DisFact #6: Sabarimala; Minister resigns; Allahabad is now Prayagraj

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Happy weekend, readers!

I am Samarth Bansal. Welcome to DisFact, my weekly newsletter. Do let me know what I can do better, what you would like to see more of, or any other comments. If you like reading this newsletter, please spread the word. If you’ve been forwarded this email, sign up here. For previous issues, check here.

Replug: I am starting this week’s issue with a story I reported last year about India’s fake jobs industry.

Have you heard stories about job frauds? Police departments across India, dozens of unemployed people, and placement agents all agree: online job scams are rampant. A scarcity of jobs and the anonymity of the Internet are enabling an Indian industry built around fake job promises. Why are so many people being tricked? How much money are they losing? How does this industry operate? 

Through the summer of 2017, Snigdha Poonam, my colleague, and I followed two young job seekers through a fraudulent placement network in Delhi consisting of recruitment agencies, training centres, job websites and call centres until one of them gave up after being cheated of her money and the other ended up as a job scammer.

Our story appeared exactly one year ago (21st October, 2017) in the Hindustan Times. The fake-jobs industry continues to flourish. I keep thinking about this story, especially when I hear of job numbers or India’s unemployment crisis. It’s a long read and I hope you will enjoy it. Here is the link to the story.


The Sabarimala tension, explained

The ongoing furore over the entry of women into Sabarimala temple, which dominated front pages this week, tells us a lot about Indian polity: the controversy and contradictions surrounding Supreme Court judgements; the clash of individual and religious rights; political parties prioritising political gains over the maintenance of law and order.

What: The doors of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Ayyappa were closed for women of a “menstruating age” — those between the ages of 10 and 50.

Why: to preserve the strict celibate (“abstaining from marriage and sexual relations”) nature of the deity. Allowing women of menstruating age would interfere with the essential religious practice, devotees say.

The controversy: People opposed to the practice argue that “prohibition of women’s entry to the shrine solely on the basis of womanhood is derogatory” while supporters say that “Sabarimala has some unique customs and systems. The uniqueness is the soul of every temple” and that must be respected. (The Hindu)

The legal challenge to the exclusion of women in the 10-50 age group from the Sabarimala temple in Kerala represented a conflict between the group rights of the temple authorities in enforcing the presiding deity’s strict celibate status and the individual rights of women to offer worship there. (The Hindu)

R Jagannathan, Editorial Director of Swarajya, argues that differentiated practice is not always discrimination.

If Sabarimala is about a celibate God and giving priority to male-bonding in worship, it is not a tradition that should be easily discarded. It’s like setting up a gym or club specifically for one gender, with limited rights for the other….Reason: a specific practice in a specific temple or dargah or mosque cannot be said to be totally unfair if it is not the general practice everywhere. What should be called out is consistent discriminatory practices across temples or mosques, not the oddball institution with has an idiosyncratic tradition. (Swarajya)

The Supreme Court verdict: In the last week of September, the Supreme Court struck down the ban and decided that women of all age groups can enter the Ayyappa temple. In a 4:1 majority ruling, the court said that the temple practice violates the rights of Hindu women and that banning entry of women to shrine is gender discrimination.

(In the past two years, courts have unlocked the gates of Shani Shingnapur temple and Haji Ali mosque for women.)

What happened this week: This Wednesday, the doors of the temple were opened for the first time after the SC judgement. However, “females who tried to make it to the shrine met a wall of resistance in the form of regular devotees, who turned them away, intimidated journalists and clashed with the police.” (Business Standard)

The politics: “Given the situation, the Supreme Court verdict will have practical value only if there is political consensus,” G Pramod Kumar argued in the Indian Express. Both the BJP and the Congress have politicised the issue to corner the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Kerala state government.

The BJP and the Congress opposed it and said that the decision by the Constitutional Bench should be challenged. The two parties had a logically absurd argument: they said that they respected the Supreme Court verdict, but the traditional rituals and the sentiments of the devotees also needed to be respected. While the government was duty-bound to defend the Constitution, the BJP and Congress were bent upon reaping political capital from the issue. (Indian Express)

The big picture: We go to courts to resolve disputes. We argue, we make our case and then leave it to the judiciary to decide. Not all will agree with a court’s ruling. And that’s okay.

In the Sabarimala case, this divide runs deeper. As the NYT noted:

…the dispute is about something much broader than access to a temple: whether Supreme Court rules can be enforced in a spectacularly diverse country of 1.3 billion people, where progressive court orders issued in New Delhi are abstract, or optional, in rural parts of India, and communities are intensely organized around religion. (New York Times)

If one wants to fight the judgement, they should follow constitutional procedures by filing a review/appeal. The law will stay so unless overturned by another ruling. But until that happens, for the society to function, the decision should be accepted as the law of the land. Violence, no.

Aggrieved parties have already sought a review of the Supreme Court verdict. They must desist from taking the issue to the streets and whipping up passions around it. (Indian Express)

This is why I find the cognitive dissonance surrounding Supreme Court decisions so damning. When convenient, people say things like “The SC has decided this. How can you argue against that? Are you wiser than the court?”. When the court decides against their stated position, the same people look down on the court.

What next: In November, the temple will open again for a longer season. If no solution is found until then, brace for the chaos.


#MeTooIndia: MJ Akabar resigns; files court case against journalist

What: MJ Akbar, former editor and now Union Minister of State for External Affairs, resigned from his ministerial post on Wednesday, over allegations of sexual harassment and assault from around 20 women.

Over the past week, several women accused Akbar of inviting them to his hotel room, touching them inappropriately, kissing them forcibly or molesting them when he was their Editor. (Indian Express)

Why this is significant: “Akbar’s [resignation] stands out because it is one of its kind: for the first time, a Minister has had to quit because of his alleged insensitivity and violation of a group of women over years.”

It has two key elements: a feminist movement (#MeToo) that draws its strength and keeps its focus on the working woman, a step beyond Beti Bachao and Beti Padhao and the current discourse of basic infrastructure for women (food, cooking gas); and a campaign heavily anchored in social media. In fact, these two prompted some critics to call it as elitist and disconnected from India’s realities. However, these very elements make it broad and expansive with widening opportunities in education along with economic growth and increasing awareness because of the spread of mobile internet. (Indian Express)

See you in court

1. Akbar said that allegations against him are “fabricated” and filed a criminal defamation case against Priya Ramani, the first journalist to publicly name him.

“Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity”—MJ Akbar

2. Case details: Akbar will record his statement in court on 31st October.

Akbar's case has been filed under Sec 499 and Sec 500 of the IPC, which recognises defamation as a criminal act and if proven calls up to two years of prison sentence. However, the onus of proving so rests with Akbar and not with Ramani. (Times of India)

3. Akbar has hired 97 lawyers — yes, really, 97 —to fight one Priya Ramani.

In Scroll, Samar Halarnkar, Ramani’s husband, wrote that it “took a special kind of courage to name a powerful minister and former editor”.

Akbar has filed a case of criminal defamation against my wife. She has, whether she likes it or not, become a lightning rod. His intention is clear: To intimidate her, and through her to intimidate the others who have spoken up and silence others who have not. Criminal defamation, a strong protection afforded by the law, can sometimes be used as a tool of intimidation. A criminal defamation notice as a response to multiple allegations of sexual harassment can also be seen as a strong signal from Delhi’s political establishment that women should be made aware of their limits, and what better way to do this than target one woman. This is not Akbar vs Ramani, this is the Union of India vs Ramani. (Scroll)

Surprise, surprise: Priya Ramani was the former editor of Mint Lounge, the weekend edition of Mint newspaper. She created and led the magazine for eight years. On Saturday, instead of her regular column—which appears at the same dedicated space in every issue—Lounge placed a placeholder: #IAmWithPriya. Wow. (This is why I love print!)

And just to state the obvious: #IAmWithPriya.


Another name change: Allahabad is now Prayagraj

What: Uttar Pradesh cabinet approved the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj. The proposal will now go to the Centre for approval.

Why:

“Prayag is a confluence of two rivers. Here we have a confluence of three rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. Therefore, its name will be Prayagraj”—Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of UP.

Third attempt:

In 1992, the then UP chief minister had announced that he has accepted the demand of Hindu saints and formalities of renaming the city to Prayagraj would be completed soon. Then in 2001, CM Rajnath Singh's cabinet again decided to do the same but it didn't happen. (Times of India)

What critics are saying: In a sharply worded editorial, the Indian Express called the name change “an act of erasure of history and memory”, adding that this change “is hardly likely to address any of the city’s problems or the many unfulfilled aspirations of its residents.”

Allahabad is located at the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical, unseen Saraswati. As has been pointed out, the vast space at the sangam where the Kumbh is held has always been referred to as Prayagraj. Mughal emperor Akbar is credited with the building of the modern Allahabad city in the 16th century, when he constructed a fort that overlooked the sangam, which then had immense strategic value. It is this Mughal connection that seems to be driving the revanchists who wants to wipe out all references to Mughal history. A BJP spokesperson has tried to connect the renaming of Allahabad, and before that, of Mughalsarai, with the Namami Gange project, suggesting that a river holy for Hindus cannot have any reference points related to past Muslim rulers…The puritanical zeal among BJP leaders to sweep clean UP’s social, cultural and political spheres of Islamic influence is dangerous. (Indian Express)

In support: In Swarajya, Prakhar Gupta argues otherwise: “It’s not exactly the renaming of Allahabad. But the restoring of the name of an ancient city.” It is not an attempt to rewrite history, Gupta says. “If anything, the move does justice to the city’s ancient history.” (Read here)

CM Yogi, apparently, loves changing names.

  1. In August, the Mughalsarai railway station was renamed after BJP ideologue as Pandit Deen Dayal Uphadyay Junction.

  2. Unofficial names: The five-time Gorakhpur MP, Yogi “turned Urdu Bazaar into Hindi Bazaar, Humayunpur to Hanuman Nagar, Islampur to Ishwarpur, Mian Bazaar to Maya Bazaar and Alinagar to Aryanagar. The new names were not official though, he used to come up with them at his rallies and his supporters made sure they were used.” (Times of India)


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