Interview: Impediments to Democratization in India



Dr. Mahfuz Parvez, Associate Editor, Barta24.com
Sabir Siddhartha Gaffar. Barta24.com

Sabir Siddhartha Gaffar. Barta24.com

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On the eve of the 75th anniversary of India's independence, Sabir Siddhartha Gaffar, a rising young face in Dalit and minority politics in West Bengal, said 'there could be no ethnic, communal  or religious division in a democracy.  Any kind of division is detrimental to democracy.'

In my conversation with him online, he said, one thing is to understand clearly that 'the Indian Constitution, which was adopted in 1949 and went into effect the following year, defined India as a sovereign democratic republic, but not a secular one. That only occurred, after much contestation in 1976, as a result of the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution, which described India as both secular and socialist.'

According to Sabir Siddhartha Gaffar, 'India’s understanding of secularism involves equal respect for all religious communities, as opposed other forms of secularism that call for the strict separation of religion and state. The Indian Constitution supports legal equality of all citizens, regardless of their religion or creed, and prohibits discrimination based on religion.'

Expressing concern over the recent persecution of Dalits and minorities, Sabir said, 'We condemn and protest all forms of extremism and intolerance in India in defense of democracy and secularism.' He also added that the Indian democracy, which was once considered remarkable in scale and duration, has been weakened by the rise of xenophobic nationalism and threats to religious minorities. Although these trends were evident in the past, they have dramatically increased amidst the growth of Hindu nationalism and authoritarian political culture in central and state levels.'

Sabir Siddhartha Gaffar, Kolkata based leader of Dalit and minority communities of West Bengal, clearly pointed out that 'the protection of democracy and religious freedoms are closely inter-twined. Because India is home to the world’s two major religious communities—Hindus (just under 80 percent of the population) and Muslims, 14.2 percent. In addition, Christians represent 2.3 percent; Sikhs, 1.7 percent; Jains, 0.4 percent and Buddhists, 0.8 percent. India’s social diversity has created the foundation for pluralism.'

'Of course demography alone cannot explain India’s pluralism and democracy. But Indian democracy has survived against the odds. Compared to other large, multiethnic democracies, post-colonial India has an independent judiciary, universal suffrage, and a free and lively press. In some respects, its democracy has become more inclusive. People with more varied identities form parties, vote, and serve as political representatives. The Indian political class has become more diverse with respect to gender and caste', he added.

However, he concluded the conversation saying 'there are several impediments to democratization in India, beginning with poverty and class inequality. Neoliberal reforms have accelerated growth but also deepened class, regional, and rural-urban divides. Social inequities compound class inequality. About 26 percent of Indians and 31 percent of Muslims live below the poverty line. Political power is highly centralized and the state has often been repressive towards political dissidents and religious/ethnic minorities.'

Padma Bridge, the Wonder of Bangladesh



News Desk, Barta24.com
Padma Bridge, the Wonder of Bangladesh

Padma Bridge, the Wonder of Bangladesh

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The wait period is over. The dream came true. Today (June 25), the door of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge, which stands on the two banks of the river Padma, is opening.

This dream bridge of about 60 million people in 21 districts of the south-west is a proud history of the whole country. The wonder of the whole world. The bridge connecting Mawa in Munshiganj to Banglabazar in Shariatpur is a harbinger of a new day in the country's economy, investment, trade and overall development.

The celebration of Padma victory will touch the whole country today. Various programs have been taken all over the country on the occasion of inauguration of Padma Bridge. The people of the south are happy with the new day.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will open the much-anticipated 6.15-kilometer Padma Bridge for vehicular movement on Saturday which will bring massive progress in road connectivity of 21 south and southwestern districts with the capital of Dhaka and other major cities.

Marking the grand opening of the bridge, a festive mood is prevailing in the country, particularly in the southern and southwestern region which will be directly facilitated through the major road connectivity.

The premier will join the Padma Bridge inaugural ceremony at Mawa point in Munshiganj at 10 am.

As per the premier’s programme schedule, she will also unveil commemorative postage stamps, souvenir sheets, opening day cover and seals at 11am at Mawa point to mark the grand opening of the country’s biggest self-financed mega project which is likely to boost GDP by 1.2 to 2 percent.

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Bangladesh Floods: Six Million People Marooned



News Desk, Barta24.com
Bangladesh Floods: Six Million People Marooned

Bangladesh Floods: Six Million People Marooned

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Incessant rains and gushing waters have marooned at least six million people in Bangladesh, prompting authorities to call in the Army to assist in the rescue and relief operations.

Officials estimate that six million people were marooned at their nearly inundated homes or were forced to take makeshift refuge elsewhere as water level in rivers in northeastern and northern regions continued to rise.

“Water now continued to surpass much above the danger lines in two of the country’s four major river basin. The situation appears to be nearly as bad as that of the 2004 flooding, a Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) spokesman said. The FFWC attributed the flooding to excessive rainfalls simultaneously in upstream Meghlaya and Bangladesh.

Many people were forced to initially take refuge on their rooftops amid gushing rising waters until rescue boats came in Sunamganj, said local officials. Meanwhile, due to huge rainfall, many districts of norther Bangladeh are facing threat of fresh flood.

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CHT, Bay of Bengal and Security Perspective



Dr. Mahfuz Parvez
CHT, Bay of Bengal and Security Perspective

CHT, Bay of Bengal and Security Perspective

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The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is a group of districts within the Chittagong Division in southeastern Bangladesh, bordering India and Myanmar (Burma) and covering 13,295 square kilometers. Historically settled by tribal groups, now the CHT is also inhabited by huge Bengali settlers.

The CHT region witnessed bloodshed beginning in the early 1970s, when ethnic groups protested the government’s policy of recognizing only the Bengali culture and language and designating all Bangladeshi citizens as Bengalis.

The CHT Peace Accord, signed in 1997 with the promise to end ethnic insurgency and grant a host of benefits to the people, was hailed by all.

With two decades passed since the signing of the CHT Accord, its lack of implementation has reached alarming levels. Ethnic groups and Bengali community are also demanding different types of political, citizenship and land rights.

As per ground realities, there could be fresh tension, political confrontation and security problem in the CHT if the emerging issues are not addressed.

The fact that the CHT people are overwhelmingly in favor of peace as a necessary precondition to all round development of the region is good augury. But the biggest challenge is to continue the peace that has emerged from the conflict with the wisdom, determination and political skill of the leadership.

However, the proximity of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to the Bay of Bengal (BoB) poses a security risk. In a research report, Angshuman Choudhury, Siddharth Anil Nair, Ashutosh Nagda & Garima Maheshwari mentioned the BoB region is one of the most climate-vulnerable in the world. Its strategic, political, social and economic faultlines are also extensive. Together they create fertile ground for volatile security dynamics, social friction and violent conflict. It is a textbook example of the complex relationship between climate change and security, and how an aggregate of both could create emerging challenges for policy-planners (CLIMATE SECURITY IN THE BAY OF BENGAL, 18 Jan, 2022, 212, IPCS Special Report).

Growing strategic significance of the Bay of Bengal within the emerging and increasingly contested geography of the Indo-Pacific, is sharply visible in various ways. BoB's strategic location at the heart of the Indo-Pacific, and ponders the unfolding challenges to regionalism in the Bay of Bengal. It is important for Bangladesh to intensify its efforts to construct a more secure and cooperative Bay of Bengal littoral (C. Raja Mohan, "The Bay of Bengal in the Emerging Indo-Pacific").

Dr. Mahfuz Parvez, Professor, Political Science, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh; Associate Editor, www.barta24.com



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Dr. Kamal's Writ Hearing on Tax Evasion Adjourned for a Week



Staff Correspondent, Barta24.com
Dr. Kamal's Writ Hearing on Tax Evasion Adjourned for a Week

Dr. Kamal's Writ Hearing on Tax Evasion Adjourned for a Week

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The High Court has adjourned the hearing of prominent lawyer, constitutional expert Dr. Kamal Hossain's writ petition for a week.

A High Court bench of Justice Syed Rifat Ahmed and Justice Mohammad Mahbub-ul-Islam granted the order on behalf of Kamal Hossain on Sunday (June 5).

Junior lawyer Barrister Tanim Hossain Shaon appeared for the writ petition. "We asked for a one-day court hearing," the lawyer said. The court has given one week time.

Earlier, a writ petition was filed in the High Court by Kamal Hossain over a dispute over the amount of income tax applicable to him for one year. The writ petition challenging the order of the tax appeals tribunal was on the agenda for hearing today.

Writ has said, for the tax year 2018-19, Kamal Hossain in his income tax return file shows annual income of 1 crore 4 lakh 3 thousand 495 Taka. On the other hand, it is mentioned in the return file that the applicable tax has been deducted at the source as 76 lakh 41 thousand 548 Taka.

Meanwhile, on December 30, 2019, the Deputy Tax Commissioner in an order fixed Kamal's annual income at 20 crore 11 lakh 4 thousand 219 Taka. Due to non-submission on time, with a late charge of 87 lakh 35 thousand 634 Taka,
a total of 6 crore 9 lakh 85 thousand 351 Taka income tax was demanded from Kamal Hossain.

Against the decision of the Deputy Commissioner, Dr. Kamal Hossain appealed to the Tax Appeal Tribunal. However, the tribunal dismissed the appeal.

Later, a writ petition was filed in the High Court on behalf of Dr. Kamal Hossain. The High Court on Sunday (June 5) adjourned the hearing of the writ petition for a week.

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