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A Success Story: How Platforms Like M-Pesa Are Changing Commerce In Africa?

When futuristic Hollywood sci-fi films and rapid rotations of iPhone models constantly influx our reality, it’s not hard for an average human living in the 21st century to imagine a future where the cash system has become passé. Imagine going to dinner with friends and  instead of fumbling through the wallet for the right amount of dollar bills or collecting a tray full of seven credit cards, a simple few swipes on the phone will do the trick. It’s the future of mobile money. 

Well, that has become the reality of sub-Saharan Africa, one of the earliest mobile money adopters in the world. Since 2012, mobile money– aka. digital payments – are emerging as the leading finance system in over ten African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana. Launched in 2007, M-Pesa, a phone-based money transfer service developed by Safaricom, Kenya’s major telecommunication firm, has transformed day-to-day payments, moved money from mattress to virtual account, and brought millions into the formal banking system. The continent that still struggles to provide clean water, electricity, and basic infrastructure to the majority of its population has beaten Silicon Valley in embracing digital transactions.

There are a lot of reasons that can account for the explosion of mobile money in Africa. From the moment cellphones entered the mass market around the early 2000s, mobile phones have become ubiquitous in Africa as the continent skipped over the landline. A vast majority of phones were the basic $25 models, and all apps work via SMS with a wide reach, creating the potential market for virtual transactions. In Kenya, nearly all households owned a mobile phone. Yet, what wasn’t ubiquitous is a highly accessible banking system. Kenya had one ATM for every 18,000 people – comparatively, the number was one for every 740 in the U.S.– and more than 75 percent of the sub-Saharan African adult population had no bank accounts as of 2011, the year when M-Pesa started to ascend to popularity. Mobile money provided life-changing alternatives to countries that poorly manage the flow of cash. 

Before mobile money, money transfers had been a problem in countries like Kenya. Despite a growing number of city workers who wish to send money to families and relatives in the rural area, the methods to do so remain limited, unsatisfactory, and often delayed. People could buy a money transfer at a bank, which takes multiple days to process and requires the recipient to travel to the nearest town to retrieve it, or press an envelope of cash to a friend or a bus driver who happens to be heading home. Often, the money either didn’t reach the recipient, or it was less than the intended amount. For millions of informal-sector workers who have no checking or savings account, no credit card, money transfers were difficult, and the cash economy tended to lock people in poverty. 

The genesis of mobile money changed the game. Platforms like M-Pesa, Orange Money, MTN Mobile Money, EcoCash, Tigo Cash altered the way Africans interact with each other economically, granting access and opportunities to rural communities that were often under-developed. For a small fee, mobile money could be sent to any other phone number in the same network, and people could easily withdraw the digital balance in cash from a local agent. Instead of face-to-face interactions, payments and collections of debts turned virtual as daylong queues to pay utility bills disappeared. As of 2012, 86 percent of Kenya’s mobile phone owners used some form of mobile money. In 2013, daily transactions on M-Pesa amounted to approximately $35 million, making up more than a quarter of Kenya’s GDP. Access to M-Pesa not only created robust consumptions that stimulated the economy, it also lifted 194,000 households, around 2 percent of the country, out of poverty. Before mobile money, the rural populations who didn’t live near banks lacked credit histories and collateral to own bank accounts. M-Pesa brought millions into the formal banking system by introducing an alternative called M-Shwari, a bank that offers basic saving accounts and allows the users to earn credits by, for example, paying the water bill on time. 

Mobile money is pushing countries like Kenya forward by providing a public safety net and pushing female financial independence. Since the M-Pesa was first introduced, it has been the public’s emergency cushion. When disasters happen, if a child needs medicine or a car breaks down, people can reach out for help anywhere in Kenya through the platform. M-Pesa also encourages female independence. According to a recent study, it improved the lives of many female-headed households, helping women graduate from subsistence agriculture to small businesses. Having an M-Pesa account gives a woman agency to control her finances, rather than depending on her husband or parents. In the long run, mobile money might be the key to a modern Africa. 

By facilitating commerce and introducing millions of people into the formal banking system, mobile money transforms Africa’s major payment venues onto digital platforms and pulls rural areas out of poverty. In a continent used to making do with little, African countries embrace mobile money as a radical leap of faith into the future. And it may be working out just fine. 

A Growing Threat: Piracy in The Gulf of Guinea

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has been an ongoing and growing threat to maritime trade in the region rivaling and even growing larger than piracy off the coast of Somalia. The growing threat of piracy prompts more direct action that needs to be taken to address the root causes of the issue, that is, a lack of jobs for the natives in the region’s most at risk of becoming pirates, a plan to reduce political corruption, and a strict plan to quell the current threats.  While the world has seen a general decrease in maritime piracy, West Africa has seen an increase primarily in the Gulf of Guinea making it the worst area in the world affected by this form of piracy. The Gulf of Guinea (see link for image) stretches from Senegal to Angola, covering over 6,000 km of coastline. Two regions form its 20 coastal states, islands and landlocked states and is what comprises West Africa and Central Africa. The Gulf of Guinea is of geo-political and geo-economic importance for the transport of goods to and from central and southern Africa. Additionally, it is a choke point for the African energy trade, with intensive oil extraction in Nigeria’s Niger Delta (see link for image). The Niger Delta is a densely populated region responsible for some two million barrels a day and is a target of pirates looking to make a quick sum from the theft of oil and oil barrels. 

80% of all global trade is carried by sea, Most pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea target oil and gas tankers, but fishing boats are targeted on occasion. The International Maritime Bureau says “the vast majority of sailors kidnapped for ransom were taken off the coast of Benin, Cameroon, Guinea, Nigeria, and Togo”. In its report on the growing threat of piracy off the coast of West Africa the International maritime Bureau noted “195 incidents of piracy and armed robbery on ships worldwide in 2020, compared to 162 the previous year”. The Gulf of Guinea accounted for more than 95 percent of abductions in the Bureau’s January report. The additional worry spreading about the West African pirates, besides their growing numbers and frequency of attacks, is their brutality and penchant for violence. In a 2013 report by three leading organizations in the study of maritime piracy, it was found that “while sailors attacked in the Gulf of Guinea in the west spent far less time in captivity than those held in Somalia, they were at risk of much greater violence”. West African pirates were found to be more motivated by quick profits from selling hijacked cargoes of refined oil compared to their Somalian counterparts who sought lucrative ransoms and held captives for much longer periods of time. 

The root cause for piracy in the Gulf of Guinea comes from desperation, lawlessness and political radicalism. Extreme poverty and a lack of options are oftentimes the main causes for piracy, as most pirates come from remote towns and tribes with hundreds living in abject poverty with very few options for providing for themselves or their families and communities. Extreme poverty and a lack of options are reasons for piracy throughout the countries whose coastline lies on the Gulf of Guinea. This is true for none more so than Nigeria and the Niger Delta, the largest source of pirates and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. While the Delta might produce most of the oil from Nigeria, its economy is underdeveloped and there are limited jobs for the local populace as well as rampant corruption within the government and military allowing for groups of pirates to survive. Reports have stated that “once some pirate vessels are arrested by low rank officials, important military exponents intervene to order their release”. 

Piracy interferes with the legitimate trading interests globally and of countries local to the region that include Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. For example, trade of Benin’s major port, the Port of Cotonou, was reported in 2012 to have dropped by 70 percent. The cost of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has been estimated to be about $2 billion

Many organizations are looking for methods to try and fight the growing number of pirates. But to complicate matters, pirate attacks in West Africa mainly occur in territorial waters, terminals and harbors rather than on the high seas. This has hindered any intervention by international naval forces like the UN and EU. However, to counter one of the root courses, that is corruption, the Nigerian government has implemented some counter corruption measures, but the corruption is still so widespread that the government is still unable to fully restrict it. Conversely to the situation in Nigeria, Ghana has seen a comparative decrease in privacy thanks to continued operations by local coast guard and navy forces. And in Somalia reports indicate that “fewer pirate groups were operating from bases in Somalia because of increased patrols by international navies and more effective security measures on ships”. The UN has been a major proponent in the countering currently and prevention of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The UN council focusing on efforts in the Gulf of Guinea also encouraged “States in the region and regional and international partners to make fully operational all the regional counter piracy mechanisms and urged partners to continue assisting States of the Gulf of Guinea”. 

The threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea continues to grow and spread. To counter this not only do armed forces need to be successfully and effectively deployed throughout those waters, but local officials must address their own corruption. They must hold themselves accountable and properly deal with the pirates swiftly and subsequently direct attention to the Niger Delta and its intense poverty to hopefully end the outflow of piracy at the source. They must look to  examples like Ghana and Somalia as both countries continue to suppress piracy in their region. This process will be slow but must begin and continue onward for the sake of Nigeria, but also its neighboring countries as well.

It’s Not the Needle They’re Afraid of

Feelings against vaccines have become a more prevalent sentiment among many people around the world. Conspiracy theories against getting vaccines have proven to be especially detrimental to people in Pakistan. 

Polio, a highly infectious disease that mostly affects children aged 5 and under, has been eliminated around the world except in 3 countries, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where it is still rampant. Pakistan was close to eradicating polio until a major anti-vaccination movement began, which set them back. In mosques, they asked parents not to get their children vaccinated because of conspiracy theories about the vaccine, which contributed to the spread of these ideas. Some parents have heard that these vaccines were poisoning children, which has stopped many people from giving the vaccine to their children. Others distrust the vaccine because it was sent from America, and one mother, Hansa Bibi said about the vaccine that “They put ingredients [forbidden in Islam] in the vaccine to sterilise the Muslim population. They put things in this that are making all the children vomit.” Many other parents and Pakistani citizens express sentiments similar to the one of Hansa Bibi, and not only is social media spreading these ideas more rapidly, but religious clerics have also been key in the dissemination of these ideas.

 These feelings run so deeply in some communities and are even manifested as violence. For example, a hospital was burned down by residents who were angered after many parents brought their children to hospitals. These children were brought to the hospital because of claims that their children got sick because of the polio vaccine. The government arrested key figures involved in this incident but the damage was already done. Many parents became worried for their children’s safety in regards to the vaccine whereas they previously had not been. These fears led to attacks on workers who were administering vaccines, and police officers guarding the polio workers, some of whom died.

These attacks caused the government to pause any campaigning for the vaccine, which caused the number of polio cases to rise more than it had in years, as can be seen in the chart below.

   As with polio similar anti-vaccination sentiments are spreading throughout Pakistan about the coronavirus vaccine. This could prove to affect not only Pakistan but the world’s progress to stop or slow down the pandemic.  

Many people in Pakistan are skeptical about the COVID vaccine, and express similar fears about this vaccine as with the polio vaccine. When one doctor, Mohsin Ali, was recounting questions that he has received about the vaccine and people’s hesitancy about it he said: “Is this going to take away my reproductive ability? Is this going to kill me? Is there any 5G chip in this? And, is there a conspiracy to control people en masse? I get many questions like this. I try to answer them with logic and on the level of the individual asking them. Some still refuse.”

For this vaccine to be productive and for the coronavirus to be managed well it relies on people following restrictions and for people to eventually get the vaccine. Already around 37% of people in Pakistan said they would not get the vaccine. This is particularly worrying because there are experiences of people who got the disease and when they were brought to multiple hospitals they were turned away. One man, Iqbal Shaheen, was told that he could bring his father to a private hospital, but he was not able to afford that level of care. He had to bring his father home where he eventually died. He said “The poor cannot afford to be sick. Without political connections, a coronavirus patient cannot get admitted at a public hospital, while paying a private hospital’s bills is unthinkable.” 

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Despite the spread of conspiracy theories through the media, there is hope for Pakistan to counteract these theories. Due to the fear that many have about the West, Pakistan has been testing Chinese vaccines, hoping that more people would be willing to get them. Thousands of people volunteered to get the vaccine from China, despite what they heard on the media or from their family. After they saw no major side effects from the vaccine their family members were more willing to get the vaccine as well. These experiences could be what Pakistan needs to convince more people that the conspiracy theories are false. As is evident with the COVID-19 pandemic we cannot predict what communicable diseases can arise and have devastating effects. In order to control them fears about vaccines need to be handled; otherwise it will only make diseases harder to control. 

The Persecuted Minority in Afghanistan

The Hazaras are a Persian- speaking ethnic minority group that generally lives in central Afghanistan. They are the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and are a significant minority group in neighboring Pakistan. Although there is no national census in Afghanistan, it is believed that the Hazaras make up roughly 10 to 20 percent of the country’s 35 million people. 

Many academics and political scientists claim that the Hazaras are descendants of Mongol soldiers who came to Afghanistan with Genghis Khan’s army in the 13th century; this is also the most accepted theory about their descent. 

The majority of Hazaras live in Hazarajat, which is located in the rugged central mountainous core of Afghanistan with an area of approximately 50,000 square kilometers, with others living in the Badakhshan mountains. Hazaras speak a dialect of Dari called Hazaraji. Within Afghan culture, Hazaras are famous for their music and poetry and the proverbs from which their poetry stems. The poetry and music are mainly folkloric having been passed down orally through the generations. 

Systematic decrimination, as well as targeted violence and the resulting displacement, has deprived the Hazara community of much of their standing in the social hierarchy of modern Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the Hazara people are the third-largest ethnic group after Pashtuns and Tajiks, but as a result of discrimination and segregationist policies by many different Afghan rulers, the Hazara people have remained one of the most underdeveloped groups, politically, economically and socially in the country. They are considered as one of the most oppressed ethnic groups in Afghanistan, and the persecution of them dates back decades. 

Most of the Hazaras are Shite Muslims, who are considered as the heretics by the Taliban and the Islamic State, which are two Sunni Muslim groups. The Hazaras have been persecuted since Afghanistan’s Pashtun emir targeted Hazaras for mass killings and forced removals in the late 19th century, and some people were sold as slaves. Until the 1890s, the Hazara people were autonomous and in full control of all areas within Hazarajat. However, after the 1890s, they were ruthlessly subjugated, at the behest of the Sunni king Abdur Rahman Khan, who issued a religious decree declaring Shias to be infidels and thus legitimate targets in war. It was not until 1923 that Hazara slavery was abolished, but still the community were excluded from contributing to and benefiting from the development of Afghanistan and were not viewed as equal citizens.

The Hazaras are still under continued attacks from two terrorist groups, the Taliban and ISIS, and both of them are Sunni Islamic fundamentalist organizations. More recently, hundreds of Hazara families have been forced to flee from their homeland during Taliban attacks against the government forces. Hadi Noorzad, a Hazara from the Jaghori district in Ghazni, said he and his neighbors fled a Taliban assault that had killed 50 people, including his 22-year-old cousin. Many families returned after government security forces retook the area, Mr. Noorzad said, but they still live in fear. “The Taliban believes Hazaras are not Muslims, so it is fine to kill Hazaras,” he said.

 Over the past years, many Hazaras have been killed in suicide bombings, and most of the killings were claimed by ISIS. In March 2018, a suicide bomber killed 33 people in a Hazara area of Kabul on Nowruz, a Persian New Year holiday celebrated by Hazaras. In September, an Islamic State suicide bomber killed up to 30 people at a Hazara wrestling club in Kabul. A second bomber killed 26 more, including journalists reporting on the first bombing. In 2017, the Shite Muslim mosque in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, was shattered by a suicide bomber who killed four people, including a Hazara community leader who had built the mosque. Haji Khalil Dare Sufi, an elder at Al Zahra mosque, said that the Hazaras would never give up the weapons to defend themselves. Sufi also said that many Hazaras do not trust the Afghan government or security forces to protect them. “We are a vulnerable people—- a very soft target for the Taliban and Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. 

Since US forces invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban, the situation of the Hazaras has been considerably improved.  Hazaras are one of the national ethnic minorities recognized in the new Afghan Constitution and have been given full right to Afghan citizenship. Only two Hazaras gained seats in President Hamid Karzai’s initial cabinet, and the only representative of their main political party, Hizb-e Wahdat, gained the position of vice president. But in the most recent parliamentary election Hazaras (who make up around 9 per cent of the population) gained 25 percent of seats. However, Hazaras still face persistent discrimination in many areas of the country.

The current Afghan leadership does have a chance to get Afghanistan out of the cycle of violence and terror, but it needs to listen to the demands of all its citizens, including the oppressed minorities like the Hazaras. Unless the Taliban agree to be a part of the democratic political structure in Kabul or there is foreign intervention from countries like the US, any overtures shown by the radical group toward the Hazara minority community will be hollow. Only then there would be a plan that could pave the way out for peace and stability for Afghanistan.

History Repeating Itself: The Possible Return of Sinhalese Nationalism

Sri Lanka is a nation with a history of long-standing and underlying ethnic tensions. Now, still recovering from a bloody civil war that ended roughly 10 years ago, the country must look back to the root of the problem, a nationalism targeting a populace within its own borders. 

Sinhalese nationalism, a Buddhist ideology originating in response to British colonization and widely accepted by the majority of the Sinhalese populace, was spearheaded by the administration of the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, and excluded the Tamil people, causing undue tension and strife. This exclusion led to the nearly 25-year-long civil war, a clash spurred on by nationalistic pride that has continued into the modern day. Now, the fear of the return of an authoritarian rule that would target and persecute minorities is resurfacing. 

The origin of the nation’s ethnic nationalism, specifically Sinhala nationalism, may be traced back to even before the nation’s independence from Britain in 1948. Back then, the not-yet-formed nation was part of a broader anti-colonial, anti-foreign movement. After independence, and with the formation of an electoral democracy, Sinhala nationalism grew stronger. 

As the government just started to gain its balance following independence, the Sinhala language was made the language of the state. While it is the majority language spoken in Sri Lanka, the decision made the minority Tamils feel marginalized. With the formation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L.T.T.E.) and subsequent attacks in an attempt to create a separate state, the bloody civil war began. 

The rule of president Mahinda Rajapaksa from 2005-2014 saw the declaration by the president that he would vow to end the long war. What followed was the decimation of the remaining L.T.T.E. in 2009. The brutal victory was accompanied by tens of thousands of Tamil civilian deaths and the stoking of Sinhala nationalism by the Rajapaksa administration. 

The war’s end gave Rajapaksa increased power and popularity, which he used to silence critics. Those in opposition to him and various journalists were attacked with impunity. Corruption was rampant as many of his relatives quickly found positions at government posts. 

Since 2019, the Sri Lankan government has been controlled by the Rajapaksa brothers, who retook power following their defeat in 2015. The older, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former general who led the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to defeat the Tamil Tigers, holds the office of president and the younger, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the 6th president of Sri Lanka serving from 2005 to 2015, holds the office of prime minister. In 2015, following victory over then president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the administration of the 7th president, Maithripala Sirisena, passed a constitutional amendment imposing a two-term limit on the presidency and revoked the president’s immunity from prosecution. The chances for those amendments to be repealed and even more radical changes to the Sri Lankan government are higher than ever as the current administration needs only five more seats for a supermajority in the parliament, which would enable them a massive amount of control over the government with little resistance. The victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa caused rights groups to worry that he would seek to undo those reforms. Bandula Gunawardena, a spokesman for the Rajapaksa government’s cabinet, said,  “We hope to change the Constitution.” The threat of an authoritarian rule and a return to the country’s nationalistic ways could be imminent if the actions of the Rajapaksa brothers continue down the path they are heading.         

The Sinhala nationalism fueled by past administrations and the scars of civil war and the atrocities committed by both sides still remain. While the Tamil people may no longer be the target of direct action by the government, the minority populations residing in Sri Lanka, including the Tamil people, still fear the possibility of the reigniting of the nationalism of the past.

How Blasphemy Laws Influence Nationalism in Pakistan

When India gained its independence from the British in 1947 it was divided into two countries, Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan with large groups of people relocating to the country of their religious affiliation. During this migration, after the two countries split, violence occurred between the two groups, and they both believed that it would be impossible for them to peacefully live together.  This migration of the two religions started the idea of nationalism in Pakistan where communities were based on similarities they shared, including religion and political beliefs. Differences between the groups of people, especially religion, led to discrimination of minorities.  Discrimination and genocide against the Bengali-Hindu population led East Pakistan to rebel against West Pakistan in 1971. The rebellion of East Pakistan against West Pakistan led to war between the two and Pakistan surrendered. What was then East Pakistan gained independence from Pakistan and became Bangladesh. 

The war that occurred in 1971 is a selectively forgotten piece of Pakistan’s history. Textbooks barely mention their defeat, as a way to promote a positive and successful history. Little is taught about the military oppressions and events in East Pakistan, including the mistreatment of people that consisted of rape, torture, and killings. When it is mentioned, the history is edited to portray clearly anti-India and anti-Hindu beliefs. The war, however, had an impact on the country itself. Losing East Pakistan caused the development of a “never again” mentality leading to the increase in its military budget, as well as the development of nuclear weapons to create a stronger military so that something like the loss of the 1971 war could be prevented from happening again.

Today Pakistan is an Islamic country with strong feelings of nationalism surrounding it. Christians are a minority in the country, making up only 1.5% of the population. They face persecution in the country often caused by the strict blasphemy laws. These laws pose a direct threat to minority groups, specifically children, individuals with mental disabilities, members of religious minorities, and poorer people, artists, human rights defenders, and journalists. Punishments for the blasphemy laws are either life in prison or death. Human rights groups say these laws are used as a way to persecute minorities. However, a large percent of the population supports these laws and any accompanying punishments, creating a sense of nationalism in the county specifically around religion and the persecution of minorities. Islam is the religion of the majority of the country, and a sense of unity is felt through it. Other similarities include language and culture. The attention to the persecution faced by minorities has been heightened recently since the  Asia Bibi case.

 Asia Bibi, a Christian woman from Pakistan, spent eight years on death row for blasphemy charges. She had gotten into an argument with a group of women in June of 2009, was arrested and beaten, and became the first woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan. She was told if she changed her faith she could be freed. Her sentence caused an international backlash, and when taken to the Supreme Court was overruled.  She was then released and allowed to go to Canada. There were protests over this ruling with thousands of protesters demanding that she be put to death. Her story is similar to many other blasphemy cases. Asif Pervaiz, a Christian man has a similar story. He has been in custody since 2013 after sending “blasphemous” text messages to his supervisor. He was told to convert to Islam and when he refused, he was sentenced to death and fined 50,000 Pakistani rupees ($300).

When Pakistan’s Prime Minister was asked about Christian persecution for blasphemy, he said there was no trend, and each situation was case-specific, the same as in other countries. He said that “Christians are very welcome” and that the government is working to protect them. This tends to be untrue, the majority of the blasphemy charges are against Christians. The families of people who have been convicted live in constant fear that they will be attacked. Nationalism exists within Pakistan and there is mistreatment and persecution of minorities, especially religious minorities. People in these minority groups are easily targeted and they often work low paying jobs and have limited opportunities. The groups of nationalists support the persecution of minorities, especially through blasphemy laws. Blasphemy laws are only the latest problem that exists in a country like Pakistan where religion is tightly intertwined with the laws, and minority groups fall victim to false claims of sacrilegious hysteria. Until Pakistan changes these laws so they do not affect the population’s minorities disproportionately religious Nationalism will continue to be an issue for the country.

Constructing Muslims as “Others”: how Hindu nationalism in India inflicts religious division and social conflict within the country.

In 2014, Narendra Modi, an active member of Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was elected as the prime minister of India. In 2015, the assistant general secretary Abdul Rahim Qureshi of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board criticized the Modi government at a press conference, saying that the board was “concerned about the situation in the country which has worsened after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. Not only Muslims, but Christians are also feeling uncomfortable”, as the right-wing forces have become “active against the minorities after the formation of a new government at the Centre.” In 2019, Narendra Modi was re-elected for the second consecutive term, and was determined to build India as an explicitly Hindu state. Beef ban in Maharashtra, different forms of coercion of Muslims, and the revision of Indian city names are some of the problems that have been brought by the Hindu nationalism in India. 

During Narendra Modi’s second year of his presidency, he approved the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill stating that the slaughter of cows and sale of beef were banned in the western state of Maharashtra. Anyone accused of breaking the law will face a fine and a prison-time up to five years. The bill was first passed by Hindu nationalist party BJP in 1995 and was sent to the president for approval in 1996. For 19 years, the bill has failed to become a law until Narendra Modi became the president. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, also expressed his thanks to the president on Twitter. While the cow is a sacred animal for Hindus, the meat industries across the country were dominated by Muslims; thereby, many Muslims facing unemployment by the time the bill took effect. “This is a political decision,” said Mohammed Aqil Qureshi, the President of the Buffalo Traders Welfare Association in New Delhi. “They want to gratify the Hindus and harass the Muslims.” In 2015, a farm worker, Mohammad Akhlaq, was lynched to death by Hindu extremists, (due to the) accused of slaughtering a calf and possessing beef at his house. The charge was later proved to be a rumor spread by six people including temple priests and young boys, all of whom were arrested and sentenced. “We are the only Muslim family here”, said by Jameel Ahmed, Mohammed Akhlaq’s elder brother, “we have been living here for four generations and had never faced any issues before.” With the rise of the ultra-right BJP government since 2014, India has been quickly losing secularism by letting down its effort of maintaining distance from all religions. 

Larger campaigns launched and propagated by Hindu organizations are essentially about consolidating Hindu society across India. “Love-jihad” and “ghar wapsi” remain as two of the most controversial issues across the nation. The term “love jihad” is used to imply the kind of romantic relationship between young Hindus and Muslims that is not built out of affection, but the sole intent to convert each other, typically from Hinduism to Islam. Since 2015, this belief was propagated by Hindu natinoalist organizations, such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Sri Ram Sena, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, and Hindu Janjagruthi Samiti. India’s right-wing parties have declared that “love-Jihad” is a part of an Islamist conspiracy, urging Hindu nationalists to be alert for the “love jihad”. In November 2020, a Netflix show named “A Suitable Boy” has a Hindu-Muslim kissing scene, which led to members of the Hindu nationlist party condemning the scene as offensive to their beliefs and asked India’s authorities to investigate Netflix. According to a report provided by The Economist in September 2017: “One populist Hindu organisation’s helpline claims to have ‘rescued’ 8,500 girls from ‘love jihad’. A website called Struggle for Hindu Existence carries endless titillating stories about Muslim youths luring Hindu maidens into wickedness. Repeated police investigations have failed to find evidence of any organised plan of conversion. Reporters have repeatedly exposed claims of “love jihad” as at best fevered fantasies and at worst, deliberate election-time inventions.” The meaning of “Ghar wapsi” is “Back to Home”, representing a set of religious conversion activities planning to facilitate conversion of non-Hindus to Hinduism. THE Vishva Hindu Parishad’s leader Ashok Singhal has said that “ghar wapsi” was one of the “developmental agendas” of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In December 2020, BJP member of Parliament Anant Kumar Hedge held a ceremony in Haliyal taluk that successfully converted 23 people from 5 Christian families to Hinduism.

Hindu nationalism also desire to change Indian cities and landmarks that are relevant to Islam, eliminating the culture and heritage of many Muslims. In 2018, officials from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party changed the name of the city “Allahabad” to “Prayagraj”- meaning the Hindu holy journey site. The city was constructed in 16 century by Muslim kings. The name “Allahabad” signifies the legacy of a Muslim ruler, the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Yogeshwar Tiwari, the head of the local university history department, said that the history needs to be changed along with the name. The name of India’s Mughalsarai railway station was also changed to Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, for the purpose of memorializing a right-wing Hindu leader who passed away at the site in 1968. 

Many problems caused by Hindu nationalism in India involve impeding of Muslim life. The relations between the two communities have become increasingly strained. Before Hindu nationalists held most of the political power, riots and fights between the two groups have never happened so often. The loss of secularism and the rising mutual distrust have also brought about extremism and even terrorism, leading to significant tensions within the country. 

Return to the Age of Innocence – Cow Vigilantes, Hindutva, the Angry Young Men Behind Modi’s Hindu Nationalism

When India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, envisioned the modern republic born of the British partition in 1947, he exalted the idea of a country founded on secularism. Resembling a palimpsest, India was to be a place of tolerance, where layers of thought and reverie can be inscribed without erasing what has been written previously, and centuries-long religions, languages, ethnicities, cultures flourish in harmony. Even its name, India, a term that originates in Latin, contains an impressive etymology – sindhu in Sanskrit for “river,” hind in Persian, and indos in Greek – reflecting a rich history of inclusion and diversity. Since its founding seventy years ago, the Western world often views India as its potential heir of liberalism. Embracing democratic systems, free-trade, and globalization, the second most populated country in the Asian continent was poised to become the world’s new beacon of hope. 

That reality has changed. Since prime minister Narendra Modi’s election in 2014, a discriminatory citizenship law amendment (CAA) passed; Kashmir, India’s sole Muslim-majority state, lost its constitutional autonomy; heavy-handed government crackdowns against demonstrations swung across the country. Despite widespread criticism of such policies, Modi and his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) rode the wave of millennial support to a second term in 2019. A movement made up of cow vigilantes, and Hindutva believers, Modi’s re-election victory, fueled by a base full of chauvinistic, disillusioned, and violent Hindu young men, solidified the country’s growing nationalistic trajectory, enchanted by vague mythology of a holy past. 

The last two summers in India were plagued by turmoil and violence: Cow vigilantes patrolled neighborhoods, assaulting any who allegedly smuggled or consumed beef, and dozens have been killed by lynch mobs, most of whom were Muslims. Though many blame India’s descent to mob rule on Modi and the BJP’s promotion of a Hindu Nationalistic agenda, the root of its male rage goes beyond the current government. India is a country of low median age and gender imbalance, where its youth face a harsh reality – a job crisis. With more than 600 million people under 25, the millennials in India came of age in a period of slow economic growth. Despite greater access to technology and education, millions face the grim prospect of not finding well-paying jobs: many college graduates are forced to seek menial labor while work and wages steadily decline. Each month, more than 1 million job seekers enter the labor market, yet in 2017, India only created 1.8 million additional jobs. Leaked data from a national survey in 2018 show that India’s unemployment rate rose to 6.1%,  and youth unemployment, people between age 15-29, reached between 13% to 27%, a trend that can only be exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. 

In many ways, public angst and group grievance in India are sentiments uniquely masculine. A generation of families aborting female fetuses in preference for sons has resulted in a “bachelor bomb” – there are more than 37 million surplus men, who will remain single between 2020 and 2080, in a country that harbors masculine aggression and sexual violence. Drifting without purpose, young Hindu men gravitate toward the growing right-wing organizations for a sense of direction, forming a stereotype that isn’t unlike their western counterparts: keyboard trolls with little education,  in their childhood bedrooms furiously tweeting angry rebukes against every perceived slight to Hinduism and Modi. Most of them can be found congregating on Twitter, Hindu-pride-focused WhatsApp groups, and alternate-history websites, circulating conspiracy theories, truncated quotes and speeches taken out of context, and vicious attacks against minorities, women, journalists. Ideas like Hindutva, roughly translates to “Hindu-ness,” promotes a sense of exclusively Hindu national identity among young men, painting the myth of a glorious ancient civilization before Mughal and British invaders. Hindu young men, enraged by – as Modi’s put it – India’s “1,200 years of servitude,” strive to purify the country into the old Holy Land and demand to return to an age of innocence that is half-imaginary. 

  An identity crisis is plaguing the Hindu young men, harboring rage, frustration, and a deep sense of victimization. In the last election, misinformation in the social media ecosystem promoted a line of identity politics, where video snippets of Modi’s principal opponent, Rahul Gandhi, spread virally on the internet, portraying him as an incapable and entitled dynast. Jobless, without a stable family, lacking any competitive market skills, young Hindu men rejected Gandhi’s elite background. Instead, they identify with Modi’s personal story: the son of a tea seller who climbed the competitive ladder in politics and rose to power. The BJP’s hardline rhetoric provides a direction for these young men to unleash their anger, often towards minority groups. Passing stringent laws that punish religious conversion in marriage, the party fuels the flame for conspiracy theories like “love jihad,” pushing a false narrative that Muslim men are wooing and impregnating Hindu women as part of an elaborate scheme to alter India’s demographics. Modi’s vow to protect India’s sacred cows sparked mob-lynchings in states such as Uttar Pradesh, where many Muslim populations reside. Convinced of their victimhood, young Hindu men adhere to Modi’s inflammatory rhetoric and commit grave violence against the Muslim community, channeling a collective frustration to participate in a political struggle between Hinduism and Islam. 

Young Hindu men, embolden by virulent right-wing agenda, has become the driving force behind India’s pivot toward nationalism. Religious toleration retreats to a thing of the past as a Hindutva identity emerges. The original answer to who is an Indian, the founding fathers’ vision of diverse communities coexisting in peace, is disappearing in Modi’s era of male rage. If there is an age of innocence that India has lost during the past few years, it’s the age of secularism.

After 50 Years, Is Bangladesh a Secular or Religious Nation?

The history of Bangladesh has been marked by a struggle between secularism and religion for the nationalistic soul of the country. Bangladesh fought its war of independence in 1971 on the basis of the ideal of secularism. For Bangladesh, embracing religion or creating a secular identity has been a source of major contention in the creation of its national identity.  

After India gained independence from the British Empire in 1947, the Partition , a division of India and Pakistan into two states, was created by the members of the Bengal Legislative Assembly. They decided to cast three separate votes to decide the fate of Bengal. At the end of the three separate elections, it was decided that Bengal will indeed be divided. The Muslim regions were then separated into West and East Pakistan by India’s landmass. Bangladesh, which was Bengali, was part of Eastern Pakistan. Bengali ethnic nationalism began to rise in East Pakistan soon after Pakistan gained independence. 

A majority of East Pakistan was Muslim, while a mjority of West Pakistan was Hindu. There were linguistic, cultural, and political differences that couldn’t be solved. The Bengali people spoke their own language and eventually wanted it to become the primary language of east Pakistan. But they faced immense discrimination by the western region.   

A civil war broke out between West and East Pakistan in 1971. The East won and controlled “Bengali”, which is now the country of Bangladesh. Soon after Bangladesh became independent, it turned into a secular state that was founded by the Awami League, based in an Islamic society. Awami League is one of the major political parties in Bangladesh. Secularism in Bangladesh was seen as a denial of Islam, by some people.

In the 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh, secularism was one of the four fundamental principles of state policy. But the President of Bangladesh, President Ziaur Rahman removed the secularism principle in 1977, and declared Islam the state religion. Today, the leading and most popular religion in Bangladesh is Islam. Bangladesh has 152 million Muslims, which makes up 90.4% of the country’s population. 

The Awami League, brought back the four fundamental principles in the Constitution in 2008, returning the country to its secular roots. Even though the U.N. saw Bangladesh as a “Moderate Muslim Democracy,” Dipu Moni, the Bangladesh forign minister since 2019 said that the country is, “A secular, not moderate, Muslim country.” Secular values have clashed in Bangladesh’s society, with the abolishing and the re-establish of secularism, it reveals how important these principles are to their Constitution. 

In March of 2016, Bangladesh’s high court rejected a petition to have Islam reinstated as the offical state religion, a policy that had been in place since 1988. The petition was written by secular activitsts to remove Islam as the offical state religion of the Muslim majority of Bangladesh. There were also steps in place to have a nationwide Islamic strike led by the Jamaat-e-Islami to force the petition’s rejection but it was a moot point because their prayers were answered.

The secular petitioners were not allowed to state their case or produce arguments. Subrata Chowdhury, one of the secular activists in the case said, “We are saddened (at the ruling). It’s a sad day for the minorities of Bangladesh, the judges simply said the rule is discharged.” Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, make up the minority religions of Bangladesh. The court said the petition was not legitimate because the people who filed never registered with authorities. Islam will remain the offical religion of Bangladesh. 

Jamaat-e-Islami is Bangladesh’s largest Islamic party and they see the outcome as a, “Victory of 160 million people.” Hefajat-e-Islam local leaders of the Islamic group also stated they are delighted with the courts decision, and members of the group accumulated outside of the court and held up a ‘V’ with their fingers for victory. Fazlul Karim Kashemy, a Hefajat-e-Islam leader said, “We thank the court on behalf of the nation for rejecting the petition, Muslims and non-Muslims in our society have been maintaining good relationship for long.” 

In November of the same year, government officials were contemplating removing Isalm as the official religion. After a senior politician claimed Bangladeshi people have embraced “a force of secularism.” 

 Dr Abdur Razzak, a leading member of Bangladesh’s Awami League party  said, “Bangladesh is a country of communal harmony. Here we live with people from all religions and Islam should not be accommodated as the state religion in the Bangladeshi constitution. I have said it abroad and now I am saying it again that Islam will be dropped from Bangladesh’s constitution when the time comes. The force of secularism is within the people of Bangladesh. There is no such thing as a ‘minority’ in our country.” He also said that Islam has been kept as the religion of the state for “stratigic reasons.” 

The International Religious Freedom Report of  2005 of Bangladesh states, “Religion is an important part of community identity for citizens, including those who do not participate actively in prayers or services. Confirming that religion is the first choice by a citizen for self-identification, with atheism being extremely rare.” 

Secularism and religion in Bangladesh has been so vilified by Islamists that it has come to mean something comparable to anti-Islamic. It hasn’t changed then, and it will certainly not change now.