APRIL 23, Tuesday

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

Sri Lanka names local Islamist group for Easter Sunday blasts

Sri Lanka names local Islamist group for Easter Sunday blasts

Sophisticated attacks point to wider international groups, says Minister; 30 held

Meera Srinivasan

Searing pain: Lalitha is inconsolable at the funeral of her 11-year-old niece, Sneha Savindi, at Negombo in Sri Lanka on Monday. Sneha died in Sunday’s blast at St. Sebastian Church. AP


Sri Lankan authorities on Monday named a little-known local Islamist radical group, the National Thowheed Jamaath, as responsible for the ghastly Easter Sunday serial blasts that claimed nearly 300 lives and injured over 500 across the island nation.

President Sirisena also decided to enforce Emergency regulations with effect from midnight Monday, official sources said.

The police have arrested nearly 30 suspects in connection with Sunday’s coordinated explosions at churches and hotels in and around Colombo and in Batticaloa, in the island’s Eastern Province.

87 detonators found

A van parked near one of the attacked churches exploded on Monday, but no casualties or injuries were reported. The police also said they found 87 bomb detonators at a Colombo bus station.

While no domestic or international organisation has so far claimed responsibility for the attacks, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said the National Thowheed Jamaath had perpetrated the attack using suicide bombers. “All suicide bombers are believed to be Sri Lankan nationals,” he said. However, Mr. Senaratne said, “We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country… There must be an international network, without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

The government declared Tuesday as a national day of mourning.

U.S. ends waiver for India on Iran oil

U.S. ends waiver for India on Iran oil

Exemptions from sanctions for a 180-day period enabled imports of commodity

Sriram Lakshman,

Mike Pompeo


The U.S. will not renew exemptions from its sanctions for importing oil from Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday.

The exemptions were granted last November for a 180-day-period for India and seven other countries, and are due to expire on May 2.

“Today we are announcing the United States will not issue any additional Significant Reduction Exceptions [SREs] to existing importers of Iranian oil. The Trump Administration has taken Iran’s oil exports to historic lows, and we are dramatically accelerating our pressure campaign in a calibrated way that meets our national security objectives while maintaining well-supplied global oil markets,” Mr. Pompeo said via a statement.

“We will continue to apply maximum pressure on the Iranian regime until its leaders change their destructive behaviour, respect the rights of the Iranian people, and return to the negotiating table.”

India, China and U.S. allies Japan, South Korea and Turkey will be the most impacted by the non-renewal of waivers.

The other three currently exempted countries — Italy, Greece and Taiwan — have already reduced their imports to zero. “We’re going to zero. We are going to zero across the board,” Mr. Pompeo told the press.

* Nation

Why displacement due to river erosion not a poll issue, ask villagers

Why displacement due to river erosion not a poll issue, ask villagers

Several villages in central Bengal have disappeared under Ganga water, but no party has promised a solution

Suvojit Bagchi

Rina Sarkar (left) and Dipali Biswas pointing at the place where their village Hossainpur existed. Subham Dutta


The village Hossainpur, that voted in all earlier elections, has disappeared. Last October, the village with about a thousand voters was devoured by the Ganga displacing all. Earlier this week, standing close to the advancing river, the villagers identified points where their mud and bamboo thatched houses were located.

“Mine had three rooms, a courtyard and a garden,” said Rina Sarkar, a mother of three. The residents, mostly from Namasudra community, had moved twice earlier before settling in Hossainpur which was located at the point where the river splits in south Malda, with one branch moving to Bangladesh. As the village disappeared, the villagers moved further south to settle on the floodplains and named it “Srikanta Sarkarer Para”, after a local popular trader.

‘River man’

Many thousand villages in central Bengal have disappeared or gone to other States due to river erosion over the last four decades. “About two lakh Bengalis became residents of Jharkhand as the river moved towards Bangladesh, giving birth to new floodplains in Jharkhand. Bengal’s loss is Jharkhand’s gain,” said Kedar Mondal, a former CPI(M) activist. Octogenarian Mr. Mondal is considered the “river-man” of central Bengal, with in-depth knowledge to understand river erosion.

Since 2014 Lok Sabha poll, Mr. Mondal has documented 900 families “who have lost land and livelihood in at least six villages” on the border between Malda and Murshidabad. He blamed construction of the Farakka Barrage, nearly five decades ago, for excessive siltation causing large-scale flooding and erosion.

“Experts have reported on many occasions that the barrage allows the water to flow but the silt drops on the riverbed. Such siltation raises the height of the riverbed, washing away the villages year after year,” Mr. Mondal said. What bothers Mr. Mondal more is the lack of response from the government.

“It [river erosion] never features in party manifestos. None of the parties talks about erosion and no one indicates any permanent solution,” said Dipali Biswas, formerly a Hossainpur resident. Suranjan Mondal, a farmer, said that young men from erstwhile Hossainpur have now moved to Kerala.

“Didi’s [CM Mamata Banerjee] slogan is ‘Ma, Mati, Manush [mother, land, people]’ but she refuses to find a permanent solution to the manush on this mati,” said Govinda Roy, a farmer.

TMC candidate from Malda South Moazzem Hossain and BJP candidate Khagen Murmu said addressing the issue of river erosion will be their priority, if elected.

Third phase of LS poll set to test caste arithmetic in Bihar

Third phase of LS poll set to test caste arithmetic in Bihar

NDA seems to have an edge as Mahagathbandhan battles internal conflict

Amarnath Tewary

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav with Hindustani Awam Morcha chief Jitan Ram Manjhi and RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha during a press meet in Patna on Monday.Ranjeet KumarRanjeet Kumar


After a tough contest in the first two phases, the National Democratic Alliance appears to have a slight edge over the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) in the third phase in Bihar. Of the five seats going to polls on Tuesday — Madhepura, Supaul, Araria, Khagaria and Jhanjharpur —three are currently being held by the Mahagathbandhan and two by the NDA.

In Madhepura, sitting MP Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav has made the contest triangular by contesting on his Jan Adhikar Party (Loktantrik) symbol. In the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, Mr. Pappu Yadav had contested as an RJD candidate and defeated the Janata Dal (United)’s Sharad Yadav. However, in the changed political scenario this time, Mr. Sharad Yadav is contesting on an RJD ticket against the NDA nominee, State Disaster Management Minister Dinesh Chandra Yadav of the JD(U). Mr. Sharad Yadav, a four-time MP, hopes to get the support of the RJD’s traditional Yadav and Muslim voters. The NDA candidate is banking on a“likely division” in Yadav votes and support of sizeable numbers of “Pachpanias, a block of Extremely Backward Castes. “If Pappu Yadav makes a dent in the Yadav vote bank, the NDA candidate may win this time,” echoed several voters in Madhepura.

Missing support

In Supaul Lok Sabha constituency, sitting Congress MP and wife of Mr. Pappu Yadav, Ranjeet Ranjan, too is facing a tough challenge from her rival NDA candidate Dileshwar Kamait of the JD(U). The local RJD leaders are staying away from Ms. Ranjan’s campaign as they are not happy with Mr. Pappu Yadav contesting against Mr. Sharad Yadav. The Congress has no grassroots support in the constituency and the Yadav voters are silent. On the other hand, the NDA candidate appears to be in a comfortable position with the support of EBC voters and the buzz in favour of Mr. Modi.

In Khagaria, the Mahagathbandhan candidate, Mukesh Sahni (Vikassheel Insaan Party), poses a serious challenge to the NDA nominee and sitting MP, Choudhary Mehboob Ali Kaiser (Lok Janshakti Party). In the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, Mr. Kaiser had edged past his nearest rivals, Dinesh Chandra Yadav of the JD(U) and Krishna Yadav of the RJD, as there was a split among Yadav voters. This time there is no Yadav candidate in the fray and if Mr. Sahni manages to get the support of the Yadavs and a section of Muslim voters, he may tilt the result in his favour. Mr. Kaiser, meanwhile, faces anti-incumbency with the local people complaining about him not visiting the constituency after winning the poll.

Development plank

In Araria, the sitting Mahagathbandhan candidate Sarfaraj Alam (RJD) and NDA candidate Pradeep Kumar Singh (BJP) are locked in a direct contest. Mr. Alam is banking on party’s traditional Muslim-Yadav vote bank, while Mr. Pradeep Singh is depending on PM Modi’s charisma and Mr. Nitish Kumar’s development work.

In Jhanjharpur, NDA candidate Rampreet Mandal appears to be on a strong pitch against the Mahagathbandhan candidate, Gulab Yadav (RJD), who, said the local voters, has a tainted past.

Another influential leader of the area, Devendra Prasad Yadav, too, has thrown his hat in the poll ring as a Samajwadi Janata Dal (Democratic) candidate. “Both Mr. Mandal and Mr. Devendra Yadav will make a dent in the RJD’s core vote bank, making the road smooth for the NDA candidate,” echoed voters in the constituency.

Lack of news leaves kin of blast victims in limbo

Lack of news leaves kin of blast victims in limbo

Twitter accounts are their sole sources of information

Staff Reporter

Offering solace: Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda with Chetan, son of JD(S) worker K.G. Hanumantharayappa.K MURALi KUMARK_MURALI_KUMAR


Following serial blasts in Sri Lanka on Sunday, relatives of Indians visiting Colombo have faced difficulties in tracing their kin. The family members of Puttaraju, 37, a resident of Dasarahalli in , are keeping their fingers crossed in the absence of any information.

“All the six persons in group with whom my brother visited Colombo have been declared dead and their bodies traced. We have been trying hard to know his whereabouts — whether he is dead or being treated at a hospital — but to no avail,” said his brother Rudresh.

Twitter accounts of the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka, Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy have been the only sources of information through the day.

A Colombo-based relative of one of the deceased — K.H. Hanumantharayappa — and Yelahanka MLA S.R. Vishwanath, who rushed to Colombo on Saturday night to trace his relatives, were the other contacts for Bengaluru’s residents.

Using photographs sent by kin of the seven JD(S) workers who were on a visit to the Colombo, the two men have been searching all the major hospitals and mortuaries in Colombo. “Two of my relatives — Purushottam Reddy and Nagaraj Reddy — were missing when I came here. A painful search through every hospital yielded results. The two are being treated in the ICU of different hospitals,” Mr. Vishwanath said over phone from Colombo.

Nagaraj Reddy, 47, a businessman from Koramangala, is being treated at the ICU of the General Hospital in Colombo. “His condition is very critical,” he said.

Mr. Vishwanath also said the police mortuary in Colombo has over 200 bodies and the authorities have taken photographs of the bodies, their faces and numbered them.

Four bodies were identified — Ganesh Gowda, K.M. Lakshminarayan, M. Rangappa and K.H. Hanumantharayappa — by Monday afternoon. “There are three other bodies found close to them resembling the other three from the group. But remains have been charred severely delaying identification,” Mr. Vishwanath said. Two of these bodies were recognised as that of Maaregowda and Shivakumar later in the day.

When ‘M.K. Ghandi’ wrote for The Hindu

When ‘M.K. Ghandi’ wrote for The Hindu

Compilations of articles on foreign affairs & religion released

Special Correspondent

From right, Chairman of The Hindu Group of Publications N. Ram, U.S. Consul General in Chennai Robert Burgess, former Madras High Court judge Prabha Sridevan and Publisher of The Hindu N. Ravi at the book release function on Monday. R. Ragu


Despatches, a book of select articles from foreign correspondents across the globe that appeared in The Hindu’s weekly page on international affairs during 2017-18, and The Happiness Within, a book of select articles that were published in the newspaper’s Religion/Faith column from 1964 to 2017, were released at the Kasturi Buildings here on Monday.

U.S. Consul General in Chennai Robert G. Burgess released Despatches with Chairman of The Hindu Group of Publications N. Ram handing a copy to him.

Former Madras High Court judge Justice Prabha Sridevan, who released The Happiness Within, received the first copy from The Hindu’s publisher N. Ravi.

Across the globe

Speaking at the event, Mr. Ram said Despatches spoke of The Hindu’scoverage of international news for a very long period. Recalling the efforts the newspaper took to have correspondents across the world, he said, “From the beginning, The Hindu thought big so far as news was concerned.” And even when the resources were very limited, it had correspondents in London, the United States, Tokyo, Colombo, Durban, Singapore, Islamabad, Kathmandu, Moscow, Dubai and Bahrain, he said. Despatches is priced at ₹399.

“One of our most famous despatches was by Mahatma Gandhi,” Mr. Ram said and recalled Gandhiji’s contributions from South Africa which were published in August 1896, when the Mahatma name was spelt as ‘M.K. Ghandi.’

“He [Gandhiji] apparently sent a pamphlet on the grievances of our countrymen in South Africa,” Mr. Ram said and also recalled despatches by noted Australian test cricketer, journalist and cricket writer Jack Fingleton.

Referring to an advertisement published in The Hindu and other newspapers a few weeks back on print journalism and accountability, Mr. Burgess said it spoke about the value of print journalism because of its permanence and the obligation to get things right.

The despatches from The Hindu’s foreign correspondents offered another view for readers and gave them a different insight, Mr. Burgess said and recalled an article published on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. It was a “reminder of where we are in the United States and where we have not reached.”

He also noted that many great newspapers had cut back on their foreign bureaus and correspondents but The Hindu still had reporters on the ground.

Essential tradition

Speaking on The Happiness Within, Mr. Ravi said: “Discourses, discussions on religious texts on religious mythology have been part of the Indian cultural tradition for a long time. It is particularly marked in southern India and especially in Chennai. Since 1964, The Hindu has been covering this aspect of the cultural tradition from Chennai.”

Since its inception in 1964, the interest in the ‘Religion/Faith’ column of the daily has been enduring, mainly because of its common sense approach to matters of life, avoiding outlandish suggestions and ideas and keeping the focus on one theme and one idea in each column, Mr. Ravi recalled. Justice Prabha Sridevan said happiness has to be experienced and not spoken about.

The book dwells on three aspects — what makes for happiness; a person’s relationship with the wider universe; and Elements of ethical living. The Happiness Within is priced at ₹199.

* Editorial 1

Down to earth on the ASAT test

Down to earth on the ASAT test

India has neither achieved a higher level of deterrence nor enabled a more stable strategic security environment

Getty Images/iStockphotosuman bhaumik/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Shortly before noon on March 27, India carried out a successful test of an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapon, launching an interceptor missile from the Balasore range in Odisha to hit a live satellite in Low Earth Orbit. It thus became the fourth country in the world to develop an ASAT capability.

Not a game changer

An ASAT test is hardly a game-changer as far as space warfare is concerned. Yet, the element of triumphalism seen in the Prime Minister’s announcement on television regarding the test seemed to send out a message that India was on the threshold of embarking on a new era of weaponisation of outer space. Official circles may have preferred to project the test as a technology demonstrator, but the Prime Minister’s claim that India was now capable of performing as a ‘chowkidar’ in space, and several claims that India now had a “credible deterrence” against attacks on the country’s growing number of space assets seemed to suggest that India was not averse to weaponisation of outer space.

India has, no doubt, sought to reassure the global community that it has not violated any international treaty or understanding with this test. India has also taken great pains to advertise the fact that the international community, especially the U.S., had not faulted India for carrying out this test, in marked contrast to what had happened when China had carried out an ASAT test in 2007. Nevertheless, it would be facile to think that the world endorses India’s claims regarding its peaceful intentions.

India’s demonstration of ASAT capability comes a little more than a decade after China’s, and nearly six decades after that of the U.S. and Russia. An ASAT test is, undoubtedly, less threatening than a nuclear explosion, but the world is likely to ask why India decided to demonstrate its capability at this time, though it possessed the ability much earlier. The implications of carrying out a test of this nature, as also the concerns that previously existed about doing so, are no secret from the global community of space experts. Why India chose to ‘cross the Rubicon’ by testing an ASAT weapon at this juncture is, hence, likely to cause consternation among many, given the tacit agreement among nations not to weaponise outer space. The international community cannot be faulted if it were to think that India had deliberately breached an unwritten convention against weaponisation or militarisation of outer space.

ASAT capabilities are generally perceived as integral to ballistic missile defence programmes. This clearly identifies an ASAT test as a military programme. In turn, it implies an intention to embark on weaponisation of outer space. It is, perhaps, for this reason that countries such as Israel and France, which are believed to have this capability, have so far refrained from carrying out such tests.

Cold War phenomenon

Given the hype surrounding ASAT weapons, it is also germane to mention that their strategic importance in providing effective deterrence in space is highly debatable today. ASAT was essentially a Cold War phenomenon whose strategic importance has declined over the years. Currently, none of the other three countries which possess an ASAT capability extol its strategic value and importance. The U.S., Russia and China, all seem to demonstrate less and less interest in pursuing ASAT weaponry. These countries are increasingly focussing on laser and cyber capabilities to achieve the objective of neutralising killer satellites. Countries are experimenting with directed-energy weapons, radio frequency weapons, etc. rather than concentrating on shooting down satellites in space. The last named also carries the danger of hitting satellites that may not be on an offensive mission, apart from the issue of space debris.

It is again a moot point whether India’s ASAT test, and its positioning as a critical element in India’s strategic defence capability, will have the desired impact that the nation’s leaders hope for. It could well result in something very different. It is almost certain, as was the case with India’s nuclear test, that Pakistan will immediately try to acquire the same capability, in all likelihood with generous assistance from China. China can also be expected to become increasingly wary of India’s intentions in space, and take appropriate counter-measures. The bottom line is that by carrying out the March 27 test, India has neither achieved a higher level of deterrence nor is it likely to lead to a more stable strategic security environment.

India would, hence, do well to play down the military objective of its ASAT test, all the more so given that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) recently indicated that it has, of late, carried out certain new launches such as the Microsat-R and EMISAT satellites which are intended for ‘strategic use’. More ‘defence satellites’ are reportedly in the offing. This could only fuel concerns about where India is headed. Countries not too well disposed towards India such as Pakistan and China — and perhaps some others as well — may well be carried away by our professed capabilities, and be inclined to fear the worst. This could give a country such as Pakistan ‘itchier trigger fingers’.

Neighbourhood concerns

India’s strategic planners also would not be oblivious to the fact that it does not take much imagination, given the plethora of information coming from drone feeds, satellite data and claims made by responsible leaders, for countries to develop a totally distorted picture of an adversary’s capabilities and threat. The mere existence of such a situation could lead to heightened tensions. Based in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world, India needs to do everything in its power to convince other nations that space is not part of India’s overt defence calculations.

Instead, India should highlight the fact that its enormously successful space programme, unlike those of many other countries, is notable for being conceived and implemented as a civilian programme, quite distinct and separate from any military programme or objective. It is this which distinguishes India’s space programme from that of countries such as the U.S., Russia and China. India’s space programme — totally civilian in nature — was conceived back in the 1960s. ISRO was set up in 1969, and the Space Commission came into existence in the early 1970s. Vikram Sarabhai is credited with creating India’s vision for exploration of space and, following his untimely demise in 1971, the mantle fell on Satish Dhawan.

It would be useful to stress that both Sarabhai and Dhawan, especially the latter, were particular that India’s space programme should steer clear of any military dimension, and that it should solely concern itself with communications, weather forecasting and the like. Consequently, India’s space programme had always steered clear of any military objectives.

India’s achievements in space have been many and it has several milestones to its credit. ISRO launched its first Indian satellite, Aryabhatta, in April 1975. In April 1982, ISRO launched the first Indian National Satellite System (INSAT-1A). The first Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) took off from Sriharikota in 2001. In October 2008, ISRO launched Chandrayaan-1, the first Indian planetary science and exploration mission to the moon. In November 2013, ISRO launched the Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan) spacecraft. Since then there have been many more launches.

Sarabhai’s legacy

A generation of internationally recognised Indian space scientists (among whom may be mentioned U.R. Rao and K. Kasturirangan) after Sarabhai and Dhawan have scrupulously adhered to the same peaceful mission of the earlier preceptors, and seen to it that India steered clear of weaponisation of space, remaining committed to non-military applications.

It is critically important for those in authority to take up this task in all earnestness lest the view prevails, as is already evident in some circles, that India is keen to embark on weaponisation and militarisation of outer space. There is little strategic advantage accruing from an ASAT test; on the other hand the damage that could be caused to India’s image as a peaceful and responsible nation intent on, and committed to, peaceful uses of space could be immense.

M.K. Narayanan is a former National Security Adviser and former Governor of West Bengal

A half-written promise

A half-written promise

Political parties must steer public debate to crucial issues relating to women’s health and reproductive rights

Jayna Kothari, Maya Unnithan & Siri Gloppen

Getty Images/iStockphotoFotografiaBasica/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The 2019 general election has brought to the forefront hotly contested political issues and promises. But one area of reform that has just not been an important electoral issue is the sexual and reproductive rights of women. While all major parties make some piecemeal promises to women, the recognition of sexual and reproductive rights is almost negligible. This is despite the recent progressive legal work in courts.

The fine print

It is revealing to examine the narrow ways in which political parties have addressed reproductive rights. For example, the Congress manifesto says the party will pass suitable legislation to make registration of marriages compulsory and to enforce the law prohibiting child marriages. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto interestingly focusses on women’s menstruation and says it will ensure that all reproductive and menstrual health services are easily available to all women across India. Further, with the expansion of the Suvidha scheme, sanitary pads at a cost of ₹1 will be provided to all women and girls. The CPI(M) has promised to make marital rape an offence and to ensure strict implementation of the Pre-conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT) Act, which prohibits sex determination tests and female foeticide.

This is the extent to which reproductive rights are understood in India — child marriage, female foeticide, sex selection and menstrual health and hygiene. These are extremely important issues but are selective.

Sexual and reproductive rights in India must include a concern with maternal deaths, access to maternal care to safe abortions, access to contraceptives, adolescent sexuality, prohibition of forced medical procedures such as forced sterilisations and removal of stigma and discrimination against women, girls and LGBTI persons on the basis of their gender, sexuality and access to treatment.

Data on India

India has among the highest number of maternal deaths worldwide (which UNICEF India and World Bank data put at an estimated 45,000 maternal deaths every year, or an average of one maternal death every 12 minutes). Unsafe abortions are the third leading cause of maternal deaths in India. Research by Susheela Singh and others (The Lancet, January 2018) shows that half the pregnancies in India are unintended and that a third result in abortion. Only 22% of abortions are done through public or private health facilities.

Lack of access to safe abortion clinics, particularly public hospitals, and stigma and attitudes toward women, especially young, unmarried women seeking abortion, contribute to this. Doctors refuse to perform abortions on young women or demand that they get consent from their parents or spouses despite no such requirement by law. This forces many women to turn to clandestine and often unsafe abortions. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 provides for termination only up to 20 weeks. If an unwanted pregnancy has proceeded beyond 20 weeks, women have to approach a medical board and courts to seek permission for termination, which is extremely difficult. The MTP Act is long overdue for a comprehensive reform.

The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has been extremely progressive on women’s reproductive rights. The court in decriminalising adultery and in the Navtej Johar judgment striking down Section 377 held clearly, that women have a right to sexual autonomy, which is an important facet of their right to personal liberty. In the landmark Puttaswamy judgment in which the right to privacy was held to be a fundamental right, the Supreme Court held: “Privacy includes at its core the preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation… Privacy safeguards individual autonomy and recognises the ability of the individual to control vital aspects of his or her life.”

In the case of Independent Thought v. Union of India in the context of reproductive rights of girls, Justices M.B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta held, “The human rights of a girl child are very much alive and kicking whether she is married or not and deserve recognition and acceptance.” These judgments have an important bearing on the sexual and reproductive rights of women. The right of women and girls to safe abortion is an important facet of their right to bodily integrity, right to life and equality and needs to be protected.

Political parties, which also represent India’s women, have an obligation to take forward the debates on reproductive rights, equality, and access to abortion in political debates as well as in framing laws and policies.

Safe abortions

The responsibility also lies with civil society and development actors to bring up these issues for public debate and in demands. The silence around unsafe abortions is leading to deaths of women and hides important problems that lie at the intersection of these concerns, such as the formidable barriers for adolescent girls to access reproductive health services, including abortion services. The right to safe abortion is an important political issue that must be addressed and widely debated, particularly if parties and leaders are committed to women’s human rights.

Access to legal and safe abortion is an integral dimension of sexual and reproductive equality, a public health issue, and must be seen as a crucial element in the contemporary debates on democracy.

Jayna Kothari is a Senior Advocate in the Karnataka High Court; Maya Unnithan is Professor of Social and Medical Anthropology, University of Sussex; Siri Gloppen is Professor and Director of the Centre on Law and Social Transformation, University of Bergen

Sunday, bloody Sunday

Sunday, bloody Sunday

Preventing further attacks and keeping the peace are vital in Sri Lanka

The serial blasts on Easter Sunday rank as the worst bloodbath Sri Lanka has seen since the end of the civil war in 2009. It is a monumental tragedy for a country that is trying to live down the strife that lasted more than a quarter century. In what could be the handiwork of a local Islamist radical group, as many as 290 people are dead, and nearly 500 wounded in multiple blasts, a few of them involving suicide bombers. The targets chosen as well as the occasion suggest that the bombings were aimed at gaining maximum global attention. The coordinated blasts took place while guests were having breakfast in three luxury hotels frequented by foreign tourists close to the seafront in the capital, and worshippers had gathered for Easter in a church each in Colombo, Negombo on the western coast and the eastern town of Batticaloa. The most immediate impact will be on the economy, to which the well-run tourism industry is a huge contributor. Already the economy is going through a rough patch, as the country grapples with the aftermath of the political instability that prevailed a few months ago. The spectre of ethnic relations between various communities deteriorating also looms. The small Muslim minority, caught in the crosshairs of the conflict in the past, and Christians, an even smaller minority, have faced violent attacks by hardline Sinhala Buddhist groups. However, nothing in such incidents suggested any acrimony that could have led up to the sort of savagery seen on Easter day.

Reports that specific overseas intelligence inputs were not taken seriously are disturbing. The inquiry ordered by President Maithripala Sirisena will, it is hoped, address the concern voiced by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, that he and his ministers were kept in the dark about these inputs. However, the administration responded admirably to the situation, especially in preventing the spread of rumours and any backlash against sections of society. Possibly following the New Zealand example, the government and the security establishment sought to deny the group any immediate ideological mileage and any claim to putative martyrdom by not identifying the group involved. It has now been named as the ‘National Thowheed Jamaat’. However, intriguingly, no group has owned responsibility for the blasts, something extremist outfits are wont to do to attract recruits and strike terror on a global scale. Given the scale and sophistication of the operation, which would have involved reconnoitring targets, assembling and transporting explosives and detonators, it does not seem likely that a solely indigenous group would have the wherewithal to carry it out. The neighbourhood will closely watch the investigation, as it may reveal the extent to which the shadow of the Islamic State is falling on the South Asian region.

Line of caution

Line of caution

The suspension of cross-LoC trade will cause hardship — it must be revoked

The Central government’s decision to suspend trade across the Line of Control between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is bad in conception, and comes at a particularly fraught time. On April 18, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the suspension from midnight of trade at the two designated points at Salamabad and Chakan-da-Bagh, citing concerns about “illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency” being transported into India. It is also being argued that the zero-tariff barter arrangement is being violated through under-invoicing and the exchange of third party items such as U.S.-origin California almonds. The first is presumably a way to transfer funds; and the second would be to exploit the zero-tariff trade, something brought up by traders who operate via the Wagah border. The government’s concerns may be well-founded, but the solution to violations of a trade agreement is to enforce the rules stringently, not stop exchange of goods and put at risk the livelihood of countless people on both sides of the LoC. At a protest in Srinagar against the trade suspension, for instance, a leader of the cross-LoC traders association argued that they had, in fact, themselves been seeking a “foolproof mechanism” to enforce the terms of the agreement.

The benefits to the local economies from the cross-LoC trade are beyond doubt. It is estimated that since the barter trade commenced along two routes across the LoC in October 2008, employment to the order of more than 1.6 lakh days had been created. The volume of trade over the decade has crossed ₹6,000 crore. It must be kept in mind that the trade is mostly of local goods, and those employed, including in the transportation, are from border communities. The opening of cross-LoC trade was among the confidence-building mechanisms that followed the 2003 India-Pakistan ceasefire along the line, and that included a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad (in PoK). The hope of the mid-2000s that people-to-people contact between those living in J&K and PoK would over time become obstruction-free has, for now, faded. But the LoC trade has held, with just the occasional disruption. The current suspension comes in the course of a shrill election campaign that the ruling BJP is relentlessly pulling towards its hard line on subjects such as Article 370 on the special status of J&K. The government has sent unsettling signals by closing the National Highway between Udhampur and Baramulla to civilian traffic for two days a week to secure the movement of troop convoys. To now summarily suspend LoC trade is to invite suspicion that the step has been taken without careful consideration of the consequences and also for political reasons. The suspension must be urgently revoked.

* Editorial 2

The court is not above the Constitution

The court is not above the Constitution

The expectation of citizens is that the Supreme Court will lead by example, not by arbitrary diktat

In the midst of the political turmoil of a testing election season, a former junior court assistant at the Supreme Court sent copies of a sworn affidavit to 22 judges of the Supreme Court alleging sexual harassment by the Chief Justice of India and intimidation of her family members. The nature of the allegations is serious, and for a lesser citizen, it would prima facie have set the ball rolling on investigations, inquiries and appropriate actions by duly appointed committees. The fact that this is the correct course of action need not in this case detract from the cardinal principle of criminal law on the burden of proof — innocent until proven guilty.

Derailing fair procedure

The immediate response of the Secretary General of the Supreme Court to the affidavit goes along predictable lines: “The allegations… are completely and absolutely false and scurrilous and are totally denied… The motive… is obviously mischievous… It would be extremely relevant to mention that the concerned individual and her family have criminal antecedents… It is not only mischievous but a complete afterthoght (sic) of her to make these false allegations at this time… In fact there were complaints made against her… to the Secretary General on account of her inappropriate behaviour… Apart from the misconduct formally recorded, there were other counts of misconduct on her part… Its (sic) is also very possible that there are mischievous forces behind all this, with an intention to malign the institution.”

In her affidavit, the complainant spoke of specific incidents, harassment of a specific nature, and against a specific person. Nothing in her sworn affidavit can on the face of it be construed as a general derogatory statement of the Supreme Court as an institution, nor as the general behaviour of judges of the Supreme Court. If there is an allegation against a specific person who occupies a high office, it is not an assault on the office. Construing it as such would pave the way to arbitrariness and impunity, and would undermine the Constitution that binds the court in irredeemable ways. On the other hand, it is possible that a thorough, impartial and fair investigation that is mindful of the asymmetries of power between the complainant and the respondent might find the complaint without basis. Instead, we find the first response on behalf of the respondent taking easy resort to “criminal antecedents” of the complainant and her family, as if that by itself negates the possibility of her being subjected to sexual intimidation. To derail the mere possibility of fair procedure is unacceptable by any standards.

The order passed shows the case as a ‘Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1’ and lists the Advocate General and the Solicitor General as Parties. The result of the special hearing was a gag-like order on the media signed by two judges, Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna: “Having considered the matter, we refrain from passing any judicial order at this moment leaving it to the wisdom of the media to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them and accordingly decide what should or should not be published as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of judiciary. We would therefore at this juncture leave it to the media to take off such material which is undesirable.” The CJI was not one of the signatories, although he was present and spoke at the hearing.

It is important to understand that although this issue has sent a shudder all around and gasps of disbelief and shock, the manner in which the complaint has been received and handled by sections of the Bench and sections of the Bar has been disconcerting to many in the legal profession. The Bar Council of India’s statement speaks eloquently of its own standard: “The cock and bull story has been cooked up to plot some big conspiracy against the institution. Bar is fully standing with our CJI and the Judges of Supreme Court.” The fact is that the Bar Council of India does not speak for all lawyers in the country, as the response of the Women in Criminal Law Association (WCLA) makes evident. The WCLA published a detailed statement demanding a free and fair investigation by a panel that excluded the three judges who constituted the Bench in the first sitting and demanded that the CJI not hold office till the inquiry is completed. The Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association and the Executive Committee of the Supreme Court Bar Association passed resolutions on April 22 disapproving the manner in which the complaint was dealt with and asserting the urgency of an independent impartial inquiry. These resolutions must be viewed in the light of conspiracy theories alluded to by the Bar Council of India and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s statement that this was the work of “institution destabilisers” who represent “Left or ultra Left views”. This attempt to impute a conspiracy jeopardises the security of the complainant, her family and anyone who provides support in securing redress.

The court is unlike other institutional settings — the Supreme Court is sequestered and the constitutional office of the Chief Justice of India is deemed sacred and inviolable. The argument is that an independent judiciary is indispensable to check arbitrariness on the part of the legislature and government. What is often forgotten is that an independent judiciary also importantly acts as a check on itself, and must apply the principles of natural justice and fair procedure to itself with greater rigour than it would to the parties that appear before the court. The expectation of citizens is that the court will lead by example, not by arbitrary diktat. The expectation also is that constitutional morality will guide the court, especially the Justices of the court, at all times; the constitutional presumption is that the court is not above the Constitution.

The time to dissent is now

This very court, in the judgment on the right to privacy, observed unequivocally that judges have in the past erred in judgment, in an understanding of their powers and in their understanding of the Constitution and the rule of law. Can we forget Justice Rohinton Nariman’s emotionally charged recall of the “three great dissents”? Can we forget Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s statement, “When histories of nations are written and critiqued, there are judicial decisions at the forefront of liberty. Yet others have to be consigned to the archives, reflective of what was, but should never have been…”? And it is the thin line of judicial dissents that has moved centre stage in our understanding of India’s constitutional history today. Given the recent resurrection of dissents by the Supreme Court, it is important not to foreclose the possibility of judicial dissent by generalising the actions of the three justices to all the judges of the court. For, after all, to borrow in part from Justice Chandrachud, judicial dissent is the safety valve of constitutionalism. And dissent must be seen to be done. The time is now.

Kalpana Kannabiran is Professor and Director, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad

Talking with a different Modi

Talking with a different Modi

If he returns to power, as the Pakistan Prime Minister wants, Modi’s priorities would be different from those in his first term

Early this month, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said he thinks that there may be a better chance of peace talks with India and that “some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached” if the BJP wins this general election. This suggests that Mr. Khan, who is considered to be close to the guardians of the Pakistani state, possesses the ‘mandate’ to redraw borders and expects the leader of the BJP to have a similar mandate from the people after the election.

Attempts at rapprochement

Over several decades, India and Pakistan have fought wars, derided each other at international fora, and squandered away a few attempts at rapprochement. Yet this formulation of hard-line adversaries being able to arrive at genuine peace between the two countries is a tantalising possibility. There is proof from other countries of bitter adversaries being the best peacemakers. In 1972, the conservative U.S. President Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing to meet Chairman Mao Zedong brought to an end years of tension between the U.S. and China. The most important consequence of the rapprochement was that the two Koreas agreed to reunification as a principle. And in February 1979, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as External Affairs Minister, revived India-China relations that had gone into a chill since the 1962 war. In 2001, Vajpayee, this time as Prime Minister, was reportedly on the brink of arriving at a resolution of the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at the Agra Summit.

These examples show that conservatives can bring about peace. While at the Agra Summit, where a master politician like Vajpayee might have seen an opportunity to make an impact on the history of the subcontinent (only to have it scuttled by his arch-rival, yet fellow right-wing stalwart L.K. Advani), Nixon’s attempt was not focussed on making peace with China’s ideology; it was an attempt to de-escalate tensions.

A different Modi

Expecting de-escalation of tensions from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, if he is voted back to power, would be different though. Mr. Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore in December 2015 to wish his then-Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on his birthday. Will he be inclined to do the same on Mr. Khan’s birthday this year? If Mr. Modi returns to power after this election campaign, which has been filled with invocations of Pulwama and Balakot, then it would be on the anti-Pakistan plank. In 2014, Mr. Modi wanted to be the leader who gave an opportunity to a recalcitrant neighbour. A re-elected Mr. Modi might not be in the need for such gestures. His ideological predilections will dissuade him as well. Besides, at the core of the Modi phenomenon has been his uncompromising persona. His appeal is to a core base that is of his own making and not necessarily that of the RSS-BJP combine. The base he appeals to believes in bravado and machismo.

Arriving at peace

Mr. Modi has most often not felt the need to intervene and assuage the country on many issues that have been highly divisive. On the Gujarat riots in 2002, he compared his feelings to an occupant of a car involved in an accident. The travails of the people post-demonetisation and the poor implementation of the Goods and Services Tax were not even addressed, forget an apology being tendered. If that is the risk he was willing to take as Prime Minister in his first term, a rejuvenated Mr. Modi might even have the confidence to talk of the recreation of an Akhand Bharat. In the dream of Akhand Bharat, how can there be any compromise on a territorial dispute? There will be a collapse of many territories in such a dream and hence no territorial dispute to compromise on.

Mr. Khan might want the BJP back in power, but he will have to contend with a different Prime Minister Modi, if the latter does return. If there has to be durable peace in the subcontinent, the leaders who occupy high office should arrive at peace on the strength of political mandates that enjoin them to make peace.

Subhash Rai is Digital Editor, The India Forum

The anatomy of beauty

The anatomy of beauty

Deconstructing the meaning of beauty today

Madhurika Sankar

“With great hotness comes great responsibility,” says the adorably vapid Haley Dunphy on the hit U.S. sitcom Modern Family. Little does the character realise the hidden import of her casual assertion in today’s world.

Artists, scientists and philosophers concur that beauty is an inherently undefinable characteristic, combining the inward and the outward, the subjective and the objective, the evolutionary and the cultural. Indeed, ‘beauty’ is derived from the French word beaute, which means ‘physical attractiveness and goodness’. Right away, there is the suggestion of beauty and virtue as one and the same. Philosopher Francis Bacon theorised that “virtue is nothing but inward beauty; beauty nothing but outward virtue.” This notion is pervasive and finds expression everywhere.

But there are dark trade-offs. An empirically beautiful person might have an easier time getting a job, finding a mate, and being taken seriously, but beauty often inspires people rolling out the proverbial red carpet, robbing you of any incentive to develop inner depth. And let’s not forget the detrimental effect that the concept of beauty has on others who are perceived to lack the quality. The Western mass culture that predominates the world currently inspires anorexic, photoshopped ideals of beauty, instigating malcontent and insecurity in people. This insecurity often leads to detrimental personality changes, further marginalising the physically less-than-ideal individual.

Evolutionary aesthetics posits that the aesthetic preferences of human beings have evolved based on survival needs and are rooted more in biology than culture. The cultural dominance of the definition of beauty in the modern world is but a moment in time in relation to the sweep of socio-biological history. Nineteenth century sculptor Rodin was precocious in his understanding of our modern age: “Constantly I hear: ‘What an ugly age! That woman is plain. That dog is horrible.’ It is neither the age nor the woman nor the dog which is ugly, but your eyes, which do not understand.”

The nicest, most evolved person, who understands the empirical fact that beauty is skin deep, will probably still linger over a more attractive person than a more substantive one, finding excuses to rationalise his or her deep desire for facial symmetry, unblemished skin and lustrous hair.

Renaissance mastermind Leonardo da Vinci looked for scientific precision in art and nature, symmetry being a reflection of beauty. Indeed, the Golden Ratio refers to a mathematical formula for ideal aesthetics and that it remains constant across multiple disciplines of study is a humbling resolution of our inherent struggles over beauty, to this day.

The writer is based in Chennai

* Foreign

India issued alert to Sri Lanka on possible blasts

India issued alert to Sri Lanka on possible blasts

The Colombo mission, among the potential targets, took precautions after the early-April warning

Meera Srinivasan

Another scare: Sri Lankan security personnel inspecting the debris of a car that exploded on Monday near the St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo.AFPJEWEL SAMAD


India had issued an alert to Sri Lanka in early April on possible bomb attacks at different spots in the island, including the Indian High Commission building, sources in and New Delhi said, pointing to a possible lapse on the part of Sri Lanka’s security agencies.

Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne told media-persons on Monday that “international” intelligence agencies had “warned the government on April 4” regarding an impending attack in the country. He did not name the country. However, sources in Colombo told The Hindu that India had shared “as much information as they could” at that time.

The Colombo mission, which was among the potential targets, had since taken “necessary precautions” .

Note from DIG

Further, a note from the DIG-Special Protection Range, bearing a seal of the date of April 11, and addressed to security divisions of Ministers, diplomatic community, judges and former Presidents, had warned recipients of “suicide attacks” being planned by “Mohammed Zaharan”, “Leader of the National Thowheeth Jamaath”, the organisation that Sri Lankan authorities on Monday attributed the attacks to. Referring to “several people” involved in the plot, the note said churches and the Indian High Commission in Colombo were targets. The note, written in Sinhala, has been doing the rounds on social media since Sunday’s blasts. While initially a section of Sri Lankan authorities dismissed it as a fake document, it acquired more credence on Monday, especially after Minister Senaratne named the same Islamist radical organisation, little known even within the country.

Police have made nearly 30 arrests, but the person identified as the fringe outfit’s “leader” is said to be absconding. While many have commended Sri Lankan police and other security agencies for their swift response following the blasts, questions about their strategy to prevent the attacks remain unanswered.

What specific measures were taken between April 4 (when Sri Lanka received the intelligence on the matter), April 11 (when the DIG’s note was sent) and April 21 (when the serial blasts occurred) remains unclear to many, even within the government, including at the highest levels. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that the authorities were aware, but he and his Ministers were not informed.

Suspects monitored

Not that the Sri Lankan side was caught unawares. Sources part of key security briefings told The Hindu that a list of at least hundred suspects had been drawn up some time ago, with select phone numbers to monitor. The names, reportedly Muslim, were mostly of local youth.

Sri Lankan authorities were already tracking a few young men with suspected links with militant organisations abroad following the arrests of at least two youth in December, who were accused of damaging Buddha statues in Mawanella town, some 100 kms away from Colombo. All the same, the responses to these different leads somehow did not add up to a timely operation to avert the imminent risk, sources noted.

“The intelligence apparatus was preoccupied with their heightened drive against narcotics, which has become a major political issue. Moreover, they seem to have let their guard down around New Year weekend [Sinhala and Tamil New Years were celebrated on April 14] when the whole island virtually shuts down. That is possibly one reason,” said a source familiar with the investigations said.

Moreover, as Mr. Wickremesinghe’s statement on Sunday indicated, the lingering tensions between the President and him since the political crisis last year may have been a factor, say some. Government Ministers on Monday voiced serious concern over police “inaction” despite prior warning and even sought the resignation of the IGP. Both the Law and Order and the Defence Ministries are with President Maithripala Sirisena.

Ukrainians choose comedian Zelensky as next President

Ukrainians choose comedian Zelensky as next President

He beat incumbent Petro Poroshenko in landslide victory

Agence France-Presse

Volodymyr ZelenskyAFPGENYA SAVILOV


Ukraine leapt into the unknown on Monday after comedian Volodymyr Zelensky was elected President on promises of change but with just a vague blueprint of what he might do as leader.

Mr. Zelensky, whose previous experience in the world of politics was playing the President on TV, trounced incumbent Petro Poroshenko in a stinging rebuke to the establishment fuelled by anger over war and social injustice.

Ukrainians looked to the future with hope and anxiety after the performer took 73% of the vote on Sunday, according to nearly complete official results. The star of “Servant of the People”, a sitcom now in its third season, has vowed to pursue the pro-European course set out by his predecessor. But Mr. Zelensky has also said he wants to improve ties with arch-enemy Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday it was “too early to talk about President [Vladimir] Putin congratulating Mr. Zelensky, or about the possibility of working together.”

Youngest President

Mr. Zelensky — who at 41 is to be Ukraine’s youngest-ever President — has a vague progamme and it remained unclear who would fill top positions.

He shunned traditional campaign rallies, instead performing comedy gigs, and implied he would use the same unorthodox style to run the country of 45 million that depends on international aid.

Similarly sounding names, but different organisations

Similarly sounding names, but different organisations

Following the blasts in Sri Lanka, groups with ‘Thowheed’ in their names have come in for scrutiny

Meera Srinivasan and Udhav Naig

Amidst the ruins: The St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on Monday.REUTERSAthit Perawongmetha


Soon after Sri Lanka named Islamist radical group National Thowheed Jamaath as the outfit behind the Easter Day serial blasts, other organisations with similar names came under sharp scrutiny.

However, the organisations not only condemned Sunday’s attacks, but voiced strong criticisms of the National Thowheed Jamaath that, some say, was in the making for the last few years.

SLTJ dissociates itself

The Sri Lanka Towheeth Jamaath (SLTJ) said the perpetrators must be served the highest punishment. According to its Facebook page, the group organised a blood donation drive in Kandy on Sunday to help those injured in the blasts. The organisation had vehemently opposed an initiative to amend Muslim personal law and some of its members have been arrested in the past for hate speech.

Meanwhile Rasmin, a former assistant secretary of the SLTJ, said a majority of members, including him, had split from the SLTJ to form the Ceylon Thowheed Jamaath (CTJ). “The SLTJ was working with the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaath. We were not comfortable with that and decided to split. We also had some differences on the practise of Islam,” he told The Hindu.

Aware of ‘Zaharan’

The NTJ, he said, had absolutely “no links” with the SLTJ or the newly-formed CTJ. However, the organisations were “aware of Zaharan”, he said, referring to the man believed to be leading the NTJ. “He was based in Kattankudy in Batticaloa [Eastern Province] and ran a Facebook page where he would explicitly commend the IS’s ideology and approach. We alerted the Sri Lankan intelligence agencies about this man three years ago, they are a dangerous group,” Mr. Rasmin said, before heading to a police station. “They asked me to come today to record some statements. I have nothing to hide,” he said.

Meanwhile, amidst speculation of the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamat (TNTJ)’s possible links to National Thowheed Jamaath on Monday, TNTJ spokesperson Abdul Rahman denied that the organisation had any links. “Just because the two organisations have Thowheed in their names, it doesn’t mean that they are linked,” he said.

In 2015, TNTJ leader P. Jainulabudeen was invited by the SLTJ to release the Sinhala version of the Koran in 2015, amid some opposition from within the community. Mr. Rahman added: “It is true that [he] was invited to talk about dargah worship, but the Muslims who practise such forms of worship opposed it and reported it to Sri Lankan authorities saying that such talks would create issues in the society.”