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The new citizenship bill and the Hinduisation of India | Human Rights

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On January 8, India‘s lower house of parliament approved a bill that would grant residency and citizenship rights to undocumented non-Muslim immigrants, sparking protests in the country’s northeast. The protests took place mainly in the state of Assam, where millions of people were accused of being foreigners and effectively stripped of their citizenship last year.

The controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, which still needs the approval of the upper house of parliament, seeks to amend the 1955 Citizenship Act to make Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from three Muslim-majority countries – Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan – eligible for Indian citizenship. This would mean migrants belonging to these religious communities who entered India without the necessary documents prior to 2014 would not be imprisoned or deported and would gain permanent citizenship after six years of residency in India.

The government says the bill aims to provide succour to persons who have been persecuted in their homelands because of their religious identities and who have “nowhere else to go but India”. The proposal assumes persons who identify as Muslim cannot be persecuted in Muslim-dominated countries, and therefore excludes all Muslim immigrants. Hence, members of the Ahmadiya and Shia communities of Pakistan, despite being persistently targeted by extremists, would not be able to seek refuge in India. 

The bill has been widely criticised for attempting to make religion an eligibility criterion for Indian citizenship – an act that would fundamentally alter the secular character of India.

Ignoring minorities from non-Muslim states

Critics have questioned the reasons behind the government’s decision to limit the scope of this bill to migrants from Muslim-majority neighbours of India. Some have argued that the fact that the proposal excludes thousands of undocumented immigrants from Sri Lanka, Nepal and most importantly Myanmar implies that the Indian government is not at all concerned about the persecution of minorities if they are not living in Muslim-majority countries.






India slammed for deporting Rohingya refugees (6:11)

Indeed, when members of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority sought refuge in India after being persecuted in their home country for their religious and ethnic identity, the Indian government did not attempt to provide any legal protection for them. On the contrary, the members of the government perceived these desperate refugees as a threat to India and made attempts to force them out of the country.

In this context, the claim that this bill is a humanitarian gesture aiming to help people in need does not hold. So what is the Indian government’s real motivation for supporting this bill?

Protecting India’s ‘Hindu identity’

The governing Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) main strategist for the northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma, recently exposed the real purpose of this bill: protecting India’s so-called Hindu identity.

Before the citizenship bill was put to a vote in the lower house of parliament, Sarma, who is also the finance minister of the state of Assam, said, “If this Bill is not passed, then Hindus in Assam will become a minority in just next five years. That will be advantageous to those elements who want Assam to be another Kashmir and a part of the uncertain phase there.” 

And soon after the bill was passed, the minister argued that this decision may have prevented Muslims from taking control of Assam’s 17 assembly seats and the Muslim leader of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Badruddin Ajmal, from becoming the chief minister.

By using the potential electoral success of Muslim Indian citizens, who have every right to contest and hold public positions, as a way to legitimise the citizenship bill, Sarma clearly demonstrated that the purpose of this bill is not to “help” anyone, but to protect and promote Hindu supremacy in India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also previously admitted that the bill is tied to his party’s desire to make India a Hindu nation that prioritises the rights of Hindus irrespective of their citizenship.

During a rally in Assam’s Bengali-Hindu dominated region of Silchar, Modi said that the citizenship bill is an “atonement for the past mistakes of partition”. Emphasising that he believes blood relations are more important than the “colour of passports”, he promised the region’s Bengali-speaking Hindus that he would make sure that they will be accepted and welcomed by “mother India” by passing this bill.

Alienating Assam’s indigenous population

Today, Assam is at the centre of protests about the proposed amendment to India’s citizenship bill and this public anger has historical roots.

During Bangladesh’s bloody struggle for liberation from Pakistan in the early 1970s, many Bengalis moved to Assam. Over the years, their increasing numbers stirred anxieties among the indigenous Assamese people about the preservation of their distinct culture and ownership of land. As a result, between 1979 and 1985, an “anti-foreigner” agitation – dubbed the “Assam movement”, targeting the Bengali immigrants – erupted in the state. 

To end the violence, India’s central government signed the Assam accord with the leaders of the Assam movement in 1985. The accord specified that only people who could prove that either they or their parents had entered or lived in India prior to March 1971 can assume Indian citizenship and legally reside in the state of Assam.

Last year, a new National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared in the state to distinguish Indian citizens from undocumented immigrants according to the rules set by the 1985 accord. This list included only 28.9 million of the 32.9 million people residing in the state, rendering nearly four million people stateless. 

The decision to denationalise millions of people was widely supported by Assam’s indigenous population, which still fears their culture may be decimated by the influx of “foreigners” and widely criticised by India’s Bengali communities and international observers. The Assamese’s main fear is that Bangla-speaking people from neighbouring Bangladesh, irrespective of their religion, would come to dominate Assam. Hindu and Muslim Assamese are united on this viewpoint and they all want undocumented immigrants to be kicked out of the state. 

However, with this new citizenship bill, the BJP government is trying to convince Assamese Hindus that their loyalty should lie not with the indigenous Muslim communities of their state – who speak their language – but with Bengali Hindus. For now, the majority of Assamese Hindus seem not convinced by Hindu nationalist arguments.

The Assam Gana Parishad (AGP), the successor of the Assam movement, has already severed ties with the BJP and expressed its displeasure over the move. The AGP and its allies see in this move an attempt by the BJP to lure as many Hindus from Bangladesh as possible to this region, which, they think, would make it Bengali-dominated and eclipse the local cultures.

Another step towards Hinduisation of India

The citizenship bill needs to be seen as a part of the BJP’s larger ideological and political agenda to transform India into a “Hindu homeland”. The governing party believes India belongs to Hindus and everyone else are invaders, or at best latecomers, who should expect nothing more than a guest status.

The BJP is clearly using this bill to send a message to the Hindus in other parts of India that under their rule, “Hindus will always come first”.

From the very beginning, the BJP viewed the NRC as way to rid the country of Muslim “foreigners”. Using this citizenship bill, the governing party is trying to make sure no Hindus are harmed by the NRC and their quest to expel Muslims from India can continue without complications.

If this bill gets the approval of the upper house in the coming days, it will not only cause division and conflict in the northeast of India but will significantly contribute to the ongoing Hinduisation of India.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Health Canada looking into pot firms’ sponsorship of charity event

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TORONTO — Health Canada is looking into whether two cannabis companies’ sponsorship of a children’s charity event last October is in violation of promotion restrictions within the Cannabis Act.

Cannabis sector companies Canopy Growth Corp. and Halo Labs were among the sponsors of an Oct. 23 event in support of Kids, Cops & Computers for the Merry Go Round Children’s Foundation, whose honorary chairman is federal Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair.

During the annual event called Inspiration Night, held in Toronto, the cannabis companies’ logos were used in a poster of sponsors and other materials, according to pictures posted by the non-profit online.

A Health Canada spokesman says the Cannabis Act does not prohibit the sponsorship of a person, entity, activity or facility but that sponsorship cannot be used to promote cannabis and it is prohibited to display a brand element of cannabis.

“We are gathering facts and information about the situation to determine whether there may be an instance of non-compliance with the promotion prohibitions in the Cannabis Act,” said Health Canada spokesman Geoffroy Legault-Thivierge in an email.

He added that Health Canada has followed up with the company to ensure it is aware of the promotions prohibitions, and it understands that the Foundation has removed the names of the cannabis companies from the list of sponsors on its website.

Under the Cannabis Act, that came into effect when Canada legalized pot for recreational use on Oct. 17 last year, there are strict guidelines on promotion and marketing. Those include a ban on promotion that is appealing to youth, and sponsorship of people, events or buildings. However, approaches between licensed producers in the months since legalization have varied and some industry players have said that reflects uncertainty on how to interpret murky portions of the act.

The act stipulates that it is prohibited to display, refer to or otherwise use a brand element of cannabis directly, or indirectly, in a promotion that is used in the sponsorship of a person, entity, event, activity or facility. As well, it is prohibited to display the name of a person that produces, sells, or distributes cannabis, sells or distributes a cannabis accessory or provides a service related to cannabis.

Merry Go Round’s president Mark Zwicker said at the time of the event, the Cannabis Act was so new it wasn’t clear whether brand elements could be used. The charity has since removed the logos from its website, he said.

“It’s a grey area and we don’t want to do anything that would materially affect the charity… I can assure you that no one that was involved with the charity would have knowingly taken any action that would contravene the act,” Zwicker said.

Canopy Growth said it is not prohibited from sponsoring an event as long as cannabis is not promoted.

“There was no promotion of Canopy’s donation,” stated spokeswoman Caitlin O’Hara. “The only public mention of Canopy Growth’s corporate donation was the company’s logo on the charity’s donation page and logo placement at the event itself, which was a private event.”

Halo Labs and Bill Blair did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The sponsorship portion of the Cannabis Act does have some “grey areas,” such as whether a holding company would be subject to the sponsorship restrictions, said Ottawa-based lawyer Trina Fraser.

“In and of itself, it is not a producer or distributor of cannabis, its subsidiaries are… I think there is still some greyness around that,” she said.

However, the act says it is prohibited to use a trademark or brand name slogan that evokes or is reasonably associated with cannabis, said Toronto-based lawyer Matt Maurer.

“Even if Canopy is the parent company, using their name is a brand element because it is associated with cannabis, that’s what they do…. There’s an argument to be made on both sides.”

When reviewing regulated activities under the act, Health Canada considers each situation on a “case by case-basis,” said Legault-Thivierge.

“A range of factors including, but not limited to, the purpose of any promotion, its content, its context, and its intended audience would be assessed when enforcing the prohibitions on promotion in the Cannabis Act,” he said.

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When it makes sense to pay your taxes with a credit card – and when it doesn’t

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Personal Finance Insider writes about products, strategies, and tips to help you make smart decisions with your money. Business Insider may receive a commission from The Points Guy Affiliate Network.

  • You can pay taxes with a credit card through third-party providers – not through the IRS website.
  • If you cannot pay off your credit-card balance immediately, you are better off setting up a payment plan with the IRS than using your credit card to pay your taxes.
  • Paying taxes with a credit card to earn a big sign-up bonus or reward points makes sense if the value exceeds the credit-card fee you will be charged.

You can pay your taxes with a credit card, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea. The IRS allows you to pay with a credit card through third-party partners or when you e-file your taxes through online tax services like TurboTax or H&R Block.

Paying taxes with a credit card isn’t free, but sometimes it could make sense. Here’s how to figure out what’s best for you.

What taxes you can pay with a credit card

You can pay your annual tax return, due when you file your taxes sometime between the beginning of the year and April 15. You can also use a credit card to pay quarterly estimated tax payments, which are most common for people who are self-employed or who have freelance income. Some states, cities, and counties allow you to pay income and property taxes with a credit card as well.

Read more: The IRS says the busiest day of tax season is right around the corner, and there’s a simple way to beat the rush

What it costs to pay your taxes with a credit card or debit card

The IRS works with three payment processors to handle tax payments made via debit or credit card. There are also options for paying your tax bill with a credit card when you e-file.

Debit card payments require a small flat fee, but you can just as easily pay your taxes with a bank account transfer for free. In most cases, that will be the better option. For paying your taxes with a credit card through a third-party processor, you’ll pay the following convenience fees:

If you pay your taxes with your credit card when you file online through tax software like TurboTax or H&R Block, the fees typically start at 2.49%, but could be even higher.

When not to pay taxes with a credit card

Deciding whether it makes sense to pay an extra fee when filing your taxes depends on your card’s rewards and your ability to pay it off before the next statement due date.

If you can’t pay off your balance in full every month, you should avoid paying your taxes with your credit card. With average credit-card-interest rates around 17%, it is better to set up a payment plan with the IRS than pay huge interest charges from your credit card (not to mention the convenience fee). Interest rates associated with an IRS payment plan will be around 5% or so.

When to pay taxes with a credit card

If you do pay your balance off in full every month, you could be a good candidate to pay your taxes with a credit card – but only if the rewards are bigger than the fee.

If you use the Citi Double Cash Card, for example, you’ll get the equivalent of 2% cash back. That’s more than the fee. If you use points from Chase Freedom Unlimited, at 1.5% cash back (or 1.5x points per dollar spent), as travel rewards paired up with a premium Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, it could also make sense – when you hold the Sapphire Preferred, you get a bonus when you redeem points for travel through Chase, and you can get a higher value by transferring points to airline frequent flyer partners. Consequently, the value of each point can be well over 2¢.

Alternatively, if you’re using your taxes to hit the minimum spend requirement on a credit card’s sign-up bonus, you might end up getting way more than 1.87% back.

But if you don’t get rewards or the value is less than 1.87%, you should only use a card if it will get you over the hurdle for a bonus. Otherwise, you will spend more than you get back in rewards!

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More people put off home buying, due to student debt: Survey

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If you graduated from college years ago and are still reeling from the costs, you’re not alone.

A new survey from Bankrate shows that 73 percent of respondents have delayed at least one major life milestone because of their student loan debt. Participants said they’ve put off buying a house (23 percent), saving for retirement (29 percent), saving for emergencies (34 percent) or paying off other debt (27 percent).

“For prospective students and their families, many of who will help them to pay for their secondary education, we’d urge them to investigate all possible options for financial aid including scholarships to limit their borrowing, ” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate, in an email.

Bankrate surveyed 3,885 adults in the U.S. this February. The average student loan debt in 2019 is $33,310, according to financial-service marketplace Credible.

“There’s a huge toll being taken on individuals and the U.S. economy from the growing burden of student loan debt,” Hamrick said. “For the huge slice of the American population with debt, it is necessary to juggle competing goals including saving for emergencies and retirement, as well as major life decisions.”

Looking back, 77 percent of millennials with student debt said they would have made different financial decisions in college, according to the survey.

Among those regrets? Thirty percent of respondents said they would apply for more scholarships, 19 percent said they would have gone to a community college and 18 percent reported they would attend a different university.

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If you’re applying for colleges now, there’s options when it comes to footing the bill.

Melissa Ridolfi, vice president for retirement and college leadership at Fidelity Investments, told CNBC that Fidelity is seeing parents become more educated when it comes to their children’s college funds.

When it comes to funding your child’s education, Ridolfi had these tips: Start saving as early as possible, have a dedicated savings account (such as a 529 plan) and save regularly.

“We see 37 percent of parents starting to save before their child is even 2 years old,” she said.

Financing a college education? You should:
• Start saving early;
• Establish a routine and save regularly; and
• Put funds in a separate account.

Fidelity also has a gifting platform (similar to GoFundMe), in which people can send out a link and family members and friends can donate money to someone’s 529 plan.

“We’re also seeing that parents are more realistic about the cost of coverage and how much of that they can cover themselves,” Ridolfi said.

“They definitely understand the importance of saving and saving early.”

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