India’s top court hears petitions challenging abrogation of Kashmir’s special status

Police stop activists and supporters of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as they protest against the scrapping of Article 370 of Jammu and Kashmir, in Srinagar on August 5, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 02 August 2023
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India’s top court hears petitions challenging abrogation of Kashmir’s special status

  • In 2019, Modi government stripped Muslim-majority region of Kashmir of its statehood and special autonomous status
  • On Wednesday, Supreme Court began hearing a clutch of petitions against the move filed over the past four years

NEW DELHI: India’s top court on Wednesday began hearing petitions challenging the constitutionality of a 2019 government decision to strip the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir of its statehood and special autonomous status.

The semi-autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir was granted by India’s constitution until Aug. 5, 2019, when the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi unilaterally revoked the relevant provisions and scrapped its flag, legislature, protections on land ownership, and fundamental rights.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court began hearing petitions against the move filed over the past four years.

“We have approached the Supreme Court with this belief that whatever the Indian government has done is unconstitutional, not taking into consultation stakeholders of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (is) violating the constitutional order itself,” Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a Kashmiri politician and one of the petitioners, said. 

“We hope that the court will deliver justice and put the constitution in order and whatever constitutional rights have been decimated, abrogated will be restored ... we are expecting that the honorable court would restore the constitution and democracy itself to that part of the world which has been delinked from the democratic spirit of the country.”

Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir is part of the larger Kashmiri territory, which has been the subject of international dispute since the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. One part of the valley is governed by Pakistan while the other is ruled by India. Both countries claim the region in full. The Indian-controlled territory has for decades witnessed outbreaks of separatist violence to resist control from the government in New Delhi.

2019's constitutional changes split Jammu and Kashmir into two federal territories, Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir, both ruled directly by the central government without a legislature of their own. Administrative measures introduced after the abrogation of the special status and statehood have allowed non-locals to settle and vote in the region, raising fears of attempts to engineer demographic change. 

Indian authorities have called the new residency rights an overdue measure to foster greater economic development, but critics say it could alter the population’s makeup.

However, petitioners like Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, a retired officer of the Indian Air Force, believe the changes can still be voided by the country’s top-most constitutional bench.

“I have full faith in the objectivity, impartiality and sense of justice and fair play of the honorable Supreme Court of India and I do believe that petitioners have a very strong constitutional case,” Kak told Arab News.

“If it is looked at (in a) fair and just manner, we will receive our due in ensuring that the unconstitutional act which was promulgated under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act in August 2019 will be undone.”

But not everyone is optimistic.

For Subhash Chandra Gupta, an advocate in Jammu, the hearings are being held four years too late. 

“The judiciary has its own limitations and it cannot restore what has been bulldozed. There was hope had the Supreme Court taken up the petitions within weeks after the changes were made,” he said.

“Now so much intervention has been made in that region by the government. Restoring the status quo ante would create a new problem.”


India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence

Updated 21 April 2024
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India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence

  • Friday marked start of voting by nearly 1 billion people in world’s most-populous country
  • The main opposition Congress party had demanded a rerun at 47 Manipur polling stations

NEW DELHI: India, staging the world’s biggest election, will rerun voting at 11 polling stations in the northeastern state of Manipur on Monday after reports of violence and damage to voting machines in the state torn by months of ethnic clashes.
The election authorities declared the voting void at the 11 locations and ordered the fresh poll, the chief electoral officer of Manipur said in a statement late on Saturday.
Friday marked the start of voting by nearly one billion people in the world’s most-populous country, in an election running through June 1. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is forecast to win a rare third term on the back of issues such as growth, welfare and Hindu nationalism.
The main opposition Congress party had demanded a rerun at 47 Manipur polling stations, alleging that booths were captured and elections were rigged.
There were scattered incidents of violence on Friday in the state, including clashes among armed groups and attempts to take over polling stations under heavy security. Voters turned out in large numbers, despite the threat of clashes that have killed at least 220 people in the past year.
Manipur has been roiled by fighting between the majority Meitei and tribal Kuki-Zo people since May. It remains divided between a valley controlled by Meiteis and Kuki-dominated hills, separated by a stretch of no-man’s land monitored by federal paramilitary forces.


UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody

Updated 21 April 2024
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UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody

  • Dughman had died “while attempting to escape prison on Friday” when he fell “from a window, fracturing his skull"

TRIPOLI: The United Nations Support Mission in Libya called Sunday for an investigation into a political activist’s death while detained at an eastern military base controlled by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
UNSMIL also demanded the “immediate release” of other prisoners it said were being detained “arbitrarily” by the war-torn country’s eastern-based authorities.
In a statement on X, the UN mission said it was “deeply saddened by the death of activist Siraj Dughman while in custody at Rajma military camp” and urged the Libyan “authorities to conduct a transparent and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.”
Plagued by political instability and violence since the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya is split between an internationally recognized government, based in Tripoli, and a rival administration in the east backed by Haftar.
The base at Rajma, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) east of Benghazi, serves as Haftar’s headquarters.
In a video published on Saturday, the Haftar-affiliated Eastern Internal Security Agency confirmed Dughman’s death.
The agency said it had commissioned a forensic examination according to which Dughman had died “while attempting to escape prison on Friday” when he fell “from a window, fracturing his skull.”
The agency said he was arrested in October 2023 together with several others accused of “participating in a campaign” inciting the “overthrow of official state agencies” including Haftar’s forces.
UNSMIL said that Dughman “was arbitrarily arrested and detained in 2023” with other Benghazi-based staff members of the Libyan Center for Future Studies, an independent think tank, who “were never formally charged or appeared in court.”
Dughman was the director of the organization’s office in Benghazi, eastern Libya’s main city.
Extrajudicial arrests, detentions and assassinations of political dissidents, activists and human rights defenders have become common in Libya, particularly in the North African country’s east.
The Libyan Center for Future Studies said the security agency was “responsible for his death” which occurred in “obscure circumstances.”


Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’

Updated 21 April 2024
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Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’

  • US House of Representatives swiftly approves $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other allies in a rare Saturday session

KYIV: Ukrainian and Western leaders welcomed a desperately needed aid package passed by the US House of Representatives, as the Kremlin claimed the passage of the bill would “further ruin” Ukraine and cause more deaths.
The House swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other US allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia’s invasion.
With an overwhelming vote, the $61 billion in aid for Ukraine passed in a matter of minutes. Many Democrats cheered on the House floor and waved Ukrainian flags.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who had warned that his country would lose the war without US funding, said that he was grateful for the decision of US lawmakers.
“We appreciate every sign of support for our country and its independence, people and way of life, which Russia is attempting to bury under the rubble,” he wrote on social media site X.
“America has demonstrated its leadership since the first days of this war. Exactly this type of leadership is required to maintain a rules-based international order and predictability for all nations,” he said.
The Ukrainian president noted that his country’s “warriors on the front lines” would feel the benefit of the aid package.
One such “warrior” is infantry soldier Oleksandr, fighting around Avdiivka, the city in the Donetsk region that Ukraine lost to Russia in February after months of intense combat.
“For us it’s so important to have this support from the US and our partners,” Oleksandr told The Associated Press. He did not give his full name for security reasons.
“With this we can stop them and reduce our losses. It’s the first step to have the possibility to liberate our territory.”
Ammunition shortages linked to the aid holdup over the past six months have led Ukrainian military commanders to ration shells, a disadvantage that Russia seized on this year — taking the city of Avdiivka and currently inching toward the town of Chasiv Yar, also in the Donetsk region.
“The Russians come at us in waves — we become exhausted, we have to leave our positions. This is repeated many times,” Oleksandr said. “Not having enough ammunition means we can’t cover the area that is our responsibility to hold when they are assaulting us.”
Other Western leaders lauded the passing of the aid package.
“Ukraine is using the weapons provided by NATO Allies to destroy Russian combat capabilities. This makes us all safer, in Europe & North America,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on X.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “Ukraine deserves all the support it can get against Russia.”
In Russia, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the approval of aid to Ukraine “expected and predictable.”
The decision “will make the United States of America richer, further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, the fault of the Kyiv regime,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Ria Novosti.
“The new aid package will not save, but, on the contrary, will kill thousands and thousands more people, prolong the conflict, and bring even more grief and devastation,” Leonid Slutsky, head of the Russian State Duma Committee on International Affairs, wrote on Telegram.
The whole aid package will go to the US Senate, which could pass it as soon as Tuesday. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.


From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era

Updated 21 April 2024
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From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era

  • Opened in 1895 in Karachi, Bhagat Tarachand has over 25 branches in India
  • Founder’s family migrated to Mumbai upon the partition of British Raj in 1947

New Delhi/Karachi: Some of the first dishes cooked at the Bhagat Tarachand restaurant were the potato curries that Prakash Chawla’s grandfather prepared at a small eatery in 19th-century Karachi. Nearly 130 years later, they are still on the menu, albeit across the border in Mumbai.

Established by Tarachand Chawla in 1895, the restaurant started in the seaside megalopolis and the capital of what is now the Pakistani province of Sindh.

It served simple meals of Sindhi roti — wheat-flour bread spiced with onions and ghee — and seasonal vegetables.

Initially nameless, Chawla’s eatery soon became known by his name and the honorific “bhagat” (a noble man) that people added to it in reverence.

“My grandfather was a generous man, and he wouldn’t let anyone go hungry, whether that person had money or not. That way ‘bhagat’ was added to his name,” Prakash told Arab News.

Bhagat Tarachand died in Karachi in 1942, a few years before the partition of the British Raj.

In 1947, when it was split into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, his sons, including Prakash’s father, Khemchand, moved to Mumbai on the Indian side — some 900 km away.

The family became part of one of the biggest migrations in history, which forced about 15 million people to swap countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.

“It was not an easy beginning after moving to India, with my father struggling to establish the restaurant in Zaveri Bazaar,” Prakash said. “It was just a six-table eatery.”

Since then the restaurant has been officially known as Bhagat Tarachand, in memory of its founder.

The undated file photo shows popular items from the menu of Bhagat Tarachand restaurant. (Bhagat Tarachand)

Once the business started to flourish, Khemchand’s brothers opened other branches. He remained at the original location in the historical Mumbai gold market, where Prakash started to work at the age of 19.

Nearly half a century later, he is still leading the business, having expanded it into a four-story restaurant and added new dishes to the menu.

Now one of India’s leading vegetarian restaurants, Bhagat Tarachand has 25 branches led by Prakash and his cousins across the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

The most popular meal at his outlets is a vegetarian platter.

“In the veggie platter, we give three types of vegetables, lentils, chapati, rice or pilav, as per your choice, one sweet dish, one crispy item, and a pickle,” he said. “It is sufficient for two people”.

Some other flavors have been there since the Karachi times: aloo matar — potato and pea curry; and aloo methi — potato and fenugreek curry.

“Those are some of the oldest dishes that we’ve been serving since at least my father remembers,” said Vishal Chawla, Prakash’s son, who helps him run the business.

“When my great-grandfather ran the restaurant, my grandfather, and even to a certain extent my father, there was no menu card. They used to write just the dish of the day ... It depended on, you know, what were the fresh vegetables available in the market.”

Setting sights on expansion to the UAE and Singapore, both of which have significant Indian diasporas, Vishal has also been thinking about his ancestral city.

But as long as India and Pakistan have a complicated relationship, even obtaining a visa is not easy. One of his uncles has already tried, but to no avail.

“I hope that our countries have better relations in the future, at least in my lifetime ... And if that becomes a possibility, I would love to reconnect with the roots of this restaurant,” he said.

“From the perspective of our restaurant and family, they are all proud that they are able to continue this legacy.”


Maldives election day draws attention of India, China in Indian Ocean power play

Updated 21 April 2024
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Maldives election day draws attention of India, China in Indian Ocean power play

  • Muizzu's presidency heightened the India-China rivalry as he leaned towards China, leading to the removal of Indian troops from a Maldivian islet

MALE: Maldivians voted in parliamentary elections Sunday, in a ballot crucial for President Mohamed Muizzu, whose policies are keenly watched by India and China as they vie for influence in the archipelago nation.
Both countries are seeking a foothold in the Maldives, which has a strategic location in the Indian Ocean.
Muizzu's election as president last year sharpened the rivalry between India and China, with the new leader taking a pro-China stand and acting to remove Indian troops stationed on one of the country's islets.
Securing a majority in Parliament will be tough for Muizzu because some of his allies have fallen out and more parties entered the race.
Six political parties and independent groups are fielding 368 candidates for 93 seats in Parliament. That is six more seats than the previous Parliament following adjustments for population growth.
About 284,000 people were eligible to vote and tentative results were expected to be announced late Sunday.
Muizzu's election campaign theme for president was “India out,” accusing his predecessor of compromising national sovereignty by giving India too much influence.
At least 75 Indian military personnel were stationed in the Maldives and their known activities were operating two aircraft donated by India and assisting in the rescue of people stranded or faced with calamities at sea. Muizzu has taken steps to have civilians take over those activities.
Relations strained further when Indian social media activists started a boycott campaign of Maldives tourism. That was in retaliation for three Maldivian deputy ministers making derogatory statements about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for raising the idea of promoting tourism in Lakshadweep, India's own string of islands similar to the Maldives.
According to recent Maldives government statistics, the number of Indian tourists has fallen, dropping that country from being the top source of foreign visitors to No. 6.
Muizzu visited China earlier this year and negotiated an increase in the number of tourists and inbound flights from China.
In 2013, Maldives joined China's “Belt and Road” initiative meant to build ports and highways to expand trade — and China’s influence — across Asia, Africa and Europe.