Saturday, March 28, 2020

The sobering statistics of COVID-19

By Habib Siddiqui

As of Saturday, March 28, 2020, nearly 650 thousand people worldwide are confirmed to have been infected by the Corona Virus (COVID-19). As I write around 4 p.m. EST (USA), more than thirty thousand deaths have been confirmed. The latest statistics show that the USA has superseded China as the epicenter of the virus with more than 116 thousand infected people.

In any biological system, if you put a living organism into an environment where it can thrive, with unlimited resources and no predators or competitors, it will always grow in the same fashion: exponentially.

In the case of the coronavirus COVID-19, exponential growth will occur in the disease rate in humans so long as:

1. there is at least one infected person in the population pool,

2. regular contact between infected and uninfected members of the population occurs,

3. and there are large numbers of uninfected potential hosts among the population.

Thus, it is believed that over the next couple of weeks the number will go up very sharply (see the graph below, where it is assumed doubling of the infected people every 1-5 days) in many countries unless preventive measures against the spread are taken.

Thus far, eight countries, the USA, Italy, China, Spain, Germany, Iran, France and the UK, account for more than 80% of the infected countries.

As expected, a vast majority of the reported deaths also came from these countries. E.g., Italy, Spain, China, Iran, France, the USA and the UK – accounts for 89% the reported deaths.

On the other hand, if statistics around the infected cases per million inhabitants are compared, the published data appear to show that people in the European countries were more vulnerable (more than 500 per million) by this pandemic than those living in the comparatively warmer territories (see the graphs and table below).

It is worthnoting here that the above statistical inference is based on the assumpion of the supposed authenticity of the published data that are shared by individual countries, which may not necessarily reflect the ground reality in many illiberal democracies like India and countries that are ruled by authoritarian regimes. We would, thus, probably never know how many Uighurs and Rohingyas, encamped in Xi’s and Suu Kyi’s concentration camps, respectively, got infected and died.

Many governments were either in the denial of or too nonchalant about the effect of Covid-19 while they had missed the short window of taking preventive measures. In recent weeks, while it is heartening to see that government authorities have turned to proven public health measures, such as social distancing, to physically disrupt the contagion, such measures came rather late and have contributed to exponential growth of the virus-infected people all across the world.

In affected localities, all the academic insitutions are now providing on-line training. Unless required for emergency, most people are staying and working from home. These measures have severed the flow of goods and people, stalled economies, and is in the process of delivering a global recession. Truly, economic contagion is now spreading as fast as the COVID-19 itself. Millions of people have lost jobs in the last month. The Dow-Jones Index in the USA took a nose-dive, losing almost 40% of its value.

It’s clear that a vaccine would reduce the need for social distancing and thus relax the policy’s chokehold on the global economy. But no one within the scientific communities knows when that eureka moment will dawn.

In the U.S., politicians have passed a $2 trillion stimulus package to soften the blow of the coronavirus crisis. But such a package alone may not be sufficient even when the fear of the virus is gone without policy innovation that must include – amongst others – offering zero-interest loans to households and small businesses plus a moratorium on mortgage payments for residential and commercial borrowers.

No one in our lifetime has ever come across a crisis of this sort, triggered by an unknown and unseen enemy that could kill so many so fast. No one could forecast the devastating effect of this virus - sobering politicians, policy makers, and financial pundits. Perhaps the only certainty is that any attempt at a definitive forecast will fail.

Who knows this virus may teach humanity to sober up and make them God-fearing, thus, putting their collective efforts to better the lives of all, away from militarization and self-destruction!

Does Religion Matter? Communal Violence in India

Ram Puniyani

 The carnage or to put it more precisely the anti Muslim violence in Delhi (February-March 2020) has shaken us all. Analysts are burning midnight oil yet again to understand the deeper causative factors of the same. One of the neglected aspects of analysis of communal violence has been the one related to prevalent factor of Caste in Indian society. Caste is inherent in the scriptures called as Hindu scriptures; caste has been the rigid frame work of Hindu society, which has also penetrated into other religious communities in India. The deeper connection between Hindu nationalism or Hindutva and caste has been explored somewhat but not too many studies have taken up the relationship between the communal violence and caste in India. Suraj Yengde (IE, Delhi Pogrom is an attempt to Divert attention from Government’s Failures, March 8, 2020) makes some points on this issue. Yengde points out, “Many are still downplaying the Delhi riot as an affliction of Hindutva or Hindu-Muslim binaries. It is neither. It is not religious but caste tensions that encourage such treacherous acts.”    

He quotes from the Gujarat activist Raju Solanki, “in the 2002 Godhra riots there were 2,945 arrests in Ahmadabad. Of these, 1,577 were Hindus and 1,368 Muslims. Among the Hindus arrested, 797 were OBCs, 747 Dalits, 19 Patels, two Baniyas, and two Brahmins. The upper castes became MLAs, the rest were jailed. Also, it is not an accident that Dalits constitute nearly 22% of the total arrests in India; Adivasis 11%, Muslims 20% and OBCs 31%. More than 55% of under trials also come from the same communities (NCRB 2015).”

While this data is on the dot it must be stated that while caste has lot of role in the emergence of politics of Hindutva, in the resultant violence the primary focus has been religion, here caste plays a role which is secondary in some ways. To trace the outline of the Hindu nationalism’s prime mover RSS; one can definitely say that its formation and rise is primarily due to the rising caste consciousness and the beginnings of struggles aimed at injustices due to the caste Varna System. While Hindu Mahasabha was already on the scene as parallel and opposite to the Muslim League, these formations initially had only Kings and landlords. Later these formations were joined in by some elite, affluent sections of society.

RSS in particular was a response to the ground level changes resulting in coming up of low caste/average people in social and political space. It was the non-cooperation movement led by Gandhi and then the non Brahman movement in Nagpur-Vidarbha area which disturbed the Brahmanical sections, supported by landlord-kings, to take up the agenda of Hindu nation. The core articulation of Hindutva politics was to present the glorious ancient times, when Manu Smriti’s laws ruled the roost. These were getting a jolt now as the efforts of Joti Rao Phule and later the campaigns of Ambedkar started empowering the downtrodden dalits. This was a serious threat to Brahmanical system.

While this was the core an external threat was to be created to ‘unify’ Hindu society. And here the Muslims, Muslim Kings rule came in as handy. It is this anti Muslim tirade and actions which was the frontage for Hindutva, while the anti dalit-agenda was the real underlying motive. The whole of Shakha (RSS branches) baudhiks (intellectual sessions) were structured around this. The promotion of communal historiography, the hatred for Muslims was the visible part of RSS training, while glorification of past is the fulcrum which in a way is the code language for retaining the hierarchy of caste and also of gender.

Practically also if we see the strengthening of Hindutva began on the issue of a Muslim king destroying the temple of the birth place of Lord Ram, this campaign got its vitriol after the implementation of Mandal Commission in 1990. The anti Muslim Hate and promotion of values of caste and gender hierarchy are synthesized by Hindutva politics. That’s as far as the political agenda of Hindu nationalism goes. As far as communal violence is concerned, it has been an anti Muslim work through and through. All the statistics shows that victims of communal violence are primarily Muslims, around 80% of victims being Muslims. These Muslims do come from all sections of Muslims, more from the poor.

The caste comes into operation in the mechanism of riot production. Hindutva politics, through its extensive network has been working relentlessly among dalits. The recent book by Bhanwar Meghwanshi, “I was a Kar Sevak”, brilliantly describes the mechanism of co-opting dalits into the agenda of sectarian politics. RSS has floated innumerable organizations, like Samajik Samrasta Manch, which work among dalits to promote Brahmanical values and to integrate dalits into the scheme of Hindutva politics. They are made to act as foot soldiers of Hindu nationalist politics. Those who spread hate through indoctrination and propaganda are safe in their cozy houses or offices while the poor dalits are made to soil their hands with the blood of religious minorities.

The face of Gujarat violence, Ashok Mochi, now talks of dalit-Muslim unity. The data compiled by Raju Solanki and quoted by Yengde is the norm in the cases of violence in India. Those who are incited, those who are later charged with violence are not the ones who give donations to RSS or support its various activities. Most of these do come from the sections of indoctrinated youth from downtrodden communities.

Yengde has done a valuable job in drawing our attention to the role of caste in communal violence; the problem with his thesis is the undermining the role of ‘Hate against religious minorities’, which is the base on which the violence is orchestrated. The extent and degree of indoctrination done through shakhas is very powerful and effective. This can gauzed from the experiences of the likes of Bhanwar Meghwanshi, who tells us the difficulties he had to face to come to grips of reality of caste while overcoming the RSS propaganda.


Friday, March 27, 2020

BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy

It was only a matter of time before the anti-Muslim sentiment in India turned violent.
A country that has historically prided itself on its diversity and tolerance, and for being ‘the largest democracy in the world’ has, in recent years, exhibited the exact opposite qualities – chauvinism, racism, religious intolerance, and, at times, extreme violence.
The latest round of violence ensued on February 23, one day before US President Donald Trump arrived in Delhi on his first official visit to India.
Trump is a beloved figure among Hindu nationalists, especially supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled India since 2014.
BJP, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, has wreaked havoc on Indian politics and foreign policy. However, the damage that this ultra-nationalist movement has caused to Indian society is unmatched since the country’s independence in 1947.
Under BJP rule, the hatred for Muslims, a sizable minority of over 200 million, among other minority groups, has grown over the years to represent the core discourse of a movement that is ideologically and morally bankrupt.
Jumping on the Islamophobia bandwagon, which has grown exponentially since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Hindu nationalists disguised their racist and chauvinistic ideology as part of a global ‘war on terror’.
It was no surprise, then, to see Modi reaching out to like-minded islamophobes, the likes of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The seemingly unbreakable Modi-Netanyahu ‘friendship’ underlies a growing pro-Israel movement among Hindu nationalists.
Hindu nationalist ideologues and pro-Israel Zionists have long discovered a common cause, one that is predicated on a collective sense of racial supremacy and intolerance for Islam and Muslims.
In fact, Israel has, in recent years, emerged as the common denominator between various such ultra-nationalist and far-right groups in India and across the globe. Strangely but tellingly, some of these groups are known for hostility towards Jews and outright antisemitism. However, for these groups, the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim sentiments were far more pressing priorities than all else.
While Europe and North America have received a greater share of political analysis regarding the rise of islamophobia around the world, countries like India, Burma, and China have largely been excluded from the discussion.
It is true that the discrimination and violence against China’s Muslim minority, the Uyghurs, Burma’s Rohingya population and India’s Muslims, have all received a relatively fair share of media attention and analysis. However, the targeting of Muslims in these polities is largely perceived as provisional ‘conflicts’ that are unique to these areas, with little or no connection to global anti-Muslim phenomena.
But nothing could be further from the truth. For example, the fact that BJP politicians often refer to Muslim migrants in India as ‘infiltrators and termites’ mirrors the same dehumanizing lexicon used by Buddhist nationalists in Burma and Israeli Zionists in Palestine.
The likes of the Hindu Samhati movement, known for its anti-Muslim bigotry, has, therefore, become essential to this new global anti-Muslim brand. And, according to the same disturbing logic, hating Muslims then becomes synonymous with loving apartheid Israel.
Hence, it was not a complete surprise to see tens of thousands of Hindu nationalists rallying in Calcutta in February 2018 in what was described by organizers as “the largest pro-Israel rally” in history.
But what took place in New Delhi in February was more ominous than any other previous display of violence. Dozens of Indian Muslims were beaten to death and hundreds more were severely injured by angry Hindu nationalists.
While India is no stranger to mob violence, the recent bouts of bloodshed in that country are most alarming considering it is a rational outcome of a racist trajectory that has been championed by the BJP and their supporters.
Particularly alarming were the scenes of Indian security forces either watching the brutality against Indian Muslims unfold without intervening or objecting in any way or worse, participating in the violence themselves.
While it is rightly argued that the anti-Muslim campaign in India was triggered by Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Act which ultimately aims at rendering millions of Muslims in India stateless, the ailment lies in the BJP itself – a purely xenophobic movement that exploits the grievances of the poor and marginalized in India to maintain political power.
It goes without saying that India’s Modi is a far cry from the India that was envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi or the country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Unfortunately, with Modi and the BJP in power, India will experience yet more tragic days ahead. Flanked by equally racist and violent allies in Tel Aviv and Washington, Modi feels empowered to carry out more such sinister and discriminatory measures against the country’s vulnerable minorities, especially Muslims.
It is essential that we educate ourselves further about the situation in India, and that we understand the anti-Muslim politics and violence in that country within the larger global context. India’s Muslims need our solidarity more than ever before, especially as the emboldened BJP and their chauvinistic leader seem to have no moral boundaries whatsoever.

Emerging from brutal Indian clampdown, Kashmir braces for coronavirus

Having stayed at home from work for five days, 40-year-old Mohammad Aslam Bhat is worried about the fate of his family, with one thing often crossing his mind. "How can I feed my family if the coronavirus lockdown continues?"
Last month, Aslam, a resident of South Kashmir's Islamabad district in Indian-administered Kashmir, opened his shop for the first-time after a nearly six-month clampdown imposed by India. 

The Muslim-majority region of Kashmir was stripped of its semi-autonomy by New Delhi in August 2019, with India detaining thousands of politicians and activists and moving tens of thousands of troops into the already heavily militarised territory.
"The ongoing lockdown will hit us hard," Aslam told The New Arab. "Our business is already shattered. After opening my shop in February, I had thrown out most of the products as they had passed their expiration dates." 
"God forbid," Aslam continued, "if coronavirus spreads in Kashmir, we can't imagine how many people will die here, and mental health problems, which have already taken a heavy toll here due to the recent clampdown, will increase manifold." 
As the world battles Covid-19, people in Indian-administered Kashmir are bracing for disastrous consequences if the pandemic spreads, with residents in the disputed territory having just experienced a brutal six-month military clampdown. 
The draconian Indian measures saw a strict security and communication lockdown, with the private sector, educational institutions, shops, restaurants and hotels shut for months. 
In December last year, a report released by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) estimated a loss of $2.4 billion due to the clampdown. 
Business owners, like Amil Nazir, have witnessed a sharp decline in their profits.  
"My business was already in collapse. I was about to go bankrupt because of exorbitant revenue loss. My interest in doing business in Kashmir was ended," Amil, who was struggling to grow his business, told The New Arab. "As I was settling my business again, the outbreak of coronavirus has brought all my plans to a standstill." 
Business owners said they can't afford another lockdown as they are heavily indebted to banks and outside retailers.
Had India not imposed a clampdown here last August we would have been ready to fight the Covid-19 like other countries," Aslam said. "We have been pushed to the brink. Neither can we go outside to earn a livelihood nor can we stay at home and watch our family members craving essential commodities." 
But we have become more resilient as we have been witnessing clampdowns for more than thirty years now. We hope this too shall pass, and we will rise again." 
In their bid to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Indian-administered Kashmir, authorities have ordered a lockdown, and there will be punishment for those who violate the rules. Except for essential facilities, all other services will remain closed until 14 April. 
Besides banning the entry of travellers, the enforced lockdown has left roads deserted again as markets are shut, public transport banned and educational institutions closed.
The Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR), on Wednesday said 11 cases have been confirmed in Indian-administered Kashmir so far, with over 5,000 people put under observation. In Ladakh, which was carved out from Indian-administered Kashmir in August last year and turned into a federally-administered territory, 13 cases have been reported. 
Bashir Ahmad Rather, President of the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation (KTMF) said that they have no option than to stay at home to save themselves from the coronavirus pandemic.  
"Everybody is voluntarily observing lockdown and we are with it because life should be the priority," Bashir told The New Arab. "But there is a concern for owners of small business outlets. They should be provided with compensation so that they can take care of their families."

An estimated 90 percent of shopkeepers in Kashmir have cash-credit loans, Bashir added.

Read more: Gory tales of torture in Indian-administered Kashmir 
Despite calls for social distancing and quarantine, working-class residents, especially labourers, who are dependent on meagre-paying jobs and living hand-to-mouth, continue to go outside, interacting with others and working to support their families.  
"What can I do?" a labourer asked. "My family will die of hunger if I can't go to work. I resumed my work after six months in February. People like me have only two options: Either die of hunger or due to coronavirus, let us leave that to Allah." 
"We recently went through one disaster, how can we afford another. Who can feed my family if I can't go on work?" 
Javaid Ahmad Badder’s nephew was detained last year during India’s crackdown and remains imprisoned . [Aamir Ali Bhat]
'Release Kashmiri Prisoners' 
As the novel coronavirus rapidly increases in India, social activists, lawyers and human rights defenders have called for the release of Kashmiri prisoners who were detained before and after India stripped Kashmir of its special status, and are incarcerated in faraway jails across India. 
Zainab, 43, desperately wants to see her son Basit Ahmad Badder, who was detained during the night of 8 August last year by police and booked under Public Safety Act (PSA), a draconian law that allows police to detain anyone without trial for up to two years. 
Basit was sent to Ambedkar Nagar jail in Utter Pradesh (UP), around 1,550 kilometres (963 miles) from his hometown.
"On the one side doctors and officials have advised people to stay at home and maintain social distancing as these are the only measures that can save us from the deadly coronavirus, on the other hand, they have put my son in the dungeon, hundreds of miles away from me," Zainab told The New Arab, wringing her hands in despair. 
"You can't imagine the pain I am going through. I want my son back at this moment. He should be before me." 
In November last year, the Indian government claimed in parliament that 5,161 persons were detained since 5 August, out of whom 609 were under detention while the rest were released. 
Scores of the detainees' reports suggest they have been booked under PSA and flown out of Kashmir because "prisons had run out of capacity." 
Families of Kashmiri prisoners said conditions in Indian jails are unhygienic and mostly remain overcrowded with detainees, leaving their loved ones more vulnerable to the pandemic. They said they are demanding the immediate release of their relatives as the threat of coronavirus is increasing in India. 
"When I went to meet my nephew more than a month ago, I found around 60 Kashmiri prisoners were detained in Ambedkar Nagar Jail," said Javaid Ahmad Badder, uncle of Basit. "We can't now even go to meet him because of the fear of coronavirus. May Allah keep him healthy and safe." 
Aamir Ali Bhat is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist who reports on human rights abuses, culture and the environment. He writes for The New Arab, Kashmir Ink and Free Press Kashmir.

Latest Covid-19 statistics as of 5 p.m. EST, March 27, 2020

Location Confirmed cases Cases per 1M people Recovered Deaths
Worldwide 587958 83.44 132440 26909
United States 101276 309.63 2465 1572
Italy 86498 1369.39 10950 9134
China 81340 59.23 74588 3292
Spain 64095 1293.53 9357 4934
Germany 50852 619.11 3131 342
France 32964 487.88 5700 1995
Iran 32332 399.2 11133 2378
Switzerland 12928 1905.38 1530 231
United Kingdom 11660 179.68 140 578
South Korea 9332 182.84 4528 139

The latest statistics on confirmed cases in the USA suggests that infection is doubling every two days, if the CDC data for the first case is assumed as the baseline.
The worldwide data shows that the UK and China have been able to manage the Covid-19 where it is showing a sharp decline. See the figure below for the difference in 23 hours:

Delta (difference) in 23 hrs:
Confirmed cases Cases per 1M people Recovered Deaths

United States
18070 55 601 390
Italy 5909 94 589 919
China 55 0 537 5
Spain 7898 159 2342 789
Germany 7641 93 -2547 80
France 3809 56 2419 299
Iran 2926 36 676 144
Switzerland 1122 165 1399 40
United Kingdom 2 0 0 0
South Korea 91 2 384 8