1. Majoritarianism is wearing the veil of debate
Right-wing groups are holding hostage the rights of Muslim women to education and dignity
Along coastal Karnataka, many colleges have caved in to the demand by right-wing groups, including the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that Muslim women cannot be allowed to enter college wearing hijabs even if the headscarves match the colour of the college uniform. Instigated by the ABVP, Hindu students declared that they would wear saffron stoles if Muslim women wore hijabs. In response, the BJP government of Karnataka banned in campuses “clothes which disturb equality, integrity and public law and order”. This decision draws its legitimacy from the Supreme Court’s interpretation of Article 25(1) (all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion) to the effect that “essential practices” of religions are protected from restrictions imposed by the state except to uphold “public order, morality and health”.
The Kerala High Court had held in Amnah Bint Basheer v. CBSE (2015) that the CBSE could not prevent a Muslim girl from writing her exams while wearing a hijab, on the grounds that the hijab is an “essential practice” in Islam and thus deserving of protection under Article 25 (1). On the other hand, the Kerala High Court, in Fathima Tasneem v. State of Kerala (2018), held that the court could not tell schools to allow Muslim girls to wear hijabs. It conceded that girls do have a fundamental right to wear a hijab, but concluded that their rights serve mere “individual interest”, and must thus give way to the fundamental right of the educational institution’s management to administer an institution as it wishes, since such a right serves “public interest”.
The elephant in the room
These interpretations of “public interest” and “public order” and “essential practices” may not offer the best guidance at this current juncture, since they seem to be shutting their eyes to the elephant in the room: majoritarian Hindu supremacist intimidation which is holding hostage the fundamental rights of Muslim women to education and dignity. Hindu supremacists are achieving their demand that Muslim women can only study with their peers from other religions if they erase any appearance of ‘Muslimness’. If Muslim women want to wear hijabs, says the BJP regime and its student stormtroopers, they can study in Muslim-run colleges. How can such an outcome be in public interest? Such an outcome will enable the agenda of segregation and isolation of Muslims and radicalisation of Hindus, which Hindu supremacist groups in coastal Karnataka have pursued for over a decade by violently coming down on interactions between Hindu and Muslim classmates, friends and lovers. Public interest is served here only by nurturing diversity in educational institutions: by allowing Hindu, Muslim, Christian students to learn to look beyond their superficial differences and form lasting friendships.
Majoritarian coercion and state-approved violence is wearing the veil of a “debate” over the “patriarchal” hijab. How hypocritical is it to point an accusing finger at the hijab as an offensive symbol of patriarchy when India’s only woman Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as well as the country’s only woman President Pratibha Patil both covered their heads in public – presumably in deference to the patriarchal expectations from women in public life in India? Can India’s imagination then not accommodate a hijab-wearing Muslim woman as the country’s Prime Minister or President? Can we not then unequivocally defend the right of Muslim women to attend college without having to be coercively stripped of the hijab?
Whether the hijab is “essential” to Islam or not need not concern us; the fact is that hijabs are widely worn by Muslim girls and women in India and should not be stigmatised or banned. The false equivalence between the ABVP’s saffron stoles and the Muslim women’s hijabs is dangerous. Muslim women are not wearing hijabs to disrupt colleges or force any other group of students to adopt or give up any dress or practice. They are wearing hijabs with uniforms the same way Sikh men wear turbans, or Hindus wear bindis/tilak/vibhuti with uniforms. The ABVP has never worn saffron turbans to protest against Sikh turbans. They are singling out the Muslim hijab, and their saffron stoles — a political, not religious, garb worn by BJP and RSS followers all over India — are clearly motivated by Islamophobia.
The constitutional freedom to practise religion should mean protection for a woman’s freedom to interpret and practise her own religion in keeping with her own conscience. Religious institutions cannot be allowed to violate the constitutional rights and liberties of individual citizens in the name of their “freedom to practise religion” (see Sabarimala and instant triple talaq judgments); educational institutions cannot violate the rights of individual students in the name of their right to administer a school or college.
Pressure of patriarchy
Every day, girls and women across communities accommodate their family’s patriarchal concerns to go to school or college. “Wear a hijab” is no different from “don’t mix with boys, don’t fall in love outside the caste or community, dress modestly” – injunctions a young woman will hear from her parents no matter which community she is from. Keeping women wearing hijabs from accessing education does not “empower” them, it only places added hurdles on this already thorny path.
All women feel the pressure of patriarchy on their choice of clothing, no matter if it’s a hijab or high heels; burqa or spaghetti-strap tops. Supporting the struggle of women in hijabs in Karnataka does not amount to endorsing the patriarchal notion that deems the pallu or hijab to be modest and other clothes to be “immodest”. The point is that no institution should be allowed to shame us or discriminate against us for what we wear. Support women’s struggles against the Taliban’s imposition of the burqa and ban on “western clothes” in Afghanistan; support women’s struggles against Hindu-majoritarian bans on the hijab or ban on “western clothes” in India.
It is worth recalling here the ABVP’s long track record of imposing dress codes on women, forbidding jeans for women and violently harassing couples on Valentine’s Day. Its Hindu supremacist fellow travellers attacked women in 2009 for visiting a pub and dancing in “western” clothes. In the past year, they have held online auctions of Muslim women and made speeches at “Hindu nation conventions” calling for mass sexual enslavement and rape of Muslim women. It is a travesty for constitutional arguments of “public order” and “public interest” to be invoked to allow thugs to tell women what to wear. Today they have achieved a ban on the hijab. Tomorrow the government can falsely equate saffron-stole protests and women dancing at pubs or wearing skirts and “ban both” to keep public order.
Karnataka Education Act, 1983
Padmini SN of education department (pre-university) involved Section 133 (2) of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983 and stated that students will have to wear dress chosen by the appellate committee of the administrative board of pre-university colleges or college development committee. The Act seeks to provide for:
- Planned development of educational institutions
- Inculcation of healthy educational practice
- Maintenance and improvement in standards of education
- Better organisation discipline and
- Control over educational institutions in the State,
With the objective of fostering harmonious development of mental and physical faculties of students.
What is section 133 (2)?
Section 133 (2) of the act mandates that, a uniform style of clothes has to be worn compulsorily. However, private school administration can choose uniform of their choice. It provides state the power to “give directions to officers or authorities under its control, which are necessary or expedient to carry out purposes of the Act. It shall be the duty of officer or authority to comply with the directions.
The directive of Karnataka government cited an order of Supreme Court in 2017 Asha Ranjan and Others vs State of Bihar and Others. Supreme court had summarised that larger public interest prevails upon individual interest by upholding larger interests, in a bid to ensure relationship between students and institutions. It also takes into consideration the individual rights.
Why in News?
Recently, six students were banned from entering a college in Karnataka’s Udupi district for wearing a hijab (a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women).
- The issue throws up legal questions on reading the freedom of religion and whether the right to wear a hijab is constitutionally protected.
How is Religious Freedom Protected under the Constitution?
- Article 25(1) of the Constitution guarantees the “freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”.
- It is a right that guarantees a negative liberty — which means that the state shall ensure that there is no interference or obstacle to exercise this freedom.
- However, like all fundamental rights, the state can restrict the right for grounds of public order, decency, morality, health and other state interests.
- The implications of this are:
- Freedom of conscience: Inner freedom of an individual to mould his relation with God or Creatures in whatever way he desires.
- Right to Profess: Declaration of one’s religious beliefs and faith openly and freely.
- Right to Practice: Performance of religious worship, rituals, ceremonies and exhibition of beliefs and ideas.
- Right to Propagate: Transmission and dissemination of one’s religious beliefs to others or exposition of the tenets of one’s religion.
What is the Essential Religious Practises Test?
- Over the years, the Supreme Court (SC) has evolved a practical test of sorts to determine what religious practises can be constitutionally protected and what can be ignored.
- In 1954, the SC held in the Shirur Mutt case that the term “religion” will cover all rituals and practises “integral” to a religion. The test to determine what is integral is termed the “essential religious practises” test.
- The test, a judicial determination of religious practises, has often been criticised by legal experts as it pushes the court to delve into theological spaces.
- In criticism of the test, scholars agree that it is better for the court to prohibit religious practices for public order rather than determine what is so essential to a religion that it needs to be protected.
- In several instances, the court has applied the test to keep certain practises out.
- In a 2004 ruling, the SC held that the Ananda Marga sect had no fundamental right to perform Tandava dance in public streets, since it did not constitute an essential religious practice of the sect.
- While these issues are largely understood to be community-based, there are instances in which the court has applied the test to individual freedoms as well.
- For example, in 2016, the SC upheld the discharge of a Muslim airman from the Indian Air Force for keeping a beard.
- Armed Force Regulations, 1964, prohibits the growth of hair by Armed Forces personnel, except for “personnel whose religion prohibits the cutting of hair or shaving of face”.
- The court essentially held that keeping a beard was not an essential part of Islamic practices.
How have courts ruled so far on the issue of a hijab?
- While this has been put to courts on several occasions, two set of rulings of the Kerala High Court, particularly on the right of Muslim women to dress according to the tenets of Islam, throw up conflicting answers.
- In 2015, at least two petitions were filed before the Kerala High Court challenging the prescription of dress code for All India Pre-Medical Entrance which prescribed wearing “light clothes with half sleeves not having big buttons, brooch/badge, flower, etc. with Salwar/Trouser” and “slippers and not shoes”.
- Admitting the argument of the Central Board of School Education (CBSE) that the rule was only to ensure that candidates would not use unfair methods by concealing objects within clothes, the Kerala HC directed the CBSE to put in place additional measures for checking students who “intend to wear a dress according to their religious custom, but contrary to the dress code”.
- In Amna Bint Basheer v Central Board of Secondary Education (2016), the Kerala HC examined the issue more closely.
- The Court held that the practice of wearing a hijab constitutes an essential religious practice but did not quash the CBSE rule.
- The court once again allowed for the “additional measures” and safeguards put in place in 2015.
- However, on the issue of a uniform prescribed by a school, another Bench ruled differently in Fathima Tasneem v State of Kerala (2018).
- A single Bench of the Kerala HC held that collective rights of an institution would be given primacy over individual rights of the petitioner.
2. Govt. issues new media accreditation guidelines
The Union government on Monday released the Central Media Accreditation Guidelines-2022, under which the accreditation will be withdrawn or suspended if a journalist acts in a manner prejudicial to the country’s security, sovereignty and integrity, friendly relations with foreign States, public order or is charged with a serious cognisable offence.
Among the other circumstances under which the accreditation can be withdrawn/suspended are actions prejudicial to decency, or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
Accredited media persons have been prohibited from using the words “Accredited to the government of India” on public/social media profile, visiting cards, letter heads or on any other form or any published work.
ABOUT ACCREDITATION GUIDELINES
- Suspension or withdrawal of accreditation: suspension would be done if a journalist acts in a manner prejudicial to the security, sovereignty and integrity of the country, friendly relations with foreign states, public order or is charged with a serious cognizable offence.
- Other circumstances for suspension: prejudicial to decency, or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
- Prohibition of usage of specific words: the words “Accredited to the government of India” on public/social media profile, visiting cards, letter heads or on any other form or any published work have been prohibited to use as per the guidelines.
- Access to offices: Accreditation allows journalists to access government offices in Delhi, and is needed for entry to certain events in which the President or the Prime Minister are present.
- Central Media Accreditation Committee: as per the guidelines, the Government of India shall constitute a Committee called the Central Media Accreditation Committee, chaired by the Principal DG, PIB and comprising of up to 25 members nomination by the Government to discharge the functions laid down under these guidelines.
- Rules for digital news publishers: The general terms of accreditation would imply apply in case of digital news publishers.
- News aggregators: The news aggregator should not be considered.
- Eligible journalists: Journalists working with newspapers, weekly or fortnightly magazines, news agencies, foreign publications, TV channels or agencies, and Indian TV news channels are also eligible for accreditation, based on the size of each platform.
- Freelancers with over 15 years of experience, and veteran journalists with over 30 years of experience, over 65 years old, with a publicly acclaimed distinguished career are also eligible.
- Requisite information to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting: The digital news publishers applying for accreditation should have furnished requisite information to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting under Rule 18 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code), Rules, 2021, and have not violated the rules.
- Other conditions:
- The website should have continuously operated for at least one year.
- The Editor of the news portal should be an Indian national.
- The website should have a registered office in India and the correspondents should be based in Delhi or National Capital Region.
I&B MINISTRY’s POWER FOR CONTENT REGULATION
- Sectors to be regulated by I&B Ministry: It had powers to regulate content across all sectors i.e. TV channels, newspapers & magazines, movies on TV and radio barring the internet.
- The regulatory powers were extended under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code), Rules, 2021 to include Internet content, especially on digital news platforms & OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime.
- Powers of CBFC with respect to films: the Central Board of Film Certification has a mandate to give any film playing in theatre, a rating for indicating the kind of audience it is suitable for. The CBFC’s mandate is not to censor a film, it can withhold A rating unless the filmmaker agrees to its suggestions.
- Regulation of TV channels: The government last year came up with a three tier grievance redressal structure for viewers to raise concerns.
- A viewer can successively approach the channel, then a self regulatory body of the industry and finally do I&B Ministry which can issue a show cause notice to the channel and then refer the issue to an inter ministerial committee (IMC).
- There is a similar structure for content on OTT platforms as well.
- Electronic media monitoring cell: Ministry of information and broadcasting has an electronic media monitoring cell that tracks channels for any violation of programming and advertising codes mentioned in Cable TV network rules, 1994.
- Violation can lead to revocation of licence of a channel or downlinking license.
- Regulation of print media: The government can suspend its advertising to a publication based on the recommendation of the Press Council of India.I&B rules last year have allowed it to ban websites based on their content.
- Kind of content allowed: in print and electronic media, radio, films or OTT platforms there are no specific laws based on which content is allowed or prohibited.
- Free speech rules:The content on any of these platforms has to follow the free speech rules of the country.
- Reasonable restrictions for Article 19:There are certain reasonable restrictions listed in the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1) of the Constitution which include content related to the security of state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency and morality etc.
- Role of other agencies: The powers to regulate content rest only with the I&B Ministry, there is no direct involvement of other agencies. However, the ministry relies on inputs from other ministries as well as intelligence agencies.
- The I&B Ministry has also used emergency powers under the new IT rules to block certain YouTube channels and social media accounts based on inputs from intelligence agencies.
3. Iran nuclear deal talks to resume in Vienna: EU
Significant progress made, says Tehran
Iran nuclear deal talks will resume in Vienna on Tuesday, diplomats said on Monday, after negotiators in recent weeks have cited progress in seeking to revive the 2015 landmark accord.
Parties to the deal have been negotiating in Vienna since last year with indirect U.S. participation. Talks were most recently halted at the end of last month, and the negotiators returned to their capitals for consultations.
“The 8th round of the Vienna Talks… attended by China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, Iran and the United States resume tomorrow in Vienna,” tweeted Alain Matton, spokesman of the EU, which chairs the discussions.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the Washington Post in an interview published online on Monday that a successful conclusion of the talks “depends on Iran”.
“We gave them a clear message that now this is the time for decisions and for progress, and not for prolonging the process,” he was quoted as saying.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the answers “the United States brings tomorrow to Vienna will determine when we can reach an agreement”.
“We have made significant progress in various areas of the Vienna negotiations” including on guarantees that Iran seeks that a new U.S. administration would not breach the deal once again, Mr. Khatibzadeh told reporters.
Iran Nuclear Deal:
- Also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
- The JCPOA was the result of prolonged negotiations from 2013 and 2015 between Iran and P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, or the EU).
- Under the deal, Tehran agreed to significantly cut its stores of centrifuges, enriched uranium and heavy-water, all key components for nuclear weapons.
4. Public borrowing won’t crowd out private investment: FM
Opportune time for investments by companies, she asserts
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman urged industry to step up investments and expand capacities, asserting that worries about high public capital spending and borrowings crowding out private investments were misplaced.
“The emphasis on infra and public investments is done after a lot of stakeholder consultations… we have our own analysis that this is going to lead to crowding in of private investment,” she said, adding this was an opportune time for greenfield and brownfield projects from corporates. Emphasising that the Budget envisioned a two-track path of building optimal infrastructure and encouraging sunrise sectors for India’s growth in the Amrit Kaal, she said infrastructure development in the past had led to flawed outcomes.
‘Flawed infra plans’
“Infrastructure [has been] built in this country since 1947. But… we fell short because they were standing on their own, and after development, it was realised there is no connection with the raw material or links to ports so logistics and raw material costs became too much,” the Minister said at a post-Budget interaction with the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Such anomalies, she said, wouldn’t exist under the PM Gati Shakti approach.
5. RBI’s digital currency plans
Why is the Government introducing CBDCs? What will be the risks in the transition to a new monetary system?
In the 2022-23 Budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the introduction of India’s Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). A CBDC is no different from physical cash, except that it would exist in a digital form. The CBDC will be held in a digital wallet that is supervised by the RBI.
Central banks claim that there is an increasing demand for digital currencies as is evident from the rise of private digital currencies such as bitcoin and the increasing use of digital payments. Central banks also believe that the cost of issuing digital currencies is far lower than the cost of printing and distributing physical cash. The RBI can create and distribute the digital rupee at virtually zero cost.
Many fear that people may begin withdrawing money from their bank accounts as digital currencies issued by Central banks become more popular. The withdrawal of bank deposits can also affect the amount of loans created by the banks.
The story so far: In the Budget presented for 2022-23, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the introduction of India’s Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) and that the digital rupee would give a ‘big boost’ to digital economy. She had indicated that technologies such as blockchain would be used by the Reserve Bank of India to issue the currency, starting 2022-23. The Reserve Bank had, in July 2021, indicated that it would soon begin work on the ‘phased implementation’ of the CBDC.
What is a Central Bank Digital Currency?
A CBDC is no different from the cash that we hold in our wallets, except that it exists in a digital form. The CBDC will be held in a digital wallet that is supervised by the Central bank. In India, it will be the RBI that supervises the digital rupee although it may delegate some power to banks. However, it does seem probable that the RBI will take steps to encourage the use of its digital currency over physical cash. It should be noted that the RBI’s digital rupee will not directly replace demand deposits held in banks. Physical cash will continue to be used by banks, and people who wish to withdraw cash from banks can still do so. But they can also opt to convert their bank deposits into the new digital rupee.
Why are central banks issuing digital currencies?
Central banks claim that there is an increasing demand for digital currencies, which they wish to satisfy. They point to the rise of private digital currencies such as bitcoin and also to the increasing use of digital payments as examples of this secular trend. Central bank digital currencies are promised as reliable, sovereign-backed alternatives to private currencies which are volatile and unregulated. Critics, however, note that the demand for private currencies comes primarily from people who have lost faith in fiat currencies issued by Central banks. They argue that governments across the world have been debasing their respective currencies by printing them in excessive amounts, thus forcing many to switch to private currencies whose supply is limited by design. So the mere digital version of a national currency like the rupee or the U.S. dollar is unlikely to affect the demand for private currencies, they believe.
Central banks also believe that the cost of issuing digital currencies is far lower than the cost of printing and distributing physical cash. The RBI can create and distribute the digital rupee at virtually zero cost since the creation and the distribution of the digital rupee will happen electronically. Another likely reason for the introduction of digital cash may be to bring down the use of physical cash. Unlike physical cash, which is hard to trace, a digital currency that is monitored by the RBI can be more easily tracked and controlled by the Central bank. This feature of digital currencies, however, has raised various concerns regarding their privacy and could slow down their adoption. In fact, it is worth noting that the need for privacy has been one of the primary reasons behind the switch to private digital currencies.
Is CBDC becoming common across the world?
It is worth noting that several countries, including the United States, those in the European Union and China, have been working seriously towards issuing their own Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) in recent years. In October 2020, the Bahamas launched the world’s first CBDC. However, a few countries, including Finland and Denmark —have taken a step back and have said they had cancelled efforts to introduce a digital currency, according to CBDCTracker.org.
In a 2017 note, Denmark’s central bank indicated that it was “unclear what central bank digital currency would be able to contribute that is not already covered by the current payment solutions.”
It added that the potential benefits of introducing CBDC in Denmark were not “assessed to match the considerable challenges that this introduction would present.”
What are the risks in adopting digital currencies issued by Central banks?
Many, including various central bankers, fear that people may begin withdrawing money from their bank accounts as digital currencies issued by Central banks become more popular. This concern was flagged by the RBI Deputy Governor as well. Remember that many people currently use bank accounts to safely store their cash. When the digital wallet offered by the RBI can serve the same purpose, people could very well begin converting their bank deposits into digital cash.
One thing that could prevent any large flight of capital from bank accounts to digital currencies is the fact that bank accounts, unlike digital currencies, offer interest on deposits. But in developed economies, where interest rates are near zero or even negative, the risk of people rushing their money out of bank accounts and into digital currencies is real. This may not be an immediate concern for banks in India which still offer returns that are positive, at least in nominal terms, to their depositors.
The withdrawal of bank deposits can also affect the amount of loans created by banks. However, this could happen not simply because banks will have fewer cash deposits to lend to borrowers. Contrary to popular belief, banks do not loan out actual cash deposits. Instead, they use cash deposits as a base on which they create a pyramid of electronic loans far in excess of the cash deposits. So banks hold lower amounts of cash in their vaults than what their depositors and borrowers could demand from them anyway. The real reason banks will be able to create fewer loans is that when customers convert their bank money into CBDCs, banks will be forced to surrender at least some cash and will thus possess an even smaller base on which to create loans. Also, when bank customers convert their deposits into digital rupee, the RBI will have to take these liabilities from the books of banks and onto its own balance sheet.
What lies ahead?
There is speculation already that Central banks will cap the amount of money that an individual can hold in the form of CBDCs. This is to prevent the mass withdrawal of deposits from banks. Some even believe that some Central banks, such as the European Central Bank, may impose a negative penalty on their digital currencies. This could be done to force people to spend their digital currencies and to discourage the withdrawal of deposits from banks that impose negative interest rates.
Central banks may also have to inject fresh money into banks to ensure that the ability of banks to create loans is not affected by depositors’ rush to digital currencies.
6. The BrahMos deal and India’s defence exports
Has the domestic defence manufacturing industry grown? How is the Government making military export sales easier?
On January 28, Philippines signed a $374.96 million deal with BrahMos Aerospace Pvt. Ltd. for the supply of shore based anti-ship variant of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. This is the biggest defence export contract of the country.
BrahMos is a joint venture between India’s DRDO and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya. Beginning with an anti-ship missile, several variants have since been developed and it can now be launched from land, sea, sub-sea and air against surface and sea-based targets.
From 2016-17 to 2018-19, the country’s defence exports have registered a staggering 700% growth. There have been a series of measures announced to promote domestic defence manufacturing as well as efforts to boost exports.
The story so far: On January 28, Philippines signed a $374.96 million deal with BrahMos Aerospace Pvt. Ltd. for the supply of shore based anti-ship variant of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. This is the first export order for the missile which is a joint product between India and Russia and also the biggest defence export contract of the country. This adds impetus to the efforts to boost defence exports and meet the ambitious target set by the Government to achieve a manufacturing turnover of $25 billion or ₹1,75,000 crore including exports of ₹35,000 crore in aerospace and defence goods and services by 2025.
What is the BrahMos missile system?
The Philippines contract includes delivery of three BrahMos missile batteries, training for operators and maintainers as well as the necessary Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) package. The coastal defence regiment of the Philippine Marines, which is under the Navy, will be the primary employer of the missile system.
BrahMos is a joint venture between India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya. The missile derives its name from the Brahmaputra and Moskva rivers. Beginning with an anti-ship missile, several variants have since been developed and it is now capable of being launched from land, sea, sub-sea and air against surface and sea-based targets and has constantly been improved and upgraded. The missile has been long inducted by the Indian armed forces and the Army recently deployed BrahMos along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh.
The range of the BrahMos was originally limited to 290 kms as per obligations of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) of which Russia was a signatory. Following India’s entry into the club in June 2016, plans were announced to extend the range initially to 450 kms and subsequently to 600 kms. BrahMos with extended range upto 450 kms has been tested several times since.
Which other countries are in discussion for the BrahMos missiles?
In addition to the deal signed last week by Philippines, there is another long pending deal under discussion for BrahMos missiles for the Philippines Army which could see progress in the near future, officials said. The procurement for Philippines Army (PA) is included in the Horizon 3 Modernisation programme of Philippines (Year 2023-2027), diplomatic sources had stated.
While the first export order for BrahMos took a long time, the next order is likely to be concluded soon with negotiations with Indonesia and Thailand in advanced stages. There is reportedly interest for BrahMos from countries in West Asia as well.
Philippines is also looking at several other military procurements from India and South East Asia as the region has emerged as a major focus area for India’s defence exports. For instance, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has received interest from Philippines Coast Guard for procurement of seven Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters and eight Dornier Do-228 aircraft under the $100mn Line of Credit (LoC) extended by India. Progress on this has been delayed due to the pandemic situation, officials said.
Kanpur based company MKU has supplied Bullet Proof Jackets (BPJ) to Philippines in the past and is now in the race for bigger contracts for BPJs and helmets. In addition, maritime domain and ship building is another potential area for Indian companies in the Philippines.
What is the status of defence exports?
From 2016-17 to 2018-19, the country’s defence exports have increased from ₹1,521 crore to ₹10,745 crore, a staggering 700% growth. The value of exports of defence items including major items in Financial Year 2014-15 and 2020-21 was ₹1,940.64 crore and ₹8,434.84 crore respectively. As per data given by the Government, defence exports for 2020-21 stood at ₹8434.84 crore and the export target for financial year 2021-22 was ₹10,000 crore.
There have been a series of measures announced to incentivise and promote domestic defence manufacturing as well as efforts to boost exports which include simplified defence industrial licensing, relaxation of export controls and grant of No Objection Certificates (NOC), extending Line of Credit (LoC) to foreign countries to import defence products and empowering Defence Attaches in Indian missions abroad to promote defence exports. The draft ‘Defence Production & Export Promotion Policy (DPEPP) 2020’ is expected to be finalised soon.
In December 2020, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved the export of indigenous Akash Surface to Air (SAM) missile systems which several countries in South East Asia and West Asia have expressed interest in.
To provide faster approvals for export of major defence platforms, a committee comprising of the Defence Minister, External Affairs Minister and National Security Advisor was set up. The Defence Ministry had said in December 2020, that “This Committee would authorise subsequent exports of major indigenous platforms to various countries. The Committee would also explore various available options including the Government-to-Government route.”
In the last few years, India has put out a range of military hardware on sale which includes various missile systems, Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), helicopters, warship and patrol vessels, artillery guns, tanks, radars, military vehicles, electronic warfare systems in addition to other weapons systems.
7. The theory of the Islamic State
The IS will be defeated only when its ideology is overcome in a region free of interventions — a tall ask for the moment
The IS is fundamentally different from earlier terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. It took insurgency a step further. It started holding on to territories it captured, established a proto-state in those territories and called it the Islamic State. It declared a Caliphate, trying to revive an Islamic institution that ceased to exist following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. This type of violent jihadism comes from the puritanical interpretation of Islam which has echoes from Salafi Islam. Yet, there are Salafi organisations whose members dedicate themselves to a “pure” Islamic way of life and have nothing to do with violence.
The IS has stood opposed to everything modern liberalism offers — individual freedom, equality and liberty. The IS also denies critical thinking, demanding only loyalty to its cause. At the same time, the IS has been able to exploit the contradictions within modern societies. The identity crisis of Muslims in liberal societies, is what the IS tapped into using modern communication technologies. It offered a violent, alternative, vengeful vision to trap these people, while in Muslim-majority societies, western aggression was used as the propaganda for recruitment.
Even though the leader is dead, the objective conditions that led to the rise of the IS remain intact in West Asia. The IS will be defeated only when its ideology is defeated.
On February 3, 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the leader of the Islamic State (IS/ISIS), Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, died in a U.S. counterterrorism operation in the Idlib province, in northwestern Syria. In this article published on November 8, 2019, in the context of the assassination of the former IS leader Baghdadi, Stanly Johny explains how a complete defeat of the Islamic State is possible only by tackling its idealogical and organisational apparatus.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. But the Islamic State (IS) is not. The death of its “Caliph” is certainly a blow to the terrorist group. But the IS is ideologically stronger to survive the fall of its leader, and the geopolitical conditions that led to the rise of the group remain more or less intact. Much has been discussed about these conditions. Geopolitical tensions, civil conflicts and foreign interventions have been a source of power for jihadist groups such as the al-Qaeda and the IS. Remember, Osama bin Laden was a nobody before the Americans and their allies started bankrolling and training the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet Red Army. The Taliban, which rose to power from the civil war-stricken Afghanistan was hosting the al-Qaeda when it carried out the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Virginia. The al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) rose from the ruins of the Iraq that was destroyed by the American invasion. And the AQI morphed into today’s IS, exploiting the chaos Syria fell into in the wake of the civil war. While these are the objective conditions behind the rise of terrorist-jihadism , what is its subjectivity? Do these groups have an agency?
Brothers with arms
Though the al-Qaeda and the IS are cut from the same cloth, there are tactical and strategic differences in their operations. The al-Qaeda was basically a hit-and-run organisation until the IS changed the landscape of terrorism. The group would carry out attacks and then retreat to the deserts, caves or mountains where it was hiding. It did not expose itself to the conventional military might of its enemies. Barring certain pockets that al-Qaeda-affiliated groups now control, such as Syria’s Idlib, the group largely remains a hit-and-run organisation. The IS, however, took insurgency a step further. It started holding on to territories it captured, established a proto-state in those territories and called it the Islamic State. While the al-Qaeda also wants to create a global emirate, the IS took steps to implement its world-view. It declared a Caliphate, trying to revive an Islamic institution that ceased to exist following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. And by doing so, Baghdadi tried to place himself in the long list of Islamic Caliphs, the rightful leaders of the ummah (the global Muslim community).
Violent jihadism is inherently anti-modern and very unpopular among Muslims across the world . It is because of their unpopularity that these groups are involved in extreme violence. With their asymmetrical barbarity, jihadist groups have sought to overcome not just the shortcomings in their military capabilities but also the lack of their political capital. For Baghdadi’s group, violence was both a means and an end in itself. The puritanical interpretation of Islam by the IS has echoes from Salafi Islam. The Salafis follow the “pious forefathers” of Islam. For them, man cannot interpret the holy book or the Hadith. But Salafism itself is not a monolith. It can be a spiritual way of life. There are Salafi organisations whose members dedicate themselves to a “pure” Islamic way of life and have nothing to do with violence. But for groups such as the al-Qaeda and the IS, Salafism is a political ideology to attain power. And since they cannot attain power through mass movements, popular elections or revolutions, they turn to violent jihadism as a vehicle to reach that goal, which makes them Salafi-Jihadists.
‘Pure’ Islamic State
Unlike the al-Qaeda, the IS’s operations were not confined to carrying out suicide attacks in the West or West-backed countries. It wanted to create a “pure” Islamic State where the “true” believers can come and live. These “true believers”, for the IS, were Sunni Muslims alone and who followed the IS’s diktats. The Shias are in this worldview, considered “rafidha” (rejectionists, who “reject” the first three Caliphs of the Sunni Islam), and therefore merit second class status. In areas under their control, the minority communities had to pay minority tax to the state for protection. They could not publicly practise their religion. In the IS worldview, homosexuals were to be thrown off high-rises, the fingers of smokers had to be chopped off, slavery permitted and music and films forbidden. The concept of “nation-states” is also alien to the IS world-view, for whom the world is the Caliphate and where the ummah should be living under the leadership of their rightful Calliph.
In effect, the IS has stood opposed to everything modern liberalism offers — individual freedom, equality, liberty are all completely denied by the group. The IS also frowns upon and denies critical thinking, demanding only loyalty to its cause. At the same time, where the IS succeeded is in exploiting the contradictions within modern societies — the contradictions that were swept under the carpet by the roadroller of nationalism. The identity crisis of Muslims, especially young Muslims, in liberal societies, is what the IS tapped into using modern communication technologies. It offered a violent, alternative, vengeful vision to trap these people, while in Muslim-majority societies, western aggression was used as propaganda for recruitment. The IS managed to do this while holding on to territories that it captured within Iraq and Syria. It was for the first time in decades that a group claimed to have established a caliphate by erasing the borders of modern states (Iraq and Syria in this case) and by calling upon followers to migrate. The IS succeeded in attracting tens of thousands of people to its “Caliphate”— from Tunisia to India and the U.S. It was also opposed to the diversity of Islam terming Shias, Ismailis, Ahmedias and Alawites as non-Muslims. Syncretic traditions of Islam such as Sufism were branded anti-Islam by the IS. Even if Sunni Muslims did not buy into the IS version of Islam, they could be excommunicated (takfir) and killed according to its worldview. It is no surprise that most of the IS’s victims in the Arab world were Muslims.
Problems in the anti-IS fight
The IS’ Caliphate has now been destroyed and its leader gone. But there are two problems in the fight against the IS. One, the objective conditions that led to the rise of the IS remain intact in West Asia and the larger Arab world. The group still has affiliates and arms in several parts of the world such as Afghanistan, Egypt and Nigeria. The recent Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria is threatening even the limited advances made in the fight against the IS. The Shia-Sunni sectarianism that the IS tried to exploit is still burning across West Asia.
Two, the IS will be defeated only when its ideology will be defeated, which is a tall ask. The IS is not an organisation that was created by “western imperialism”, but an organisation that used the chaos created by “imperialism”.
It will continue to do so even after all these setbacks — this includes even the rump of the IS. The group does not need a standing army of thousands of soldiers to attack civilians through suicide blasts. For them, violence is linked to their survival. If the IS goes silent, it becomes irrelevant in the global jihadist landscape and all its talk of the expansionary Caliphate will come to an end. It is like Macbeth. The group will retain its need to kill in order to survive.
To stop the group, its organisational and ideological apparatus has to be taken down in a region that is free of foreign interventions and repressions. For now, this looks a distant possibility.