Official denies evicting Muslims from temple area in northern Indian state

The district administration of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh has denied forcibly evicting Muslim families from their homes as part of a security initiative. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 June 2021

Official denies evicting Muslims from temple area in northern Indian state

  • Uttar Pradesh’s district administration says no families “forced to leave” the vicinity as part of security initiative
  • Muslim families say district administration “forced them to sign a consent form to shift from their ancestral place”

NEW DELHI: The district administration of Gorakhpur in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh has denied forcibly evicting Muslim families from their ancestral homes as part of an initiative to ramp up “security measures” near a century-old temple.
“We are not forcing anyone (to leave),” K. Vijyendra, Gorakhpur’s district magistrate (DM), told Arab News on Sunday.
“There is no pressure. The agreement letter means that they can walk away from the land. It’s my land, and no one can take my land without my consent,” he explained about the notification issued to 11 Muslim families at the end of May.
The DM explained that the land was being acquired “out of security concerns.”
The move by the state government in Utter Pradesh — which shares its border with national capital New Delhi and is home to more people than Brazil — is being spearheaded by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a controversial leader of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), known for his polarizing politics.
Adityanath is the chief priest of the Gorakhnath temple in the district, an expansive religious site spread across more than 50 acres and considered sacred by most Hindus living in the state.
According to district officials, more than 80 Muslims were issued a letter on May 27, seeking their consent to vacate their homes for the security initiative.
However, the families allege that the district administration “forced them to sign a consent form to shift from their ancestral place” where they have been living for more than a century.
“We were not made aware of the complete picture before the signatures were taken,” Mushir Ahmad, 70, who signed the consent letter, told Arab News.
“The officials only talked about security (measures in the area), and we had the impression that they want to set up some system on our terrace and signed the paper,” he explained. “Now we realize what the form was. It scares us to think about leaving this place which has been our home for over 130 years.”
Officials, however, denied the claims, adding that the Muslim residents were “free to walk away.”
“In the beginning, everyone agreed. We showed them the level of compensation, asked them what they want, we offered them lots of things, and they agreed and signed the paper saying that they don’t have any problem,” Vijyendra told Arab News.
“After a regular assessment . . . it was found that the temple security is not up to the mark and extra land is needed to beef up security, and for that the temple is giving some land and acquiring other lands,” he said.
A majority of the district’s Muslim residents are handloom workers who became redundant after a decline in demand for products that require a particular skillset passed down the generations.
Today, they rely on earnings from small, standalone stores in the neighborhood to survive. With limited sources available to make a living, a rent-free ancestral home is a boon for many.
“It’s not easy to think of vacating your ancestral house. We will not leave it so easily,” Ahmed, a father of four, who lives with his extended families in a two-story house near the Gorakhpur temple, told Arab News.
His neighbor, 52-year-old Jamshed Alam, shared a similar grievance.
He talked about a time when their children played with Hindu neighbors in the area, frequented each other’s shops and celebrated festivals together.
“We have been part of the temple’s ecosystem and never thought that we were a security issue for the temple,” Alam, a handloom worker, told Arab News.
“We would not like to vacate our ancestral area. We are under a lot of pressure and tension,” he said.
Alam’s relative, Intezaar Hussain, agreed: “The consent was taken by keeping the poor and illiterate people in the dark.”
“They did not realize what they were signing on, the gravity of the situation struck them later on, now they are tense and don’t know what to do now,” Hussain told Arab News.
Muslims have reportedly been on the receiving end of a conflict caused by the deepening divide in Uttar Pradesh since the BJP came to power in 2014.
Containing nearly 20 percent of the state’s population of 220 million Muslims, the region has been a hub of religious tensions, exacerbated by Adityanath, a hard-line priest and senior BJP official.
Last month, the local administration in the Barabanki district of the state demolished a century-old mosque claiming that it never existed.
Political analysts say that these divide-and-rule tactics are part of a “wider game plan” ahead of the state elections next year, with the BJP facing a tough challenge over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The BJP has failed badly on the developmental issue and now wants to fight the elections on the issue of religious communalization and polarization,” Asad Rizvi, a political analyst based in Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh, told Arab News.

When the second wave of the coronavirus hit India, most deaths were reported in Uttar Pradesh, with more than 21,000 people losing their lives since March.
The state’s fragile health care system went into overdrive to reduce the fatality count. However, a shortage of oxygen and hospital beds led to a spike in the death rate, with several reports of bodies being thrown into the river Ganges due to a lack of crematoriums.
“The state failed to take care of the people at the time of the (COVID-19) crisis. The government lost face. The issue of eviction in Gorakhpur is part of the polarization plan to divert the attention from the failure of governance,” Rizvi said.


US Senate approves $12 billion in new aid for Ukraine

Updated 29 September 2022

US Senate approves $12 billion in new aid for Ukraine

  • It provides $4.5 billion for Kyiv to keep the country's finances stable and keep the government running
  • It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to declare the annexation of parts of Ukraine

WASHINGTON: The US Senate approved $12 billion in new economic and military aid for Ukraine Thursday as part of a stopgap extension of the federal budget into December.
The measure, agreed by senators of both parties, includes $3 billion for arms, supplies and salaries for Ukraine’s military, and authorizes President Joe Biden to direct the US Defense Department to take $3.7 billion worth of its own weapons and materiel to provide Ukraine.
It also provides $4.5 billion for Kyiv to keep the country’s finances stable and keep the government running, providing services to the Ukrainian people.
It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to declare the annexation of parts of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops on Friday.
“Seven months since the conflict began, it’s crystal clear that American assistance has gone a long way to helping the Ukrainian people resist Putin’s evil, vicious aggression,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“But the fight is far from over, and we must, we must, continue helping the brave, valiant Ukrainian people.”
The Ukraine aid is part of a short-term extension of the federal budget, which is to expire at the end of the fiscal year on September 30 without the parties in Congress having agreed to a full-year allocation for fiscal 2022-23.
The extension, or continuing resolution, will keep the government running into December, but it has to first be approved by the House of Representatives to avoid shutting down parts of the government on Monday.


US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia

Updated 29 September 2022

US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia

  • The indictment alleges that the plot started after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine
  • Prosecutors said the pair wanted to try to help the Russian government by providing them with data

WASHINGTON: A former US Army major and his anesthesiologist wife have been criminally charged for allegedly plotting to leak highly sensitive health care data about military patients to Russia, the Justice Department revealed on Thursday.
Jamie Lee Henry, the former major who was also a doctor at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and his wife, Dr. Anna Gabrielian, were charged in an unsealed indictment in a federal court in Maryland with conspiracy and the wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information.
The indictment alleges that the plot started after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.
Prosecutors said the pair wanted to try to help the Russian government by providing them with data to help the Putin regime “gain insights into the medical conditions of individuals associated with the US government and military.”
The two met with someone whom they believed was a Russian official, but in fact was actually an FBI undercover agent, the indictment says.


Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’

Updated 29 September 2022

Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’

  • In the past month, the region has seen clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and Armenia and Azerbaijan
  • Putin has regularly made nostalgic speeches about the USSR and served in the Soviet security services (KGB)

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that conflicts in countries of the former USSR, including Ukraine, are the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“It is enough to look at what is happening now between Russia and Ukraine, and at what is happening on the borders of some other CIS countries. All this, of course, is the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Putin said in a televised meeting with intelligence chiefs of former Soviet countries.
In parallel to the military operation in Ukraine, armed conflicts have returned to various parts of the former Soviet empire.
In the past month the region has seen clashes between the two Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Putin pointed fingers at the West, saying it was “working on scenarios to fuel new conflicts” in the post-Soviet space.
Putin spoke a day before he is due to formally annex four Moscow-occupied Ukrainian regions, in a move that is expected to escalate the Ukraine conflict.
“We are witnessing the formation of a new world order, which is a difficult process,” Putin said, echoing earlier statements about the waning influence of the West.
Putin, who turns 70 next week, has regularly made nostalgic speeches about the USSR and served in the Soviet security services (KGB).
His statement comes during an exodus of Russian men fleeing a mobilization, including to ex-Soviet countries like Kazakhstan, whose president vowed to shelter Russian draft dodgers.


Germany to seek EU sanctions on Iran over protests crackdown: foreign minister

Updated 29 September 2022

Germany to seek EU sanctions on Iran over protests crackdown: foreign minister

  • “Within the framework of the EU, I am doing everything I can to get sanctions under way”

BERLIN: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday said she was pushing for EU sanctions on Iran over the Islamic republic’s lethal crackdown on protests sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody.
“Within the framework of the EU, I am doing everything I can to get sanctions under way against those in Iran who are beating women to death and shooting demonstrators in the name of religion,” Baerbock wrote on Twitter.


'Stand for each other': Afghan women rally in support of antigovernment protests in Iran

Updated 29 September 2022

'Stand for each other': Afghan women rally in support of antigovernment protests in Iran

  • Protesters gathered in front of Iranian embassy in Kabul chanting, 'women, life, freedom'
  • The protest was soon dispersed by Taliban security forces who fired into the air

KABUL: Afghan women rallied in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul on Thursday, joining global protests over the death of a young woman in the custody of Iran’s morality police.

Mahsa Amini, 22, was detained in Tehran on Sept. 12 for failing to cover her hair modestly enough. Women who were arrested along with Amini have said she was beaten inside a police van. Three days later she died in hospital after falling into a coma.

Public anger over her death has prompted days of rage and street protests across Iran, in what has been the largest manifestation of dissent against the Iranian government in over a decade.

Protests have also spilled to other countries.

A group of about 25 women who gathered in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul carried placards that read: “Beautiful Mahsa, your blood is our way and inspiration,” as they chanted “women, life, freedom” — the phrase that has been used by demonstrators in Iran.

A 24-year-old university student who participated in the protest told Arab News she had attended the rally in solidarity with the women of Iran.

“Women in Iran and we are facing the same oppression. We wanted to show that we can amplify the voices of our sisters in Iran while highlighting our own concerns for freedom and dignity,” she said, on condition of anonymity.

“The widespread protests in Iran supported by men and women also inspired us to continue our fight for the rights of Afghan women in Afghanistan. Afghan women have been brave enough to defy the Taliban’s restrictive attitude. We will not be silenced and we will rise again.”

The rights of Afghan women have been limited since the Taliban took control of the country after US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August last year.

Although they had previously promised a softer version of the harsh rule during their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, women have already been ordered to wear face cover in public, banned from making long-distance journeys alone, and prevented from working in most sectors outside of health and education.

Since September last year, permission from the Ministry of Justice is required to organize a protest. Slogans used during rallies must also be approved by authorities.

Soon after Thursday’s rally in front of the Iranian embassy began, it was dispersed by Taliban security forces, who fired into the air.

For Afghan women’s rights activist like Muzhgan Noori, the protest was a “fine example of sisterhood and solidarity among women sharing the same pain and concerns.”

“Afghan women have protested whenever they felt the need for it, and they should be able to do so now. The government must support and protect them instead of frightening them,” she told Arab News.

“I hope women continue to stand for each other.”