News Wrap


since 25 May 2015, Ballabhgarh (Haryana) has been afflicted by communal violence. The standing dispute over the construction of a mosque is over five years old. Adjacent to a temple, the mosque was torched, and the muslims of the village fled. The police station is the only shelter for these residents of Atali, a village in Ballabhgarh. Muslim families have since been camping at the police station. The State Minority Commission has supplied one tent, four desert coolers, one carpet and two portable cabins. After fleeing riots in their village, the muslim families at Ballabhgarh city do not have sufficient food nor clothes. They are depending on people in the city. Several children have fallen sick in the heat. Bananas, rice, some rotis and dal are being provided by the administration, well wishers, local NGOs and relatives. Most of the muslim homes have been completely brunt, school books burnt and money looted. The muslim families do not want to return home, because they feel it is unsafe. Grief is shared in cell phone photographs. When the houses were attacked at the time of evening prayers, police did not arrive. None of the accused have been arrested. The state panchayat elections are round the corner, and the vote bank is polarised. Muslims want to renovate the mosque, and Hindus do not want it.

Less than two months before communal violence erupted in Atali village in Ballabhgarh, a Faridabad court had ruled that the Hindu petitioners had ‘‘miserably failed’’ to establish that the mosque at the centre of the dispute stood on land owned by the gram panchayat. Muslims claim the land belongs to the Waqf Board. Barring two entries in the revenue records, ‘‘for continuous fifty years’’ the property has been shown as ‘‘Gair Mumkin Kabristan’’ (Graveyard), and is in possession of the Muslim community.

Secretaries Act
A Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court on 01 June 2015, declared the West Bengal Parliamentary Secretaries Appointment, Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous (Provisions) Act, 2012 null and void. As a result, the posts of parliamentary secretaries will be required to be terminated. There are 24 parliamentary secretaries for the 46 ministerial posts in West Bengal state. The Court rejected the plea of the state for a ‘‘Stay Order’’, after declaring the posts of parliamentary secretaries to be ‘‘unconstitutional and unlawful’’. The ministerial posts, with those of parliamentary secretaries amount to 70, which is more than 15% of the total number of legislators in the State Assembly, in contradiction with Article 164/1A of the constitution. Both ministers and parliamentary secretaries have been enjoying ministerial privileges. Some two dozen Trinamul Congress MLAs were made ‘‘Parliamentary Secretaries’’ with the rank of ministers of state, as a reward for coming to the aid of the party before the 2011 Assembly elections.

Freedom of Speech
The Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle is a student group of IIT Madras. It was established as an independent student body on 14 April 2014, to promote the thoughts of Ambedkar and Periyar, and to initiate debates on socio-economic, political and cultural issues, within the IIT academic fraternity. IIT Madras has a long history of being a platform for right wing groups. R Vivekananda Gopal, a social scientist on the faculty of Dravidian University, on 18 May 2015 delivered a speech at the Study Circle. The speech criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for programmes like ‘‘Ghar Waapsi’’, ban on cow slaughter, and the move to acquire agricultural land. The Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle has now been banned at IIT Madras. This is an attack on freedom of speech and expression, guaranteed under Article 19 of India’s Constitution. No restrictions have been justified under Article 19(2) of the constitution. On 07 June 2015, the IIT Madras management revoked the controversial recognition of Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle.

India and Bangladesh
At Dhaka on 06 June 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed the Land Boundary Agreement that had been hanging fire for the past forty years. Nineteen other agreements on trade, commerce, economic co-operation and road-rail-water connectivity between the two countries were also signed. 161 land enclaves will be exchanged. The two countries share 58 rivers. The river Teesta flows from the Himalayas into Bengal from Sikkim and then enters Bangladesh. Teesta serves at least 12 hydel power projects on the Indian side, besides acting as a lifeline for North Bengal. As yet there has been no solution to a water sharing deal, on the Teesta and Feni rivers, primarily because of objections from the West Bengal state government. The agreement will allow Indian cargo vessels to use the Chittagong and Mongla ports, in Bangladesh.

Murder of Bloggers
Though Bangladesh is officially a secular country, more than 90% of its 160 million population are muslims. Supporters of Bangladesh’s largest Islamic party, which is banned from elections, have been accused of firebombings in 2015, aimed at toppling the government. Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent has claimed responsibility for the killing on 26 February 2015, of 45-year-old Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi born US national, leaving his wife badly injured. He was the first victim of deadly attacks on so-called ‘‘atheist bloggers’’. An Islamist has been arrested over his murder. Another atheist blogger, Washiqur Rahman was hacked to death in Dhaka, in March 2015. Two madrasa students have been arrested over that attack. In a third such attack, on 12 May 2015, machete-wielding masked men hacked to death, Ananta Bijoy Das, a 33-year-old secular blogger, near his house at Subidbazar area in Sylhet city, which is Bangladesh’s fifth largest city. Das was an atheist who wrote blogs for ‘Mukto Mona’, a website formerly moderated by Avijit Roy, a victim of machete wielding assailants. While most of Das’s output focused on science and evolution, he wrote a number of blogs that criticised some aspects of Islam, and also of Hinduism.

Vol. 48, No. 2, July 19 - 25, 2015