Dawn Editorial 3 September 2019

Growing humanitarian crisis

THE scale of it is eye-watering: 1.9m people excluded from the final list of the National Register of Citizens in Assam, published by the Indian government on Saturday.
Read: Two million, mostly Muslims, face statelessness as India publishes controversial citizenship list
These are the people — mostly Bengali-speaking Muslims — that have been deemed to be ‘foreigners’ by virtue of being unable to prove that they or their forebears lived or entered India before March 1971, prior to which Bengalis were actively encouraged to migrate to India. Many have been living in Assam for decades, or have known no other home but India.
With the threshold for documentary proof high, and the appeals process long and murky, the process of updating the NRC has been mired in controversy given the BJP’s penchant for stoking anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment.
Narendra Modi’s home minister has gone as far as to promise that the NRC will be implemented across India, to root out those who he describes as ‘infiltrators’ and has likened to vermin.
Given that discrimination and dehumanisation are often precursors to a potential genocide, it is little wonder that human rights groups are so alarmed. Over 1,100 people are already imprisoned in Assam’s so-called foreigner detention centres. There are fears that mass internment is impending — or worse, such as forced displacements and genocidal massacres.
If the Rohingya crisis of 2017, when hundreds of thousands were stripped of Burmese citizenship and forced to flee Myanmar into Bangladesh, seemed a colossal human tragedy, what may occur in Assam might well be even more unimaginably catastrophic.
Rendering people stateless is an inhumane practice.
If an individual does not legally belong anywhere, then no nation is responsible for ensuring their rights, survival or even existence. While the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons does ensure basic protections, denying individuals a national identity effectively denies them the right to have rights, and states have in fact used the revocation of citizenship as a political tool to punish opponents and critics, and even change demographics. This is why even the handful of cases of Western-born IS fighters and collaborators being stripped of citizenship has been so contentious; though it is important to stress that, here, it is the lives of countless entirely innocent civilians that are at stake.
Rendering people of Bangladeshi-origin stateless — at risk of being alienated, killed or shunted about in internment centres and refugee camps — is an incalculable humanitarian crisis in the making.
India’s move in Assam will undoubtedly strain its ties with Bangladesh — which has shown no indication it will accept these ‘unwanted’ humans — but it is incumbent on both nations to negotiate a reasonable and humane settlement to this brewing crisis. Bangladesh must come to some sort of an agreement with India, and soon, as well as reconsider its policies with regard to the status of the stateless Rohingya seeking refuge within its borders.


Dengue outbreak

ONCE again, Peshawar is infested with disease-carrying mosquitoes. In the past month alone, 1,200 cases of dengue have been confirmed in many rural parts of the district, with hospitals seeing patients on a daily basis. Following recent rainfall in the country and rising temperatures, which provide an ideal breeding ground for dengue larvae, experts had been warning of the potential for an outbreak. In order to mitigate a health catastrophe, officials had to ensure district-wide cleanliness and drain out stagnant rainwater from low lying areas. Peshawar is particularly vulnerable and struggles with containing the spread of dengue each summer. Several cases of the disease were detected in a Peshawar village back in July, when 15 people were admitted to hospital, complaining of bloody vomiting, headache and fever. However, all warning signs were ignored, and a lack of coordination between the various district departments to ensure cleanliness, water supply to residents who had resorted to storing it, and fumigation efforts, have led to the current situation. This is not the first time the city has witnessed such a health disaster. In 2017, over 50 deaths were recorded after thousands of residents were admitted to hospital, and hundreds were diagnosed with the illness. Peshawar’s Khyber Teaching Hospital alone recorded 831 patients. Many of the areas that have reported dengue cases this time around are the same that were struggling with the outbreak two years ago.
Back then, KP reached out to the Punjab government to help it control the crisis. Health officials from Punjab informed physicians how to take care of ailing patients and stop the spread of the disease.The Punjab government, under then chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, had effectively combated its own dengue epidemic in 2011, aided with the knowledge and expertise of Sri Lankan medical teams, and enacted new laws to prevent such a health emergency from recurring. Indeed, such interprovincial initiatives are the need of the hour, but politics and pride often get in the way of public health concerns. For instance, when Sindh was struggling with a similar outbreak in 2015, it refused assistance and knowledge from the centre. Now, 235 cases of dengue have been reported in Karachi, which bizarrely seem to have largely affected Chinese nationals working at a nuclear plant site near Hawke’s Bay beach. Perhaps it is time for both KP and Sindh to work at ‘Punjab speed’, at least in the campaign against dengue.


Domestic cricket revamp

CRITICS and knowledgeable fans have taken the Pakistan Cricket Board’s recently unveiled, comprehensive plan to revamp domestic cricket with a pinch of salt. Every PCB chairman during the past two and a half decades attempted the same. However, each ended up making the problem much worse, primarily because they lacked a definite vision of how to go about it, or did not know how to implement something that requires considerable investment and massive restructuring. The current PCB regime too has started off on the wrong foot by abolishing departmental cricket and reducing the teams from 16 to just six — a preposterous idea on all counts.
PM Imran Khan, the board’s patron and a cricketing legend himself, has always admired Australia’s domestic cricket set-up — in which six main teams compete — and made no secret of his wish to see it replicated in Pakistan. However, the two countries are vastly different from each other. Australia’s total population is around 25m and cricket is just one among several major and equally popular sports played there. In Pakistan, with its massive population of over 220m, cricket hugely overshadows all other sports, even to the extent of their growth and viability. Former players and experts have often considered even the existing 16 teams as too few, and baulked at the PCB’s recent drastic reduction in their number. Having said that, there certainly appears to be more method than madness in the PCB’s recently announced revamp plan, as factors such as the trickle-down effect and nitty-gritty of such an overhaul have been carefully looked at. More importantly, the players stand to earn a handsome amount at the end of the domestic season due to the retainer and match fees, allowances and prize money; that will surely attract the young and talented in droves. However, the board must revive club cricket which produced so much new talent in the past, and reorganise the game at the grass-roots level to ensure the revamp yields handsome results.


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