Dawn Editorial 21 December 2019

Tumult in India

OVER the past week, Hindutva backed by the brute force of the state has bared its fangs in India.
Hundreds have taken to the streets to protest the BJP-led government’s ill-planned moves of passing the Citizenship Amendment Act — which allows only non-Muslim refugees from some of India’s neighbouring states to apply for citizenship — and the introduction of the National Register of Citizens, widely seen as a fig leaf for stripping Indian Muslims of citizenship.
Clearly, there is an Islamophobic agenda behind these diabolical moves by the Modi clique, which is why India’s Muslims as well as conscientious citizens from other communities are protesting. Violence continued on Friday; at least 13 people have been killed in various cities so far, while hundreds have been temporarily detained as the state tries to put a lid on the protests. Curfew has also been enforced in certain areas, while the internet has been shut down in many cities.
While the Sangh Parivar was largely shunned in the post-independence era, because M.K. Gandhi’s assassin was an ideological child of the RSS, in today’s India, the storm troopers of Hindutva control the levers of state.
It is no surprise then that ever since coming to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to remake India in the image of the Sangh — a Hindu rashtra to be built on the model of a fabled Vedic golden age.
In this programme, there is no place for minorities, specifically India’s Muslims, hence the legal efforts to disenfranchise the community.
However, though the Sangh ideologues are trying their best to label Indian Muslims as ‘outsiders’, history points to another reality. Islam has existed in the subcontinent for over a millennium, while Muslims have been living in what is now India for centuries. That should remove any lingering doubts about the right of India’s Muslims to citizenship of that country. No bigoted law can be allowed to deprive them of their identity and dispossess them from the land of their ancestors.
As India drops the facade of a secular democracy and champions the politics of hyper-nationalism, the international community needs to speak up.
Under the Modi regime, Muslims have been lynched by vigilante mobs on suspicions of consuming or transporting beef and the world has kept silent. Under the BJP dispensation, India-held Kashmir has been under lockdown for months and its people held prisoner, but the world has looked away.
Now, as New Delhi lights the fires of communalism by disenfranchising millions of Muslim citizens, will the international community still keep silent?
Moreover, questions of identity and citizenship are best left to academics to discuss.
If zealots — guided by imagined histories — are put in charge of such sensitive matters, and worse, given the legal powers to decide who is and who is not a citizen, disaster is sure to ensue.


Gas price hike

THE government needs to carefully consider the determination by Ogra that a new round of gas price increases is required. The trade-offs involved are powerful and the decision requires careful consideration. The price increase is being sought mainly to help meet the costs of the two gas distribution companies, unlike instances when capital costs and future investment plans were also part of the proposed price hike. So long as the price hike is not entertained, both companies — the SSGC and SNGPL — will have reason to argue that they are operating under severe liquidity constraints, and their line ministry will be burdened with all manner of complaints, such as rising line losses due to lack of maintenance and poor recoveries. On the other hand, if the price hike is entertained expeditiously, it will drive inflation at a time when the monthly average is already rising faster than expected. The burden on the common citizenry is already very high; further increases in inflation will also negatively impact the interest rate environment at a time when the business community is keenly anticipating a rate cut before the summer of 2020.
The trade-off is there not only in the case of gas but also power prices, where the government is being urged by its donors to move more decisively to cut the circular debt, principally by passing the cost of this onto the consumers through the tariff. Much of the donor funding hangs in the balance as the government weighs its options. The decision is an important one and it must be informed by as diverse a set of interests as possible before it is notified. It would be a mistake to leave this up to the finance ministry alone, since it is more likely to take a narrow view of the matter, with the fiscal balance and the foreign exchange reserves as primary drivers of the decision. The impact on the larger citizenry and the economy needs to be factored in as well. It will be argued by the finance team that there are few alternatives beyond simple tariff hikes in both cases — gas and power — but somebody in the room needs to point out that the inefficiencies of the public distribution companies are at the heart of the problem, and that cost should not be passed onto consumers. How the government approaches this issue will reveal much about the quality of its decision-making while under pressure.


Chunian case

EARLIER this week, an anti-terrorism court in Lahore handed down the death penalty to Sohail Shahzad, who was convicted for kidnapping, raping and killing eight-year-old Faizan. The victim had gone missing with three other young boys in mid-September in Chunian, Kasur district. While this newspaper does not endorse capital punishment, the investigation of the case could serve as an example for law-enforcement officials who are dealing with such cases in other parts of the country. However, this small victory should not give the authorities reason for complacency. The move to reform the district police in Kasur should not lose steam and police officers must remain vigilant. The repeated instances of gruesome cases of child sexual abuse from the same area, combined with a list of 3,000 ‘bad characters’ — with suspected links to sexual crimes — prepared by the district police, means that there could be scores of other abused children in need of help but who remain silent. It should be remembered that though this particular case has reached its conclusion, promised steps such as the revival of child protection bureaus remain unfulfilled as do the pledges of additional material and human resources for the district police.
Similarly, the authorities, and society would do well constantly remind themselves that catching and awarding capital punishment to a child rapist-cum-killer does not necessarily guarantee a safe future for other children in the country. Instead, it is necessary to break our silence on the subject — unless there is a sustained discussion, sexual abuse cases will be ‘normalised’ as part of the societal makeup, and the perpetrators will strike again and again. According to the NGO Sahil, some 1,300 cases of child sexual abuse have been recorded across the country in the first six months of this year alone, but given the culture of silence around the subject these may be only a fraction of the actual number of incidents. This troubling fact alone should galvanise our law enforcers to crack down on the criminals.


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