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Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister before he flew home from Afghanistan, made a surprise stopover, at the airport in the eastern city of Lahore, in the last week of December 2015. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaj Sharif hugged Modi at the airport. The two left by helicopter for Sharif’s nearby family estate. Modi and Sharif talked for about 90 minutes and shared an early evening meal, before the Indian leader flew back home. The visit raised hopes that negotiations between the nuclear armed neighbours might finally make progress, after three wars, and more than sixty five years of hostility. The leaders decided that ties between the two countries would be strengthened, and also people-to-people contact would be strengthened, so that the atmosphere can be created in which the peace process can move forward. Since coming to power in 2014, Modi has authorized a more robust approach to Pakistan. Security forces have been given the license to retaliate forcefully along their disputed border. Strident demands are voiced to end insurgent attacks in Indian territory.

On 02 January 2016, days after Modi’s surprise diplomatic stopover in Lahore, heavily armed Pakistani terrorists attempted to storm the Air Force base in Pathankot (Punjab). In four-day-long gun battles, three Indian security personnel, and at least six infiltrators from Pakistan were killed. The Pathankot Air Force Base is barely 35 km from the international border with Pakistan. The terrorists infiltrated into India during 30/31 December 2015 night, from a spot near Bamiyal village in Pathankot, close to the international border. Pakistan has condemned the terrorist incident in Pathankot. Militants tried to storm the Indian diplomatic mission in a northern Afghan city, Mazar-i-Sharif on 03 January 2016. Gunmen tried unsuccessfully to break into the Indian consulate, in Balkh province bordering Uzbekistan, when many people were watching the final of a football championship between Afghanistan and India. Afghan security forces traded fire with insurgents barricaded in a house, for two days. At least six civilians and four security men were wounded. After an intense 25-hour gun battle, around eleven terrorists were killed. Those opposed to bilateral harmony between India and Pakistan get active, whenever any negotiating process gathers momentum.

Juvenile Justice Bill
India’s parliament amended the juvenile justice law in the last week of December 2015. 16-year-olds will be tried as adults for serious crimes such as rape and murder after much controversy and heated debates. Under the new law those aged between 16 and 17 will be tried by specially constituted juvenile courts with corresponding sentences. They will not be sentenced to death or life imprisonment. There was public outrage over the gang rape and murder of a physio-therapy student on a bus in Delhi in December 2012.

Birth Control Methods
India registers the highest contraceptive prevalence rates for sterilization at 36.9%, as compared to other countries, with similar demographics. Female sterilization has a huge share, even though modern sterilization methods have been adopted at a slow pace. This is not favourable for women’s rights, as well as health risks. Female sterilization accounts for 74.4% of the modern contraceptive methods used in India. An additional 3.7% of the same is IUD. Male sterilization is merely 2.3%, while use of condoms accounts for 11.4%. Pills make just 7.5% of modern methods. Injectables and implants are almost absent. India is projected to be the most populous nation by 2022. Population growth rate has declined significantly from 21.54 (1991-2000) to 17.64% (2001-2011). India’s total fertility rate has declined from 2.6% (2008) to 2.3% (2013). Just 0.2 points separates India from reaching the replacement level. 24 states have achieved replacement level fertility. 60% (approx) of the population resides in states where either replacement fertility is already reached, or will soon meet the target. Southern states, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab belong to this category. As against a benchmark of 5%, roughly 11% more male children are born every year as compared to females.

Nepali workers in Gulf
Thousands of people from Nepal and elsewhere are trafficked to the rich nations of the Gulf. Initially wages at least six times the average wage in Nepal are promised. Men and women sell jewellery and borrow money from neighbours to make the journey, from Himalayan villages to the parched heat of the Middle East. The Nepali worker returns with nothing. Relatively unsophisticated men and women from poor backgrounds are persuaded to make the trip, only to take on large and mysterious debts. Labourers and maids find themselves at the mercy of employers who sponsor their visas. Once the Nepali workers enter the sponsor’s house in the Gulf, all passports and ID papers are confiscated in the name of protection. Women work as nannies or maids, where such jobs are subject to abuse. A quarter of Middle East countries have no legislation, to protect domestic worker’s rights. The male migrants from Nepal toil on construction sites, or in other heavy and sometimes perilous work.

Remittances in Nepal account for almost a third of output. The surge in migration from 2% (2001) to 7.3% (2011) has transformed Nepal. 2011 census records in Nepal show 1.9 million people as ‘‘absent’’. The poor people in mountainous districts fall into a trap built by poverty, and the pitch made by employment agency representatives who come with lucrative job offers. The plight of migrant female workers is compounded by the six Gulf countries’ ‘Kafala’ system, which ties foreign workers to the employer who sponsored their visas and prohibits workers from changing jobs. Migrant labour accounts for about half of the Gulf region’s 50 million residents. The problems of female Nepali migrants are aggravated by restrictions on travelling abroad for work. Bribes are paid to officials, and trips rerouted through India to prevent emigration checks.

Hindu Cartoons
Cinema chains in England are showing a seven-minute animation short about Hinduism. The short film ‘‘Sanjay’s Super Team’’ shows Hindu deities acting as superheores during prayer, to protect a young boy. The underlying message of the animation is the Hindu idols are better superheroes. The Hindu animation short is screened without warning, before screening of a main feature. The Church of England has accused cinema chains of hypocrisy, for screening the Hindu animation short film, despite banning an advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer. Cinema chains have refused to screen a 60-second advert showing people reciting the Lord’s Prayer, explaining that it has a policy not to show political or religious adverts that might offend audiences. As every film and advertisement conveys a message, there is evidence of double standards and hypocrisy. Cinema chains have taken the stand that the Hindu animation film is not advertisement, so not covered by advertising policies.

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 34, Feb 28 - Mar 5, 2016