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On the boil, Punjab seeks divine intervention

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Chandigarh: With just over a week to go for the second Progressive Punjab Investors Summit-2015, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is making appeals and even seeking divine intervention for the return of peace and normalcy in the frontier state.

Violent protests, multiple roadblocks across Punjab, youths out on the streets brandishing swords, sticks and other traditional weaponry, shops and establishments being forced to shut down, railway tracks being blocked for days by agitating farmers, rumours being spread through social media to create differences on religious lines and radical elements having a free run – this is certainly not the image that the Punjab government would want the country’s top industrialists and investors to see about the state.

The investors’ summit, which is the brainchild of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who himself is a billionaire businessman with interests in hotels, agriculture, infrastructure, media and some other fields, could take a hit with Punjab being on the boil in the past one month.

First, it was the farmers – the backbone of Punjab’s economy – who blocked railway tracks for several days, affecting nearly 900 trains, demanding higher compensation for their crop loss. The agitation was the outcome of a scam in purchase of spurious pesticide – which led to the loss of the cotton crop.

This was followed by protests and violence after the alleged sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs. Radical elements, who had been sidelined over the years after militancy ended in the state in 1995, found a new opening to re-launch themselves. The Badal government, which promised to maintain peace in the state at all costs, was seen faltering and even the elder Badal had to land up at Harmandar Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple, to seek divine intervention for peace and normalcy.

Then, radical elements in the state got pumped by the flip-flop of the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikh religion, which first announced its “pardon” for controversial Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who was accused of hurting religious sentiments of Sikhs in 2007 when he dressed up like Guru Gobind Singh. The Akal Takht has now, in a complete U-turn, reversed its decision.

The investors’ summit on Oct 28-29, to be held on the campus of the Indian School of Business in Mohali near here, will focus on agro- and food processing, life-sciences, information technology and its enabled services, skill development, health, manufacturing, education, renewable energy, aerospace and defence and tourism sectors.

Big names from the industry are expected to participate this time too. The last summit, in December 2013, saw the likes of Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani, steel tycoon L.N. Mittal, ITC’s Y.C. Deveshwar, Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, L&T’s A. M. Naik, Hero Group’s Sunil Kant Munjal, DLF’s Rajiv Singh, Bharti Airtel’s Sunil Bharti Mittal and many others attending.

Despite claims by Sukhbir Badal, the first summit has hardly made any impact on the ground in terms of big investments in Punjab. This time too it is not going to be any different.

All the happenings in Punjab in the past month are hardly going down well with any prospective investor. The state’s “progressive” image would surely take a hit.

Perhaps because of this, on Tuesday, the chief minister, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee asked the people to orgnaise “akhand paths” (prayers) in towns and villages across Punjab to restore peace in the state.

The question is: Will divine intervention succeed where everything else has failed?

(Jaideep Sarin, IANS)

 

 

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Violence And Intimidation Directed Towards Rohingyas In Bangladesh Camps

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies.

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Rohingya, Violence
Rohingya refugees carry a hume pipe in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

The failed attempt to send thousands of Rohingya back to Myanmar starting this month has drawn attention to alleged violence and intimidation by security forces against members of the Muslim minority living in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps.

Bangladesh has boosted its international reputation by hosting more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled a vicious campaign by Myanmar’s military last year that U.N. investigators have labelled genocide – an accusation Myanmar has consistently denied.

But Bangladesh appears keen to demonstrate that Rohingya refugees will not be welcome there indefinitely. The planned repatriations sparked fear and chaos last week as Rohingya went into hiding – and in a handful of reported cases attempted suicide – to avoid being sent back.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Meanwhile, allegations of sporadic beatings, looting and intimidation by Bangladeshi soldiers, police and camp officials have underscored the bleak conditions faced by Rohingya in their host country, where most are denied official refugee status and face restrictions on freedom of movement.

The repatriation of some 2,000 refugees was scheduled to begin last Thursday, but Bangladesh has now put the plans on hold until next year after failing to find any Rohingya willing to go back.

Rohingya in the camps have told VOA that soldiers were stationed near the homes of those who were told they would be sent back last week, fueling fears of forced repatriation and adding to widespread distress in communities already suffering extreme trauma after last year’s violence.

One Rohingya man told VOA anonymously that block leaders in the camps were also “announcing with loudspeakers… that it’s essential for everyone to carry ID with them whenever and wherever they go if they leave their homes.”

Late last month, security forces looted property from Rohingya shopkeepers at the Balukhali camp, said John Quinley, a human rights specialist with the non-profit organization Fortify Rights.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugees walk under rain clouds on June 26, 2018, in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. VOA

“Right now the security forces are operating in the camps with total impunity,” he said.

In another case earlier this month, Fortify Rights reported that security forces rounded up 18 Rohingya leaders and slapped and hit some of them while telling them to instruct other refugees to cooperate with a new U.N.-backed project to provide them with “smart cards.”

Many Rohingya oppose the identity cards because they fear the information on them will be shared with the Myanmar government.

Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, Abul Kalam, told VOA he was unaware of the allegations of violence but would follow up. “Generally, it is not acceptable that someone would apply force on or beat someone to do or not to do something,” he said.

Quinley called on the U.N.’s refugee agency to “do everything in their power to make sure that the Bangladeshi authorities are respecting human rights.”

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Spokesperson Caroline Gluck said the agency has notified the authorities of a “small number” of reports of violence related to the smart card project. The agency has “been following up with them to ascertain the circumstances of what happened,” she told VOA.

Officials have responded that the incidents were “not linked” to the smart card project, she said.

She added, “The new ID card will enable refugees to be better protected and will streamline access to assistance and services.”

Mohammed Sheikh Anwar, a Rohingya activist, told VOA the Bangladeshi government “needs to keep the lower-level authorities in check. There should be an accountability measure.”

“Committing violence against genocide survivors to make them agree to the authorities’ terms is not the solution,” he added.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
A Rohingya refugee woman draws water from a hand pump at a temporary shelter in New Delhi, India.

Last week a Rohingya man named Ata Ullah said he was beaten at the office of an official at the Chakmarkul camp, the Guardian reported, after he failed to provide the official with a list of refugees.

Ata Ullah said in a video circulated on social media that when he couldn’t provide the official with a list he “was beaten with a large stick… they stepped on my neck, I could not stand it.”

Also Read: Bangladesh Government Build a New Rohingya Camp

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies and Rohingya refugees to “create any structures, infrastructure, or policies that suggest permanency.”

As a result, the report said, “refugee children do not go to school, but rather to ‘temporary learning centers,’ where ‘facilitators,’ not ‘teachers,’ preside over the classrooms. The learning centers are inadequate, only providing about two hours of instruction a day,” the report said. (VOA)