It takes a village to build a mosque in this remote Indian district

Village residents with Maulana Usman Ludhianvi at the ceremony. Village head Pala Singh (red shirt, centre) helped people to construct the mosque. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 June 2021

It takes a village to build a mosque in this remote Indian district

  • Residents of mainly Sikh and Hindu village crowdfunding new site for Muslim neighbors

NEW DELHI: Residents of a predominantly Sikh and Hindu village in a remote district of India’s Punjab state have joined hands to build a mosque for Muslim families in the area, in a message of community spirit and harmony amid growing concerns over rising religious tensions in the country.

The Bhaloor village of 12,000 people, located in Punjab’s Moga district, has seven gurdwaras as well as two temples, but lacks a mosque for its 20 Muslim residents.

Village head Pala Singh told Arab News that an old mosque existed in the area before the partition in 1947, when the British colony of India was divided into the separate countries of Pakistan and India.

However, the condition of the mosque deteriorated after many Muslim residents left the village.

“After the partition, most Muslim families left for Pakistan and the mosque went into ruins after that. The new mosque will be built on the same land,” Singh, 45, said, adding: “We are proud to be part of this initiative.”

On Sunday, village officials laid the foundation stone for the Mohammadi mosque, with people from all faiths attending the ceremony.

“Some people donated RS200,000 ($2,800) at the venue itself and more help was assured,” Anwar Khan, head of the mosque’s managing committee, told Arab News, adding that many nonresident Indians from Punjab had also pledged support for the mosque.

Khan, 32, said that plans to build the new mosque had been in place “for quite some time,” with construction expected to be completed by next year at a total cost of $17,000.

“But I think the opportune time has come now. We are a close-knit village, people respect all religions, and the mosque would not have been possible without the emotional and moral support of the villagers,” he said.

“It’s an example of communal harmony at a time when we hear all kinds of disturbing news about religious violence,” he added.

Punjab’s chief Muslim cleric, Shahi Imam Maulana Mohammad Usman Rahmani Ludhianvi, was among the top religious figures who attended Sunday’s event.

“The day the foundation ceremony took place it was written in golden letters in history, because the whole village and the local gurdwara associated themselves with the event,” he said.

“The mosque is the reflection of the love of the villagers,” Ludhianvi said, adding that Sikhs and Muslims share a “very close historical bond,” and that “a true Sikh and a true Muslim never harm each other.”

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 2014, has been accused of promoting communal politics in several states in north India, dividing communities along Hindu-Muslim lines.

Last month in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki district, the local administration destroyed a century-old mosque, claiming that it “never existed.”

In another incident in the same state, Muslim families who had lived in the vicinity of a temple for more than a century were asked to vacate their ancestral homes “for security reasons.”

Village head Singh said: “The rest of the country needs to take a lesson from us.

“Punjab has a history of communal harmony, and we felt that Muslim families too have the right to offer their prayers in their religious place.”


Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns

Updated 55 min 17 sec ago

Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns

  • BJP has failed to make inroads in other southern states despite running the country since 2014
  • Modi recently dropped many senior ministers from his cabinet as he tries to reinvigorate his administration

BENGALURU: The chief minister of India’s Karnataka, the only state ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in the country’s prosperous south, resigned on Monday in the latest political shake-up in the Hindu nationalist group.
B.S. Yediyurappa, a four-time chief minister of the state, home to India’s technology capital of Bengaluru, had helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) form its first government in India’s southern region in 2008.
The party has failed to make inroads in other southern states despite running the country since 2014. Aside from Yediyurappa’s resignation, Modi recently dropped many senior ministers from his cabinet as he tries to reinvigorate his administration dented by a huge second surge in coronavirus infections.
Yediyurappa, 78, quit because he was older than its cut-off age of 75 years for ministerial positions, BJP spokeswoman Malavika Avinash said.
“I had no pressure from senior party leaders. I am voluntarily submitting my resignation,” Yediyurappa said in an emotional address broadcast live on local television channels.
Bengaluru hosts offices of big multinational companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Goldman Sachs.
Analysts said the BJP will have to move fast to name a successor or risk being outmaneuvered by the opposition.
“If the BJP cannot come up with a name soon enough, it would give the opposition a chance to swoop in,” said Narendar Pani, dean, School of Social Sciences at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bengaluru.
“The challenge for the BJP will be to find a successor who will have the same kind of pull and can bring various groups together.”
The BJP changed the chief minister of the northern state of Uttarakhand twice this year, months ahead of local elections. Karnataka elections are due only in 2023.


Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak

Updated 26 July 2021

Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak

  • The doctors are on contracts for a set period and say their treatment is worse than that of permanent government staff

SUNGAI BULOH, Malaysia: Hundreds of junior doctors at state-run Malaysian hospitals staged walkouts Monday demanding better conditions as the country faces its worst coronavirus outbreak yet.
Dressed in black and holding signs with slogans including “equal pay, equal rights, equal opportunity” and “we are your future specialists,” they protested at medical facilities nationwide.
The doctors are on contracts for a set period and say their treatment is worse than that of permanent government staff, even as they have found themselves on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19.
They complain of a lack of job security, poor benefits and that very few are eventually offered permanent positions.
We want “equal rights, to be a permanent doctor,” said a medic at a government hospital that treats virus patients outside Kuala Lumpur.
“We would definitely not be here if we were treated fairly... we should be appreciated for what we do,” the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
The medic was among dozens who took part in the action at the hospital, which lasted around half an hour.
Local media reported that several hundred participated across the country, but some doctors complained they were threatened by police and senior hospital staff in a bid to halt the protests.
Those involved said senior doctors took over their duties before they walked out, to ensure that patient care was not jeopardized.
Malaysia is currently battling its most serious outbreak, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant. Officials have reported over one million cases and about 8,000 deaths.
There are over 23,000 doctors on these contracts in Malaysia — about 45 percent of the total medical doctors in the public health care system, according to official estimates.
Last week, the government said it would extend junior doctors’ contracts for up to four years in a bid to forestall the protests.
But they stopped short of offering permanent jobs, and the organizers of Monday’s walkout criticized the move as “short-sighted.”


Tight security around Nigeria court as separatist’s trial resumes

Updated 26 July 2021

Tight security around Nigeria court as separatist’s trial resumes

  • The case is one of two on Monday in which Nigerian authorities are seeking to prosecute citizens campaigning for autonomy

ABUJA: Nigerian security forces blocked traffic and tightly controlled access to an Abuja courthouse where the trial of a separatist leader was due to resume on Monday, Reuters witnesses said.
Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a banned organization campaigning for secession in southeast Nigeria, was due to appear at the Federal High Court to face 11 charges including treason.
The case is one of two on Monday in which Nigerian authorities are seeking to prosecute citizens campaigning for autonomy in different regions of Africa’s most populous nation.
The cases underline the government’s concern over growing discontent and insecurity in various regions of Nigeria.
In Cotonou, Benin, Nigerian authorities are seeking the extradition of Sunday Adeyemo, known locally as Sunday Igboho, a Yoruba activist it accuses of plotting a violent insurrection in the southwest of the country. Security forces raided his compound in Ibadan on July 1, claiming they found a stockpile of weapons there.
Kanu was first arrested in 2015, but disappeared while on bail in April 2017 after two years in jail fighting charges. His social media posts during his absence outraged the government, which said they sparked some attacks on security forces in southeastern Nigeria.
His whereabouts were unclear until security agents produced him in an court in Abuja on June 29, saying that he had been detained abroad, but not where. His lawyer alleged he was detained and mistreated in Kenya, though Kenya has denied involvement.
IPOB wants a swathe of the southeast, homeland of the Igbo ethnic group, to split from Nigeria. An attempt to secede in 1967 as the Republic of Biafra triggered a three-year civil war in which more than a million died, mostly from starvation.


Russia reports 23,239 new COVID-19 cases, 727 related deaths

Updated 26 July 2021

Russia reports 23,239 new COVID-19 cases, 727 related deaths

  • Russia has been in the grip of a surge in cases that authorities blame on the more contagious Delta variant
MOSCOW: Russia reported 23,239 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, including 2,629 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 6,149,780.
The government coronavirus task force said 727 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, pushing the national death toll to 154,601.
Russia has been in the grip of a surge in cases that authorities blame on the more contagious Delta variant, though some officials have suggested in recent days that cases, at least in Moscow, have started to decline.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to deliver final speech to Congress amid crises

Updated 26 July 2021

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to deliver final speech to Congress amid crises

  • Popular president winding down his six-year term amid a raging coronavirus pandemic, a battered economy
  • Increasingly vocal opponents have pounded on Duterte’s missteps and handling of key issues

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is set to deliver his final state of the nation speech Monday before Congress, winding down his six-year term amid a raging pandemic, a battered economy and a legacy overshadowed by a bloody anti-drug crackdown that set off complaints of mass murder before the International Criminal Court.
Allies defended the 76-year-old populist leader’s record, with documentaries on state-run TV and speeches highlighting his administration’s efforts to fight criminality, poverty, corruption and decades-long communist and Muslim insurgencies, as well as build infrastructure.
They backed calls by the ruling party for Duterte, who took office in mid-2016, to run for vice president when his term ends in June next year — potentially with his daughter, now a city mayor, running to succeed him in the May 9 elections. Opposition lawyers have threatened to block the move in the Supreme Court, arguing it would breach constitutional term limits. Philippine presidents are limited to a single term.
“Six years is not enough for a very good president,” House of Representatives Speaker Lord Allan Velasco told ABS CBN News. Velasco said he would back Duterte’s possible bid for the vice presidency. The 1987 Constitution prohibits political dynasties, but the House, where powerful political clans have held sway for generations, hasn’t passed a law to enforce the ban.
“The pandemic really hurt us a lot, no one was ready for it, and because of that I can’t give the administration a perfect grade,” Velasco added.
But increasingly vocal opponents have pounded on Duterte’s missteps and handling of key issues, including his refusal to steadfastly confront China’s aggressive behavior in the disputed South China Sea, given his cozy ties with President Xi Jinping. They railed at the government’s coronavirus vaccination campaign, which has faced delays due to supply problems in a country with the second-largest numbers of infections and deaths in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia.
On the eve of Duterte’s speech, left-wing activists hung a huge banner that read “Goodbye, Duterte” on a pedestrian bridge across a highway leading to the heavily guarded Congress in suburban Quezon City. More than 300 legislators and top officials, who were required to get full coronavirus vaccinations, were expected to hear the address.
The Philippines has reported more than 1.5 million confirmed COVID-19 infections, with 27,224 deaths. Months-long lockdowns and natural disasters caused the economy to plummet by 9.5 percent last year in the country’s worst post-war recession. Businesses could not fully resume nationwide due to continuing virus surges.
Duterte and police officials have denied condoning extrajudicial killings of suspects, although he has publicly threatened to kill suspects. More than 6,000 mostly petty suspects have been killed under his crackdown, but a large number were also gunned down by motorcycle-riding assassins who human rights groups suspect were linked to law enforcement.
An ICC prosecutor said last month a preliminary examination found reason to believe crimes against humanity had been committed under Duterte’s crackdown on drugs and sought permission to open a formal investigation. Duterte said he would never cooperate in the possible investigation.
“Why would I defend or face an accusation before white people? You must be crazy,” Duterte said.