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India Revokes Kashmir’s Special Status, Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • India revoked a provision that gave the state of Kashmir autonomous powers. 
  • By revoking this, India’s central government now has more power over the region, which has long been at the center of disputes between India and Pakistan.
  • India claims that this decision was made for the security of the region, but many are criticizing the move saying it was a power grab.

India Revokes Article 370

India’s government revoked the constitutional provision that gave the state of Kashmir certain autonomous powers in a highly controversial move announced Monday.

For context, Kashmir refers to both a state and a region. As a region, Kashmir has been a flashpoint of conflict in the area since India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947. 

Originally, Kashmir had wanted to be independent from the two countries, but they ultimately decided to join India under the condition that they would be able to have some autonomy.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

That autonomy was granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which is the provision that India revoked Monday.

Under that provision, Kashmir was allowed their own constitution, flag, and to make their own laws, with the exception of laws regarding defense communications and foreign affairs, which were left to India’s central government to decide.

After Kashmir joined India, India and Pakistan went to war over the region. The two nations eventually agreed to divide Kashmir along a ceasefire line called the Line of Control.

Today, the region is divided between India, Pakistan, and China, though India and Pakistan each claim the region fully belongs to them.

India controls the largest part of the region, which until now was the Indian state called Jammu and Kashmir. However, there has still been a lot of violence and clashes both internally and between India and Pakistan.

Since the 1990s, separatists in Indian-controlled Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule, a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.

Then in February, India and Pakistan clashed in the region after a militant group reportedly killed dozens in an attack on Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi later claimed his government had struck a large terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir, but Pakistani authorities denied that occurrence.

What Does It Mean?

Given Kashmir’s significance both historically and contemporarily, India’s announcement Monday represents a significant shift.

On the very top-level, the Indian government said it is going to break up the state of Kashmir into two federal territories.

One of those territories will still be called Jammu and Kashmir, and it will have a state legislature. The other will be called Ladakh and will not get its own legislature.

Now that the article has been removed, Kashmir will have to abide by the Indian Constitution and Indian laws. Essentially, the move will give the central government in India a lot more control over Kashmir while simultaneously gutting much of its previous autonomy.

Also of note, the Indian government additionally said Monday that they are revoking another provision that had prevented nonresidents from buying property in Kashmir. 

That is massively consequential because Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority state. Now that other Indians can buy property and move to Kashmir, some experts are worried the demographics of the region will change, creating tensions between Hindus and Muslims not just in the region but all over India.

Others believe that making Kashmir more Hindu is exactly what Modi, who is a staunch Hindu Nationalist, wants. During his recent re-election campaign, one of Modi’s promises was that he would revoke Article 370.

At least right now, Indian authorities are more concerned about the spike in tensions that the annoucement itself will cause in Kashmir. According to local media reports, the central government sent 35,000 troops to the region last week in anticipation.

The Indian government also evacuated tourists, closed all schools, and cut off internet access entirely. Currently, the people of Kashmir are essentially on lockdown and in a media blackout.

Response

While the Indian government claims it made the move in order to better ensure security in the region, many argue it is just a blatant power grab.

When the decision was announced, it was met with loud jeers from opposition leaders. 

Many in India have also argued that the move is illegal and unconstitutional, pointing out the fact that under the Constitution, Article 370 cannot be unilaterally removed and could only be changed with the consent of the state government.

The constitutional argument could set up a scenario where the government’s decision is brought to the country’s Supreme Court.

The government of Pakistan responded by condemning the decision, and saying it violates international law and United Nation resolutions.

In a statement, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it would “exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also condemned the move and noted in a tweet that President Donald Trump had offered to mediate the crisis.

India for its part has repeatedly said it does not want Trump to intervene. 

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman responded in a statement Monday, saying that the U.S. is “closely following” the situation, which she added was a “strictly an internal matter.”

“We are concerned about reports of detentions and urge respect for individual rights and discussion with those in affected communities,” the spokeswoman said. “We call on all parties to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control.”

China, which also controls part of Kashmir, has also condemned the move.

Many experts and political leaders anticipate that India’s move will just create more violence and conflict in the region. While Kashmir is essentially under lockdown, protests have broken out all over Pakistan, where protestors reportedly yelled: “down with India!”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Khan said he expects terrorist violence to increase because of the move. Khan also accused India’s leadership of promoting “racist ideology,” continuing, “I fear they may initiate ethnic cleansing in Kashmir to wipe out the local population.”

“If India attacks us, we will respond. We will fight until the last drop of blood,” he added

See what others are saying: (Vox) (The Washington Post) (BBC)

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Protests Erupt in India Over Proposed Citizenship Bill

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  • Protests broke out all over India after the lower house of Parliament passed a bill that would give citizenship to religious minorities who illegally immigrated to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
  • Muslims are not included on that list, prompting many to worry that the bill would make it easier to jail and deport Muslims residents in India—including those whose families have lived in India for generations.
  • Critics say the bill violates India’s secular constitution, which protects all religions, and that it is a targeted attack on Muslims by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party.

Protests in India

Protests erupted in India on Monday as the country’s lower house of Parliament debated and passed a controversial piece of legislation called the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

If implemented, the bill would grant citizenship to religious minorities who illegally immigrated to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. In order to become a citizen, those individuals would have to live in India for six years and take a test to prove that they belong to one of six religions. 

The religions that would be eligible for citizenship in India are Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and Parsis. Notably, not included on that list are Muslims.

The bill would represent a huge shift for India, which is a secular country and has a constitution that mandates that all religions be treated equally.

As a result, many have described the bill as the most significant move to change the secular nature of the country since it gained independence in 1947.

The bill would also make it easier to jail and deport Muslims residents in India, including those whose families have lived there for generations, but who do not have proof of citizenship. That could leave millions of Muslims in India stateless.

The bill was first introduced back in 2016 and passed the lower house, but it was dropped by the upper chamber after massive protests against the bill.

Following the re-introduction of the bill, protestors have come out to oppose it, with reports of demonstrations and marches in multiple cities all over India.

In the state of Assam—where people strongly opposed the bill the first time it was proposed—protesters have reportedly blocked roads, burnt tires, and painted walls with slogans against the bill. Shops, businesses, and schools to close as a result.

Opponents of the Bill 

The protesters are not alone in their opposition to the citizenship bill.

Opponents and many legal experts say the legislation would violate India’s secular constitution. Opposition parties have also argued that it discriminates against Muslims, which make up nearly 15% of India’s population.

Many Muslims in India say this discrimination is a very intentional plan on the part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to make Muslims second-class citizens in India.

Modi is a staunch Hindu nationalist, meaning that he believes India is and should be a Hindu nation.

Ever since he and the BJP were re-elected earlier this year, he has significantly ramped up his efforts to advance his Hindu-nationalist agenda.

One of the most prominent examples of this is the situation in Kashmir. Back in August, Modi stripped Kashmir of its statehood and autonomy.

The move very significantly gave India’s central government much more power over Kashmir, which had been one of the only Muslim-majority territories in India. Modi also sent tens of thousands of troops to the region, basically putting the territory on total lockdown.

That lockdown has largely remained in place since August, with widespread internet and phone restrictions remain in place to clamp down on protests. Shops, businesses, and schools in Kashmir have largely stayed closed.

Additionally, over the summer, Modi’s government started a program in Assam that was very similar to the one proposed in the Citizenship Amendment Bill. 

Under that program, all 33 million residents of the state had to provide documents to the government that proved their ancestors were Indian citizens.

The program ultimately resulted in nearly two million people—many of whom Muslims and lifelong residents of India—being left off the state’s citizenship rolls.

As a result, critics say the citizenship bill is just part of Modi’s efforts to identify and deport or even intern Muslims who have lived in India for years or generations.

Critics and opposition leaders have also tried to paint the bill as endangering democracy in India.

“We are heading toward totalitarianism, a fascist state,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim Member of Parliament. “We are making India a theocratic country.”

Supporters of the Bill

Modi and his party have defended the citizenship bill, arguing that it is simply an attempt to protect persecuted religious minorities who migrate from predominantly Muslim countries like Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The bill’s supporters also argue that Muslims are not persecuted in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan.

While that is true, critics argue that it is a justification that ignores Muslim prosecution in other countries that neighbor India.

“If [the] Indian government, through this bill, wants to give citizenship to persecuted minorities in the neighbouring countries, how can it exclude the Rohingya of Myanmar who are far more persecuted than any other group in the neighbourhood,” Faizan Mustafa, an expert on constitutional law told Al Jazeera.

Now, the legislation will head to Parliament’s upper chamber where, according to reports, Modi seems to have enough allies that most analysts and experts say the citizenship bill will soon become law.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times) (BBC)

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New Zealand Volcano Eruption Leaves At Least Five Dead

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  • At least five people were killed and eight more are reported missing after a volcano erupted in New Zealand on Monday. 
  • It is believed 47 people were on White Island at the time of the eruption, including New Zealand natives and foreign tourists. Thirty-four people were rescued.
  • Further rescue operations are on hold because the physical environment has been deemed unsafe, but police have reported that there are “no signs of life” on the island. 
  • Alerts that detailed increased activity of the volcano were issued in the weeks prior to the eruption.

Deadly Eruption

Authorities have confirmed at least five people are dead and eight more are reported missing after a volcano erupted in New Zealand on Monday.

New Zealand police believe that 47 people were on White Island, also known as Whakaari, when it erupted just after 2 p.m. local time. Thirty-four people were rescued and taken to hospitals to have their injuries treated, including both tourists and New Zealand natives. 

Videos posted to social media show enormous plumes of smoke.

John Tims, the deputy police commissioner, announced that rescue operations are currently on hold because of the unsafe physical environment of the island and the risk of another eruption.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that official aircraft have flown over the island since the eruption and that “no signs of life have been seen at any point.” 

“Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island,” New Zealand police said in a statement.

Cruise Ship Identified

Royal Caribbean cruise line confirmed that some of the people on the island at the time the volcano erupted were passengers from one of their ships. 

A spokesperson from Royal Caribbean told the New York Times that the company is “working together with local authorities and providing all the help and care we can to our guests and their families, including offering medical resources and counseling.”

Previous Volcanic Activity Warning

GeoNet, an agency that monitors geological hazard information for New Zealand, has been reporting noticeable levels of volcanic activity on White Island since late September. They issued an alert as recently as Dec. 3. 

“Observations and data to date suggest that the volcano may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal,” they said in the bulletin last week. “These eruptions can occur with little or no warning.”

GeoNet also wrote in last week’s alert that “the current level of activity does not pose a direct hazard to visitors.”

When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked if people shouldn’t have been allowed on the island because of the heightened volcanic activity, she declined to give a concrete answer. 

“In this moment in time, the absolute focus needs to be the search and rescue operation…” she said. “…There will be a time and a place to undertake further assessments. Now we have to focus on allowing the police to do their job and focus on those who were in the vicinity of the island at the time.” 

New Zealand police have set up both local and international phone numbers that concerned friends and families can call. Red Cross has also set up a Family Links website to update loved ones of those affected by the eruption.  

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Telegraph) (Guardian)


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Thousands Paralyze France in Pension Reform Protests

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  • Massive worker strikes and protests have shut down schools, transportation services, and museums in France.
  • Though largely peaceful, there have been reports of protesters throwing projectiles at police, smashing windows, and setting fires.
  • The strike, which is expected to last into the weekend, is in protest of planned pension reforms proposed by President Emmanuel Macron. 
  • Under Macron’s policy, many workers fear they would need to work longer before accessing a pension that would ultimately give them less money.

Strikes Shut Down Trains, Flights, and Schools

Hundreds of thousands of French workers went on strike across the country on Thursday in protest of a proposed new pension reform system.

Under the new system, many unions worry people will need to work longer to see less money than they would under the current system. 

As of midday, French officials are reporting that more than 280,000 people have joined protests across the country; however, that figure doesn’t include counts from major cities like Paris and Lyon.

The protests, which are expected to continue Friday and likely to extend into the weekend, have shut down train lines and canceled flights.  

According to reports, 90% of high-speed and inter-city trains have been canceled. In Paris, only five of 16 of the city’s metro lines ran Thursday. Further, the international train company Eurostar said it will be operating with a reduced timetable until Tuesday.

Air France has also canceled 30% of domestic flights and 10% of short-haul international flights, that coming amid mass walkouts by air traffic controllers.

If all of that wasn’t enough to cripple transportation, one group is reportedly drawing over the QR codes on e-scooters like Bird so that people can’t use them. 

Additionally, according to the education ministry, half of primary school teachers and 42% of secondary school teachers are on strike today. The end result led to some school closing for the day. 

Tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower and museums were also closed, but more notably, many feared hospital staffing shortages as many medical workers walked out to demonstrate. 

For their part, several trade union leaders have promised to continue to strike until Macron abandons his planned pension overhaul.

Reports of Violence

In Paris alone, 6,000 police have been deployed. Reports indicate that 71 people have been arrested in Paris by 3:30 p.m. local time.

With those arrests, there have also been several reports of clashing between police and protesters, with protesters hurling projectiles at police. Police in several cities have since responded with tear gas. 

Videos of protesters setting fires to object in the streets have also surfaced. 

Because the protest in Paris is so huge, the city’s police chief told all businesses and restaurants along the major march routes to close. Later within the day, new reports surfaced that some protesters had smashed in the windows of some businesses.

French President Emmanuel Macron, however, was described by one senior official as “calm and determined” in the face of the strikes —

Macron is “watchful that public order be respected, watchful as to the difficulties for French people, and watchful also that the right to strike is respected,” the aide said.

Why is France Considering Pension Reform?

Currently, France has 42 different pension systems across both the private and public sectors. That means that people retire at different times and will see different benefits. 

Under different forms of the system, for example, aircrews and rail workers get to retire earlier, but people like lawyers and doctors pay a lower tax.

The official age of retirement in France is 62, which is one of the earliest retirement ages in wealthy countries, but that hurdle has already been raised from 60 within the last decade. 

Macron, who campaigned on the promise of pension reform, now says he wants to introduce a universal, points-based pension system. While Macron says such a pension system would help the country compete globally in the 21st century, such a system would mean that some of the most advantageous pension plans would be scrapped. 

Secondly, if a person were to retire before 64, they would end up seeing a lower pension. For example, if they retire at 63, they would see about 5% less.

French people, however, have generally supported pension reform, with one poll showing 75% of people saying they believed pension reform was necessary. Of those polled, only one-third of people said they thought the government could pull off reform.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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