Defiant Indian students to hold more screenings of BBC documentary on Modi

Activists of the Democratic Youth Front of India hold a public screening of BBC documentary "India: The Modi Question" outside a bus terminus in Kochi, India, Tuesday, Jan.24, 2023. (Photo courtesy: AP)
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Updated 25 January 2023

Defiant Indian students to hold more screenings of BBC documentary on Modi

  • Students’ Federation of India vows to show documentary on Modi in every Indian state
  • Police detain over a dozen Indian students at New Delhi University ahead of screening

NEW DELHI: Indian students said they would show again a BBC documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the government has dismissed as propaganda after a Tuesday campus screening was disrupted by a power cut and intimidation by opponents.

The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) plans to show the documentary, “India: The Modi Question,” in every Indian state, its general secretary told Reuters on Wednesday.

More than a dozen students were detained by police at a New Delhi university on Wednesday ahead of the screening, broadcaster NDTV reported.

Modi’s government has labelled the documentary, which questions his leadership during riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002, as a “propaganda piece” and blocked its airing. It has also barred the sharing of any clips on social media in India.

Modi was chief minister of the western state during the violence in which about 1,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims. Human rights activists put the toll at around 2,500.

“They won’t stop the voice of dissent,” said Mayukh Biswas, general secretary of the SFI, the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

A warning was issued by the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi on Tuesday against unapproved student gatherings ahead of SFI’s scheduled screening of the BBC documentary on Wednesday evening, NDTV reported.

Police then detained more than a dozen students there about an hour ahead of the screening, according to the broadcaster.

The Delhi Police did not immediately confirm if students were detained but said there was heavy deployment of police and security forces in riot control gear at the university.

The deployment was “to maintain law and order” both because of the screening and India’s Republic Day on Jan. 26, police said.

The university saw violent clashes in December 2019 between protesters, including students, and the police over a new law that blocks Muslims in countries neighboring India from gaining citizenship.

On Tuesday, hundreds of students watched the BBC documentary on mobile phones and laptops at the Jawaharlal Nehru University after power was cut in the campus, said student leader Aishe Ghosh.

The university had threatened disciplinary action if the documentary was screened.

“It was obviously the administration that cut off the power,” Ghosh said. “We are encouraging campuses across the country to hold screenings as an act of resistance against this censorship,” Ghosh added.

The media coordinator for the university administration did not comment when asked about the power cut on the campus.

Ghosh said members of a right-wing student group threw bricks at students hoping to watch the documentary, hurting several, and students had complained to police.

A spokesman for the right-wing student group did not respond to a message seeking comment.

A police spokesperson did not immediately respond to queries.

The 2002 Gujarat violence erupted after a suspected Muslim mob set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, setting off one of independent India’s worst outbreaks of religious bloodshed.

At least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in reprisal attacks across Gujarat over days when crowds roamed the streets, targeting the minority group.

Critics accuse Modi of failing to protect Muslims. Modi denies the allegations and a Supreme Court-ordered investigation found no evidence to prosecute him. A petition questioning his exoneration was dismissed last year.

The BBC has said the documentary was “rigorously researched” and involved a wide range of voices and opinions, including responses from people in Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.


Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years

Updated 58 min 42 sec ago

Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years

  • As Europe battles a cost-of-living crisis, Britain's umbrella labour organisation the Trades Union Congress called it the "biggest day of strike action since 2011"
  • Unions have accused millionaire Sunak of being out of touch with the challenges faced by ordinary working people struggling to make ends meet

LONDON: Half a million workers went on strike in Britain on Wednesday, calling for higher wages in the largest such walkout in over a decade, closing schools and severely disrupting transport.
As Europe battles a cost-of-living crisis, Britain’s umbrella labor organization the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called it the “biggest day of strike action since 2011.”
The latest strikes come a day after more than 1.27 million took to the streets in France, increasing pressure on the French government over pension reform plans.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called for pay rises to be “reasonable” and affordable” warning that big pay rises would jeopardize attempts to tame inflation.
But unions have accused millionaire Sunak of being out of touch with the challenges faced by ordinary working people struggling to make ends meet in the face of low paid, insecure work and spiralling costs.
Teachers and train drivers were among the latest groups to act, as well as border force workers at UK air and seaports.
“The workload is always bigger and bigger and with the inflation our salary is lower and lower,” London teacher Nigel Adams, 57, told AFP as he joined thousands of teachers marching through central London.
“We’re exhausted. We’re paying the price and so are the children,” he added as protesters held up placards reading “Pay Up” and “We can’t put your kids first if you put their teachers last.”
Britain has witnessed months of strikes by tens of thousands of workers — including postal staff, lawyers, nurses and employees in the retail sector — as UK inflation raced above 11 percent, the highest level in more than 40 years.
Job center worker and union representative, Graham, who preferred not to give his last name said workers had no choice but to strike faced with soaring costs.
“Some of our members, even though they are working, still have to make visits to food banks,” he said.
“Not only are wages not keeping up, but things like fares, council tax and rents are going up. Anything we get is eaten away,” he added.
At London’s King’s Cross rail station, Kate Lewis, a 50-year-old charity worker, said she sympathized with the strikers despite her train being delayed.
“I understand. We are all in the same boat. All impacted by inflation,” she said.
Another major commuter hub in the capital, London Bridge station, was completely closed.
One train driver who gave his name as Tony, 61, said the sort of pay rises on offer were insulting, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
“We worked all through Covid. We were being praised as key workers and then there is this slap in the face,” he said.
“I was leaving (home) at 3 am to go to work. People were having barbecues, you could hear the bottles. I think we deserve a pay increase that keeps up with inflation.”
Government and company bosses are standing firm over wage demands.
With thousands of schools closed for the day, Education Minister Gillian Keegan told Times Radio she was “disappointed” teachers had walked out.
But union boss Mark Serwotka said the government’s position was “unsustainable.”
“It’s not feasible that they can sit back with this unprecedented amount of industrial action growing, because it’s half a million today,” he told Sky News.
“Next week, we have paramedics, and we have nurses, then will then be the firefighters,” he added, warning that unions were prepared to strike throughout the summer.
Prime Minister Sunak on Wednesday told parliament the government had given teachers the “highest pay rise in 30 years” including nine percent for newly qualified teachers.
He urged opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer to say “that the strikes are wrong and we should be backing our school children“
The latest official data shows 1.6 million working days were lost from June-November last year because of strikes — the highest six-month total in more than three decades — according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
A total of 467,000 working days were lost to walkouts in November alone, the highest level since 2011, the ONS added.
Alongside the strikes, unions are also staging rallies across the country against the Conservative government’s plans to legislate against public sector strike action.
Sunak has introduced a draft law requiring some frontline workers to maintain a minimum level of service during walkouts.


India raises defense budget to $72.6 billion amid tensions with China, Pakistan

Updated 01 February 2023

India raises defense budget to $72.6 billion amid tensions with China, Pakistan

  • India employs 1.38 million people in its armed forces with large numbers deployed along borders with China and Pakistan
  • South Asian giant plans to spend nearly $3 billion for naval fleet construction and $7 billion for air force procurements

NEW DELHI: India proposed on Wednesday 5.94 trillion rupees ($72.6 billion) in defense spending for the 2023-24 financial year, 13 percent up from the previous period’s initial estimates, aiming to add more fighter jets and roads along its tense border with China.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated 1.63 trillion rupees for defense capital outlays — an expenditure that would include new weapons, aircraft, warships and other military hardware, as she unveiled nearly $550 billion of total federal spending in the annual budget for 2023-24 starting in April.

She said 2.77 trillion rupees would be devoted to military salaries and benefits in 2023-24, 1.38 trillion on pensions for retired soldiers, and further amounts for miscellaneous items.

Sitharaman also revised the defense budget for the current financial year ending in March to 5.85 trillion rupees from earlier estimates of 5.25 trillion.

In the past few years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ramped up spending to modernize the military, while underlining his government’s commitment to boosting domestic production to supply forces deployed along two contentious borders.

Laxman Behera, a defense expert at government-funded Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said the hike in the defense budget was “reasonable but not sufficient,” considering requirements for military modernization.

“The government has tried to allocate reasonable funds for defense forces while balancing other priorities during the pre-election budget,” he said, noting India needed more funds in view of growing friction with China along disputed borders.

The total Indian defense budget, estimated at about 2 percent of GDP, is still lower than China’s 1.45 trillion yuan ($230 billion) in allocations for 2022, which New Delhi sees as posing a threat to neighbors including India and Japan.

“The overall increase in the armed forces’ budget is as anticipated, but likely lower than what they asked for to beef up operational capabilities,” said Amit Cowshish, former financial adviser for acquisitions at the Defense Ministry.

India plans to spend near 242 billion rupees ($3 billion) for naval fleet construction and 571.4 billion rupees ($7 billion) for air force procurements including more aircraft, the latest budget document showed.

The South Asian giant employs 1.38 million people in its armed forces, with large numbers deployed along borders with nuclear-armed rivals China and Pakistan.

Although the defense budget allocations fell short of military expectations, they are likely to grow as the economy recovers from two years of pandemic curbs, according to Behera.

India and China share a 3,500-kilometer (2,100-mile) frontier that has been disputed since the 1950s. The two sides went to war over it in 1962.

At least 24 soldiers were killed when the armies of the Asian giants clashed in Ladakh, in the western Himalayas, in 2020 but tensions eased after military and diplomatic talks.

A fresh clash erupted in the eastern Himalayas in December last year but no deaths were reported.


Iran hands 10-year jail sentences to young couple over viral dance video

Updated 01 February 2023

Iran hands 10-year jail sentences to young couple over viral dance video

  • Astiyazh Haghighi and her fiance Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, both in their early 20s, were arrested in early November
  • The arrest happened after a video went viral of them dancing romantically in front of the Azadi Tower in Tehran

PARIS: An Iranian court has handed jail sentences of over 10 years each to a young couple who danced in front of one of Tehran’s main landmarks in a video seen as a symbol of defiance against the regime, activists said on Tuesday.

Astiyazh Haghighi and her fiance Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, both in their early 20s, had been arrested in early November after a video went viral of them dancing romantically in front of the Azadi Tower in Tehran.

Haghighi did not wear a headscarf in defiance of the Islamic republic’s strict rules for women, while women are also not allowed to dance in public in Iran, let alone with a man.

A revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced them each to 10 years and six months in prison, as well as bans on using the Internet and leaving Iran, the US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) said.

The couple, who already had a following in Tehran as popular Instagram bloggers, were convicted of “encouraging corruption and public prostitution” as well as “gathering with the intention of disrupting national security,” it added.

HRANA cited sources close to their families as saying they had been deprived of lawyers during the court proceedings while attempts to secure their release on bail have been rejected.

It said Haghighi is now in the notorious Qarchak prison for women outside Tehran, whose conditions are regularly condemned by activists.

Iranian authorities have clamped down severely on all forms of dissent since the death in September of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the headscarf rules, sparked protests that have turned into a movement against the regime.

At least 14,000 people have been arrested, according to the United Nations, ranging from prominent celebrities, journalists and lawyers to ordinary people who took to the streets.

The couple’s video had been hailed as a symbol of the freedoms demanded by the protest movement, with Ahmadi at one moment lifting his partner in the air as her long hair flowed behind.

One of the main icons of the Iranian capital, the gigantic and futuristic Azadi (Freedom) Tower is a place of huge sensitivity.

It opened under the rule of the last shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the early 1970s when it was known as the Shahyad (In Memory of the Shah) Tower.

It was renamed after the shah was ousted in 1979 with the creation of the Islamic republic. Its architect, a member of the Bahai faith which is not recognized in today’s Iran, now lives in exile.


Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut

Updated 01 February 2023

Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut

  • They are among millions of people who have been displaced since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 last year

BAKHMUT: Ukrainian police staged a risky rescue mission in the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut this week to evacuate a six-year-old girl who had become separated from her pregnant mother.
Young Arina was found living with her grandparents in a run-down apartment building in Bakhmut, which has been pummelled by Russian forces in heavy fighting.
After trudging through snow to reach Arina, with artillery fire echoing in the distance, policeman Pavlo Dyachenko and two colleagues in combat gear drove Arina to the nearby city of Sloviansk to be reunited with her mother, Halyna Danylchenko.
“A shell exploded in our yard!” Arina, clutching a large white teddy bear, told her mother after they hugged.
“I heard that a shell exploded in your yard, that’s why I got so worried,” said Danylchenko, who is 24 and eight months pregnant.

They are among millions of people who have been displaced since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 last year.
Dyachenko said there were still about 200 children living in Bakhmut. The city was home to about 70,000 people before the war but officials say only a few thousand residents now remain.
“We’re meeting the families that are still there and talk to them, trying to convince them to agree to be evacuated, either the whole family or the children. Because children must live in a peaceful environment,” he told Reuters.
He had to gently coax Arina into leaving Bakhmut, calmly explaining the dangers of remaining.
“Are there any other children you can play with here?” Dyachenko asked the young girl after finder her in Bakhmut.

“No,” she replied, and started to cry.
“You’re supposed to be in a safe place. Do you understand?,” another officer said. “Do they shoot and shell a lot here?“
Arina nodded in reply.
One of the officers then put a bright orange helmet on her head, explaining: “This is for when we go outside, so that nothing can hit your head.”
They left the building to the sound of shelling, got into a waiting van and left for safety.


Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report

Updated 01 February 2023

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report

  • The head of Ukraine’s ruling party confirm Avakov’s home had been searched

KYIV: Former Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov said his home was searched by security officials on Wednesday as part of an investigation into a purchase of Airbus helicopters, the Ukrainska Pravda media outlet reported.
An Airbus helicopter crashed on Jan. 18, killing 14 people including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi and other top ministry officials.
The State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the Ukrainska Pravda report.
A top governing party official confirmed on Wednesday that security officials had raided the homes of one of Ukraine’s richest men and a former interior minister, and said the country would change during the war with Russia.
Ukrainska Pravda quoted Avakov as saying the search was related to the helicopter crash.
“They looked at Airbus contracts from six years ago,” it quoted Avakov as saying.
Avakov, 59, resigned as Ukraine’s interior minister, in July 2021. Prior to his resignation he was one of the country’s most powerful officials, serving as the interior minister for over seven years.
David Arakhamia, head of the Servant of the People party’s parliamentary faction, said there were also searches at Ukraine’s Tax Office and that the management team of the Customs Service would be dismissed.
“The country will change during the war. If someone is not ready for change, then the state itself will come and help them change,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging in app.