now become more complicated. “Political rivalry has got in the way of the development of a new capital,” AP-based political analyst, Sreedharan Jayaram, told Arab News.

“The farmers gave their lands in the larger interests of the nation, but politics has put paid to their hopes. The livelihoods of many farmers are now at stake. This is not good for the development of the state and its people,” he added.

Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

Updated 22 September 2020

Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

  • Service attracts more than 10,000 subscribers since July

KUALA LUMPUR: Netflix could soon have competition from a homegrown entertainment platform in Malaysia which, its makers say, will cater to Muslims’ “halal TV” needs based on Islamic values.

Dubbed “Nurflix,” the platform is Malaysia’s first Shariah-compliant streaming service and has attracted more than 10,000 subscribers since July.

Nurflix is the creation of Syah Rizal Mohamed, who wants to produce and release original content for the platform before its official launch in January.

“We spent $9.7 million for the startup, but the company will produce 1,000 (items of) original content in multiple categories like mainstream, educational, spiritual and motivational and kids, with about 12,000 episodes in the first five years of operating,” the 43-year-old CEO told Arab News.

He also plans for Nurflix to acquire content from local and international producers, as long as they align with the service’s production guidelines, with a focus on markets in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore before setting up internationally.

“We see ourselves covering the Southeast Asian region in the next five years with our readiness to establish hubs in the Middle East and Europe to gain traction in the international market.”

He said the decision to tap into the streaming service market was driven by the rapid growth of video-on-demand media and consumers choosing this, as well as over-the-top subscription services, as their main form of entertainment. 

Consumers agreed that there was a market for a halal content platform.

“The Islamic streaming service just enriches the Islamic entertainment ecosystem because there is a niche for it,” 25-year-old public relations executive Puteri N. Balqis told Arab News.

Media consultant Amir Hadi Azmi said a Shariah-compliant streaming service was an interesting niche, particularly for more conservative users, but that the concept was not unique to Islam or Muslims.

“In America, for example, there is a service called Pure Flix which caters to more conservative Christian viewers,” he told Arab News.

Amir Muhammad, managing director of Kuman Pictures, said that as a producer, the more outlets that were made available to content producers and filmmakers, the better. Kuman Pictures, which is known for releasing horror and thriller content, could create appropriate content if need be.

“I have not seen their actual guidelines, but if they want halal horror, we will give them halal horror,” he told Arab News.

The Nurflix CEO said there would be a Content Advisory Council and that it would be headed and supervised by Habib Ali Zaenal Abidin Al Hamid and the Honorable Ustaz Raja Ahmad Mukhlis.

“Productions, including third-party content providers, will be monitored by the council to ensure the end product abides by the set guidelines. Nurflix is unique in the market because it is not just offering Islamic-guided content. The production will be monitored by the council to ensure all aspects of work are conducted in a Shariah-compliant manner.”

Although there is no formal collaboration with the Islamic Affairs Department, he said that Nurflix’s ideas and concepts had already been shared with Islamic Affairs Minister Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri.

When contacted by Arab News, the director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development Paimuzi Yahya said his department was still working on “collaborating with the streaming service” and declined to comment further.