In Human and Brutal murder by jail staff – Women MPs voice concern

An all-women parliamentary panel visited the Byculla jail on Thursday to take stock of facilities and security arrangments for inmates. 20 parliamentarians from across the country visited the jail after an inmate was allegedly murdered for complaining over food.
20 women members of parliament who are part of the Parliamentary Empowerment of Women committee interacted with inmates at the Byculla Jail. The panel intends to collect information about security, facilities, the treatment meted out to women prisoners and raise the same in the Parliament.

The group is headed by Bijoya Chakravarty, an MP from Assam, and also includes Supriya Sule of the Nationalist Congress Party, Raksha Khadse of the BJP, NCP Rajya Sabha MP Vandana Chavan, and M K Kanimozhi of the DMK among others.

The women parliamentarians hope that their visit will help the inmates voice their concerns and jail authorities in undertaking corrective measures. The parliamentarians at Byculla jail premises in a bus with escort on Thursday morning. The visit comes weeks after Manjula Shetye, an inmate was brutalised and murdered allegedly by jail guards for questioning the quality and quantity of food being served in the prison.
The panel will suggest policy changes if required and also provide support to genuine concerns of women prisoners. Byculla jail authorities went on a cleaning drive on Wednesday after the women panel’s visit was confirmed. Inmates of Byculla jail indulged in arson and vandalism after jail staff assaulted Shetye on June 23 killing her. Six people, including jailor Manisha Pokharkar, have been arrested for assaulting Shetye by the Mumbai Crime Branch police.

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National policy for women to ensure food, shelter, health for poor families

The draft National Policy for Women, 2017 approved by the group of ministers would ensure food, shelter, health and free education for women and children of poor families

Along with maternal health, the focus of other health problems of women including communicable and non-communicable diseases like cancer, cardio vascular disease, HIV/AIDS will be given prioritised attention with appropriate strategies and interventions.

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Supreme Court directs Govt. to regulate NGOs

The Supreme Court today gave the Centre four weeks time do decide if it will bring in a legislation or guidelines to regulate government funds for NGOs and prosecute them in case of misuse, misappropriation of funds or non-filing of annual statements…

This was after Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that certain instructions needed to be taken “from the top level” if to bring out a legislation or draft some guidelines and also include some penal provisions. “See these are seri…

“See these are serious issues. Make a fair decision.Our direction is already there. Just implement it to give the authorities more teeth”, a bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar told the ASG….

The bench earlier expressed unhappiness over the proposed guidelines to keep a tab on the nearly 30 lakh NGOs saying “it may not meet the enormity of the situation”, that is problems faced due to the non-accountability of the funds given to the NGOs …

“We get to know that Rs 950 crore is being given in total to all NGOs every year. This is a phenomenal payers money..since 78 ministries and departments were granting money to NGOs, a law on regulating funds and work by NGOs would be much…

On April 5 Centre had submitted to the Supreme Court fresh draft guidelines for accreditation of NGOs and Voluntary Organisations….

On direction from the bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who submitted the draft guidelines had handed over a copy to Amicus curiae Rakesh Dwivedi for including his suggestions and…

The court was hearing a PIL filed by advocate M L Sharma for keeping a tab on the functioning of the NGOs….

The draft guidelines said existing portal at NITI Ayog, NGO-Darpan will be the nodal agency for the purpose of registration and accreditation of NGOs and Voluntary organizations seeking funds from government of India…

Questioning the transparency in their functioning, the Supreme Court had in January ordered compulsory audit by March 31, 2017 of nearly 30 lakh NGOs, most of them who receive funds worth crores of rupees from the government and abroad….

The SC order came after Amucus Dwivedi cited a CBI report that only 10 per cent of NGOs filed annual income and expenditure statements….

Raising the issue of transparency regarding their functioning, the CBI report filed in the court said that out of 22,39,971 NGOs in 20 states (information from nine states is awaited), only 2,23,428 have filed their balance sheet, a paltry ten per ce…

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6,000 NGOs could lose licence to receive foreign donations

Nearly 6,000 NGOs could lose their licence to receive foreign donations with the home ministry serving them show cause notices for not filing annual income and expenditure records for five consecutive years, an official said on Monday.

The show cause notices were issued on July 8 and the NGOs have time till July 23 to give their reply.

In May this year, 18,523 NGOs were given a one-time opportunity by the home ministry to give details of their income and expenses by June 14.

These NGOs, registered under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, or FCRA, that allows them to receive foreign donations, were told to submit their annual returns for five years — 2010-11 to 2014-15.

The home ministry said in a circular that as a one time measure, all NGOs were given an opportunity for one month to file their missing annual returns by June 14 without paying any penalty. Email and SMS alerts were also sent to them regularly for one month beginning mid-May.

“However, in spite of sufficient and adequate notice, it has been observed that 5,922 associations have not uploaded their annual returns for three or more than three years within the stipulated time given in the notice,” the circular said.

All these NGOs were given show cause notices on July 8 on why their FCRA registration may not be cancelled under the FCRA.

The associations have been requested to furnish their replies, if any, by July 23, failing which it will be presumed that they have nothing to say and action as proposed will be taken by the home ministry as per FCRA, it said.

According to the FCRA, the renewal of registration for receiving foreign funds cannot be granted unless the annual returns are uploaded on the FCRA website by the organisation.

Over 20,000 NGOs are registered under the FCRA.

In November 2016, the government had directed more than 11,000 NGOs to file applications for renewal of registration by February 28, 2017.

Of the above, 3,500 NGOs filed applications for renewal till February 2017. Registration of more than 7,000 NGOs were deemed expired due to non-filing of renewal applications.

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Registration of marriage should be made compulsory: Law Commission

Registration of marriages should be made compulsory under law to prevent marriage frauds, bigamy, child marriages and desertions of women by their husbands, the Law Commission of India has told the government.

In its report to the Law ministry, the panel said in the absence of compulsory registration, women are duped into marrying without performance of the conditions of a valid marriage. Also, if registration is linked to the unique identification number (UID), it would be possible to achieve universal tracing of records.

In its report submitted to the law ministry on Tuesday evening, the law panel, while recommending that registration be legally mandated with a fine for non-compliance within 30 days, also advised the government against making changes to existing personal laws.

Registration is already mandatory in certain states and Union Territories.The panel has recommended amending the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, to include marriages.

However, it clarified that the proposal wouldn’t impinge on any personal laws.

“Thus, while Bill does not aim at eliminating the diversity of personal laws, or regional differences seeking merely the registration of marriages regardless of the law under which the marriages are recognised or solemnised, it recommends that these various overlapping and contradicting legislations be borne in mind while framing the rules of registration,” said the report.

The Commission suggested that the time limit to register marriages should be restricted to 30 days after which a penalty of ₹5 per day could be imposed.

If the birth, marriage or death is not registered within the specified time limit, for one year, it could be done only with the written permission of the prescribed authority and after that, only on an order of a First Class Magistrate, the Commission recommended.

“Going forward, the non-registration of a marriage can be linked to property rights like in case of Goa to ensure better compliance,” a Law Commission official said. He added that the law will not interfere with the existing personal laws of any community or “disturb any existing rights”.

Registering marriages is a necessary reform and in its absence, women in particular can become victims of fraud, the Commission has said.

“This deprives women of societal recognition and legal security. Such fraudulent marriages are especially on rise among Non-Resident Indians. Compulsory registration can serve as a means to ensure that conditions of a valid marriage have been performed,” the report said.

Referring to repeated judgments by courts emphasising making registration of marriages compulsory to prevent denial of legal marital status to women, the panel observed, “Instances of marriage fraud have also come to light in recent times. In the absence of compulsory registration, women are duped into marrying without performance of the conditions of a valid marriage,” it said.

In 2006, the Supreme Court in the Ashwani Kumar case had observed that marriages of all persons who are citizens of India belonging to various religions should be registered compulsorily in their respective states where the marriage is solemnised.

The law panel has asked the government to come up with a simple process to register marriages. “A simple certificate issued by a religious place can become the basis of registration of a marriage. We have recommended that the village head or sarpanch can be given the authority for such registrations,” a Law Commission official said.

In 2012, the government tabled a bill in Parliament based on the Supreme Court’s observations but it lapsed at the end of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. The panel suggests that the government enact a similar law.

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India and Israel to Shake Off Manipulative NGOs

Foreign-funded NGOs have been a common cause for concern for India and Israel.


Israel and India share the distinction of being targets of political manipulation by powerful non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) and their funders, which operate outside the democratic process, with no checks and balances. These activities, although often presented in altruistic
and moral terms – such as peace, human rights, economic development, and humanitarian aid – are widely perceived in both countries as a form of neo-colonialism.
NGO power is also enhanced by an image of altruism and morality (known as the “halo effect”) that protects the organisations and their funders from critical
analysis. International journalists, diplomats, and academics give NGOs automatic support, without examining details and hidden agendas, which undermine
hard-won national sovereignty and independence.


The Indian concern regarding NGOs prior to Israel’s recognition of the issue


Responding to these concerns, in 2010, India passed legislation known as the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA), which prohibits the use of overseas
funds for “activities detrimental to the national interest.” Criticism was directed at groups such as the Ford Foundation, which, according to the claim,
were using the cover of economic development to manipulate Indian culture. Christian aid groups were also suspected of proselytising activities. For example,
in March 2017, US-based Compassion International, which funds child development projects in India, was accused of missionary-like activities by the Indian
government and has been blocked in its ability to fund projects and placed on the list of organisations requiring “prior permission to bring in funds from
overseas” (Mohan, 2017). Similarly, in 2016, the FCRA refused the registration renewal of the Indian Social Action Forum (Insaf), which is funded in part
by “Brotfuer die Welt” (a major Protestant aid group) and by a French government “solidarity” organisation.


Israel’s experience with foreign-funded NGOs began with obsessive attacks from groups such as Human Rights Watch (based in New York) and Amnesty International
(based in London), as well as hundreds of other groups in the NGO “human rights” network. These NGOs lead campaigns of political warfare based on false
allegations of “apartheid” and “war crimes,” often erasing the terror that is ever present in the Arab-Israeli conflict. When the Israel Defense Forces
responds to deadly attacks, the NGO soft-power army labels Israeli soldiers as “war criminals,” promotes boycotts, and lobbies for prosecution by the International
Criminal Court.


To add credibility, numerous Israel-based NGOs were created over the years, led by fringe political ideologues and activists who work closely with the
global groups, repeating the allegations of war crimes and violations of international law. They publish and distribute “reports,” write articles in newspapers
and social media, and produce videos portraying Israel as the aggressor, and of Palestinian terrorists as innocent victims. Although Israeli in name, these
NGOs’ receive most of their funds from European government frameworks (including the European Union) amounting to tens of millions of euros annually, as
well as private from donors, such as George Soros.


In Israel, as the power of the externally supported NGOs increased, the criticism and demand for funding transparency also grew. Leaked protocols of secret
EU meetings to decide on NGO funding to Israeli groups highlighted the goal of political manipulation. These EU documents refer to funding NGOs for the
specific objective of convincing Israelis to change their political views to match the preferences and interests of European officials.


This behaviour has led to growing criticism and efforts to offset the damaging influence of the Israeli political organisations that are supported outside
the democratic process. The NGO recipients of these European funds are described as “foreign agents,” promoting the interests of outsiders, and polarising
the society. The artificial power given to the organisations on the far left of the ideological spectrum leads organisations on the right to increase their
demands, and dilutes the influence of the majority of Israelis who support more complex and less ideological positions.


As a result, Members of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) and ministers have advocated for measures to increase transparency regarding external interference
(adopted in 2011), and to limit, tax, or prohibit foreign government funding. Legislation adopted in July 2016 requires NGOs receiving more than 50 per
cent of their budgets from foreign governments to disclose these details in their publications, letters to government officials, and in Knesset statements
(NGO Transparency Law, 2016). Highlighting the anger over European money for radical Israeli NGOs, some MKs proposed that the Israeli government retaliate
by supporting opposition NGOs in Europe. For example, an MK declared cynically that Spain “would undoubtedly appreciate funding for groups promoting Basque
or Catalan independence; in the same spirit, the government of the UK would appreciate Israeli support for organisations monitoring the British army’s
day to day contact with civilians in areas it controls in Iraq and Afghanistan” (Eldad, 2012).


The efforts by foreign governments to block this legislation add to the backlash. In August 2015, the EU gave €250,000 to a small group of dissidents known
as Breaking the Silence, which campaigns against IDF soldiers. In addition, the European Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by the EU and Member
States, provided a parallel group, B’Tselem, with €30,000 for “combating anti-democratic laws aiming to silence opposition.”


European diplomats and political figures also criticise the Knesset for debating laws designed to deal with this problem, and go out of their way to meet
with the heads of these Israeli NGOs, putting them on the same level (or above) Israel’s elected officials. In April, when the German Foreign Minister
flagrantly embraced these groups, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled the official meetings, declaring “My policy is clear: not to meet with diplomats
who visit Israel and meet with organisations that defame IDF soldiers and try to prosecute our soldiers as war criminals…”


Furthermore, based on the NGO campaigns, Israel, like India, is then singled out for attacks by UN bodies, increasing the erosion of sovereign equality.
In 2015, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, appointed by the Office of the High Commissioner for
Human Rights, amplified the standard NGO allegations. According to the Rapporteur, India’s FCRA regulations “are not in conformity with international law,
principles and standards.” In the Israeli case, UN criticism focuses on the allegedly “anti-democratic” legislation which is said to result in a “narrowing
the space for civil society organisations.” The corrosive and manipulation by the externally linked NGOs is ignored.


For these reasons, the role of foreign funding for powerful NGOs in both India and Israel, the use of this process in attempts to manipulate the societies
and cultures, and the impact on national sovereignty provide important areas for cooperation. Given these shared concerns, discussions on how to reduce
the disproportionate power of externally-directed NGOs is expected to be on the agenda when Prime Ministers Modi and Netanyahu meet.


The writer Gerald M. Steinberg works for the Political Science Department, Bar Ilan University and President, NGO Monitor Research Institute, Jerusalem, Israel


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International Widows’ Day 23 June – Yet unaccepted by our society

Invisible Women, Invisible Problems

Absent in statistics, unnoticed by researchers, neglected by national and local authorities and mostly overlooked by civil society organizations – the situation of widows is dramatic and, in effect, invisible.

Once widowed, women in many countries often confront a denial of inheritance and land rights, degrading and life-threatening mourning and burial rites and other forms of widow abuse.

Widows are often evicted from their homes and physically abused – some even killed – even by members of their own family. In many countries, a woman’s social status is inextricably linked to her husband’s, so that when her husband dies, a woman no longer has a place in society. To regain social status, widows are expected to marry one of their husband’s male relatives, sometimes unwillingly. For many, the loss of a husband is only the first trauma in a long-term ordeal.

In many countries, widowhood is stigmatized and seen as a source of shame. Widows are thought to be cursed in some cultures and are even associated with witchcraft. Such misconceptions can lead to widows being ostracized, abused and worse.

The children of widows are often affected, both emotionally and economically. Widowed mothers, now supporting their families alone, are forced to withdraw children from school and to rely on their labour. Moreover, the daughters of widows may suffer multiple deprivations, increasing their vulnerability to abuse.

Such cruelties are often seen as justified in terms of cultural or religious practice. Impunity for abuses of the rights of widows is rife, with few perpetrators ever successfully brought to justice. Even in countries where legal protection is more inclusive, widows can suffer social marginalization.

Towards progress for widows

International Widows Day is an opportunity for action towards achieving full rights and recognition for widows – too long invisible, uncounted and ignored. A dearth of reliable hard data remains one of the major obstacles to developing the policies and programmes to address the poverty, violence and discrimination suffered by widows. There is a need for more research and statistics disaggregated by marital status, sex and age, in order to help reveal the incidence of widow abuse and illustrate the situation of widows.

Furthermore, Governments should take action to uphold their commitments to ensure the rights of widows as enshrined in international law, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Even when national laws exist to protect the rights of widows, weaknesses in the judicial systems of many States compromise how widows’ rights are defended in practice and should be addressed. Lack of awareness and discrimination by judicial officials can cause widows to avoid turning to the justice system to seek reparations.

Programmes and policies for ending violence against widows and their children, poverty alleviation, education and other support to widows of all ages also need to be undertaken, including in the context of action plans to accelerate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In post-conflict situations, widows should be brought in to participate fully in peacebuilding and reconciliation processes to ensure that they contribute to sustainable peace and security.

Empowering widows through access to adequate healthcare, education, decent work, full participation in decision-making and public life, and lives free of violence and abuse, would give them a chance to build a secure life after bereavement. Importantly, creating opportunities for widows can also help to protect their children and avoid the cycle of inter-generational poverty and deprivation.


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An Unknown Community – The Jews in India – A Demographic Perspective

India is perhaps the only country in the world where Jews have not faced discrimination or persecution at the hands of the majority community.
Compared to their brothers in faith in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States, very little is known about the Jewish community in India.
Three immediate reasons come to mind for this: the first is the minuscule size of the group, which peaked at approximately 30,000 around the time of Indian independence.
A second reason for the relative nondescript status of the Jews of the subcontinent might be that they have left behind fewer records than their co-religionists around the world. This may partly be because India did not discriminate against its Jews to warrant separate laws or other instruments which may have left behind a paper trail.
The third reason could be that the Jews of India have not had any spectacular achievers as were seen in Europe—Baruch Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn, Niels Bohr, Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, and the like.
It is not clear when the first permanent Jewish settlement in India was established. There is evidence that Jewish merchants have come to the subcontinent for trade in teak, ivory, spices, peacock, ginger, and other items for at least 3,000 years. However, the first Jews to immigrate to India are thought to be the Bene Israel who were shipwrecked off the Konkan coast around 175 BCE. Others say that the first wave of Jewish immigrants was even earlier, in the eighth century BCE. This is supported by Biblical references to connections with India.
A second and third wave of Jewish immigration is better recorded—the Cochin Jews came to India fleeing persecution after the Alhambra Decree of 1492 in which Isabella I of Castille and Ferdinand II of Aragon ordered the Jews out of Spain within four months upon pain of conversion or worse.
Finally, the Baghdadi Jews came to India in the early 18th century escaping the pogroms of Dawud Pasha, most of them settling in the bustling trade centres of Bombay or Calcutta. There has always been a steady trickle of Jews into India over at least the past millennium, but the numbers were so small that the newcomers became assimilated into the majority culture unless they made their way to Jewish settlements in the subcontinent.
Besides the three major Jewish communities in India—Bene Israel, Cochin, Baghdadi—there are also the Bene Menashe of Manipur and Mizoram and the Bene Ephraim of Andhra Pradesh. The first of these latter two claims to be one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel that were exiled by the Assyrians 2,800 years ago although they seem to have settled in India only some 400-900 years ago. They were converted to Christianity by Baptist missionaries in the 19th century but reverted to Judaism in the 1970s. Although the origins of the Bene Ephraim are unclear, their story of losing and regaining their faith mirrors that of the Bene Menashe.
India is perhaps the only country in the world where Jews have not faced discrimination or persecution at the hands of the majority community. Although Indian Jews were victimised by the Portuguese when they arrived in Goa, and Tipu Sultan during his Kerala campaigns, they have always lived in harmony with the Hindu community. As scholar Nathan Katz describes the status of Jewish communities in India, they were “side-by-side but not submerged, acculturated but not assimilated.” A beautiful example Katz gives is the refusal of the Raja of Cochin, as late as 1550, to fight a battle on the Sabbath out of respect for his Jewish soldiers. Katz comments: “Probably India is the only country on earth so civilised that in war, out of deference to its esteemed Jewish soldiers, no battles were fought on the Sabbath.”
This is further underscored by evidence of the grants and privileges given to the Jewish community by Hindu kings. It is ironic then that the number of Jews in India is declining in large part due to aliyah to Israel. For Zionists, coming and living in the Jewish state was simply the right thing to do. The search for more materialist answers such as an escape from anti-Semitism or economic opportunity fails to be adequate.
As can be gleaned from scattered records in genizah collections or memoirs, the earliest of India’s Jews had become separated from mainstream Judaism and lost touch with its debates and practices. The Bene Menashe, for example, did not even have access to a Scroll of Law as the Chinese had killed their priests and burned their books and buildings. Letters indicate that the famed Jewish polymath Moshe ben Maimun had referred to Jewish communities in India who had drifted away from Judaism. When the Baghdadi Jews arrived in Bombay, they were surprised to find the Bene Israel—although clearly Jewish in their monotheistic beliefs and observation of the High Holidays, the Konkan Jews had integrated substantially into the Hindu community around them.
Indian Jews did not live in seclusion from their host communities. They were usually a vibrant part of the economic and civic life in their region. The Bene Israel, for example, despite their insulation from the Jewish world, contributed funds through Rabbi Yaakov Sapir in 1864 for the renovation of Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. They had already contributed towards Bombay’s first synagogue, Shaar Harahamim, some 70 years earlier. Closer to home, it was a Bene Israel Jew, Ezra Kolet, who founded the Delhi Philharmonic Society.
David Sassoon, perhaps the most famous Baghdadi Jew and known as the Rothschild of the East, built synagogues in Byculla (Magen David), Poona (Lal Dewal), Bombay (Keneseth Eliyahoo), and three in Calcutta for the Jewish community. Additionally, the David Sassoon Benevolent Institute was established, which later became the Sassoon School. The Sassoons also supported other schools in the area, such as the Bene Israel Israelite School. In 1847, the Sassoon Mechanics’ Institute was opened, and the Sassoon Hospital was built in Poona in 1863. The beautification of Maharashtra’s two principal cities was also underwritten to a large extent by the Sassoons. The family’s docks and 11 mills provided employment to over 15,000 people by the early 20th century.
Another important Jewish figure in Indian public life was Walter Kaufmann. Kaufmann escaped to India soon after the Nazi party swept to power in Germany in 1933. It is interesting to note how India acted as a haven for Jewish refugees during the Holocaust when most Western countries, including the United States, closed their doors on them. During his brief stay of 12 years in India, the renowned music composer penned the signature tune for All India Radio (1936), founded the Bombay Chamber Music Society, and formed a string quartet that included the father of maestro Zubin Mehta, Mehli Mehta. He also wrote an opera called Anasuya, which premiered in 1939, and several books on Indian and Oriental music.
Jews played the dominant role in reviving and shaping contemporary Indian art. Dozens of now-forgotten names like Rudi Von Leyden, Emmanuel Schlesinger, Kathe Langhammer, Gladstome Solomon, Marionn Spielman, William Rothenstein, Stella Kramrisch, S Rahamin Samuel Talkar, Magda Nachman, Carmel Berkson, Rebecca Yehezekiel, Siona Benjamin, dancer Hilde Holger, photographer David Mordechai, and others mentored Indian artists, popularised them, and in introducing Western art to Indians, defined the parameters within which Indian art would conduct its debates.
India’s Jewish citizens have served their state of domicile loyally, the prime examples being Vice Admiral Benjamin A Samson, the head of India’s Western Fleet during the 1965 India-Pakistan War, and Lieutenant General J F R Jacob, who is most known for his role in the fall of Dhaka during the Third India-Pakistan War in 1971. Perhaps more in the public eye are Jews in the arts, such as actor David Reuben, actress Florence Nadira, and Bharatnatyam danseuse Leela Samson.
It is entirely possible that there is a fourth reason why Jews do not stand out in Indian life—they are in such harmonious existence with their Hindu hosts that no one notices their alterity. Jews have contributed to many aspects of Indian life—military, film, the arts, and finance. In turn, India has afforded them what any civilised state should—to live free, proud, observant, prosperous, and contributing lives. It is this foundation upon which India can build relations for the 21st century with Israel and the worldwide Jewish diaspora.
This article is a part of our special series on Israel.
– Jaideep A. Prabhu is a specialist in foreign and nuclear policy; he also pokes his nose in energy and defence related matters.

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The Enduring Agony of Wartime Rape Victims

Women who have suffered in silence for years in Kosovo, after being tortured and raped in the war, are being offered a reparations scheme – but the stigma of rape means many of them may not apply for it.

Fata restlessly twists her fingers, as if she were suffering some great embarrassment. She can hear footsteps in the corridor so she stops speaking and waits until it becomes quiet again outside.

Eighteen years have passed since the day of NATO shelling in May 1999 when she was pulled out of a refugee column, raped and tortured by Serbian forces in a private house in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica. She lost her right eye. She was only 16 years old.

“I remember they kept us for three days. They kept 15 of us in the same room. When I came to, I saw that my right eye was bandaged and that I could not move,” she recalled.

Since that day, Fata [the name she gave herself for the interview] has been permanently scarred, as well as maligned and stigmatised by her own community.

“My aunt told me that I should not tell anyone what happened; I’d be better off killing myself,” she said.

Thousands of other women were also victims of sexual violence inflicted by Serbian forces during the Kosovo war of 1998-99, which NATO brought to an end by terminating Serbia’s rule over Kosovo.

Fata says the place where she was confined had become a centre for rape and murder by Serbian forces.

“I remember that on the first day, we were raped continuously. They took turns with us, while wiping away our blood,” she said.

Despite this horrific experience, she fears to apply for the status of a wartime victim of sexual violence in a reparation scheme set up those who were raped during the war, which the government of Kosovo intends to introduce this year.

“My family does not want my name listed anywhere. Now they have become a big family. Their sons and daughters have got married, and so the family has grown. They do not want anyone to talk about it,” she explained.

She tends to let a lock of her dark hair drape over her right eye, a habit she developed a long time ago to cover the empty socket. It was only three years ago, with support from an NGO, that she got a prosthetic eye.

Suffering in silence

Following years of silence and stigmatisation, Kosovo’s parliament passed a law in 2014 that recognises the victim status of those women and offers them pensions of up to 220 euros a month.

At the end of April, the government established the Committee for Verification and Recognition of Violence Victim Status, which will implement the legal procedures to enable the process to start.

“The law recognises their status, but they do not enjoy the same benefits as other war victims, although their needs are often greater,” Veprore Shehu, from Medica Kosova, a Gjakova-based organisation that acts on behalf of rape survivors, told BIRN.

The main benefits that war victims are entitled to are family pensions, free healthcare, advantage in employment, release from court, administrative and public taxes, including property taxes, and cheaper electricity.

The new law allows rape survivors to apply for reparations in writing, without having to testify in person about what they endured. The survivors are not obliged to, but may, submit medical or police records as proof of their rape.

The government selected Shehu’s organisation, along with three others, to collect applications from survivors, to ensure their confidentiality, so that they do not have to face the committee members in person.

Arban Abrashi, Kosovo’s Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, whose ministry will implement the scheme, says the level of support will only be modest. “Moreover, it will not provide the justice that is missing,” he told BIRN.

Fearing stigmatisation and exclusion, thousands of women victims of wartime sexual violence have silently lived with serious health problems.

Fata’s family saw the teenager’s rape as a great stigma. “I could not continue my education. It was difficult to get medical treatment. My family suffered because many people knew that I had been raped, and that they had taken my eye out deliberately,” she explained.

The psychological toll has been even worse, Fata says. She suffers from depression and from headaches and severe migraines.

The negative perceptions of society and the difficulty in getting medical treatment in a poor country like Kosovo has resulted in several of these rape victims committing suicide.

“A number of these victims also died as a consequence of domestic violence, which was carried out in the name of honour,” says Siobhan Hobbs, who in 2016 led a UN team that published a report on the plight of sexual violence victims in Kosovo.

This is because, among many families like Fata’s, rape is seen as a stain on the family’s honour.

“I decided to marry, not because I wanted to, but to stop being a burden on my family. However, it grew even worse. My husband’s family found out that I had been raped and had lost an eye. They threw us out of the house,” Fata recalls.

Since then, along with her husband and two children, she has lived in collective shelters or abandoned houses, battling with severe poverty.

Some rape survivors were not only ostracised by their relatives but deserted by their husbands as well.

Marginalised and excluded, they carry the weight of the blame for what happened to them.

Another woman told BIRN that both she and her sister were raped in a house in Decan, in western Kosovo, during the Kosovo war.

“When her husband found out, he left my sister with two children and married someone else,” she said.

Fear of further violence and ostracisation has made many women reluctant to seek support, especially as regards healthcare, employment and training.

This is also why some, like Fata, hesitate to apply for the status of a wartime victim of sexual violence.

Many say they do not know how they will explain the payments they may receive to their families.

“Only a few victims will apply,” Feride Rushiti, head of the Pristina-based Centre for Rehabilitation of Torture Survivors, predicts.

Rushiti also argues that the law is discriminatory.

The current law offers survivor status to those assaulted in the war between February 27, 1998, when armed conflict in Kosovo started, and June 20, 1999 when Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo following NATO bombing.

But some Serbian victims associations note that this timeframe actually means that Serbian rape survivors – who also endured sexualviolence, following the withdrawal of Serbian armed forces, will thus not be eligible to apply.

“Rape was not only carried out by Serbs and not only during the war,” Rushiti said. “There were victims on all sides.”

Blagica Radovanovic, head of the Santa Marija, an NGO which deals with victims of domestic violence in the northern Kosovo Serb town of Zvecan, says the Kosovo Serbian community has not been included in the drafting of the law and remains unfamiliar with it.

“Our recommendation is to research the actual number of victims sexual of violence, which will include all the communities affected by the war. There is no information regarding sexual violence during [Kosovo Albanian] revenge attacks,” Radovanovic said.

Veprore Shehu says they have provided care for three raped women from the Roma community.

Hobbs also argues that the legal framework of the 2014 legislation needs to be amended.

“The law should be more inclusive. The timeframe needs to be changed because it does not cover victims of sexual violence committed after the conflict. The establishment of the Commission should nonetheless continue, and any amendments to the law can be done in parallel, or after,” Hobbs said on Skype.

Abandoned children

In a report in 2000, the rights organisation Human Rights Watch said rape in Kosovo was “used as a war tactic to humiliate, intimidate, and displace by force civilians of a certain ethnic community and as a means of changing the demography of a territory.”

But, while the war fades into history, it remains a permanent reality for the thousands of women who were raped during those years.

One woman who gave birth as a result of wartime rape said paramilitary units held her for two days in a private house in a village near Peja.

“I didn’t even know I was pregnant. When a medical doctor told me about the pregnancy, I wanted to commit suicide. I was 17. They told me the pregnancy was in the sixth month and it was too late for an abortion,” she said.

In a short, difficult conversation at one of the centres providing support to victims of violence, she shared her story of the baby’s delivery.

“A doctor and a psychologist arranged with an urologist to write a diagnosis, showing allegedly that my belly was growing because one of my kidneys wasn’t working,” she said.

A German NGO paid the rent for a flat where she could hide from her family until she gave birth. She said her son was a healthy baby: “He didn’t cry at all.”

But she only breast fed him once – and then gave him up. “I don’t know where he is. I didn’t want to know about him. I still don’t want to know,” she replied briefly, declining to offer more details.

While the tall, dark woman said her life was better now, she was reluctant to talk more about the present, or about herself, or about whether she might apply for victim status.

With or without this status, she will always feel haunted as the mother of an abandoned child.

The number of children born to women raped during the war in Kosovo will never be known. Organisations that help rape survivors of have obtained data only on four or five cases.

That information came from medical centres in Albania and Montenegro, where refugees sought support.

“Twelve of 120 women treated at our centre underwent abortions in Kukes, in Albania – all pregnancies that happened as a consequence of rape; only one woman gave birth, and she abandoned her baby,” Veprore Shehu of Medica Kosova said.

Neither hospitals nor shelters for abandoned children in Kosovo have any data about childbirths as a consequence of rape or about abandoned children during 1998-1999.

The current reparation scheme does not provide access to healthcare, educational or other services to children of the survivors who have indirectly been affected by violence.

“A way should be found to make sure that children who were born as a result of rape are included in the reparation measures,” Hobbs said.

Disputed figures

Atifete Jahjaga, when she was President of Kosovo from 2011 to 2016, was the first political leader in Kosovo to advocate legislation to help the survivors and to challenge the stigma surrounding them.

“During my mandate, I tried to leave no stone unturned to enable them to gain recognition. About 20,000 women victims still do not enjoy freedom of body and soul,” Jahjaga told BIRN.

She established a National Council for Violence Survivors, and one of the initiatives it promoted was a strategy for access to justice.

The figure of 20,000 rape survivors that Jahjaga quoted comes from several sources. The WHO’s Kosovo Health Sector Situation report published in 2000 that said: “Local organisations estimate that approximately 10,000 to 20,000 women were raped between February 1998 and June 1999.”

A local NGO, the Center for Protection of Women and Children, CWPC, also estimates that at least 20,000 women and girls were raped. However, the figure was never verified and the number remains a matter of dispute.

Jahjaga insisted that the figure was based on investigations conducted by specialist organisations and experts. “I strongly believe that the figure is accurate,” she said.

But Hobbs, who was involved in a UN report wartime sexual violence in Kosovo, questions it.

“The estimate of 20,000 is based on an incorrect application of a formula, but that was done in good faith with the limited data that was available. It is not the case that this was a deliberately misleading figure. The fact is no one knows for sure,” she said.

What is known is that women were raped in houses, at military posts and in police stations. As well as being raped, some were beaten, their genitals were mutilated, and they were stabbed with knives, burned with cigarettes, even killed.

No convictions

Like many others who have never been able to share what happened to them, Fata has suffered in silence, and has not seen justice done.

Only a few of these women have testified in cases before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

As of September 2016, the ICTY had found four men guilty in connection with crimes of sexual violence in Kosovo, among other crimes.

They were Vlastimir Djordjevic, a former Serbian assistant interior minister, Nikola Sainovic, former Yugoslav deputy Prime Minister, Nebojsa Pavkovic, Former Yugoslav Army General and Sreten Lukic, former Serbian police general.

The ICTY website says that Sainovic and Lukic were “found guilty of crimes of sexual violence through participation in the Joint Criminal Enterprise, but no conviction [was] entered for these charges.”

Over the past 18 years, the local courts in Kosovo have not found anyone guilt of wartime rape.

Sanija Salihu remembers the evening in August 1998, when her 20-year-old daughter did not return home. A police car patrol in central Gjakova took her away, at a time when fighting was going on in many areas of Kosovo.

Vjollca Salihu was taken somewhere and raped by Serbian policemen. As a result of her torture, her spinal cord was damaged.

“She went to close up the shop. It was 8pm. She did not return. We looked for her everywhere. We went to ask the police and they told us that they had no knowledge of her,” Sanije Salihu said.

Two months later, a telephone call from a hospital in Belgrade revealed her daughter’s whereabouts.

“The doctors told me that she was taken there from a hospital in Pristina and she had been tortured. They said she would not live long,” she recalled.

“I saw her whole body had been burned by cigarettes. Her genitals were mutilated with knives and covered in scars. The doctors showed me another thing which I had failed to notice – her fingernails had been torn out,” she added.

One thing she does not know is how her daughter was taken to the Pristina hospital. Izet Hima, the doctor who referred Vjollca to the Pristina hospital, was himself killed a few days later.

While browsing through her daughter’s medical reports, pictures and documents, she points her finger at the date of her birth. The day after she gave this interview, April 28, Vjollca would have been 38.

“All that she knew was the name of a policeman. She explained that she had been tied up, raped and beaten. You could see the rope marks on her legs. She had tried to commit suicide in the toilet. She remembered that they twisted her neck, and then nothing else,” she said.

Three years later, Vjollca died at home in Gjakova. Her mother has been seeking justice ever since. But the law does not include reparations for families of the victims who died as a result of their rape.

The Kosovo reparation programme design is based on general frameworks established by several other countries and their experiences, including Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Unlike in Bosnia, however, the process of verification and recognition of war rape survivors in Kosovo does not provide that their testimonies can be used simultaneously by the prosecutor’s office.

Besim Kajtazi, head of the legal department at the Kosovo President’s office, who led the team drafting the legal framework on reparations, said that would be too uncomfortable for many of the survivors.

NGOs that will compile survivors’ testimonies and lawmakers explained that Kosovo had opted not to follow Bosnia’s example, where testimonies are automatically shared with police and prosecution, because it might worsen the trauma for survivors and potentially deter some who fear they might have to go public, from testifying and being publicly identified as a rape victim.

“Nevertheless, that does not in any way impede the Prosecutor’s Office from investigating cases,” Kajtazi told BIRN.

Bakira Hasečić, head of the Women Victims of War association and a wartime victim of sexual violence herself, from Visegrad, Bosnia, says there can be no complete recovery for survivors of rape without justice done to the perpetrators.

Inger Skjelsbaek, a psychology professor at Oslo University in Norway, specialising in sexual violence in conflict, argues that reparations should closely linked with other initiatives for justice.

“Wherever sexual violence was used in a war, a high non-punishment culture still prevails. Nevertheless, in recent years, it has begun to change,” Skjelsbaek said.

But while justice remains distant, and revenge is impossible, for many of the survivors and their families, hate stays fresh.

“I’d like to rip their bellies open with a knife. I will never be satisfied otherwise,” Sanija Salihu said.

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World Environment Day – Connecting People to Nature

Man is both creature and moulder of his environment, which gives him physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth. In the long and tortuous evolution of the human race on this planet a stage has been reached when, through the rapid acceleration of science and technology, man has acquired the power to transform his environment in countless ways and on an unprecedented scale.

The United Nations, aware that the protection and improvement of the human environment is a major issue, which affects the well-being of peoples and economic development throughout the world, designated 5 June as the World Environment Day. The celebration of this day provides us with an opportunity to broaden the basis for an enlightened opinion and responsible conduct by individuals, enterprises and communities in preserving and enhancing the environment. Since it began in 1974, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated all over the world.

“Connecting People to Nature”

Each World Environment Day is organized around a theme that focuses attention on a particularly pressing environmental concern. The theme for 2017, ‘Connecting People to Nature’, urges us to get outdoors and into nature, to appreciate its beauty and to think about how we are part of nature and how intimately we depend on it. It challenges us to find fun and exciting ways to experience and cherish this vital relationship.

Billions of rural people around the world spend every working day ‘connected to nature’ and appreciate full well their dependence on natural water supplies and how nature provides their livelihoods in the form of fertile soil. They are among the first to suffer when ecosystems are threatened, whether by pollution, climate change or over-exploitation.

Nature’s gifts are often hard to value in monetary terms. Like clean air, they are often taken for granted, at least until they become scarce. However, economists are developing ways to measure the multi-trillion-dollar worth of many so-called ‘ecosystem services’, from insects pollinating fruit trees to the leisure, health and spiritual benefits of a hike up a valley.

Learn more about this year’s theme.

Canada, the host country

Every World Environment Day has a different global host country, where the official celebrations take place. This year it is Canada.

Its rich and spectacular natural heritage is a source of pride and identity for Canadians. Abundant natural resources also support the country’s economic prosperity – through tourism as well as sustainable use – and the health and well-being of its 36 million inhabitants.

World Environment Day is an important part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations. As part of the festivities, Canada offers free passes for its national parks throughout 2017.

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