Defying objections from tbe United Nations and humanitarian groups, the Bangladesh government on Tuesday shifted more than two thousand Rohingya refugees from Cox Bazar refugee camp to Bhasan Char Island on navy ships. These refugees reportedly had agreed to shift to Bhasan Char. This was the second batch of refugees shifted to the island. On 4th December, the first batch of 642 refugees had been shifted.
The Bangladesh government has spent $300 million on building houses for 100,000 families in Bhasan Char. According to the Bangladesh government, modern amenities and facilities have also been built there.
But the United Nations has expressed reservations over the safety and security of refugees on the island. It had sought permission from the Bangladesh government to carry out technical and protection assessment but the Bangladesh government did not gve it the permission. This has raised serious concerns over the security of refugees on the island. The Human Rights Watch has described it as a De Facto Prison Island. The island can be reached after 3 hours of journey by boat. This makes the island an open prison.
In November the Bangladesh government took 40 representatives of 22 NGOs to a guided tour of the island. They reportedly expressed satisfaction on the arrangements on the island.
Earlier 300 Rohingya refugees who were trying to go to Malaysia by boats were trapped in the sea. Those refugees had been taken to Bhasan Char.
The Bangladesh authorities claim that from the accounts of refugees shifted earlier, the refugees have learnt about the satisfactory arrangements in Bhasanchar and so many Rohingyas have voluntarily shifted to the island.
However, earlier the refugee women who had been taken to the island against their wish had said that arrangements of food and living conditions there were very poor. The security personnel appointed there even molested some women. They complained that the water provided to them was dirty. They wanted to return to the Cox Bazar camp.
The UN has said that without the technical and protection assessment, it cannot determine it can start its operations there.
Since the UN has not approved of the shifting to tbe Bhasan Char Island, donors have backed up and it has resulted in lack of funds to the NGOs working among the refugees. For example, one of the imoprtant NGOs, Caritas Bangladesh has backed up due to paucity of funds as donors have raised concerns that humanitarian principles were not being followed by the Bangladesh government.
The refugees are concerned that those who will shift to Bhasan Char will not be able to meet their relatives living in camps in the mainland.
The 22 NGOs have agreed to work on the island but there is a possibility that half of them will have to back out due to unavailability of funds from donors. This will create problems for the refugees. The government will provide food for the initial two months. After that the refugees will prepare their own food. They are being given packet food. The refugees cannot buy essential food grain as there are no shops there.
In the Cox Bazar refugee camps, many refugees run their own shops or do small jobs to make a living. But on the island they do not have that freedom.
In times of emergency, like clashes between criminal gangs in the refugee camps in Cox Bazar, refugees would escape to other camps to take shelter. But in Bhasan Char, they won’t be able to escape if there is bombing or arson between criminal gangs. They will simply be at the mercy of the criminals, extortionists and terrorists.
The concerns raised by the UN, Human Rights Watch or the NGOs are not unfounded. In the refugee camps in the mainland drug mafia like Munna gang or Rohingya terrorist group ARSA are active. Due to poor security arrangements in the Cox Bazar refugee camps, often there are incidents of abduction, murder, extortion and arson. They have made the life of the refugees a hell. The Bangladesh government has not been able to clear the camps of the drug mafia or terorists because the police and the security personnel are on their payroll.
Sometimes the criminals and terrorists attack on the security personnel posted in camps and take away arms and ammunition.
If this is the situation of the security and safety in the camps on the mainland which is easily accessible to the government authorities and the security forces, one can imagine what the security and safety situation was going to be on the island which is not easily accessible. A boat takes 3 hours to reach the island. Suppose if there is a terrorist attack on the camps, security reinforcements can’t reach there immediately. The police post set up there will not be sufficient to deal with ARSA terrorists and drug mafia or extortionists. The terrorists and drug mafia will run riot and terrorise the refugees with impunity.
These are the reasons the Bangladesh government has been fighting shy of the UN. The government will leave the refugees at the mercy of terrorists and drug mafia. There will be no one to listen to their grievances and come to their rescue.
The three thousand Rohingyas who have voluntarily shifted have shifted to Bhasan Char because the camps in Cox Bazar were over overcrowded and because of murder, abduction, arson and extortion by the criminals and terrorists active in Cox Bazar camps. But where will they go if they face the same situation on the island. And if the Bangladesh government was not able to deal with the ARSA terrorists and drug mafia active in the Cox Bazar camps how does it claim to deal with them in the far off island.
Therefore, before shifting the Rohingyas to Bhasan Char, the Bangladesh government should build a fool proof security structure on the island to prevent the entry of criminal elements on the island and to deal with them on the island. It should also run regular boat services betwee Bhasan Char and mainland Chattogram to enable the refugees to meet their relatives on the mainland or to go for necessary work or for livelihood to the mainland. It should not be an open prison for the hapless Rohingyas. The UN should pressurise the Bangladesh government to follow humanitarian principles and address all the problems faced by the Rohingyas.
Christmas is celebrated as the birthday of Jesus Christ by the Christians all over the world. On Christmas Day, Christians assemble in churches and offer five prayers. They decorate the churches, light them up, set up Christmas trees and dress up as Santa Claus to entertain children and distribute chocolates and gifts among children in the streets. They visit friends and relatives and offer greetings and exchange gifts. This way they celebrate the birthday of Jesus the Messiah.
The entire atmosphere is peaceful and the message of love, peace and harmony rings in the air. There is no unnessary use of microphone or loudspeakers creating nuisance in the public. No public meetings are organised in streets to sing Christmas carols on loudspeakers and no full-throated speeches by Christian religious leaders and scholars on the greatness of Jesus Christ and Christianity and on the rule of Chrustianity in the world in the past are delivered. The Christmas celebrations are church based. So there is less noise on the streets. Even where tableaux are brought out, order, sobriety and discipline is maintained.
There is also no demonstration of ideological differences between different sects of Christianity. There are Catholic Christians as well as Protestant Christians. There are also Eastern Orthodox Christians and Oriental Orthodox Christians. They all celebrate the birth of Christ in their own way. No sect says that only their way of celebrating Christmas is right and all the others are atheists and infidels. No Christian religious leader calls the other sect infidels and non-believers on loudspeakers.
One important aspect of Christmas celebrations is its inclusiveness. The Christians have made it a universal festival by making a festival for all. They convey the message that Jesus was not for Christians but for the entire humanity not merely through hollow words or claims but through their deeds and attitude. Therefore, followers of other religions also join the celebrations.
Now, when we look at the behaviour of Muslims during Eid Milad- un- Nabi, we find that their behaviour and attitude runs contrary to the spirit of Islam. The birthday of the prophet of Islam pbuh is celebrated as Eid Milad-un-Nabi on the 12th day of Arabic month of Rabi-ul-Awwal. In recent years, the day is celebrated with great enthusiasm, particularly in the Indian subcontinent. On the morning of 12th Rabi-ul- Awwal, processions are organised in the name of Prophet pbuh.
The processions are led by the local imams. Green flags on high poles moves with them. The procession is called Julus-e-Mohammadi (March of the Prophet). This procession has no historical precedence in Islam. That's why, a section of Muslims does not believe in this way of celebrating the Prophet's birthday. In the evening, public meetings are organised in every locality by the local cultural or religious organisations. In these public meetings, religious scholars give speeches on the life and teachings of Prophet Mohammad pbuh. The entire locality is decorated with colourful lights and green flags. Cassettes of Naat (poems eulogising the holy Prophet pbuh) are played in full sound during day and night causing inconvenience and trouble to the Muslims and non-Muslims of the locality. The public meetings more often turn into platforms for sectarian outpourings. The issue whether the Prophet pbuh was Noor (light) or Bashar (human being) is passionately discussed. The discussion passes over the head of the illiterate and semi-literate audience.
In recent years, Naat cassettes are also filled with religious slogans. Between Naats, religious slogans like "Ya Rasullallah, Hum Aapke Liye Sar Kata Denge, Kafiron Ka Sar Qalam Kar Denge" are included which make the atmosphere acrimonious and tense. God called the holy Prophet pbuh, Rahmat-al- lil Alameen (comforter) and the Prophet pbuh himself preached love and harmony but the essence of Islamic teachings that is love and harmony is missing from these celebrations.
Nowadays, loudspeakers have become an integral part of Muslim festivals. No religious event is considered complete without the use of loudspeakers. Poems, speeches and religious songs are played in full volume in violation of laws causing discomfort and inconvenience to all, especially the sick. A lady who is a social worker says that during Eid Milad-un- Nabi, she has to shift to another place because she has heart problems and the high decibel sound makes her sick.
Muslims repeatedly claim that Islam is a religion of peace but their behaviour negates their claim. The true Islamic spirit is missing in their behaviour. Festivals and other religious events of Muslims have become an occasion of outwardly demonstration of piety. In recent years, some sincere Muslims and Muslim organisations have started distributing gifts and sweets to people on Eid-Milad-un-Nabi but this practice has not become a universal part of Eid-Milad-un-Nabi celebrations.
Indian media fraternity sets to bid farewell to the Covid-19 pandemic year 2020 with the horrible statistics of journo-killings with some dangerous countries for working journalists in the world. The populous country lost over 50 working journalists to novel corona virus infection aggravated ailments and it also witnessed killings of 15 scribes till the last week of December.
The largest democracy in the globe along with Mexico emerged as the hazardous places for scribe this year as the global tally of media-victims to assailants reaches to 92 in 31 countries, said Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), the Geneva based media watchdog in its recent reports. Mexico, as it routinely observes journo-murders for several years, witnessed the killings of 12 scribes in 2020 followed by Pakistan (8 dead), Afghanistan (7), Iraq & Honduras (5 each), etc.
It also added that the Philippines and Syria witnessed murders of four scribes each, followed by Nigeria & Venezuela (three scribes each), Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Liberia, Somalia, (two each), Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Russia, Argentina, Cameroon, Ecuador, Mozambique, Paraguay, Sweden, Barbados, etc (one each).
“Fewer journalists have died in areas of armed conflict this year, but too many of them have been targeted for their works in peaceful countries,” commented Blaise Lempen, general secretary of PEC (www.pressemblem.ch) reiterating the forum’s stand for condemnations against those incidents of scribe-killings and consistent demands to punish the culprits under the law.
More than 580 journalists have died of Covid-19 complications where affected countries include Peru (93 casualties), India (53), Brazil (51), Mexico (42), Ecuador & Bangladesh (41 each), Italy (34), USA (30), Pakistan (22), Turkey (17), UK (12), etc and thus a single year snatched away the lives of over 600 journalists with the pandemic and violence, stated Lempen adding that it is the worst statistics since the Second World War.
India witnessed the latest killing of a video journalist in Rajasthan as Abhishek Soni (27) succumbed to injuries because of attacks by three assailants. Soni, who used to work for a local news channel, went to a roadside eatery along with a women media employee on 8 December evening. As they were waiting the assailants started starring at her. When Soni resisted them, it ended up in hot debates and physical attacked by them. Finally Soni died in a Jaipur hospital on 23 December.
Earlier, a Malayalam journalist lost his life in a hit & run incident on 14 December evening inside Thiruvananthapuram city. SV Pradeep (43), who remained critical over the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Communist party ruled Kerala, worked for media outlets like News 18, Jai Hind, Mediaone, Mangalam, Kairali, etc.
Days before, sad news broke from Uttar Pradesh (UP), where journalist Rakesh Singh Nirbhik (35) was found dead along with a friend on 28 November as his house in Balrampur locality was hit by a sudden explosion. Severely injured Rakish and his friend were taken to the hospital, where both succumbed to burn injuries. Victim families claimed it as a pre-planned murder as Rakesh developed enmities against some locals with his media reports in Rashtriya Swaroop.
Andhra Pradesh (AP) journalist G Nagaraj (45) was killed by a group of goons at Hanumantha area adjacent to Tamil Nadu. The Telugu reporter was attacked with sharp weapons in full public view on 22 November and he died on his way to the hospital. Nagaraj wrote a series of articles against the real-estate mafia for Tamil newspaper Villangam to invite probable enmities.
UP’s Sonbhadra locality witnessed the murder of rural reporter Uday Paswan along with his wife on 16 November. Associated with a Lucknow-based Hindi daily, Paswan died on the spot as they were attacked by a group of goons. His wife Sheetla Paswan succumbed to injuries next day in the hospital. Another UP scribe Suraj Pandey (25) was found dead on a railway track at Sadar Kotwail area on 12 November. His family members in Unnao locality claimed that the Hindi reporter was murdered.
Bhopal based television reporter Syed Adil Wahhab (35) was found murdered at a forest area on 8 November. Wahhab, who used to work for a Hindi news channel went missing since the previous day and later his injured body was recovered by the police. Tamil television scribe Isravel Moses (27) was hacked to death by a group of anti-social elements in Kancheepuram on the same day.
Assam’s Kakopathar based television journalist Parag Bhuyan (55) died in a mysterious road accident on 11 November night. The government also already ordered a CID probe into the incident and the police have seized the vehicle that hit Bhuyan and arrested its driver & handyman. Another UP journalist Ratan Singh (45), who worked for satellite news channel Sahara Samay was shot dead by his neighbours in Ballia locality on 24 August. Tinsukia based Assamese television scribe Bijendeep Tanti (32) was found murdered on 8 August at his rented office.
Weeks back, Madhya Pradesh journalist Sunil Tiwari (35), who worked for a Gwalior-based Hindi newspaper was beaten, stabbed and shot to death in Niwari locality on 22 July. Same day, UP journalist Vikram Joshi (45) succumbed to injuries in the hospital who was attacked on 20 July by some local goons. Another AP journalist named Ganta Naveen (27) was murdered at Nandigama locality on 29 June. The digital channel reporter developed enmity with some influential persons in his locality and they are suspected to organize the crime.
The brutal murder of UP’s young and brave reporter Shubham Mani Tripathi shocked the media fraternity. Shubham (25) continued reporting against illegal sand miners to Kanpur-based Hindi daily Kampu Mail even after receiving death-threats from the criminals. He was shot dead in Unnao locality on 19 June by two shooters. Orissa’s portal reporter Aditya Kumar Ransingh (40) was killed on 16 February in Banki locality.
Last year, India witnessed nine incidents of journo-killings, but only one case emerged as a targeted murder for works as journalist. K Satyanarayana (45) of Andhra Jyothy was hacked to death on 15 October. Local scribes informed Satyanarayana was targeted in earlier too. Others who were killed last year include Jobanpreet Singh,Vijay Gupta, Radheyshyam Sharma, Ashish Dhiman, Chakresh Jain, Anand Narayan and Nityanand Pandey. Kerala scribe K Muhammed Basheer was mowed down by a vehicle.
Various local, regional and national journo-bodies in India along with a number of international media rights bodies like the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters sans/without Borders, International Federation of Journalists, besides PEC, have denounced the murders of scribes and demanded the concerned governments to book the assailants under the law ensuring justice to the victim-families.
Nava Thakuria is a northeast India based journalist and country contributor to PEC
Let me tell you at the very outset. Islamist fundamentalists have started an unsolicited debate on the issue of the coronavirus vaccine being ‘un-Islamic’. Fatwas have been issued by self-styled Muftis which prevent the use of COVID-19 vaccines for Muslims as something forbidden under the Islamic Shari’ah.
The "religious sincerity" of these gentlemen, ulema or Islamic clerics may be beyond doubt. But if you look at their plain statements, there is a severe lack of knowledge in their arguments with no awareness of the modern requirements. The fake-news spreaders in the mainstream and social media were waiting for such irresponsible statements. Thus, for the past several days, the national media has been characterizing Muslims as ‘ignoramuses’, ‘inferiors’, ‘backward’, and ‘alienated from the national mainstream’. It seems our clerics do keep our society alienated from real national issues. And it is an indication of an imminent socio-religious threat, that the misguided Muslims, much like they were misled by the propaganda against polio vaccinations, will not allow the country to succeed in the national fight against this global epidemic.
For the sake of Allah, please avoid things that would tarnish the image of the nation and provide opportunities for the sick humankind to be healed. Beware! The holy Messenger of God, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, ordered the release of the worst arrogant enemy of Islam only because it could discredit Muslims and tarnish the image of Islam.
Instead of spreading conjectures, speculations and conspiracies around the Corona vaccine, we should first get hold of the factual knowledge on this subject. For example, religious scholars have repeatedly said that the medicine is ‘made up of pork’ and that it cannot be a cure according to the Islamic edit of "La Tadaa’u Bil-Haram" (Don’t use haram medications to cure a disease). So, they say, Covid-19 vaccine is against the Islamic law.
No one has said that pork has been used in the vaccine. But rather there is a biological substance called ‘gelatine’ (for which there is no word in any legal language used by Muslims). It keeps the vaccine safe and valid for longer periods. This is used as an additional substance in this vaccine. It is not obtained from pigs only but also from halal animals and plants, as many vaccine makers have shown. However, the substance derived from pigs - according to them - is more effective. So, many vaccine companies must have used it. But even if the substance is taken from a pig, it undergoes several chemical procedures after which the substance does not remain in its original form. According to many legal experts and Muslim jurists, an Islamic ruling will change in this case [i.e. if the substance doesn’t remain intact in its original form].
According to some scholars, even if it is forbidden [pork-ridden], it is necessarily permissible according to the rules of Shari'ah. Since this disease is a contagious global epidemic, it is not permissible to act on the general Islamic principle on pork, and the rulers must make it obligatory for everyone. For it involves the safety and survival of all mankind, and it is not possible to save the world from this insidious virus without involving everyone or most of them.
Therefore, dozens of Darul iftas (fatwa centres), including the world's most prestigious Darul Ifta of Egypt, have issued fatwas justifying the use of the vaccine. In this case, it can be held that statements of some clerics against the vaccine are sure to bring disgrace to the community. Therefore, whatever your position may be, whether you consider Covid-19 vaccine Halal or Haram in your heart, please refrain from speaking out against what God has not forbidden. The greatest duty for us all is to save the nation from disgrace and thwart the aims of the wicked people. InshaAllah, there will be many other opportunities for showing ‘religious sincerity’ or Shari’ah sympathy grabbing media coverage!
Allama Aleem Ashraf Jaisi is HoD Arabic Department, Maulana Azad National Urdu University
(The article was originally written in Urdu by Prof. Aleem Ashraf Jaisi, HoD Arabic Department, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad, and has been translated and slightly edited by New Age Islam Edit Desk)
With the release of Tabligh Jamaat (TJ) members by a Delhi court sometime back, there has been a surfeit of condemnation of those who dared to criticise the TJ for holding its religious gathering during the onset of the corona pandemic. It is being argued that all those who condemned the TJ must now apologise as the courts have not found them guilty. However, amidst this cacophony, there is a need to separate the vilification of TJ (which must be called out) and the putrid speeches delivered by its chief vehemently negating the dangers of the pandemic and putting many lives at risk.
Let us start with the larger narrative spun around the Tabligh Jamaat which was deeply disturbing. This narrative expressly targeted the TJ (and by extension all Muslims) for spreading the virus. Let us not forget that the government and the media targeted the Muslim community, scapegoating them in order to link the community with the spread of the virus. Just like medieval Europe had blamed the Jews for the plague, the Hindu Right weaponized a virus to target the Muslim community. Whereas, the world over, the virus flattened any distinction of caste, creed and colour; in India, it (the virus) was given an Islamic identity.
At many levels therefore, the role of the media and the government was nothing sort of criminal when it came to portraying the Tabligh Jamaat in a negative way. They were accused of conducting ‘corona jihad’ by the media with fake images of TJ members flooding the internet conspiring to spread the virus in different ways. On has not forgotten that the barrage of fake videos which started doing the rounds on social media depicting Muslims deliberately smearing vegetables and fruits with their saliva, spitting into food served in restaurants, and coughing into the faces of other people, all with the malevolent intent of infecting non-Muslims. One also remembers with alacrity hashtags like #bioJihad and #tablighijamaatvirus that began to circulate on social media with terrifying consequences. The media was directly responsible for putting Muslim lives in danger as their communal reporting led to chilling consequences for ordinary Muslims. One remembers how Muslim vegetable vendors were not allowed to enter Hindu localities; one also remembers how a COVID ward in a Gujarat hospital got separated between Hindus and Muslims.
It must be stressed that at the time when the Tabligh Jamaat was holding its’ program, there was no lockdown in effect. In fact, even the parliament was functioning as if everything was normal. Therefore we must be clear that there was no illegality involved in the ongoing programs of the Tabligh Jamaat. Rather, it was the sudden announcement of lockdown which did not give any time to people to prepare for this eventuality, which made the situation precarious for the Tablighis. Since people from different parts of the world had gathered for the religious program, the sudden lockdown made them stranded in a foreign country with the government having no plan to help with their emigration.
It must be said that being a transnational movement, the Tabligh Jamaat was in a better position to know about the incoming pandemic. It could have been clairvoyant and postponed the program much earlier and asked its delegates to return to their home countries. At the same time, we must also remember that the TJ was not the only religious organization to have gone with a planned program and as such cannot be held uniquely responsible for not reading the situation. Other religious organizations did pretty much the same thing in India and elsewhere. However, unlike the Tabligh Jamaat, they were hardly castigated for being responsible for spreading the virus.
Transgressions by other religious organizations were overlooked because the sole focus of the media and government was to shift the blame on Muslims. Despite the lockdown effective since March 24th, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister attended a Ram Navami event in Ayodhya. In Punjab, a Sikh preacher, Baldev Singh, who had returned from Italy defied all government stipulated quarantine measures and continued to freely preach in various religious assemblies. The guru died because of the virus and only then the state government put nearly 40,000 people in isolation with whom the guru had come into contact. Despite such callous behaviour displayed by an elected chief minister and a religious guru, neither the government nor the media houses highlighted these issues. Rather, the sole focus remained on how Muslims were spreading the virus.
Normally, one would have expected the government to intervene and stop this vilification. But what we saw was the exact opposite: the health ministry in its bulletin directly blamed the TJ for spreading the virus in India. Other state apparatus like the judiciary were hardly convinced of this narrative peddled by the media and the government. In fact, in August, the Mumbai high court castigated the Maharashtra government for making the Tabligh Jamaat a ‘scapegoat’ in order to hide its own failures in combating the virus. Those who are demanding that the media and the government apologise to the Tabligh Jamaat should not forget that these institutions will never do so. This vilification of Muslims through the TJ was part of a design to increase hatred towards Muslims. Given the fact that so many fake videos became viral, it seems that willing Hindus saw nothing wrong in such vilification of a particular community.
Maulana Saad Kandhalvi
However, we should also not forget that the speeches of Maulana Saad, the chief of TJ, gave much grist to those who wanted to make Muslims the ultimate villain. The ignorant utterances of Maulana Saad perpetuated irrationality and blind faith and should have been roundly condemned by all Muslims. However, over the past many years, it has become incumbent on Muslims to defend all kinds of nonsense which religious leaders indulge in. Instead of cautioning its followers and asking them to desist from congregating in mosques, the chief, Saad Kandhalvi did the very opposite. He stated that the virus was a punishment sent from God. In speeches made between March 20 and 22, he told his followers: ‘this is the time to bring the Ummah (Muslim community) to the mosques, not of leaving the mosques….. This is the time you should organise visits and bring people to mosques because the calamity that has struck us is due to our leaving the mosques…. It is a false belief that the virus spreads through assembling in the mosque. Even if you observe that a man dies after entering the mosque, then I will say that there cannot be a better place to die. …. The government wants you to choose remedial measures over fate…. only the Kuffar (unbelievers) rely on remedial measures and resources, Muslims only rely on Amaal (religious deeds) and prayers’.
Such foolish utterances of an influential religious figure should not be glossed over for the sake of political correctness. It was only in subsequent oration on the 25th of March, under the active advice of the government, that the chief of the Tabligh Jamaat toned down his religious rhetoric and asked his followers to follow the social distancing guidelines. If one is condemning the actions of the media and the government then one should also not desist from condemning such speeches of Maulana Saad. It is a travesty of our times that even critical Muslims have fallen for the idea that defending Maulana Saad is coterminous with defending attacks on Muslims. This is simply wrong. There is no contradiction between defending attacks on Muslims while at the same time critiquing whatever is wrong within the community.