New Delhi, India – A Hindu priest lights up a sacred fire and chants from his scriptures, surrounded under a large tent by dozens of Muslim women, some sporting vermillion on their foreheads – a gesture of reverence usually displayed by the Hindus.
The priest was participating in an interfaith prayer ceremony held on Thursday at New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, a Muslim-dominated neighbourhood in India’s capital, where an all-women sit-in has turned into the epicentre of nationwide protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The CAA fast tracks Indian nationality for non-Muslims who are from three Muslim-majority neighbouring countries – Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – and who came to India before 2015.
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Opposition parties and critics say the CAA violates India’s secular constitution by making religion a marker of citizenship, and they have challenged the law in the Supreme Court.
Faced with an ongoing National Population Register (NPR) and a proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) across India, Muslims, who form 15 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population, fear the steps are aimed at marginalising them.
Since the passage of the CAA pushed by the governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in December, millions of Indians have hit the streets in sometimes deadly protests, demanding its withdrawal.
At Shaheen Bagh, protesters led by Muslim women have blocked a major highway since December 16, a day after police stormed into two Muslim-dominated universities to break anti-CAA protests, firing tear gas and stun grenades and wounding more than a hundred students.
People from various faiths participate in a community prayer at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi [Sumaira Rizvi/Al Jazeera]
‘It has united us all’
Since then, Shaheen Bagh has become a site of popular resistance, where people belonging to all religions join its women demonstrators, raising slogans such as “Save the constitution” and “People’s unity, long live”.
On Thursday, an interfaith prayer ceremony was organised at the site, where priests from India’s major religions – Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity – read from their holy books to underscore communal amity.
“I thank [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi and [Home Minister Amit] Shah for giving us Shaheen Bagh. It has united us all,” said Sant Yuvraj, the 52-year-old priest who performed the Hindu rituals.
“The havan [sacred fire] is our response to whatever is happening in the country,” he told Al Jazeera.
At Shaheen Bagh- Muslims are protesting- Sikhs are preparing food – Christians are reading bible- and hindus performed a ‘hawan’ YesterdyThis Love & Unity is what rattles Bhakts & their Bigot Netas the mostNo wonder they all hate SHAHEEN BAGH coz they Hate United India
— Nенr_wно™ (@Nehr_who) February 7, 2020
Sister Daphne, 65, who led the recitation of the Bible at the ceremony, felt the communal prayers will ensure peace in the country.
“We want to follow the policy of live and let live,” said Daphne, who belongs to the All Saints’ Church of Faridabad, one of New Delhi’s satellite towns.
A Sikh choir group sang hymns from their holy book, while a Muslim priest led a prayer, with the protesters joining their hands to ask for God’s blessings.
The plurality of the exercise was reflected in slogans raised, which ranged from the Hindu “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram) to the Muslim “Allah hu-Akbar” (Allah is the greatest), the Sikh “Jo bole, so nihaal, Sat Sri Akal” (Shout aloud in ecstasy, eternal is the Holy), and the Christian “Jai Yeeshu” (Hail Jesus).
The event also saw a breaking of sartorial stereotypes. Several Muslims, Christians and Sikhs were seen wearing the vermillion mark on their forehead. Some Hindu men came wearing skullcaps.
Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while criticising the anti-CAA protesters, had said they could be identified by their clothes, an oblique reference to Muslims.
A man holds the Holy Bible during the interfaith prayer ceremony at Shaheen Bagh [Sumaira Rizvi/Al Jazeera]
Hate campaign ahead of Delhi polls
The interfaith meet came amid a relentless attack by the BJP leaders including Modi and Shah, who critics said were trying to polarise voters ahead of the crucial Delhi assembly election, to be held on Saturday.
The BJP’s poll campaign saw its leaders invoking people to “shoot” the protesters, drawing reprimand from the Indian election commission.
On February 1, an armed man fired two rounds at Shaheen Bagh as he raised Hindu slogans. While the police were taking him away, he said “only Hindus will prevail” in the country.
Against such a tense backdrop, Fatima, a 30-year-old Muslim woman who had been participating in the sit-in for more than a month, described the interfaith event as a “beautiful gesture”.
“The leaders of BJP are trying to malign Shaheen Bagh in order to polarise people and gain benefit in Delhi elections. But we will not let that happen,” she told Al Jazeera.
Harinder Bindu, a 43-year-old Sikh woman farmer from the western state of Punjab, covered a distance of 200 kilometres (125 miles) to join the Shaheen Bagh protest.
She said the event showed how secular the anti-citizenship law protest was.
“This meet busts allegations that Shaheen Bagh is mini-Pakistan. The people protesting here are from all religions and they all are Indians,” she told Al Jazeera.
Agreeing with her, the Hindu priest Yuvraj added he had been performing the rituals for over three decades, but it never felt more gratifying than what he performed at Shaheen Bagh.
Activist John Dayal, a member of the National Integration Council of India, a body that promotes religious harmony, said such prayer meetings were a reminder that India is a plural country.
“We need to be constantly reminded that we are diverse, and yet, we have an Indian identity,” Dayal told Al Jazeera.
In Search of India’s Soul: From Mughals to Modi
Indian army admits wrongdoing in killing three Kashmiris |NationalTribune.com
Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – The Indian army says its soldiers exceeded powers under the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the killing of three local civilians in southern Indian-administered Kashmir earlier this year. On July 18, Indian armed forces said they killed three unidentified “rebels” in Amshipora village in Shopian. An Indian army…
Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – The Indian army says its soldiers exceeded powers under the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the killing of three local civilians in southern Indian-administered Kashmir earlier this year.
On July 18, Indian armed forces said they killed three unidentified “rebels” in Amshipora village in Shopian.
An Indian army spokesperson on Friday said the victims were now identified as residents of Rajouri district whose families had filed a complaint accusing soldiers of killing them in a staged gun battle.
“The inquiry ordered by the Army authorities into op Amshipora has been concluded. The inquiry has brought out certain prima facie evidence indicating that during the operation, powers vested under the AFSPA 1990 were exceeded,” Colonel Rajesh Kalia, the army spokesperson, said in a statement.
“The evidence collected by the inquiry has prima-facie indicated that the three unidentified terrorists killed in Op Amshipora were Imtiyaz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed and Mohd Ibrar, who hailed from Rajouri. Their DNA report is awaited. Their involvement with terrorism or related activities is under investigation by the police,” the statement said.
The statement by police claimed army personnel were shot at during a search operation.
Days after the incident, a photograph of the three people killed went viral on social media following which the three families identified them and filed the complaint.
After the army’s rare admission of guilt on Friday, Muhammad Naseeb Khatana, cousin of Muhammad Ibrar told Al Jazeera the three men, all of them cousins, left Rajouri for Shopian to work as labourers.
“They reached Shopian on July 17 and that evening was the last time we talked to them. It was during the coronavirus lockdown and we thought they might have been quarantined. We kept waiting but there was no news,” said Khatana.
“When we saw the photograph, we filed a report in which we identified our relatives who were dubbed militants by the army. What more injustice could they do to the innocent people.”
Another family member said they have been deliberately denied DNA reports “for too long”.
“On August 3, our samples were taken and there is no report until now,” the relative said.
“Today, they called one member of each family and admitted that the three were killed in a fake encounter. We want them to bring those people who killed them in front of us and punish them. We want the bodies of our family members.”
Ibrar, the youngest of the trio, worked as a labourer to save money for his education, his family told Al Jazeera.
Human rights activists in Kashmir see the encounter as a gun battle in which civilians were dubbed “rebels” and killed by the army to claim monetary benefits and medals.
In May 2010, large scale protests erupted in Kashmir after a police investigation revealed the army killed three civilians in a staged gun battle at Machil area near the Line of Control in the frontier Kupwara district.
The three labourers were lured to Machil and killed there before being labelled “militants” by the army to claim a reward.
Under AFSPA, a counterterrorism law with sweeping provisions, security forces enjoy “widespread impunity”.
It grants “powers” to members of the armed forces in “disturbed areas” like Kashmir to shoot-to-kill or arrest suspected people.
Section 7 of the AFSPA provides virtual impunity for human rights violations by security forces personnel, as any civilian prosecution can only proceed after obtaining prior sanction from the central government.
In the 30 years this law has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir, that authorisation has never been granted.
Parvez Imroz, a noted human rights lawyer in the region, told Al Jazeera: “This incident cannot be taken in isolation.
“They were civilians, the statement doesn’t mention it. It mentions them as terrorists.
“This incident cannot be taken in isolation, the culture of the army in 30 years needs to be looked at. The history is that the army has complete impunity, they cannot be prosecuted and punished.
“They might try to silence families unofficially which they have done in many cases in Kashmir.”
Indian special forces member killed in China border skirmish |NationalTribune.com
A soldier of Tibetan origin with India’s special forces has reportedly been killed in the latest border confrontation between India and China on their contested Himalayan border, fuelling concerns of a wider military confrontation between the two regional powers. The death is the first reported from two incidents occurring within 48 hours on the border,…
A soldier of Tibetan origin with India’s special forces has reportedly been killed in the latest border confrontation between India and China on their contested Himalayan border, fuelling concerns of a wider military confrontation between the two regional powers.
The death is the first reported from two incidents occurring within 48 hours on the border, two months after a battle that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead.
India and China, which fought a border war in 1962, have each accused the other of trying to cross their unofficial frontier in the Ladakh region in an attempt to gain territory.
Neither side has announced any casualties, but Namgyal Dolkar Lhagyari, a member of the Tibetan parliament in exile, told AFP news agency on Tuesday that the Tibetan-origin soldier was “martyred during the clash” on Saturday night. She did not identify the soldier by name.
She said another member of the Special Frontier Force, which reportedly includes many ethnic Tibetans who oppose China’s claim to their home region, was wounded in the operation.
India says 20 soldiers killed in border clash with China
The world’s two most populous countries have sent tens of thousands of troops to the region since a brutal June 15 battle fought with wooden clubs and fists.
India has said 20 troops were killed. China has acknowledged casualties but has not given figures.
The two sides have blamed each other for the latest incidents.
Meanwhile, the United States said on Tuesday it was closely monitoring the border dispute, adding that it hoped for a peaceful resolution.
Earlier, India’s defence ministry said Chinese troops “carried out provocative military movements to change the status quo” at the border on Saturday.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said that India was “seriously violating China’s territorial sovereignty” with its operation on Monday and demanded that Indian troops withdraw.
A Chinese embassy spokeswoman in New Delhi also denied that Chinese troops started the latest flare-up, accusing Indian troops of trespassing across the Line of Actual Control – the de facto border – and conducting “flagrant provocations”.
India’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that China had caused the latest incident “even as ground commanders of the two sides were in discussions to de-escalate the situation.”
“Due to timely defensive action, the Indian side was able to prevent these attempts from unilaterally altering the status quo,” ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said in a statement.
India-china tensions: Calls for boycott of Chinese products
Indian media reports, quoting military sources, said PLA forces tried to take hilltops traditionally claimed by India around Pangong Tso, a lake at an altitude of 4,200 metres (13,800 feet).
India’s defence ministry said its troops “undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground”.
In a statement on Tuesday, a United States Department of State spokesperson said Washington was closely monitoring the border dispute between India and China and it hoped for a peaceful resolution.
After the deadly incident in June, the most serious clash between the two countries in 50 years, both sides agreed to pull back with military chiefs in the region holding five rounds of talks.
But the Indian military said this week that Beijing had reneged on the agreement.
Since then, there have been growing calls in India to boycott Chinese goods, and New Delhi has repeatedly warned that relations would suffer unless Chinese troops pull back.
India has banned at least 49 Chinese owned-apps, including the TikTok video platform, frozen Chinese firms out of contracts and held up Chinese goods at customs posts as tensions have increased.
Indian journalists assaulted by Hindu mob in New Delhi |NationalTribune.com
Three Indian journalists were attacked by a Hindu mob while reporting on a story in the capital, New Delhi, on Tuesday, the journalists have told Al Jazeera. Journalist Shahid Tantray and two colleagues were filming for The Caravan magazine in northeast Delhi, which was hit by religious violence in February. At least 53 people were killed…
Three Indian journalists were attacked by a Hindu mob while reporting on a story in the capital, New Delhi, on Tuesday, the journalists have told Al Jazeera.
Journalist Shahid Tantray and two colleagues were filming for The Caravan magazine in northeast Delhi, which was hit by religious violence in February. At least 53 people were killed in that violence, most of them Muslims.
Tantray, who is from Indian-administered Kashmir, said they were shooting video when a small group of Hindus, including a man who identified himself as a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), asked him why he was taking visuals there.
I stood like a wall between Shahid (Tantray) and the Hindu crowd. It was actually a do or die situation for me to save him.
Prabhjit Singh, journalist
“They grew suspicious after seeing my name on my press card,” Tantray, 28, told Al Jazeera.
“The BJP man shouted that he (Tantray) is a Muslim and started calling more people to the scene,” he said.
“The mob beat me, punched on my neck and back, and tried to strangle me with the camera strap. I have pain in my neck as well as lower back since then.”
‘Their enemy was Tantray – a Muslim’
He added that the mob kept them as “hostages” for nearly 90 minutes. His colleague, Prabhjit Singh, tried to shield him from the furious mob until two policemen stationed nearby arrived.
An additional team of police was called to save the journalists from the mob. They were later taken to the nearest police station.
Singh, a contributory writer at The Caravan, dubbed as India’s New Yorker, said Tantray and a female reporter were capturing a scene of a local street decked out with religious flags associated with Hindu far-right groups, when three to four men came out and started shouting at them for taking pictures.
[Photo courtesy of Prabhjit Singh]
As a man kept asking for Tantray’s name, Singh began calling Tantray by a Hindu name, “Sagar”. “Chalo Sagar yahan se’ (Let’s go from here, Sagar),” Singh, who is a Sikh, told Tantray as he wanted to save him from the mob.
“I could clearly see the hatred in their eyes, the communally frenzied eyes. I wore a turban as a Sikh and they were conscious of my religious identity, too. But their enemy was Shahid (Tantray), a Muslim,” Singh told Al Jazeera.
“I stood like a wall between Shahid (Tantray) and the Hindu crowd. It was actually a do or die situation for me to save him.”
More people later gathered and the mob grew to about 100 people, he said.
“While the female colleague managed to get out of the street, the mob locked up the gate of the colony and confined Shahid (Tantray) and me there on the street,” Singh, 50, told Al Jazeera.
The New Delhi-based magazine also claimed that the female reporter was sexually harassed.
The mob … tried to strangle me with the camera strap. I felt closely the dangers that are prevalent for Indian Muslims. But I will not halt my work.
Shahid Tantray, journalist
A police statement on Wednesday said the complaints were being investigated and appropriate legal action would be taken.
“Taking pictures without consent may provoke those present and create Law and Order problems including communal problems,” the statement said.
The videos that Tantray had captured were finally deleted in the presence of police, who have yet to lodge a FIR (First Information Report or formal police complaint) regarding the incident.
“If this is happening to a journalist, we can only imagine what would be happening to people without such avenues that are available to journalists,” Tantray told Al Jazeera.
“I am definitely scared, and I felt closely the dangers that are prevalent for Indian Muslims. But I will not halt my work. As a journalist I feel it is my responsibility to bring out the truth.”
Delhi violence victim: ‘I thought I wouldn’t survive’
The attack has been condemned by rights groups and journalists.
Vinod Jose, the executive editor of The Caravan, described it as “an attack on journalism and free and fair reporting”.
Hartosh Singh Bal, the magazine’s political editor, said the attack was “the culmination of basically increase in Islamophobia and distrust of the media”.
It’s truly outrageous that the police take such a relaxed attitude to this sort of incident.
Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator
“There was Islamophobia involved in the attack. It was clear from language that was used, from what was done and how they reacted to the very presence of a Muslim as a reporter,” Bal told Al Jazeera.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) demanded a thorough police investigation into the attack.
Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia Program coordinator, said attacks on journalists in India have become “all too common”. “But it’s truly outrageous that the police take such a relaxed attitude to this sort of incident,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Police should vigorously enforce the rights of journalists to work without harassment. Unless that happens, these sort of incidents could easily continue.”
Amnesty International India raised concerns against attacks on journalists.
“Yet another dangerous day for journalists in the country. Journalists from The Caravan magazine, India Today, The News Minute and Suvarna News were attacked yesterday in Delhi and Bengaluru,” Amnesty International India wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
“Journalism is not a crime and the Delhi and Bengaluru police must show its commitment towards protecting journalists by filing an FIR and ensuring those responsible are held accountable,” the statement said.
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