State of despair: Millions left off Assam citizen list

Activists hold placards as they shout slogans during a protest against the exclusion of applicants in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, in New Delhi on September 5, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 05 September 2020

State of despair: Millions left off Assam citizen list

  • Assam became the first state in India to file a citizenship list last year when it published the NRC
  • “Two married women have gone insane because their husbands left them after their name was not in the NRC,” an activist said

NEW DELHI: Ahmed Toweb says his life has taken a turn for the worse since Aug. 31 last year, when his name was left off the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a 7-year-old program to identify “genuine” citizens in India’s eastern state of Assam.
“I’ve faced rejection in three marriage proposals in the last six months. Only my name has been excluded in my family of nine. How is it possible that my parents and other siblings are Indians and I am a foreigner?” Toweb, 28, a social and political activist from Barpara village in the Bongaigaon district of Assam, told Arab News.
“The entire list is faulty and not prepared properly,” he added.
Assam became the first state in India to file a citizenship list last year when it published the NRC, which excluded about 1.9 million people.
The NRC is a by-product of violent civil strife in Assam in the 1980s, when students and political activists led a popular movement to identify illegal Bangladeshi migrants.
To end the agitation, New Delhi signed the Assam Accord with students and the local government in 1985. It ordered a new list of citizens and resulted in a decree that people who entered the state after March 25, 1971, would be declared foreigners.
However, following the accord, no real progress was delivered.
In 2013, the Supreme Court expedited the process and fixed a time frame to complete the NRC process, before the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014 and claimed credit for the list.
With the advent of the BJP government in Assam in 2016, there were allegations that the party was using the NRC to target Bengali-speaking Muslims and consolidate its core vote bloc among Bengali-speaking Hindus.
To save its core Hindu constituency, the BJP brought in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a law that allows citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but excludes Muslims.
For Ahmed Toweb, the debacle has caused concern about the future, especially if his appeal to be included in the NRC is rejected.
“I was very active when the NRC was being prepared, helping others to fill up forms and collect the right documents. Muslims thought the NRC would take off the stigma of being called illegal Bangladeshis, but we failed to understand the designs of the government,” he said, adding that Hindus now have the “advantage of the CAA, but we are left to our own fate.”
Those not listed on the NRC are sent a rejection letter by the government, after which they can appeal to the Foreign Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body, and submit documents to “prove their citizenship.”
“It’s more than a year, and the reason for our non-inclusion has not been explained. As a result, we are in limbo,” Toweb said.
Fatema Begum from Bongaigaon district agreed and said she faces the same dilemma. Her husband is in the NRC, but she is not.
“What will happen to my married life and family if I am declared stateless? Already I am facing a problem. I can’t get a ration from the government shop because my name is not in the NRC,” Begum, 29, told Arab News.
Bongaigaon-based social activist, Rubul Iftikar, said Begum is not alone and that “the situation is so grim, that in his district, two married women have gone insane because their husbands left them after their name was not in the NRC.
“Some young girls who are not in the NRC list are not finding a groom. It’s a desperate situation where Muslims are not at all hopeful that the system would give them justice after the introduction of the CAA,” Iftikar told Arab News.
Experts said there are other motivations behind the NRC.
“The most enduring belief is that the NRC has an inherent bias against Muslims,” Assam-based lawyer A Sabur Tapader told Arab News.
Last year, after the release of the NRC, the BJP rejected the list and called for a review following reports that more than 60 percent of the 1.9 million left out were Hindus.
“The NRC is a political tool for the ruling BJP, and they want to woo the Bengali Hindu voters again by saying that they are fighting for them in court,” he added.
Now there are reports that the BJP is moving the Supreme Court to review the NRC again.
In the meantime, the process has left Bengali Hindus feeling confused, too, with some saying they have become a “political pendulum.”
“It’s difficult to trust the government. Assam will never accept the CAA because of its history. The government just wants to keep the issue alive and keep people fighting in the name of religion,” said Biplab Das of Sonipat district in Assam.
Das’ name is in the list, but his children are not included in the NRC.
Tapader said that with Assam elections scheduled for early next year, the government is reaching out to the Supreme Court to seek a reprieve.
“They have not yet framed the rules of the CAA, and it takes time to implement it. So people now understand the hidden motive of the BJP,” he said.
Delhi-based political analyst Jayanta Kalita said the BJP has an “ulterior motive” in implementing the NRC.
“The BJP had an ulterior motive when it talked about the NRC before 2014. It was not at all concerned about the grave threat posed by the influx of migrants from Bangladesh to Assam’s ethnic demography. Assam made a mistake by trusting the BJP. It showed its true communal colors by passing the CAA that is intended to benefit Hindu migrants,” Kalita told Arab News.
“Assam can’t be allowed to become a dumping ground for illegal immigrants,” he added.


South Sudan president dissolves parliament

Updated 10 May 2021

South Sudan president dissolves parliament

  • Activists and civil society groups welcomed the dissolution of parliament, saying it was long overdue but also expressing distrust

JUBA: South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has dissolved parliament, opening the way for lawmakers from opposing sides of the country’s civil war to be appointed under a 2018 peace accord. Kiir’s decision was announced on public television but no date was given as to when the new parliament will begin working.

The setting up of a new legislative body was part of an accord signed in September 2018 between Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, for years on opposition sides during the five-year civil war that left 380,000 people dead and four million displaced.

Activists and civil society groups welcomed the dissolution of parliament, saying it was long overdue but also expressing distrust.

“It is a welcome development and we hope that the dissolution (will not) also open the way to a lengthy process toward reconstituting the parliament,” Jame David Kolock, chairman of the South Sudan Civil Society Forum.

“The civil society is getting frustrated and no longer believes that even if the parliament is reconstituted it will be a very viable parliament.”

In accordance with the 2018 accord, the new assembly will number 550 lawmakers, the majority — 332 — from Kiir’s governing SPLM party. The parliamentarians will not be elected but nominated by the different parties.

The dissolution of parliament came on the eve of a visit to the capital Juba by US special envoy to South Sudan Donald Booth.

“Of particular concern to the United States is the slow implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, ongoing violence, and deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions,” the US State Department said in a statement.

Kiir and Machar formed a coalition government on February 22, 2020 after nearly a year of delays.

However few provisions of the truce have been honored, and analysts have warned of a return to war.

The oil-rich country remains severely underdeveloped and poorly managed.

Despite the peace deal, brutal communal conflicts — often over cattle raiding — continue, with more than 1,000 killed in violence between rival communities in the last six months of 2020.


Boats carrying hundreds of migrants arrive in Italy’s Lampedusa

Updated 09 May 2021

Boats carrying hundreds of migrants arrive in Italy’s Lampedusa

  • About 400 migrants of various nationalities got off one of the boats, a drifting fishing vessel
  • Another boat carrying 325 people was intercepted eight miles off Lampedusa

MILAN: Seven boats packed with hundreds of migrants arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday, and officials said more people were expected as the weather improved.
More than 1,000 people got off the vessels at Lampedusa, one of the main landing points for people trying to get across the Mediterranean into Europe, ANSA news agency said.
“Migrants arrivals are resuming alongside good weather,” Lampedusa’s mayor Toto Martello told state broadcaster RAI. “We need to restart discussions about the immigration issue.”
Numbers in recent years have been down from 2015-2017, when Europe took in hundreds of thousands of migrants, many of them fleeing poverty and conflict across Africa and the Middle East.
But the issue still sharply divides European governments and has fueled anti-immigration sentiment and parties across the continent.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party, called on Prime Minister Mario Draghi to tackle the issue.
“With millions of Italians facing difficulties, we cannot care for thousands of illegal migrants,” he wrote on Twitter.
Some of the boats were intercepted off the coast of the Mediterranean island by the Italian tax police, who deal with financial crime and smuggling, ANSA said.
About 400 migrants of various nationalities got off one of the boats, a drifting fishing vessel, the agency reported.
Another boat carrying 325 people was intercepted eight miles off Lampedusa, the agency added.

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Afghanistan mourns 60 schoolgirls killed in deadliest attack in years

Updated 09 May 2021

Afghanistan mourns 60 schoolgirls killed in deadliest attack in years

  • Taliban deny involvement, and insist they have not carried out attacks in Kabul since February last year
  • Violence on rise in recent weeks after US postponed withdrawal of troops from country

KABUL: Sixty girls were buried during a mass funeral on Sunday, after a gruesome bomb attack on a school in a poor neighborhood of Kabul a day earlier.

The carnage outside the Sayed ul-Shuhada school in the Shia-dominated suburb of Dasht-e Barchi began when a car bomb detonated as students were leaving classes to break their Ramadan fast.

Witnesses said that as people rushed to take the wounded children to hospital, another explosion and mortar fire tore through the scene, killing some of the rescuers.

“Books and body parts were everywhere ... cries, wailing,” local resident Rahim Dad said.

Over 100 people were wounded in the attack, the deadliest assault in years, coming just a week after a bomb attack killed another 21 children in Logar province, south of Kabul.  

“We buried sixty of the victims, all girls and students of the same school,” Dr. Ali Sadaat, who organized the funeral, told Arab News.

“These students until a few days ago were complaining to school authorities about a shortage of textbooks,” Sadaat said. “They had an enormous desire to earn a bright future. May God never show such a thing to any country. There were some students who were beheaded, some whose faces were beyond recognition.”

While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, President Ashraf Ghani blamed the Taliban, who denied the accusation, saying a Daesh network was behind the massacre. 

Last June, at least 24 people, including newborns, mothers and nurses, were killed by Daesh gunmen at a maternity ward, also in Dasht-e Barchi.

In November, Daesh claimed responsibility for an attack on Kabul University, in which 32 people were killed.

“We are safe nowhere in Afghanistan,” Shamsuddin, an elderly resident of Kabul, told Arab News. “People are being targeted in classes, (at) university, wedding halls, mosques. How long this will last?”

Violence has been on the rise in Afghanistan in recent weeks after the US postponed the withdrawal of its troops from the country to September from a May 1 deadline Washington had negotiated with the Taliban last year.

Under the US-Taliban deal, the latter promised, among other things, not to allow its members and other militant groups to use the soil of Afghanistan for terrorist attacks.

In a statement issued on Sunday, which has been attributed to Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the elusive Taliban leader said that as the US had again failed to live up to its commitments, “the world must bear witness and hold America accountable for all consequences.” 


India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount

Updated 09 May 2021

India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount

  • India’s health ministry reported 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours
  • Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month to stem the surge in infections

MUMBAI: India’s COVID-19 deaths rose by more than 4,000 for a second consecutive day on Sunday as calls for a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus mounted.
India’s health ministry reported 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 242,362. New cases rose by 403,738, just shy of the record and increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 22.3 million.
India has been hit hard by a second COVID-19 wave with cases and deaths hitting record highs every other day. With an acute shortage of oxygen and beds in many hospitals and morgues and crematoriums overflowing, experts have said the actual numbers for COVID-19 cases and fatalities could be far higher.
Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month to stem the surge in infections while others have announced restrictions on public movement and shut down cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.
But pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown similar to the one imposed during the first wave last year.
India on Saturday reported its highest ever single-day COVID-19 death toll of 4,187 fatalities. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see 1 million COVID-19 deaths by August.
Support has been pouring in from around the world in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical equipment for overwhelmed hospitals.


Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

Updated 09 May 2021

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

BEIJING: A large segment of a Chinese rocket re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean on Sunday, the Chinese space agency said, following fevered speculation over where the 18-ton object would come down.

Officials in Beijing had said there was little risk from the freefalling segment of the Long March-5B rocket, which had launched the first module of China’s new space station into Earth orbit on April 29.

But the US space agency NASA and some experts said China had behaved irresponsibly, as an uncontrolled re-entry of such a large object risked damage and casualties.

“After monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 (0224 GMT) on May 9, 2021, the last-stage wreckage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 launch vehicle has re-entered the atmosphere,” the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement, providing coordinates for a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives.

It added that most of the segment disintegrated and was destroyed during descent.

The US military’s Space Command said the rocket “re-entered over the Arabian Peninsula at approximately 10:15 p.m. EDT on May 8 (0215 GMT Sunday).”

“It is unknown if the debris impacted land or water.”

Monitoring service Space-Track, which uses US military data, said that the location in Saudi Arabia was where American systems last recorded it.

“Operators confirm that the rocket actually went into the Indian Ocean north of the Maldives,” it tweeted.

The segment’s descent matched expert predictions that any debris would have splashed down into the ocean, given that 70 percent of the planet is covered by water.

Because it was an uncontrolled descent, there was widespread public interest and speculation about where the debris would land.

American and European space authorities were among those tracking the rocket and trying to predict its re-entry.

Objects generate immense amounts of heat and friction when they enter the atmosphere, which can cause them to burn up and disintegrate. But larger ones such as the Long March-5B may not be destroyed entirely.

Their wreckage can land on the surface of the planet and may cause damage and casualties, though that risk is low.

Last year, debris from another Chinese Long March rocket fell on villages in the Ivory Coast, causing structural damage but no injuries or deaths.

That, and the one that came down Sunday, are tied for the fourth-biggest objects in history to undergo an uncontrolled re-entry, according to data from Harvard-based astronomer Jonathan McDowell.

The uncertainty and risks of such a re-entry sparked accusations that Beijing had behaved irresponsibly.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested last week that China had been negligent, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson echoed that after the re-entry on Sunday.

“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” Nelson said in a statement.

“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

To avoid such scenarios, some experts have recommended a redesign of the Long March-5B rocket – which is not equipped for a controlled descent.

“An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely,” McDowell tweeted.

“It appears China won its gamble (unless we get news of debris in the Maldives). But it was still reckless.”

Chinese authorities had downplayed the risk, however.

“The probability of causing harm to aviation activities or (on people and activities) on the ground is extremely low,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.

Beijing has poured billions of dollars into space exploration to boost its global stature and technological might.

The launch of the first module of its space station – by the Long March rocket that came down Sunday – was a milestone in its ambitious plan to establish a permanent human presence in space.