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Muslims in India stand up to Hindu nationalism

International | The ruling party loses ground in a bellwether election
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 2/11/20, 05:07 pm

For more than 50 days, thousands of activists in New Delhi have sipped tea, sang songs, created art, and shared their stories with their children. And they have done it all from the middle of a major highway through the city.

But as votes were counted from the weekend’s local legislative elections, the protesters—most of them Muslim women—fell silent and refused to speak, India’s ABP News reported. The election results sent a powerful message of their own to the Hindu nationalist ruling party, which has stirred contention in the country with policies perceived as anti-Muslim.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the general election in May but has lost several state elections since then. The BJP only secured seven of the 70 seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly, which makes laws for the metropolitan area of New Delhi. The local governing anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party won 63 seats. For the past five years, the Aam Aadmi Party has emphasized policies supporting the poor, including fixing public schools and providing healthcare and electricity subsidies.

“This shows that in this toxic atmosphere of hate and division, what people really want is a stable and compassionate government,” said Priya Dutt, a former member of the Indian Parliament.

As a central aspect of its campaign, the BJP lashed out against the protests that began in December over the Citizenship Amendment Act. The law will fast-track the naturalization of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis, and Sikhs who fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan because of religious persecution before 2015. Protesters criticize the law for making religion a basis for citizenship and for excluding Muslims, especially Rohingya refugees who left Myanmar, also known as Burma, en masse in 2017. Nearly 30 people have died since the protests began.

Farhana Nahid, who attended the protests with her daughter and granddaughter, told the BBC the law is discriminatory. She said she brought her family members along so “if I am not around they could take the struggle forward,” and then asked, “Why is the government isolating Muslims? We want [the law] to be scrapped.”

BJP members ramped up their anti-protest rhetoric ahead of the New Delhi vote. During a rally on Feb. 2, Yogi Adityanath, the firebrand chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, called the female protesters “terrorists” who should be fed with “bullets, not biryani.” Biryani is a popular Indian rice dish that originated in Muslim communities.

At another address late last month, Parvesh Verma, the BJP’s member of Parliament for West Delhi, warned voters the protesters would enter their homes and assault and kill their women.

“If the BJP comes to power on 11 February, you will not find a single protester within an hour,” he said. “And within a month, we will not spare a single mosque built on government land.”

The campaign has already incited violence against protesters. New Delhi recorded three shootings at protest sites. At two of the attacks, gunmen shouted Hindu-nationalist slogans.

Neelanjan Sircar, a political scientist at India’s Ashoka University, told Agence France-Presse that Modi’s party employed “political polarization” to attempt to clinch a victory.

“The strategy is quite clear in that sense, but it’s a very dangerous game,” he said. “These are not wounds that heal easily.”

Associated Press/Photo by Leo Correa (file) Associated Press/Photo by Leo Correa (file) An indigenous chief near his village in Brumadinho, Brazil

Controversial appointment

Brazil’s indigenous groups are protesting after the nation’s government last week appointed a former evangelical missionary to lead a department for protecting the nation’s isolated tribes.

The Justice Ministry selected Ricardo Lopes Dias, who worked as a missionary in the indigenous region between 1997 and 2007 with Florida-based Ethnos360. The group’s stated mission is to evangelize globally “until we have reached the last tribe.”

Brazil has recorded 28 uncontacted indigenous groups in the Amazon. President Jair Bolsonaro and his far-right Social Liberal Party scored a 2018 political victory on promises to rid the nation of corruption and rising crime. But his harsh language and racist comments targeting indigenous people drew mass criticism. The country’s growing evangelical population latched onto him for his stance against same-sex marriage and abortion. The government has also submitted a bill to the National Congress of Brazil to regulate mining and energy generation on indigenous land.

The Matsés tribe, which resides near the border with Peru, rejected Dias’ nomination in an open letter, saying he manipulated them back in the 2000s to found a new village where an evangelical church was built.

“Once again he tries to enter our territory,” the letter said. “We don’t want new abuse.”

In an interview with a Brazilian newspaper, Dias did not say if he will change the nation’s rule of “no contact” with indigenous people but promised to carry out his job efficiently.

“My performance will be technical,” he said. “I will not promote evangelization of indigenous people.” —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Ebrahim Noroozi (file) Associated Press/Photo by Ebrahim Noroozi (file) People register for parliamentary elections at the interior ministry in Tehran, Iran, in December.

Iranian intimidation

Iranian intelligence officers recently raided four journalists’ homes, seizing documents and equipment ahead of next week’s legislative elections. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Iran was “intent on stifling discussion and intimidating critics.”

“If authorities want to show that the country’s elections are open and fair, they must allow journalists to work without fear that their homes will be raided and their equipment confiscated,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator Sherif Mansour.

Meanwhile, Iranian authorities continue to target members of minority religious groups. Authorities arrested outspoken Christian convert Mary Mohammadi after she criticized the regime’s “soft repression” through its control of news, the U.K.-based nonprofit group Article 18 reported. Tehran University previously expelled her without explanation. New Europe reported that Iran started preventing Baha’i followers from obtaining national identification cards, meaning they can’t apply for driver’s licenses and passports or open bank accounts. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Matt Dunham (file) Associated Press/Photo by Matt Dunham (file) Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

Rising tide in Britain

The United Kingdom recorded another uptick in the number of anti-Semitic incidents last year, a Jewish advisory body revealed last week. The Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 1,805 incidents in 2019. The 7 percent jump from 2018 makes four consecutive years of increasing acts of anti-Semitism.

In Britain, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has faced accusations of failing to curb anti-Semitism among some party members. CST said 224 of the reported incidents were connected to the Labour Party.

“It is clear that both social media and mainstream politics are places where anti-Semitism and racism need to be driven out, if things are to improve in the future,” CST chief executive David Delew said. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Peter Klaunzer/Keystone Associated Press/Photo by Peter Klaunzer/Keystone An LGBT flag flies in Bern, Switzerland, on Sunday.

Switzerland passes pro-LGBT law

Swiss voters on Sunday supported a proposal forcing the public to accept all sexual orientations and gender identities. Some 63.1 percent of voters backed the proposed law in a referendum.

Unlike many European countries, Swiss law only bans discrimination based on race or religion. The government in December approved a bill to extend discrimination regulations to LGBT people, but a coalition of conservative parties argued it could restrict free speech and pushed for a referendum instead. The new law states people who “publicly degrade or discriminate” based on sexuality could face up to three years in prison.

“Our churches see the marriage of a man and a woman as the only couple they want to marry,” Marc Jost, general secretary of the Swiss Evangelical Alliance, told the BBC. “We just want to be free to say: ‘Ok, we want to privilege the marriage of a man and a woman.’ And we don’t want to be at risk if we share this opinion, and treat other couples in a different way.” —O.O.

U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan

Two U.S. service members died and six others sustained injuries after an Afghan soldier opened fire on Saturday in eastern Afghanistan. U.S. military spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett confirmed the incident and said the motive is still under investigation. The shooter died in the clash.

The United States has identified the two victims as Sgt. 1st Class Javier Jaguar Gutierrez, 28, of San Antonio, and Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Rey Rodriguez, 28, of Las Cruces, N.M.

About 13,000 U.S. troops are assisting Afghan forces in combating terror groups. In September, three U.S. soldiers sustained injuries after a member of Afghanistan’s police opened fire on a military convoy. In July, an Afghan soldier killed two American service members in southern Kandahar province. —O.O.

Honk more, wait longer

Mumbai, India—one of the world’s busiest cities—launched a new lesson in patience for honking drivers at traffic stops. The system, called “the punishing signal,” resets the red traffic signal whenever the sound of car horns exceeds 85 decibels.

Traffic Police Commissioner Madhukar Pandey said reckless honking causes stress and worsens the traffic chaos. “With this, hopefully we may create better road discipline and ensure honk-less, noise-free, and stress-free travel on Mumbai roads.” —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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  • BobK
    Posted: Wed, 02/12/2020 08:24 am

    Because it is illegal to tell indigenous people in Brazil that Jesus loves them and died for them, I believe the negativity about the Dias appointment is hugely biased.  When they say, "We don't want new abuse", it means that they believe telling people that Jesus died for them is abuse.  Allowing their own indigenous people to start an indigenous church and be a part of a church is "abuse" and "manipulation". President Bolsonaro may be racist - I don't speak Portuguese well enough to know.  But I strongly suspect Dias is not the demon he is being portrayed to be.

  • not silent
    Posted: Wed, 02/12/2020 11:30 am

    Relationships between missionaries and indigenous tribes can be very complicated, and I can't hope to cover all the variables.  But I would like to make a few comments.  In Christian circles in America, we tend to hear more about positive stories like the Waodani (formerly Auca) tribe, associated with Jim Eliot, Nate Saint, and others; but there have been cases that involved abuse and even atrocities. There have also been problems caused by oil companies, mining, traders, etc. 

    I doubt there are many indigenous groups today who are unaware that there are others out there who live very differently from the way they do.  I know of at least two cases where indigenous people literally walked to civilization to beg for help because they KNEW that there were people there who had things they needed.  Unfortunately, when contact happens like this, it can be dangerous for the indigenous people because they can be exposed to disease and subjected to abuse and it can lead to conflict. I'm sure this is at least part of the reason for the "no contact" policies. 

    On the other hand, there have been cases where missionaries helped negotiations between indigenous tribes and the government and/or oil companies (i.e., the Waodani).  Groups like Wyclliff Bible Translators have written down and preserved many native languages that might have disappeared otherwise.   Not every group wishes to work with missionaries, and it would definitely be abusive for anyone to force indigenous people to change or to accept Christianity; but what if some of them want help and Christians can help them? 

     No doubt, there are missionaries who are racist; and, unfortunately, there's not enough information in the article to know if this is true of Mr. Dias. We, as Christians, may not realize why it might be upsetting to indigenous people to hear that the government has appointed someone who belonged to a group with the stated mission to "evangelize until the last tribe is reached"; but, given past history in the area, I can see why this might cause concern that the government would force religion on them. Let us pray that God works according to HIS will.