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An Indian election official watches a voter fill out her ballot in a polling station in the northeastern state of Assam, April 11, 2016.

BenarNews (published from Indonesia) has filed this story.

Saifuddin Ahmed, a Bengali Muslim who lives in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, is eagerly waiting for results of just-concluded state assembly elections to be announced on May 19.

Ahmed’s father migrated to India from the former East Pakistan – later Bangladesh – in the 1950s, but he says he fears persecution, or even deportation, if the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) comes to power in Assam, which borders Bangladesh.

“I was born here [in India] and have lived here all my life. I am an Indian citizen. But still, I am referred to as a Bangladeshi,” Ahmed, 53, told BenarNews from his village in Kokrajhar district, some 220 km (136.7 miles) from the state capital Guwahati.

“If the BJP comes to power in Assam, I am afraid people like me will have no status in India. We might even be kicked out of the country. Who will stop them?” said Ahmed, one of about 2 million Muslim immigrants living in Assam since before the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, and who voted in statewide polls that concluded on Monday.

Ahmed’s fear is not entirely unfounded.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP has vowed to disenfranchise Assam’s Muslim immigrants as it looks to form its first government in the state. At 34 percent, Assam boasts the second highest number of Muslims among India’s states.

According to a 1998 report by the governor of Assam, the state’s Muslim population grew by 77 percent compared with the national average of 55 percent between 1971 and 1991, indicating large- scale cross-border migration.

Himanta Biswa Sarma, a campaign manager for the BJP, said recently that if his party were elected, it would bar Bangladeshi-origin Muslims, who entered India between 1951 and 1971, from voting, adding that they could stay but would have to re-apply for citizenship.

“There are about 2 million immigrants [who came before 1971] and their descendants. Let them grow economically and educationally. But their status should be [as] refugee[s] and, on the basis of individual applications, if someone becomes an Indian citizen, that’s a different issue,” Sarma told Reuters.

Sarma said his party would deport undocumented Bangladeshi immigrants, a large but unknown number of whom has settled in Assam and West Bengal and who arrived in India post-1971.

Polarizing campaign

Besides Assam, where phased polling ended this week, voting will continue over several rounds in West Bengal – another state on the border with Bangladesh – on April 17, 21, 25, 30 and May 5. Voting is also set to continue in three other south Indian states – Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry – before official results are declared on May 19.

The party that leads India’s ruling coalition is trying to win state assembly majorities in Assam, which is controlled by the Congress party, and West Bengal, which is led by the All India Trinamool Congress party.

The BJP’s polarizing election campaign, according to critics, was an attempt to woo the states’ Hindu voters, who have long complained of being robbed of jobs due to the influx of Bangladeshi immigrants.

“[BJP’s anti-immigrant campaign is] not surprising. Though the issue of illegal immigrants is a problem, it can be addressed politically with due processes. Their campaign is nothing but a form a polarization,” New Delhi-based political commentator Rupesh Verma told BenarNews.

“The BJP’s idea of India as a Hindu nationalist state is clear. Minority-related issues do not go down well with them. They have been playing the communal card for a long time,” he said, adding that Modi’s plan risked re-igniting communal tensions between officially secular India’s nearly 1.3 billion-strong Hindu population and 172 million Muslims.

Hindus welcome, not Muslims

The fact that the BJP last year announced that it would welcome and offer citizenship to Hindu immigrants from mainly Muslim Bangladesh and Pakistan, but “wants to alienate Muslim immigrants” does not sit well with Sadiq, an immigrant living in West Bengal since 1968.

Refusing to have his last name published for fear of repercussions, Sadiq, a Kolkata resident, said although he was a voting citizen of India, “several” of his relatives had crossed into India from Bangladesh illegally after 1971.

“My relatives, who came to India in search of better opportunities, have no rights. They live in constant fear of being arrested or thrown out at any time. But the Hindus coming in from across the border are being welcomed with open arms. How does the Indian constitution justify this religious discrimination?” Sadiq told BenarNews.

But the BJP’s campaign was mere “pre-electoral mobilization,” said analysts, who cast doubt on whether the party would follow this up with a full-scale drive to expel Muslim immigrants.

“You don’t have a state that has the capacity, the instruments and the institutions to do anything about this [drive out Muslim immigrants],” Reuters quoted Ajai Sahni, of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, as saying.

Political commentator Dushyant Nagar said the BJP’s campaign in Assam and West Bengal was an extension of its right-wing ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has long opposed the influx of Muslim immigrants.

“[The RSS] has always been against it. Since most Bangladeshi immigrants are Muslims, the BJP wants to polarize the votes. But this does not seem to give it the desired advantage, [as] not all Hindus are voting for the BJP,” Nagar told BenarNews. (Published with permission from BenarNews, Indonesia)


Wikimedia Commons

Holige, ready to serve

During the festive season, kitchens are filled with people trying to find a space for them to work, while they contribute to the eventual feast. In India, festivals are one of the most important things that bind families and friends together over food. Diwali is of those festivals that apart from being known for the colors and lights, is known and remembered by the elaborate dishes that each family doles out.

In Karnataka, parts of Gujarat and Maharashtra, and South India in general, making obbattu/ holige/ puran poli is a festive ritual. Known as Holige, more popularly in Kannada, this dish is eaten as a dessert because of its sweetness but can be eaten as a meal in itself because of its nutritious value.

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Kerala Kalamandalam admits girl students after 90 years

Kerala Kalamandalam that teaches the globally recognized art form of Kerala -- Kathakali, has for the first time in its history of 90 years, admitted girl students.

In class VII of Kalamadalam, out of 10 students admitted, 9 are girl students for its Kathakali course. Kathakali is a highly masculine art form with even the female characters being portrayed by men. The attempt is being welcomed across the world.

However several women had started practicing Kathakali in 1970 and 1990 and K.K. Gopalakrishnan, renowned art critic of Kerala in his research book, 'Kathakali Dance - Theatre', said that some women from foreign countries had trained for some short-term courses in Kerala on Kathakali.

Most of these performing women artists were either trained privately by Kathakali masters but this is the first time that Kalamandalam is taking in girl students for its long-term programme.

T.K. Narayanan, Vice-Chancellor, Kerala Kalamandalam told media persons that giving admission to girl students in Kalamadalam was a demand for several quarters since long and that this academic year the governing body has decided to give admission to girl students in a full-time programme at Kalamandalam.

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"I want every Indian should be fortunate enough to have a 'darshan' (visit) of Ram Lalla. I am a small man but Lord Ram has given me enough and I will use my position to help people to come for darshan here," Kejriwal added after offering prayers at the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya on Tuesday.

Speaking to the media, he said, "I pray to Lord Ram to help India move ahead in the world and bring prosperity for 130 crore people."

Kejriwal, who visited the Hanuman Garhi temple, said he was fortunate enough to be in Ayodhya and seek blessings from Lord Ram for the welfare of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and the rest of the country.

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