News Wrap


The Supreme Court in India, during Jan 2017, in a split decision has ruled that India’s constitution allowed for the free practice of faith, but could ‘‘forbid interference of religions and religious beliefs with secular activity such as elections.’’ Hence, political candidates are banned from seeking election on the basis of religion, caste or language. For the way Indian politics is practised, the landmark ruling has far reaching consequences. An election won by soliciting votes along the lines of identity politics could be corrupt practice and the result set aside. The dissenting judgement accused the majority justices of overreach and ‘‘judicial redrafting of the law.’’ There is scepticism about whether the apex court ruling could be enforced, as in a large number of states in India, religion and caste have traditionally helped drive voters to the polls.

Counter Insurgency
On 21 Feb 2017, seven Maoists were killed in a gun battle with security forces, in the dense forest of killam village, in Narayanpur district, of Chattisgarh. The security forces had launched a counter-insurgency operation in neighbouring Dantewada district, from Barsoor police station. They were cordoning off jungles of Kilam, which lies in the restive Abhujmad area, about 350 km from Raipur, the state headquarters. The rebels fired at the para-troopers and an encounter followed. The security forces recovered firearms, including two Insas rifles, and explosive materials from the spot.

In an encounter in the Gurpa forests in Gaya (Bihar) on 8 March 2017, four Maoists were killed in a fierce gun battle with the security forces. Of the four killed, two are said to be zonal commanders. The COBRA batallion, a specialized unit of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), proficient in guerilla tactics and jungle warfare, were tough opponents for the Maoists. This is the first major achievement of the police in Bihar, since they lost ten colleagues  in a deadly Maoist attack in Aurangabad district in July 2016. On 11 March 2017, twelve CRPF personnel were killed, and their arms looted when Maoist ultras ambushed their patrol party in the dense forests near Kottacheru village, under Bhejj police station, of Sukma district (Chattisgarh State). The area is at the tri-junction of Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.

Divisive Contents
Fans of Bollywood movies in Pakistan are deprived of watching the Indian blockbuster, ‘‘Raees’’ starring Shah Rukh Khan, after Pakistin’s film board banned the film for its apparent unflattering depiction of Muslims in Feb 2017. The film has Mahira Khan, a Pakistani star making her first appearance in a major Indian film. Shah Rukh Khan plays a Muslim smuggler, who wins an election from jail. Reportedly the film’s contents undermined Islam, and a specific religious sect, while portraying Muslims as criminals, wanted persons and terrorists. Since July 2016, there are calls in India for a ban on Pakistani performers in the giant Bolloywood film industry. Last September 2016, Pakistani cinemas stopped screening Indian films for eleven weeks and government curbs still prevent cable providers from broadcasting Indian Television Channels.

On 21 Feb 2017, violent chashes broke out between Left-affiliated students body AISA and RSS - backed ABVP at Ramjas college, over a seminer invitation to Jawaharlal Nehru University students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid, which left many students, teachers and policemen injured, in New Delhi. A group of students were also allegedly locked by ABVP activists inside the college campus, for over four hours. Police officials claim that a few policemen, including the station house officer of Maurice Nagar Police station, were roughed up during the protest. A few journalists were attacked by police, during the clash. Ramjas College was forced to cancel a two-day seminar midway. The seminar was titled ‘‘Cultures of Protest’’. Students from several Delhi Colleges and Universities, led by the SFI and the CPI-ML (Liberation) backed All-India Students’ Association (AISA), on 22 Feb 2017, marched from Ramjas College to Maurice Nagar Police Station, to damand action against the ABVP. The ABVP activists first blocked the college gates to prevent the 205 km march from starting, and assaulted many left activists, including professors, on the road outside.

The violence around Delhi’s Ramjas College and the fear of ‘‘Nationalism’’ vigilantes, soon after led to the cancellation of a college skit, ‘‘The Trump Card’’ of student theatre group Ankur, on Nationalism, at a theatre competition and Shri Guru Gobind Singh College of Commerce, on 24 Feb 2017. The campus theatre festival was suspended, and the presentation of a paper by academic Gowhar Fazili was indefinitely postpond at Ambedkar University on 23 Feb 2017. The paper, ‘‘Familial Grief, Resistance and the Political Imaginary in Kashmir’’ was scheduled on the 26th anniversary of the alleged mass rape by soldiers at Kunan Poshpora, on 23 Feb 1991 (Night).

Prosecutions in Myanmar
Several members of Myanmar’s Aung San Sukyi’s National League for Democracy are former political prisoners. Many expected the party to bring an end to prosecutions, brought under broad and repressive laws. Instead, dozens of people are under trial for criminal defamation, insulting the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and criticising the army’s response to attacks by Rohingya militants in facebook posts. At least sixty people have been charged with online defamation since April 2016, under the notorious article 66D of the Telecommunications Law. As the ruling party faces mounting criticism over a year into its rule, several cases have been brought by powerful members of the NLD itself. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is not used to the public criticism that arises in a democratic country, where the right to free speech is guaranteed. The internet is relatively new in Myanmar and provides a powerful voice to people, that some in the new government would prefer to silence.

Vol. 49, No.47, May 28 - Jun 3, 2017