1. Wearing hijab is not essential part of religion: Karnataka HC
‘Ban in schools constitutionally permissible’
The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday upheld the ban on the wearing of hijab (head scarf) by students in schools and colleges in the State. It held that wearing the hijab is not an essential religious practice in Islam and is not, therefore, protected under by the right to freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 25 of the Constitution. The court said it was a reasonable restriction that was constitutionally permissible.
The judgment was delivered by a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice Krishna S. Dixit and Justice J.M. Khazi, while rejecting all the petitions filed by nine Muslim girl students of two government pre-university colleges in Udupi district.
The Bench also upheld the legality of the Karnataka government’s February 5, 2022, order prescribing guidelines for uniforms in schools and pre-university colleges under the provisions of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983, after a row over hijab in Udupi and other districts.
In its 129-page judgement, Bench also spoke about the possibility of some “unseen hands” behind the hijab row to engineer social unrest and disharmony, and expressed dismay over the issue being blown out of proportion by the powers that be.
The court said that school uniform will cease to be a uniform if hijab is also allowed.
“Hijab is a veil ordinarily worn by Muslim women. Its origin in the Arabic verb hajaba has etymological similarities with the verb ‘to hide.’… This way, the hijab hides, marks the difference, protects, and arguably affirms the religious identity of Muslim women,” the bench said.
The Bench said, “The era before the introduction of Islam is known as Jahiliya — a time of barbarism and ignorance. The Quran shows concern for the cases of ‘molestation of innocent women’ and therefore, it recommended wearing of this and other apparel as a measure of social security.”
“May be in the course of time, some elements of religion permeated into this practice, as ordinarily happens in any religion. However, that per se does not render the practice predominantly religious and much less essential to the Islamic faith,” the Bench said. The Bench, for its analysis of the Quran, relied on the book, The Holy Quran: Text, Translation and Commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
Quoting Ali’s commentaries on sūra (xxxiii), verse 59, at footnote 3765 and the footnote 3760 to Verse 53 in his book, the Bench observed, “The holy Quran does not mandate wearing of hijab for Muslim women.”
“Whatever is stated in the above sūras, we say, is only directory, because of absence of prescription of penalty or penance for not wearing hijab. The linguistic structure of verses supports this view. This apparel at the most is a means to gain access to public places and not a religious end in itself. It was a measure of women enablement and not a figurative constraint.”
“The veil was a safe means for the women to leave the confines of their homes. Ali’s short but leading question is premised on this analysis. What is not religiously made obligatory therefore cannot be made a quintessential aspect of the religion through public agitations or by passionate arguments in courts,” the Bench observed.
“It is not that if the alleged practice of wearing hijab is not adhered to those not wearing hijab become sinners, Islam loses its glory and it ceases to be a religion,” the Bench said.
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.
Over the years, the Supreme Court has evolved a practical test of sorts to determine what religious practices can be constitutionally protected and what can be ignored. In 1954, the Supreme Court held in the Shirur Mutt case that the term “religion” will cover all rituals and practices “integral” to a religion. The test to determine what is integral is termed the “essential religious practices” test.
What is the essential religious practices test?
“In the first place, what constitutes the essential part of a religion is primarily to be ascertained with reference to the doctrines of that religion itself,” the SC had held in the Shirur Mutt case. So the test, a judicial determination of religious practices, 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 practices out. In a 2004 ruling, the Supreme Court 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, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the discharge of a Muslim airman from the Indian Air Force for keeping a beard. Justices T S Thakur, D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao distinguished the case of a Muslim airman from that of Sikhs who are allowed to keep a beard.
Regulation 425 of the 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.
The court did not examine religious practices as required in the Shirur Mutt case, but referenced an input by senior advocate Salman Khurshid.
“During the course of the hearing, we had inquired of Shri Salman Khurshid, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the Appellants whether there is a specific mandate in Islam which ‘prohibits the cutting of hair or shaving of facial hair’. Learned senior counsel… indicated that on this aspect, there are varying interpretations, one of which is that it is desirable to maintain a beard. No material has been produced before this Court to indicate that the Appellant professes a religious belief that would bring him within the ambit of Regulation 425(b) which applies to ‘personnel whose religion prohibits the cutting off the hair or shaving off the face of its members’,” the verdict stated.
2. UN resolution focuses only on one religion: India
‘Time to acknowledge other phobias’
As the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on Tuesday to proclaim March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia, India expressed concern over phobia against “one religion being elevated to the level of an international day”.
India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti said in the General Assembly that India hoped the resolution adopted “does not set a precedent”, which will lead to multiple resolutions based on selective religions and divide the United Nations into religious camps.
“Hinduism has more than 1.2 billion followers, Buddhism more than 535 million and Sikhism more than 30 million spread out around the world. It is time that we acknowledged the prevalence of religiophobia, rather than single out just one,” he said.
The 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution, introduced by Pakistan’s Ambassador Munir Akram under agenda item Culture of peace, to proclaim March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia.
Following the adoption of the draft resolution, Mr. Tirumurti said while India condemns all acts motivated by anti-semitism, Christianophobia or Islamophobia, such phobias were not restricted to Abrahamic religions only.
He pointed to the emergence of anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist and anti-Sikh phobias.
3. MLAs refuse to discuss menstrual leave
Assembly too holy a place to discuss it, says legislator
A proposed Bill on granting a day’s leave to school and college-going girls and women in jobs was not found worthy of discussion in the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly.
Congress MLA Ninong Ering had on March 11 brought a private member’s resolution seeking the introduction of a Bill granting menstrual leave “as it is very disturbing for girls and women, especially on the first day”. He said countries such as Italy and Japan, and Indian States such as Bihar and Kerala have been providing the facility to the working women and girls studying in schools and colleges. “If women get a day’s leave during their period, they will be more dedicated and purposeful in discharging their duties,” he said.
BJP MLA Lokam Tassar said the Assembly was “too holy” a place to discuss a “letera cheez [dirty thing]” and that it should be taken up by the State Women’s Commission.
“In our Nyishi [tribe] community, menstruating women have to sleep far from the kitchen and they do not come near anyone,” he said.
Another BJP legislator, Tana Hali Tara also cited a Nyishi custom that barred women during the “unclean” period from having meals with men.
Alo Libang, the Minister for Women and Child Development said the proposed Bill was “logical and concerning” but should be discussed with women’s organisations and the State women’s panel first as their inputs would be apt.
4. India’s solar capacity: Milestones and challenges
How far has India progressed on its goal to achieve 500 GW of renewable energy by 2030? What are some of the obstacles that the domestic solar industry faces?
As on 28 February 2022, India has surpassed 50 GW of cumulative installed solar capacity. This ranks the country fifth in solar power deployment.
There is limited financing for residential consumers and Small and Medium Enterprises who want to install roof top solar systems. India’s focus on large-scale solar PV fails to exploit the many benefits of decentralised renewable energy options.
India’s domestic manufacturing capacities in the solar sector do not match up to the demand for solar power. In 2021-22, India imported nearly $76.62 billion worth solar cells and modules from China alone.
The story so far: India added a record 10 Gigawatt (GW) of solar energy to its cumulative installed capacity in 2021. This has been the highest 12-month capacity addition, recording nearly a 200% year-on-year growth. India has now surpassed 50 GW of cumulative installed solar capacity, as on 28 February 2022. This is a milestone in India’s journey towards generating 500 GW from renewable energy by 2030, of which 300 GW is expected to come from solar power. India’s capacity additions rank the country fifth in solar power deployment, contributing nearly 6.5% to the global cumulative capacity of 709.68 GW.
Even as India continues down this impressive journey, there are some areas of concern to highlight. First, of the 50 GW installed solar capacity, an overwhelming 42 GW comes from ground-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, and only 6.48 GW comes from roof top solar (RTS); and 1.48 GW from off-grid solar PV.
Why is India falling short in roof-top solar installations?
The steep rise in large, ground-mounted solar energy is indicative of the strong push towards increasing the share of utility-scale solar projects across the country. RTS deployment stands at 6.48 GW in 2021, far short on the Union Government’s target of 40 GW of RTS by end 2022.
The large-scale solar PV focus fails to exploit the many benefits of decentralised renewable energy (DRE) options, including reduction in transmission and distribution (T&D) losses. One of the primary benefits of solar PV technology is that it can be installed at the point of consumption, significantly reducing the need for large capital-intensive transmission infrastructure. This is not an either/or situation; India needs to deploy both large and smaller-scale solar PV, and particularly needs to expand RTS efforts.
However, there is limited financing for residential consumers and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) who want to install RTS. Coupled with lukewarm responses from electricity distribution companies (DISCOMS) to supporting net metering, RTS continues to see low uptake across the country. Governments, utilities, and banks will need to explore innovative financial mechanisms that bring down the cost of loans and reduce the risk of investment for lenders. Increased awareness, and affordable finance for RTS projects could potentially ensure the spread of RTS across the scores of SMEs and homes around the country. Aggregating roof spaces could also help reduce overall costs of RTS installations and enable developing economies of scale.
What are the challenges to India’s solar power capacity addition?
Despite significant growth in the installed solar capacity, the contribution of solar energy to the country’s power generation has not grown at the same pace. In 2019-20, for instance, solar power contributed only 3.6% (50 billion units) of India’s total power generation of 1390 BU.
The utility-scale solar PV sector continues to face challenges like land costs, high T&D losses and other inefficiencies, and grid integration challenges. There have also been conflicts with local communities and biodiversity protection norms. Also, while India has achieved record low tariffs for solar power generation in the utility-scale segment, this has not translated into cheaper power for end-consumers.
What’s the state of India’s domestic solar module manufacturing capacity?
Domestic manufacturing capacities in the solar sector do not match up to the present potential demand for solar power in the country. Crisil’s report on the subject highlights that as on March 31, 2021, India had 3 GW capacity for solar cell production and 8 GW for solar panel production capacity. Moreover, backward integration in the solar value chain is absent as India has no capacity for manufacturing solar wafers and polysilicon. In 2021-22, India imported nearly $76.62 billion worth solar cells and modules from China alone, accounting for 78.6% of India’s total imports that year. Low manufacturing capacities, coupled with cheaper imports from China have rendered Indian products uncompetitive in the domestic market.
This situation can, however, be corrected if India embraces a circular economy model for solar systems. This would allow solar PV waste to be recycled and reused in the solar PV supply chain. By the end of 2030, India will likely produce nearly 34,600 metric tonnes of solar PV waste. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that the global value of recoverable materials from solar PV waste could exceed $15 billion.
Currently, only the European Union has taken decisive steps in managing solar PV waste. India could look at developing appropriate guidelines around Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which means holding manufacturers accountable for the entire life cycle of solar PV products and creating standards for waste recycling. This could give domestic manufacturers a competitive edge and go a long way in addressing waste management and supply side constraints.
What are the key takeaways from India’s solar story?
India has grown from strength to strength in overcoming barriers to achieve the 50 GW milestone in Feb 2022. The destination is clear, and the journey is progressing. As India attempts to deal with some of the shortcomings identified above, India’s solar story will continue to provide important lessons for other developing countries that are looking to transition to clean energy.
In addition to an impressive domestic track record, through the International Solar Alliance (ISA) established by India and France at COP-21 in 2015, there is a global platform to bring countries together to facilitate collaboration on issues such as mobilising investments, capacity building, program support and advocacy and analytics on solar energy. Technology sharing and finance could also become important aspects of ISA in the future, allowing a meaningful cooperation between countries in the solar energy sector.
5. An accidental missile launch
What has been the response from both Indian and Pakistan officials? Are India’s safety protocols compromised?
On March 9, a missile was “accidentally released” at around 7 PM from India which later landed inside the territory of Pakistan.
The Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said there were many “loopholes and technical lapses” in the “Indian handling of strategic weapons” and demanded a joint probe to “accurately establish the facts” surrounding the incident.
Since both India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states, any such accident could be mistaken for an attack with retaliatory measures taken by the other side, leading to further escalation.
The story so far: Making a statement in both Houses of Parliament on the accidental launch of the supersonic missile which ended up in Pakistan last week, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh informed that the government has taken serious note of the incident and a formal high level inquiry has been ordered which would determine the “exact cause” of the said accident.
What is the incident and what did the Government say?
Briefing on the incident which occurred on March 9, Mr. Singh said that during the routine maintenance and inspection, a missile was “accidentally released” at around 7 PM. It was later learnt that the missile had landed inside the territory of Pakistan. He further added, “While this incident is regretted, we are relieved that nobody was hurt due to the accident.”
Stating that the Government attaches highest priority to safety and security of the weapon systems and any shortcoming if found, would be immediately rectified, Mr. Singh said, “I would also like to state that a review of the Standard Operating Procedures for operations, maintenance and inspections is being conducted in the wake of this incident.”
The minister emphasised that the missile system is very reliable and safe. “Our safety procedures and protocols are of the highest order and are reviewed from time to time. Our armed forces are well-trained and disciplined and are well experienced in handling such systems”, he added.
What was Pakistan’s response?
The incident came to light after the Pakistan military held a press conference late on Thursday in which it said that they tracked the supersonic surface to surface missile from the time it took flight in Indian territory, manoeuvered and entered Pakistani airspace travelling 124 kms and fell near Mian Channu in Khanewal district, damaging some civilian property.
The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) continuously monitored the flight path of the missile, travelling at 40,000 feet, from its point of origin near Sirsa in India till its point of impact. The missile stayed in Pakistani territory for 3 minutes and 44 seconds.
Major General Babar Iftikhar, Director-General of the Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) also said that the PAF had initiated “requisite tactical actions” as per their standard operating procedures (SOPs) though he did not elaborate on it. He further added that the missile endangered many international and domestic passenger flights both in Indian and Pakistani airspace as well as human life and property on ground.
It was a day after this that the Defence Ministry issued a short statement that a “technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile” and that the Government of India had taken a “serious view” and has ordered a high-level Court of Enquiry.
Responding to this the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said there were many “loopholes and technical lapses” of a serious nature in “Indian handling of strategic weapons” and demanded a joint probe to “accurately establish the facts” surrounding the incident. It also raised several questions on the measures and procedures in place to prevent accidental missile launches and the particular circumstances of this incident.
Pakistan also summoned the Charge d’ Affaires (Cd’A) of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, twice, on the issue.
Which is the missile system in question and what is the larger implication of the incident?
The Government has not officially acknowledged which missile it was, but sources have indicated that it was the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile system. The description given by Pakistan on the technical characteristics of the missile fits that of BrahMos, product of a joint venture between India and Russia and named after the Brahmaputra and Moskva rivers.
BrahMos is a potent precision strike weapon with variants that can be launched from land, sea and air and a range of 290 kms deployed by all three Services.
No similar capability exists in the region and intercepting a supersonic cruise missile which can also maneuver and fly low to evade detection is extremely difficult.
Since India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in 2016, work has been on to extend the range of the missile for which several tests have been done. A hypersonic variant of the missile is also under development.
Both India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states with a range of tactical and strategic missiles in their inventory. Given the tense relationship, any such accident could be mistaken for an attack with retaliatory measures taken by the other side, leading to further escalation.
Invoking this aspect, Pakistan said that “given the short distances and response times, any misinterpretation by the other side could lead to counter measures in self-defence with grave consequences.” It further called upon the international community to take serious notice of this incident of “grave nature in a nuclearised environment and play its due role in promoting strategic stability in the region.”
While handling and launch of such advanced and potent missiles are highly regulated with several redundancies to avoid such accidents, this incident shows the need to review and make protocols fool proof to avoid any recurrence.
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