1. India’s complex position on Islamophobia
India’s assertion criticising the OIC Resolution on Islamophobia was valid, but could have made a reference to Indian Muslims
Last week, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a consensus Resolution declaring March 15 annually as the ‘International Day to Combat Islamophobia’. Introducing the draft document on behalf of its main sponsor, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN, Munir Akram, said that the OIC had “extensively” discussed the proposal with interested delegations for a year and the same process continued once a draft text was introduced in February this year. There is little doubt that India and the European Union (EU), which had major difficulties with the very basis of the proposal, would have discussed it with the OIC, but obviously could not persuade it to their viewpoints.
Concessions by OIC
Islamophobia connotes fear of and prejudice, discrimination and hate speech against Islam. Muslims worldwide complain about negative stereotyping of their faith which has got exacerbated since the al Qaeda’s 9/11 terrorist attacks and other instances of terrorist violence undertaken by Islamist groups. They assert that these acts are not in keeping with Islam. They also emphasise, as Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan did during his address to the UNGA in 2019, that “…that there is no such thing as radical Islam (and) there are radical fringes in every society”. Mr. Khan also regretted that “suicide attacks are equated with Islam” and the marginalisation of Muslims in European countries. He admitted, though, that the Western world does not “look at religion the way that we do”.
It is obvious that the OIC made many concessions till the last moment in order to achieve consensus. It stuck to its desire to get a resolution on combating Islamophobia, but in the process, had to place it in within the framework of previous resolutions of a general nature which seek to promote tolerance and religious freedoms and combat discrimination and violence flowing from a variety of reasons. In the Resolution’s operative part, the OIC had to agree to a call for a dialogue for peace based on “respect for human rights and diversity of religions and beliefs”. And significantly, while submitting the Resolution, the OIC had to withdraw its call for “high-visibility events” by member states, for curbing Islamophobia. It now only wants the observation of March 15 in “an appropriate manner”.
Immediately after the Resolution’s adoption, India’s Permanent Representative T.S. Tirumuti exercised his right to explain India’s stand. His statement criticising the Resolution has attracted media attention. The fact that by not breaking the consensus India, at least formally, accepted the Resolution, has become somewhat obscured. India’s basic contention was encapsulated in these words “It is time that we acknowledged the prevalence of religiophobia, rather than single out just one”. This was an entirely valid assertion. So was the contention that ‘phobias’ are just not against Abrahamic faiths but also against non-Abrahamic religions. Discriminatory, prejudicial and violent acts have taken place, as mentioned by Mr. Tirumurti, against Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. Non-Abrahamic faiths, though, perhaps do not evoke the same degree of fear and negativity worldwide but especially in the West as does Islam.
Mr. Tirumurti also mentioned India’s historical track record of giving refuge to the prosecuted members of different faiths. He specifically mentioned Zoroastrians, Jews and Buddhists. The reference to Buddhists was a not-so-subtle one to the Dalai Lama and his followers. While all this was fine, what was absent from Mr. Tirumurti’s intervention was any reference to Indian Muslims. This would not go without notice, especially as the Indian Muslim community is the second or third largest in the world.
Mr. Tirumurti did “condemn” Islamophobia along with all other religiophobia, but at that point he could have specifically added that India cannot but be concerned with Islamophobia because Muslims form a substantial part of the country’s plural society. Such a reference would have been appropriate for two other reasons too: one, the complaint that despite India’s desire, the word “pluralism” does not find any mention in the Resolution; and, two, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of India’s polity and society and the path of progress he aspires to lies in “sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas and sabka prayas”. That necessarily includes Indian Muslims as the ruling dispensation itself stresses to ward off allegations of anti-minorities bias. And a reference to Indian Muslims would not have detracted from Mr. Tirumurti’s basic warning that a focus on a single religion may lead to divisiveness when it is imperative that the UN is not divided into “religious camps”. India’s views in international fora have to be promoted with finesse and grace.
Like India, the EU’s opposition to the Resolution stemmed from “singling out a particular confession”, but its philosophical underpinnings were different. The EU placed its focus on individual rights and freedoms and not on protection of religions per se. Thus, its emphasis was on the rights of non-believers. The gulf between the EU and the OIC on the ambit of the freedom of expression is long standing and will not be easily bridged for, as Mr. Khan noted, the West does not see religion as “we do”. The EU’s views on an individual’s right to change religion may also not coincide with the view of traditional Islam which does not accept apostasy.
The politics surrounding the Resolution was best illustrated by the late entry of China as among its sponsors. China’s abysmal record of treatment of its Muslims, especially the Uighurs, is well known. Yet, the OIC has always adopted a soft approach towards China. It has essentially overlooked the persecution of its Muslim minorities, particularly of the Uighurs who have been ‘re-educated’ in large camps. Thus, China’s approach to the Resolution was brazen. Perhaps as a quid pro quo, the OIC once again gave China a free pass during its Foreign Minister’s meeting in Islamabad on March 22-23; the Chinese mistreatment of its Muslims does not find any mention in the Islamabad declaration. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was invited as a special guest at this meeting. In this context it is useful to recall Pakistan’s great opposition to the UAE inviting the then External Affairs Minister the late Sushma Swaraj in 2019 as guest of honour to the Abu Dhabi OIC Foreign Minister’s meeting.
2. Online voting for NRIs under consideration, says Kiren Rijiju
‘Linking Aadhaar with electoral rolls in the works, EVMs should not be doubted’
The Government of India was exploring the possibility of allowing online voting for non-resident Indians (NRIs) as well as considering linking Aadhaar with the electoral rolls to check fraudulent voting, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said in the Lok Sabha on Friday.
Mr. Rijiju also told the House that no questions should be raised about the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and asserted that India’s election system was recognised as “one of the best” in the world.
During the Question Hour, the Minister was responding to a supplementary question posed by Congress member from Kerala K. Muraleedharan about Pravasi Indians or NRIs being given voting rights.
“Sir, this is a very positive suggestion. And I have told the Election Commission that we will make provisions. Give us proper suggestions on how we will allow our people who are staying outside to be given an opportunity to vote. We are also thinking how online voting system can be encouraged or done,” Mr. Rijiju stated.
Talking about steps to prevent fraudulent voting and discrepancy in electoral rolls, he observed, “ Linking Aadhaar with the electoral roll is one of the ways. As of now, linking Aadhaar with electoral rolls is voluntary. Our aim is to ensure ‘one nation, one electoral roll’ to ensure a clean voting process”.
When Congress member Manish Tewari asked whether the source code of the EVMs remained with the manufacturing company or passed on to the Election Commission, the Minister compared it with the process of judicial appointments.
“The judges are appointed by the government, but once they are appointed, they become independent. No one should question the EVMs and there should not be any inference too,” he said.
Mr. Tewari insisted on getting a specific reply to a specific question. Speaker Om Birla intervened to say that the Indian democracy and its electoral process were highly praised the world over.
Voting right issue
The House also witnessed an argument between the Minister and Janata Dal (United) president Rajiv Ranjan Singh.
Answering a question, the Minster said every elector had the right to vote in elections and those in prisons were also encouraged to vote; but there cannot be compulsory voting.
Reacting to this, Mr. Singh said the Minister should be a little more ‘sensitive’ while replying. “When a person is sent in judicial custody, his fundamental rights are seized and voting is a fundamental right,” he explained.
Mr. Rijiju responded, stating that all citizens were equal for the government and, as Law Minister, he cannot say undertrials do not have the voting right. People contest and win elections from jail, he added.
3. Sri Lanka to set up special North-East fund
After meeting TNA leaders, Gotabaya agrees to look into concerns The Sri Lankan governmentwill set up a ‘North-East Development Fund’ to increase investments in the war-affected areas, while probing cases of enforced disappearances and land grabs that remain chief concerns of the Tamil people 13 years after the war ended.
The announcement came on Friday, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa met a delegation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the largest grouping of parliamentarians representing districts in the north and east. It was Mr. Rajapaksa’s first meeting with the country’s Tamil political leadership since his election to office in November 2019. The meeting took place for over two hours at the Presidential Secretariat, with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, his older brother and Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa, also present. The TNA has been demanding that the government deliver the long-pending political solution to Sri Lanka’s national question, through a new constitutional settlement. The demand was the thrust of TNA leader and veteran Tamil politician R. Sampanthan’s letter to President Rajapaksa ahead of the meeting, twice postponed before it was held on Friday. But the government sought to postpone the discussion on the political solution, as an experts’ committee report on constitutional proposals is expected to be made public within two months’ time, according to TNA spokesman and Jaffna legislator M.A. Sumanthiran.
The President meanwhile agreed to focus on four key areas, including possibly releasing long-term detainees under the country’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act — which the government recently amended but critics want repealed — and suspects held without being charged; ending the incessant land grabs in the north and east by different state agencies to allegedly change the demographics of the region; inquiring into cases of enforced disappearances and establishing a special development fund for the north and east, he said.
Families of disappeared persons, mainly women, have been protesting for years now, demanding the truth about their loved ones who went missing, or surrendered to the military during the civil war years or soon after. Mr. Gotabaya, who was Secretary to the Ministry of Defence during those years, has denied there were enforced disappearances then.
At Friday’s discussion, the President told the TNA that his government was working on “a number of issues”, including the release of suspects held in long-term detention, and those who have not been charged or prosecuted, the launch of “a truth-finding” mechanism, the amendment of the PTA and resolving “issues related to missing persons”, a statement from his office said.
President Gotabaya has in the past emphasised development over devolution, as the most important need for the war-affected areas. The initiative to set up a development fund exclusively for the war-affected areas comes nearly three years after his election, amid widespread joblessness, indebtedness, and poverty in the region that the pandemic and Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis have only aggravated.
4. RBI sets geo-tagging rules for payment touch points
‘Will help deepen digital payments’
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Friday released a framework for geo-tagging of payment system touch points, issuing instructions to bank and non bank payment system operators to maintain and submit to it the geographical locations of their touch points on a regular basis.
Stressing that it was focused on deepening digital payments, the RBI said it was committed to helping ensure inclusive access to all citizens at a time when the payments ecosystem in India had witnessed rapid developments with a bouquet of payment systems, platforms, products and services available for consumers.
“To achieve this objective, it is imperative that robust payment acceptance infrastructure is available and accessible across the length and breadth of the country. Geo-tagging of payment system touch points will enable proper monitoring of availability of payment acceptance infrastructure like Points of Sale (PoS) terminals, Quick Response (QR) codes.
“In turn, such monitoring will support policy intervention to optimise distribution of payment infrastructure,” the RBI said.