Post Script: 7 reminders
Seven reports you may have missed this week
1. Justice denied
Justice Akil Kureshi, CJ of Tripura High Court, retires in March 2022. But the name of the second senior most CJ in the country was missing from the list of nine HC judges elevated to the Supreme Court in July. There is a solitary vacancy in the SC and another vacancy is likely to arise in January. Will he finally reach there? Justice Kureshi, it is widely believed, is paying the price for sending Home Minister Amit Shah to police custody in 2010 when he was junior minister in Gujarat. Justice Kureshi had also turned down the bail plea of Maya Kodnani, a minister in Modi’s ministry in Gujarat, and convicted the accused in postGodhra riots.
Another Gujarat HC judge Jayant Patel, whose judicial order in the Ishrat Jahan case went against the Gujarat Govt., chose to resign when the Union Govt stalled his elevation as CJ. Justice Kureshi too was not allowed to become CJ in Gujarat, Bombay and Madhya Pradesh and was sent off to one of the smallest high courts in the country. Gujarat HC Bar had filed a petition in the SC against the decision. The insistence of Justice Rohintan Nariman to elevate Justice Kureshi had stalled all appointments to the SC for the past two years. Can the present SC collegium stand up to the Government or not is being keenly watched.
2. Mercedes for Mr Khattar
Swadeshi cars or even cars made in India seem to be out of favour with BJP ministers in Haryana. A Mahindra, Maruti, a Tata or even a Honda car is no longer desired. All 12 ministers in Haryana including the chief minister are getting new cars for themselves, suggest reports. Each of the ministers had been allotted two cars each, one for their own use and another for family members. While ministers’ families were earlier using Toyota Altis (costing Rs 15-20 lakh each), they would now be using Honda CR-V (costing Rs 20-30 lakh each). Ministers will now get Toyota Fortuner costing around Rs 40 lakhs each. The chief minister is likely to get a Mercedes-Benz 400d-4MATIC (average showroom price Rs 1.09 Crore). The Deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala however been using a Toyota land Cruiser (average price Rs 1.5 Crore). Home Minister Anil Vij has a Mercedes-Benz costing Rs 70 lakhs. Most of these cars will be made bullet proof at additional cost even as 15 cars from the pool are being auctioned to the public.
3. Temple Tourism
The Ram temple at Ayodhya has competition coming. By next year International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) plans to complete the construction of the world’s largest Krishna temple at Mayapur (West Bengal). Described as the ‘temple of Vedic Planetarium’, the temple will have seven floors, each floor designed to accommodate 10,000 devotees and enough space for them to dance and pray. The 350 feet high temple spread over six million square feet (height of Qutb Minar and Taj Mahal are around 270 feet while the Sardar Patel statue towers at 790 feet) will have a museum floor, a floor for priests and a ‘temple’ floor. Watch out.
4. Gay couples in US
Indian-American gay couples in the United States, where 300,000 gay weddings are on record since 2015, are slowly finding acceptance, reports the BBC. Although Hindu temples continue to refuse hosting same-sex marriages and priests are unwilling to solemnize such marriages, others are coming forward to help. Dr S. Das, a Christian-turned Hindu with a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies is the head priest of the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir in Los Angeles. The report quotes him saying, “I am not aware of any place (in Hindu texts) where it says same-sex unions are not to be done.” A Jain priest Abhishek Sanghavi, who works as a tax consultant, told BBC, “Compassion is the foundation of Jainism. All religions teach love.” Same-sex unions are depicted, if not celebrated, in ancient temples in Khajuraho and Konark, which suggest that such union were known and allowed in ancient India. But facing opposition to marrying her Pakistani bride Seher, Sapna Pandya became a priest herself and chose Hindu mantras and verses from the Koran symbolising companionship. When Sameer Samudra and Amit Gokhale decided to marry, they wanted a Hindu wedding but priests were either reluctant or asked for exorbitant amounts. A friend stepped in to learn the basics and presided over the ceremony.
5. Surveillance First in India
Forget about food, healthcare and education or employment. For the Indian Government, it is surveillance first. Facial recognition cameras, a system developed by a Russian start-up NTech Lab, have been deployed by the Indian Railways to track millions of daily commuters, reported the Financial Times. As many as 30 railway stations across Gujarat and Maharashtra including Mumbai have been equipped with the cameras on trial, the report says. This is the latest part of an escalating video surveillance project of the Indian Government with independent research organization AI Observatory identifying 40 such government-funded projects.
“What’s clear from all these projects is that this government is putting surveillance first,” said Divij Joshi, an independent lawyer and researcher based in Bangalore, who created the AI Observatory. Andrey Telenkov, Ntech Lab’s chief executive, told FT that while in Mscow alone 150,000 such cameras have been installed, India remains a huge market for surveillance. The system, he claimed, could recognize people with medical masks and help identify criminals and track people of interest.
Indian Police, the report says, used a facial recognition system known as Trinetra to find and arrest more than 1,000 protesting farmers at an anti-government rally. Police have adopted facial recognition technology as a law-enforcement tool despite the absence of a national law to define limits on its use. Joshi however doubts the efficacy of the system and told FT that court documents suggest that the accuracy is poor. “For the missing-child system in place by Delhi law enforcement, the accuracy was less than 1 per cent,” he said.
6. Refugee from Kabul
For four hours every day the former communications minister in Afghanistan learns German in Leipzig. The rest of the time he works as a delivery man on his bicycle. His degrees in IT and Telecommunication did not help because he knew no German. But still the British-Afghan citizen chose to settle in Germany following Brexit. He had resigned as minister in 2018, unable to cope with corruption. And he seems to nurse no regret. His story has been picked up by Reuters, AFP and AP in the wake of the fall of Kabul on August 15. A stoical and serene Sadat told Reuters that a job is a job and he has nothing to feel guilty about. “I hope other politicians also follow the same path, working with the public rather than just hiding.”
7. Massacre in Myanmar
On the deadliest single crackdown in April, the military in Myanmar killed at least 82 unarmed civilians, claimed groups tracking protest deaths. An investigation by the Washington Post not only confirms the massacre but also accuses Tatmadaw, as the military junta is known, of using military grade weaponry, specialised military units and counterinsurgency tactics against citizens protesting against the February coup.
The Washington Post reviewed roughly 15,000 videos and images captured by civilians in Myanmar. It interviewed seven eyewitnesses and analysed ‘geolocated videos and photos’ from Bago. It also analysed Internet data and troop movements besides analysing nearly 20,000 TikTok videos put up by Myanmar security forces including soldiers from the elite Light Infantry Divisions.
The UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar and a Senior Fellow at Yale Law School Tom Andrews, who previewed the material collected by Washington Post, said that the crackdown was systematic and are çrimes against humanity’. Experts said that tactic was herding people in a ‘kill zone’ where troops were positioned to trap and fire ‘Rifle Grenades’ designed to explode on impact and kill.