What is the Baha’i Faith?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WEBSITE ‘BAHAITEACHINGS.ORG’)

 

What is the Baha’i Faith?

The Baha’i Faith, the world’s newest independent global belief system, teaches the oneness of God, the unity of humanity and the essential harmony of religion.

Baha’is believe in peace, justice, love, altruism and unity. The Baha’i teachings promote the agreement of science and religion, the equality of the sexes and the elimination of all prejudice and racism.

Just about anywhere you go on the planet, you’ll find Baha’is—the Baha’i Faith is the world’s second-most widespread religion after Christianity, spanning the globe and working to unite it. Baha’is have no clergy or churches, gathering together in democratically-led communities and welcoming everyone.

The millions of Baha’is in the world come from every ethnicity, nationality, tribe, age, racial group, religious background and economic and social class. Gentle, peaceful, warm and welcoming, diverse Baha’i communities exist just about everywhere. Baha’is accept the validity of each of the founders and prophets of the major world religions, and believe in progressive revelation, the unique Baha’i principle that views every great Faith as a link in a single spiritual system progressively revealed by God to humanity.

Who is Baha’u’llah?

We spend our lives trying to unlock the mystery of the universe, but there was a Turkish prisoner, Baha’u’llah, in Akka, Palestine who had the key. – Leo Tolstoy

The Baha’i Faith is consolation for humanity. – Mahatma Gandhi

The essence of Baha’u’llah’s Teaching is all-embracing love, for love includeth every excellence of humankind. It causeth every soul to go forward. It bestoweth on each one, for a heritage, immortal life. Erelong shalt thou bear witness that His celestial Teachings, the very glory of reality itself, shall light up the skies of the world. – Abdu’l-BahaSelections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 66.

Tehran 1930's

Tehran, the city where Baha’u’llah was born

Baha’is follow the teachings of Baha’u’llah, who proclaimed the Baha’i Faith during the middle of the 19th Century, and who taught world peace, the oneness of all humanity and the essential unity of all religions. Born Mirza Husayn Ali in Tehran, Persia in 1817, Baha’u’llah was known early in his adult life as “the father of the poor” for his selfless work assisting the destitute and homeless. In 1863, Baha’u’llah began openly teaching the Baha’i Faith, with its revolutionary messages of human unity, the oneness of all Faiths, the equality of men and women, the agreement of science and religion and the establishment of a global system of governance.

Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah, whose title means “The Glory of God,” is the latest prophet to found a major world religion and usher in a new age of human development:

…in the kingdoms of earth and heaven there must needs be manifested a Being, an Essence Who shall act as a Manifestation and Vehicle for the transmission of the grace of the Divinity Itself, the Sovereign Lord of all. Through the Teachings of this Day Star of Truth every man will advance and develop until he attaineth the station at which he can manifest all the potential forces with which his inmost true self hath been endowed. It is for this very purpose that in every age and dispensation the Prophets of God and His chosen Ones have appeared amongst men, and have evinced such power as is born of God and such might as only the Eternal can reveal. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 67-68.

After the proclamation of his Faith, Baha’u’llah suffered forty years of exile, torture and imprisonment—all for announcing that a new revelation had been born. This great divine educator and messenger, despite the persecutions he bore, then wrote a series of epistles to the political and religious rulers of the world from his prison cell. Those letters, called the Tablets to the Kings, openly announced Baha’u’llah’s station and mission, and warned the world’s most prominent leaders that humanity faced disastrous consequences unless they laid down their weapons and convened to unite the world and end warfare.

Baha’u’llah called the entire world to collective action and to unity, and that call, Baha’is believe, has inaugurated a new age of spirituality, harmony and human maturation.

How Did Baha’i History Begin?

In a troubled time and place—Shiraz, Persia in 1844—a young merchant and mystic named Siyyid Ali Muhammad made a startling announcement: that he brought the world a new message from God.

Called The Bab (pronounced bob), which means “The Gate,” this new prophet created a furor in Persian society with his revolutionary teachings—spiritual and moral transformation, women’s emancipation and the raising up of the poor. The Bab also proclaimed that he had come to herald the birth of a new, universal revelation, one greater than his own, and to prepare the way for “He whom God shall make manifest”—the Promised One of all ages. The Babi Faith spread quickly, electrifying the masses and provoking severe reactions from the government and the clergy. Tens of thousands of Babis, including the Bab himself, were tortured, massacred and publicly executed for their beliefs.

The inauguration of the Bab’s message and mission set Baha’i history in motion.

Baha'u'llah's exiles from Persia to the Ottoman Empire

Baha’u’llah’s exiles from Persia to the Ottoman Empire

After the Bab’s execution in 1850, Baha’u’llah gradually assumed the leadership of the Babis. In prison in 1852, Baha’u’llah received the revelation that inspired the Baha’i Faith, and fulfilled the prophecies and promises of the Bab.

The Baha’i Faith now counts millions of followers across every region, continent and nation of the world. Baha’u’llah’s teachings emphasize justice, equality and religious unity, so even today many Baha’is in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries still face persecution for their beliefs.

Baha’u’llah suffered a life of torture and deprivation in order to bring the world a new set of spiritual teachings. Persecuted relentlessly, he still persevered in delivering that message, which has now begun to deeply affect and alter humanity’s future.

Who are the Baha’is?

The millions of Baha’is in the world come from every ethnicity, nationality, tribe, age, racial group, religious background and economic and social class. Gentle, peaceful, warm and welcoming, Baha’i communities exist just about everywhere. Baha’is accept the validity of each of the founders and prophets of the major world religions, and believe in progressive revelation, the unique Baha’i principle that views every great Faith as a link in a single spiritual system progressively revealed by God to humanity.

The Main Baha’i Teachings

Essentially a mystical Faith, the Baha’i teachings focus on the soul’s relationship with the eternal, unknowable essence of God, and recommend daily prayer and meditation to everyone. Baha’is believe that the human spirit lives eternally, and so endeavor to illumine their souls with spiritual attributes—kindness, generosity, integrity, truthfulness, humility and selfless service to others.

Also a practical Faith, the primary Baha’i principles advocate international unity, the complete cessation of all warfare, universal compulsory education for every child, a spiritual solution to the extremes of wealth and poverty, an end to religious fundamentalism and division, and a unified global response to oppression, materialism, and the planet’s mounting environmental crisis.

Baha’is believe in the independent investigation of reality, and encourage everyone to question dogma, tradition and superstition by embarking on a personal search to discover the truth. The Baha’i Faith has no clergy. Instead, a distinctive system of democratically-elected councils at the local, national and international levels administer and guide Baha’i communities. This unprecedented administrative order, fundamentally different from any other system of religious or political authority, has now become the first functioning system of democratic global governance, vesting power and initiative in the entire body of the believers worldwide.

The Baha’i writings say that religion must be the source of unity and fellowship in the world—but if it produces enmity, hatred and bigotry, the absence of religion would be preferable.

Quotes from the Baha’i Writings

Unlike many religions of the past, Baha’is have the original writings of the Baha’i founder Baha’u’llah, of his son and successor Abdu’l-Baha, and of the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi. Baha’is rely on and revere those inspiring, powerful works—and of course they’re available to all. The Baha’i teachings have been translated into hundreds of languages, including tribal and indigenous ones, to make them available to all the people of the world. In those Baha’i writings, Baha’u’llah’s new Faith calls on every human being to investigate its claim as the return of the prophets of the past religions, and the fulfillment of their promises of the dawn of a new day:

Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llahThe Revelation which, from time immemorial, hath been acclaimed as the Purpose and Promise of all the Prophets of God, and the most cherished Desire of His Messengers, hath now, by virtue of the pervasive Will of the Almighty and at His irresistible bidding, been revealed unto men. The advent of such a Revelation hath been heralded in all the sacred Scriptures… O ye lovers of the One true God! Strive, that ye may truly recognize and know Him, and observe befittingly His precepts. – Baha’u’llahGleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 5.

O son of spirit! My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting. – Baha’u’llahThe Hidden Words, p. 3.

That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. In another passage He hath proclaimed: It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. – Baha’u’llahTablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 167.

Baha’is believe in one God, eternal in the past and the future, who loves and progressively educates humanity through successive revealed religions. The Baha’i writings say that the Creator is an “unknowable essence,” far beyond the capacity of creation to comprehend. To aid and enlighten us, God has provided humanity with divinely-inspired prophets and messengers throughout history, who founded the world’s great Faiths and brought ethical, moral and spiritual teachings to everyone.

The Essential Unity of All Religions

Progressive Revelation, All ProphetsThe Baha’i teachings center around unity, and Baha’is believe in the essential unity of all religionsBaha’u’llah emphasized the importance of unity, oneness and harmony in all human interactions, and said that the collective maturation of the human race has now brought us to the stage in our development where we can recognize our interdependence. The successive prophets and messengers founded their Faiths at different times in history, and each of those religions, Baha’is believe, form part of one single meta-religion—a unified, systematic, progressive revelation, one school with many teachers.

Baha’is accept, respect and revere the religions of AbrahamMosesKrishnaZoroasterBuddhaJesus ChristMuhammad, and also the sacred traditions of the prophets and teachers of indigenous peoples whose names written history may never have recorded. The Baha’i Faith encompasses, embraces and advances the past teachings of all those great Faiths, and Baha’is view Baha’u’llah as the most recent of these divine teachers.

Baha’u’llah called each of these divine messengers and teachers “Manifestations of God”—perfect mirrors of the Supreme Being’s love and concern for humanity, each of them destined to inspire entire civilizations based on their spiritual teachings and advance the collective maturation of humanity during their dispensations:

Consider to what extent the love of God makes itself manifest. Among the signs of His love which appear in the world are the dawning-point of His Manifestations. What an infinite degree of love is reflected by the divine Manifestations toward mankind! For the sake of guiding the people they have willingly forfeited their lives to resuscitate human hearts. – Abdu’l-BahaFoundations of World Unity, p. 89.

Baha’is Believe in the Oneness of Humanity

In the latest of the revelations in that great universal chain of being, Baha’u’llah taught the central Baha’i tenet of the oneness of humanity—saying “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” Accordingly, Baha’is consider themselves world citizens, working for the establishment of a universal human civilization based on love, spiritual virtues and the desire of all people for peace and prosperity:

O contending peoples and kindreds of the earth! Set your faces towards unity, and let the radiance of its light shine upon you. Gather ye together, and for the sake of God resolve to root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you. Then will the effulgence of the world’s great Luminary envelop the whole earth, and its inhabitants become the citizens of one city, and the occupants of one and the same throne. – Baha’u’llahGleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 217.

Human Nature–Fundamentally Noble and Spiritual

Baha’is believe that human nature is fundamentally spiritual, and that our souls make us noble beings. Although we all temporarily exist in our physical bodies here on Earth, Baha’u’llah taught, our true identities reside in our eternal souls. The primary purpose of each human soul, the Baha’i teachings say, is to know and to love God. Baha’is do not believe in doctrines of original sin or ultimate evil—instead, the Baha’i teachings say, each person can make the choice to characterize his or her life with divine attributes:

Man has two powers; and his development, two aspects. One power is connected with the material world, and by it he is capable of material advancement. The other power is spiritual, and through its development his inner, potential nature is awakened. These powers are like two wings. Both must be developed, for flight is impossible with one wing… We must strive unceasingly and without rest to accomplish the development of the spiritual nature in man, and endeavor with tireless energy to advance humanity toward the nobility of its true and intended station. – Abdu’l-BahaThe Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 59.

Our inborn spiritual nature can create a mystical relationship with the Creator, giving meaning and purpose to our lives. The Baha’i teachings say that process happens through meditation and prayer, the inner growth driven by our spiritual search for truth, the love we give to others, and ultimately as a result of our selfless actions to serve humanity.

Like all great Faiths, the Baha’i teachings have a dual aim—to speak to the inner spirit of each human being, and to propel the process of positive social development forward:

God’s purpose in sending His Prophets unto men is twofold. The first is to liberate the children of men from the darkness of ignorance, and guide them to the light of true understanding. The second is to ensure the peace and tranquility of mankind, and provide all the means by which they can be established. – Baha’u’llahGleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 79.

The Baha’i Faith provides the means for peace and tranquility through a progressive set of social teachings:

These fundamental Baha’i principles call for a complete restructuring of humanity’s priorities—from material to spiritual, from exclusive to inclusive and from divisiveness to unity.

You can find Baha’is just about any place you look—but you will probably need to look.

That’s because Baha’is don’t press their Faith on anyone else. Baha’u’llah wrote that Baha’is could not proselytize or compel the beliefs of others. Baha’is uphold the important principle of the independent investigation of truth:

Discover for yourselves the reality of things, and strive to assimilate the methods by which noble-mindedness and glory are attained among the nations and people of the world. No man should follow blindly his ancestors and forefathers. Nay, each must see with his own eyes, hear with his own ears and investigate independently in order that he may find the truth. – Abdu’l-BahaDivine Philosophy, p. 24.

Baha’is eagerly welcome anyone on a path of spiritual search—or anyone who would like to learn more about the Baha’i Faith. Many Baha’i communities around the world have informal meetings where seekers can examine and explore the teachings of this new Faith. Called “firesides” or study classes, those Baha’i meetings encourage questions and open-minded discussion about life. Everyone is welcome.

The Baha’i Houses of Worship

On each continent in the world, a Baha’i House of Worship welcomes everyone. With nine sides symbolizing the many paths to the one true God, Baha’i Houses of Worship are open to all, no matter what beliefs they hold. Similar to a church, mosque or temple—but with no rituals, rites or sermons—Baha’i Houses of Worship function as the center of a community’s spiritual life, and its humanitarian, educational and altruistic service and outreach. More than a hundred Baha’i Houses of Worship are in the planning stages, and seven now exist, with an eighth one, in Chile, set to open October 2016:

 

The Baha’i teachings ultimately envision these interfaith Houses of Worship in every community, serving as the dawning places of the mention of God and the central focal points of a number of charitable, public benefit institutions. The Baha’i teachings call the House of Worship:

…one of the most vital institutions in the world, and it hath many subsidiary branches. Although it is a House of Worship, it is also connected with a hospital, a drug dispensary, a traveller’s hospice, a school for orphans, and a university for advanced studies. – Abdu’l-BahaSelections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 99-100.

Many of these temples (like the Baha’i Lotus Temple in India, pictured) have become magnets for those from every Faith and no Faith, as a place to reflect, meditate and pray, and as beautiful monuments to the Baha’i ideals of the oneness of God, religion and humanity.

Understanding the Baha’i Calendar

The Baha'i Calendar

Names of the 19 Baha’i Months

Most new world religions bring a new calendar—and the Baha’i Faith does, too. Year one in the Baha’i calendar began in 1844, when the Baha’i Faith began with the announcement of the Bab’s revelation.

The Baha’i calendar, originally initiated by the Bab, bases its unique structure on the number 19. Called the Badi Calendar, meaning wondrous, it equalizes the length of every month and also accounts for variances in the Earth’s orbit around the sun—unlike any other calendar in use today. Composed of nineteen months of nineteen days each, each Baha’i calendar year begins in spring on the Vernal Equinox, on the day of the ancient Persian New Year known as Naw-Ruz.

With 19 months of 19 days each, the Baha’i calendar adds four (or in leap years, five) Intercalary Days to make up a full solar year of 365¼ days. Baha’is set aside those Intercalary Days for celebrations, hospitality, gift-giving and charitable works. The Intercalary Days immediately precede the final 19-day Baha’i month, when Baha’is fast during daylight hours. Intended as a reflective period of prayer and meditation, the Baha’i Fast symbolizes detachment from the material world, and utilizes the final 19 days of the year for revitalizing the inner spiritual life of each adult Baha’i.

The Baha’i Gardens

Shrine of the Bab located in Haifa, Israel

Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, Israel

The International Baha’i Centre, located in Haifa, Israel, now also attracts people from all over the world, not only as holy places of pilgrimage for Baha’is but as tourist destinations known for their serenity and delightful majesty. The Baha’i shrines and buildings on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, for example, have become known as the Baha’i Gardens, because of their extensive terraces, flowering gardens and the golden dome of the Shrine of the Bab, a landmark in northern Israel and a beacon of peace and hope worldwide.

The International Baha’i Centre also houses the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected administrative leadership body of the global Baha’i community.

Baha’is love beauty, as you’ll see if you visit the International Baha’i Centre or any of the world’s Baha’i Houses of Worship. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and fragrant flowers, illumined by creative, light-filled architecture and suffused with the peace and serenity of a truly spiritual atmosphere, these places host millions of visitors every year, silently proclaiming the peace and unity Baha’u’llah taught and the Baha’is work to achieve.

Becoming a Baha’i

Anyone can become a Baha’i.

Becoming a Baha’i means accepting Baha’u’llah’s unifying teachings, and deciding to try to follow the path of spiritual development the Baha’i teachings outline. There is no service, baptism or ceremony involved—becoming a Baha’i simply requires an inner, spiritual decision to embrace the teachings of the Faith and join your local Baha’i community. In many countries, Baha’is also sign a declaration card, which enrolls them in the Baha’i community and allows them to receive invitations to community events and gatherings.

When you make the decision to become a Baha’i, you also take part in a planetary movement to change the world. Baha’is work for peace, justice, equality, racial unity and environmental sustainability—all based on addressing the underlying, spiritual causes of such inequities. The new, optimistic model the Baha’i teachings offer the world takes a fresh approach to problem-solving, tapping into the deep well of human concern for others with a thoughtful, integrated and comprehensive spiritual energy.

Earth Illustration

Becoming a Baha’i makes you a world citizen, a part of the world’s newest major Faith and an immediate member of a loving, inclusive global community of truly remarkable souls.

Baha’i events—meetings, elections, parties, devotionals, holy day celebrations, a Baha’i “Feast” at the beginning of every month (the feast is a community gathering that usually includes prayers and readings from the Baha’i writings, a period of community consultation and refreshments)—tend to include lots of social interaction, with laughter, music and a general sense of joy and happiness. Depending on their size, Baha’i communities often meet in homes, local Baha’i centers or meeting rooms. Diverse and inclusive, most Baha’i meetings give participants the opportunity to meet and get to know people from different backgrounds, cultures and nations.

Baha’is never ask others for monetary contributions—in fact, only Baha’is can contribute to the Baha’i funds, and all contributions are completely confidential. No one ever passes a plate or requires anyone to participate, since every donation is considered private and personal.

Baha’is come from every walk of life, every social strata of society and every ethnicity, racial background, nation and age group. To answer the question “What is a Baha’i?” Abdu’l-Baha answered:

To be a Baha’i simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood.” – Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 83.

If you’d like to meet Baha’is in your local area, they’re usually listed online, in a local newspaper or phone book, or in directories of places of worship. If you can’t find any local Baha’is, feel free to email us here at [email protected], and we’ll be happy to put you in touch with a nearby Baha’i community.

Additional Baha’i Resources

The Official website of the Baha’i Faith

www.Bahai.org

The Official website of the Universal House of Justice

www.UniversalHouseofJustice.Bahai.org

The Official website of the Baha’is of the United States

www.Bahai.us

The Official website of the Baha’is of Canada

www.ca.Bahai.org

Saudis okay airspace for direct India-Israel flights

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Saudis reportedly okay airspace for direct India-Israel flights; Riyadh denies

Israeli sources confirm agreement struck for route from Tel Aviv to Delhi; Air India says still awaiting regulatory approval

Illustrative: Air India planes parked on the tarmac at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, on May 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

Illustrative: Air India planes parked on the tarmac at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, on May 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

Saudi Arabia reportedly okayed the use of its airspace for flights between Israel and India, according to Hebrew-language media Wednesday. However, a Saudi official quickly denied the claim.

The approval, which would cut hours off the flight route, would be a first and mark a major milestone in Israel’s attempts to deepen ties with Gulf Sunni states.

In a deal struck with Riyadh, Air India will begin offering direct flights from Tel Aviv to New Delhi on March 20, ahead of the Passover holiday, according to the Haaretz daily and the Kan broadcaster, citing Israeli aviation officials.

The Saudi Arabia Aviation Authority denied ever granting such approval, and a spokesman for Air India told Reuters that the airline is still waiting for the Indian aviation regulator to approve the move.

The report came as Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj was visiting Riyadh on an official trip.

Currently, El Al is the only airline offering direct flights from Israel to India, with a Tel Aviv-Mumbai route. In order to avoid Saudi Arabia, which forbids flights to and from Israel over its airspace, the plane must detour over the Red Sea and around the Arabian peninsula, adding over two hours to the flight.

The Israeli Tourism Ministry is hoping Wednesday’s approval will be a gateway for other Far East countries that had been discouraged from offering direct flights due to the need to bypass Saudi Arabia, Israel’s Globes business daily reported.

The report comes as Israel has tried to build ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states allied with the US, which have a common enemy in Iran. However, Riyadh has remained skittish about openly admitting to contacts with Israel.

The direct flight proposal was a main topic on the agenda during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India last month. Speaking at an economic forum in Mumbai, Netanyahu said the goal was for a “efficient and direct route” to be established between the countries.

READ MORE:
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Very Old Tools Found In India: Question Is, Who Made Them

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Very old, very sophisticated tools found in India. The question is: Who made them?

 February 1 at 9:40 AM 

Artifacts uncovered in the excavation at Attirampakkam. (Sharma Center for Heritage Education)

Humanity’s origin story has gotten increasingly tangled in recent years: New discoveries suggest that Homo sapiens interacted and interbred with other species and ventured out of Africa in more than one wave. Researchers have compared the ancient world to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth — but instead of hobbits, dwarves and elves, our planet had modern humans in Africa, Neanderthals in Europe, Homo erectus in Asia.

Now, a treasure trove of ancient stone tools suggests that humans’ circuitous path to modernity also wound through India.

In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers described thousands of stone implements uncovered at Attirampakkam, an archaeological site in southern India. The tools span about a million years of history, they say, and illustrate the evolution of big, blunt hand axes into finely sculpted stone points. Starting about 385,000 years ago — long before modern humans are thought to have arrived in India — it appears that an advanced toolmaking culture was developing there.

How did these techniques reach India so early? “That’s the multimillion-dollar question,” said archaeologist Shanti Pappu, founder of the Sharma Center for Heritage Education and a co-author of the report.

No remains were found alongside the Indian tools, meaning it’s impossible to determine whether the tools were produced by modern humans or one of our hominin cousins. If they were produced by members of our species, it would significantly shift the timeline of human evolution. But that’s a big “if,” Pappu acknowledged.

At the very least, she said, the discovery suggests “complex interactions” between the mystery hominins in India and their relatives around the world.

“It shows that simple linear narratives of dispersal only at certain time periods is incorrect,” Pappu said.

Modern humans evolved in Africa, and the oldest known bones that could feasibly belong to our species were found in a Moroccan cave and dated to 300,000 years ago. The recent discovery of human fossils in an Israeli cave suggests that we may have ventured into other continents as early as 194,000 years ago.

 0:54
Early humans coexisted with human-like species 300,000 years ago in Africa

Scientists in South Africa unveil the first evidence that early humans co-existed with a small-brained human-like species thought to have been extinct in Africa at the time. 

Upon leaving Africa, Homo sapiens would have encountered an array of distant relatives. Paleoanthropologists believe the first hominins left Africa about 1.7 million years ago, although there’s some dispute about what species those early migrants belonged to.

With so few fossils available, reconstructing the story of human evolution and migration is a bit like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle when you have just a handful of middle pieces and no edges or corners. Often, scientists must trace the movements of our ancestors through the stone tools we created.

The first hominins to leave Africa — whoever they were — carried with them oval- and pear-shaped hand axes used to pound and scrape food — a technology called Acheulean. The oldest tools found at Attirampakkam, which are more than 1 million years old, were crafted in this tradition.

But in a second batch of implements uncovered from a rock layer that spans 385,000 to 172,000 years ago (plus or minus about 50,000 years on either end), those heavy hand axes give way to smaller, more sophisticated points. One of the points even appears to have a groove that would allow it to be affixed to some kind of projectile, like a spear.

This kind of technology has long been associated with Neanderthals and Homo sapiens in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and it wasn’t thought to have arrived in India until humans reached south Asia about 100,000 years ago. Known as Levallois, this technique is associated with significant advances in human cognition, because such tools can’t be crafted without the ability to think abstractly and plan ahead.

Alison Brooks, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University, said she’s not convinced that the smaller tools described by Pappu and her colleagues are true Levallois points.

“It’s still basically a single point in a giant continent,” she added — more discoveries are required to give context to this find.

That’s what Pappu hopes for, too. She noted that relatively few paleontology resources have been invested in India. The tools collected at Attirampakkam are among the first discoveries from India for which scientists even have a date.

“We hope this will be a jumping-off point for a new look at regions like India,” she said. “They also have a story to tell.”

Read more:

Oldest Homo sapiens fossils discovered in Morocco

Scientists discover the oldest human fossils outside Africa

Archaeology shocker: Study claims humans reached the Americas 130,000 years ago

In weaving India and Israel together, challenges loom

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

In weaving India and Israel together, challenges loom

Officials see plenty of potential for closer ties both in trade and on the strategic front, but getting there may be more complex than Netanyahu’s whirlwind tour of India suggests

Joshua Davidovich

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, uses a spinning wheel as his wife Sara Netanyahu, center, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi look on during a visit to Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on January 17, 2018. AFP/SAM PANTHAKY)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, uses a spinning wheel as his wife Sara Netanyahu, center, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi look on during a visit to Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on January 17, 2018. AFP/SAM PANTHAKY)

MUMBAI, India — Mumbai’s Gateway of India, a hulking structure looking out over the city’s harbor, was built to commemorate the landing of British King George V and Queen Mary in 1911.

The royal couple never actually got to see the structure, which was only finished in 1924, but it remains to this day as a reminder of the city’s colonial past and as a testament to the grandeur with which rulers were once greeted.

Over 100 years later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a quick whirl around the site just before heading to the airport after five days in India during which he was afforded a welcome seen by some as almost as impressive as the building of the massive gate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara are greeted by Indian dancers at the airport in Mumbai, India, on January 17, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Unlike the gateway, remnants of Netanyahu’s visit — the Israeli flags the kids waved, and the giant billboards of the Israeli leader gracing every city he visited — will quickly fade. What’s more important, though, is whether the relationship spotlighted by the carefully choreographed displays can withstand the many external pressures bearing on it.

As it stands, the Israel-India trade relationship is estimated to be less than $5 billion and most of the commerce is in diamonds and arms, with official Indian figures putting the number at just under $3 billion, making Israel its 39th-largest trading partner. By contrast, India trades over $7.2 billion annually with Iran. But what officials on both sides see is potential, both for more trade and a closer strategic relationship, and the rub may be getting both to work together.

The stated goal of the trip Netanyahu and over a hundred businesspeople took to India was to diversify and expand business ties and highlight what is seen as an already growing diplomatic relationship. “The sky is the limit,” Netanyahu said on more than one occasion, a sentiment echoed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who accompanied Netanyahu on several legs of the visit, including to his home state of Gujarat.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center and his wife Sara arriving in Ahmadebad, India on January 17, 2018. GPO)

At event after event, officials played up the closeness of the Indian-Israel relationship, the kinship between the countries and the fact that “both of us are surrounded by enemies.” The amalgamation of Israeli tech and Indian creativity was another theme voiced repeatedly during the visit, as Netanyahu met with officials, business leaders, young entrepreneurs and farmers helped by Israeli aid.

But while optimism was omnipresent, there were also signs that the countries did not see eye-to-eye on everything relating to both trade and any strategic/security relationship.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers after the Israeli leader arrived at the Air Force Station in New Delhi January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)

As the country with the second-largest Muslim population in the world, and with a long-trained relationship with Israel and continuing strong trade ties with Iran, India’s supposed love affair with Israel is more complex than the Netanyahu-Modi bromance on display would indicate.

At a joint statement following an official sit-down, neither premier mentioned the Palestinians, with Modi even saying that the land Indian soldiers helped liberate in World War I was “Israel.” (It may have been a slip of the tongue, but Netanyahu followed his lead, saying they had liberated “Israel, the land of Israel.”)

But on Thursday morning, just hours after Modi paid his last farewell to Netanyahu, news leaked out of the Indian leader’s plans to visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a matter of weeks.

Just weeks before Netanyahu’s trip, India backed a UN resolution condemning US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though both countries insisted that the vote would not affect ties.

Modi’s visit to Israel in July, the first ever by an Indian prime minister, did not include a visit to Ramallah. In somewhat similar fashion, Netanyahu’s visit, only the second by an Israeli prime minister after Ariel Sharon’s short and ill-fated jaunt in 2003 — he had to return home to deal with a terrorist attack — didn’t include a meeting with opposition leader Rahul Ghandi of the left-leaning Congress Party.

India’s opposition Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi, center, is presented with a garland, during a meeting in Ahmadabad, India, December 23, 2017. (AP/Ajit Solanki)

While Ghandi’s faction had for years blocked ties with Israel and led the anti-Israel bloc at the United Nations, it did maintain mostly positive ties with Israel in the government led by Manmohan Singh preceding Modi’s rise to power in 2014, making the omission all the stranger.

The lack of a Netanyahu-Gandhi meeting and the fact that the prime minister only visited states ruled by Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP party, even avoiding business hub Bangalore despite the trade orientation of the trip, raised questions as to whether the positive ties forged between Israel and India under Modi would survive his eventual fall from power.

“Confining Netanyahu’s itinerary only to BJP-ruled states is a short-sighted move,” Jawaharlal Nehru University prof. P. R. Kumaraswamy wrote in The Indian Express daily. “Since relations were established by Congress Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, consensus building has been the hallmark of Indo-Israeli relations.”

Strategic relationships could also be hampered by a reluctance to take a stand against each others’ enemies. Despite Israel’s push to isolate Iran over its nuclear program, Tehran and Delhi maintain a close trading partnership, especially in oil, a relationship Delhi is unlikely to give up without more incentive than a few water purification plants.

A cartoon in the Hindustan Times on January 16, 2018. Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

On the other side, Israeli officials indicated they had no interest in trying to join India in pushing back against Pakistan and China. A cartoon in a popular newspaper during the visit showed Netanyahu and Modi piloting a drone as Pakistan and China cowered in fear, but Israeli officials insisted it was not representative of reality.

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” one Israeli official said, regarding balancing ties with India and ties with China (Israel has no relations with Pakistan).

However, an Indian official noted that the relationship could be affected if Israel’s ties to China moved from the economic to the strategic, with India viewing China — with which it fought and lost a bitter border war in the 1960s — as a major threat.

Arun Singh, a former Indian ambassador to Israel, wrote during Netanyahu’s trip that Jerusalem’s willingness to keep a door open to forging ties with Pakistan and improving ties with China could put a damper on improving the India-Israel relationship.

“There are limits on convergence of interests, as is inevitable between any two countries, especially those with differing histories and dissimilarities in their geopolitical challenges,” he wrote on the Indian website The Print. “We should unhesitatingly consolidate our bilateral relationship with Israel, where it serves our national interest. But we should also remain mindful of limits of the convergences. Israel’s approach to China, Iran and Pakistan are indicative.”

Speaking to reporters during the trip, Netanyahu said he “understood sensitivities” surrounding building of ties with Delhi while both were unaligned on other geopolitical matters.

“Improving ties is not meant to be against any specific country,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara pose for a photograph at the Taj Mahal in the Indian city of Agra on January 16, 2018. ( AFP PHOTO / STR)

But trade and politics are often intertwined, as evidenced by the desire for a direct flight between Delhi and Tel Aviv over Saudi Arabia, which became a major theme of the trip.

Amid reports of talks over brokering such a route for Air India, Netanyahu at a business forum called for a “simple, direct flight.” Later that day, an Indian food exporter confirmed that the lack of such a flight was hurting business ties.

Politics also seeped into Israel’s bid to boost tourism by attracting a Bollywood film, highlighting the potential pitfalls of developing a larger business relationship in any sector. According to reports, a trio of top Muslim Bollywood stars, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, and Shah Rukh Khan, known as “the Khans of Bollywood,” boycotted a gala event held in Mumbai Thursday night to protest Netanyahu. A fourth Bollywood Khan, Ajaz Khan, criticized director Karan Johar on Twitter for attending the event, and posted a tirade against it on YouTube.

Wonderful evening, a honour and a privilege, meeting an occupier of Palestinian land and killer of unarmed protesters including women and children in Occupied Territories.shame on u Karan https://twitter.com/karanjohar/status/954087461700775936 

At the event, keynote guest Amitabh Bachchan spoke of the allure of Bollywood films and their ability to bring people together. And the very next morning, Bollywood news was on the front page, but for the opposite reason. Riots were threatening to break out over the film “Padmaavat” after the Supreme Court ruled that states could not ban the controversial historical drama based on a 16th century poem about a queen.

The case was just another example that sweet words, like those uttered by Modi, Netanyahu and other officials from both sides about the great Indian-Israeli relationship, were sometimes more complicated than they were made out to be from the dais.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (unseen) at an Israeli-Indian Economic Conference in New Delhi, India on January 15, 2018 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Indian businesspeople at many of the events hosted by Netanyahu talked up the strength of the economic relationship, though when pressed, they admitted that Israel was only a blip on the map of potential business ties.

After all the talk of Indian-Israeli business ties, the name “Israel” was not mentioned once in the 12-page business section of the Hindustan Times on Friday, the day Netanyahu left.

A close-up shot of the Tammuz missiles mounted on an armed personnel carrier (Photo credit: Courtesy: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Free trade talks remain moribund, by all accounts, and the biggest business news to come out the trip was the reviving of a deal for India to buy Spike anti-tank missiles (known as Tammuz in Israel) from the Israeli firm Rafael. However, it seems it may be for less than the original $500 million price tag, to say nothing of the fact that it does nothing to diversify the business relationship or grow it, since Israel thought the deal was in the bag until recently anyway.

Still, ties between the countries are growing unmistakably closer. It’s impossible to overstate the length the Indians went to in order to welcome Netanyahu, with outlandish routines that sometimes seemed almost embarrassingly obsequious — a sign that to a large degree, Israel has a giant on its side, even if it is one that is still largely focused on raising up hundreds of millions of people out of dire poverty, and it is largely thanks to Netanyahu’s emphasis on expanding diplomatic ties around the world.

At the same time, it seems it’s easy to get sucked into exaggerating the importance of that relationship. While Netanyahu was sweet-talking the Indians, behind the scenes he was distracted with working on repairing another diplomatic relationship: with Jordan, which is one he and the rest of the country likely view as more strategic than ties with Delhi.

Indian children wave to a vehicle carrying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they arrive at Sabarmati Ashram or Gandhi Ashram in Ahmadabad, India, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. (AP/Ajit Solanki)

In India, the cheering crowds and adulation were likely a welcome respite from home, where the prime minister is constantly dogged by political intrigue and criminal investigations that are casting a pall over his continued rule. Moments before taking off for Delhi over a week ago, he briefly spoke to reporters, looking dejected as he addressed his son Yair’s strip club tape scandal, which was roiling the country.

Landing back home almost a week later, he sat relaxing in his first class seat as staff, security and journalists disembarked, scrolling through his phone and looking carefree as ever.

Less than an hour before he landed, a major rainstorm had passed over the country, but as his plane touched down, the clouds over the airport cleared and for a brief moment, the sun was shining.

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Netanyahu arrives in India, is greeted by PM Modi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Netanyahu arrives in India, is greeted on tarmac by PM Modi

Israeli leader says he greatly appreciates unplanned personal welcome; two men embrace warmly at start of week-long visit

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, embraces Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Israeli leader's wife, Sara, watches on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi, on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, embraces Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Israeli leader’s wife, Sara, watches on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi, on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers after the Israeli leader arrived at the Air Force Station in New Delhi January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers after the Israeli leader arrived at the Air Force Station in New Delhi January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and his wife Sara Netanyahu on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and his wife Sara Netanyahu on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
  • The plane carrying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu arrives at the Air Force Station in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
    The plane carrying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu arrives at the Air Force Station in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, together with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, and the Israeli leader's wife Sara Netanyahu, left, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, together with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, and the Israeli leader’s wife Sara Netanyahu, left, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, seated, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, seated, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

NEW DELHI, India — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touched down in this smog-filled city Sunday afternoon, warmly embracing his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, in a surprise ceremony at the airport, and celebrating a close personal bond that the two are hoping to parlay into further cooperation between their two countries.

Netanyahu’s five-day trip to India will see him attempt to expand business ties with the subcontinent, though it comes amid a cloud of uncertainty after Delhi canceled a $500 million deal with Israeli arms maker Rafael late last year.

The Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu had been expecting to be met by Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and, arriving in Delhi, was apparently surprised to be greeted by Modi. The two leaders exchanged pleasantries and held their hands aloft for the press on the tarmac red carpet.

“I very much appreciate the gesture,” Netanyahu said through his office shortly after the two were whisked away from the brief arrival ceremony.

On his official Twitter account, Modi wrote in Hebrew, “Welcome to India, my friend PM @netanyahu. Your visit is historic and special. This visit will strengthen the close ties between our countries.”

Responding in Hebrew on his own Twitter account, Netanyahu expressed his appreciation for Modi’s personal welcome. “Thank you, my dear friend Modi, on the warm and personal welcome to India,” he wrote.

Accompanied by his wife, Sara, Netanyahu is leading a 130-strong trade delegation — the largest ever for an Israeli prime minister — to India meant to boost bilateral business ties, as well as diplomatic relations.

Over the course of the visit, Israel and India will sign a series of bilateral agreements.

Kicking off the heavily guarded trip, the two stopped at a large traffic circle in Delhi marked by a memorial to Indian soldiers who fought in Palestine in World War I, which they saw renamed from Teen Murti Chowk Square to Haifa Chowk Square in a small ceremony.

Laying a wreath on a statue listing places where the Indian Hyderabad, Jodhpur and Mysore brigades fought — such as Haifa, Gaza, the Jordan Valley and Damascus — Modi, Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu stood at attention for several minutes as trumpets played.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, embraces Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Israeli leader’s wife, Sara, watches on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi, on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)

Netanyahu’s visit is the first by an Israeli prime minister since 2003, when Ariel Sharon visited, but abruptly cut his trip short to return to Israel after a terrorist attack.

In contrast with prime ministerial visits to the US or Europe, Netanyahu’s trip, which will take him to three cities in India, will focus very little on Middle Eastern affairs such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. India recently backed a UN General Assembly motion condemning US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, throwing some cold water on hopes for a closer diplomatic relationship.

The confirmation earlier this month that India had canceled the $500 million deal for Spike anti-tank missiles from Israeli firm Rafael also cast a shadow over the trip. While wanting to foster a stronger relationship with Israel, India is also in the midst of trying to develop its own arms manufacturing industry, under the “Make in India” tagline. Last week, however, an Indian news agency reported that Delhi was considering the possibility of reviving the missile sale as a government-to-government deal.

Ahead of the visit, Netanyahu pointed to close personal relationship between himself and Modi cemented during the Indian premier’s trip to Israel last year, his first since taking office.

“This visit is an opportunity to enhance cooperation with a global economic, security, technology and tourism power. Indian Prime Minister Modi is a close friend of Israel and of mine and I appreciate the fact that he will accompany me on extensive parts of my visit,” Netanyahu said Saturday night before leaving Israel.

Modi’s visit to Israel was also marked by a sharing of tweets and the two leaders accompanying each other nearly everywhere.

Netanyahu is set to have dinner with Modi Sunday night after meeting Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. On Monday the two will hold a series of meetings focused on expanding trade ties, and on Wednesday, they will travel to Modi’s home state of Gujarat before leaving for Mumbai, where Netanyahu will attend memorials for the 2008 terror attacks that took place there.

While there, he is also slated to meet with several Bollywood figures as part of Israel’s drive to expand tourism by attracting Indian films to shoot in Israel.

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South Asia Saw New Threats to Free Expression Online in 2017

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

From Internet Blackouts to Violent Attacks, South Asia Saw New Threats to Free Expression Online in 2017

Social media ban. Images mixed by Rezwan.

In 2017, South Asian countries faced growing challenges in the field of internet freedom, censorship, and freedom of expression. The Global Voices South Asia team highlighted many of these issues throughout the year. Here is a summary of our coverage.

Internet shutdowns

Internet shutdowns and blackouts in conflict areas rose sharply in 2017, threatening citizens’ access to communications, information and free expression online. Unique regions of India and Pakistan saw both total shutdown and partial shutdowns (e.g. of mobile data networks). The shutdowns not only curb the rights of freedom of expression laid out in these countries’ constitutions, they also have economic implications affecting business and public services.

The Global Voices Advox Netizen Report noted that internet blackouts are becoming an increasingly common tactic for local and regional authorities when faced with public consternation around politics and elections, ethnic and religious tensions, and incidents of violence.

Since January 1, 2017, there have been 65 regional-level Internet shutdowns in India. In 2016, there were 31 such shutdowns. The Software Freedom Law Centre of New Delhi has an online interactive map that shows the location and details of each Internet shutdown in India, along with a short description of public events coinciding with the shutdown.

Screenshot from the website Internetshutdowns.in CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

According to data provided by digital rights group accessnow.org, since January 2016, Pakistan had 10 digital blackouts. Mobile internet service was shut down for more than a year in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), starting in June 2016, according to a Freedom House report.

When we look at details of these shutdowns, we find various reasons. Internet and mobile services were shut down for several days in the northern Indian states of Haryana and Punjab following a court ruling in the criminal case against guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the controversial leader of the hugely popular Dera Sacha Sauda sect.

Last April, in the Indian city of Kendrapara, provincial officials blocked Internetconnectivity for 48 hours to prevent the circulation of an “objectionable” video that witnesses said was insulting to the Prophet Mohammad.

 

Censored: News sites, tweets and Bollywood ripoffs

Internet filtering and blocking of specific websites have been a common tool of regulators and governments in several South Asian countries. In most instances, the goal was to block access to politically sensitive content. Authorities often cited national security as the reason for blocking. The blocking and filtering of the global Internet is a violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grants everyone the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

In April, authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir blocked 22 social media applications, including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. According to authorities, the social media services were “being misused by anti-national and anti-social elements” in the Kashmir Valley to disturb “peace and tranquility”.

Even Bollywood gave cause for online censorship in August 2017. The Internet Archive and more than 2,600 file-sharing websites were blocked in India following two court orders issued by the Madras High Court in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu (accessible here and here). The ruling, issued on August 2, 2017, was based on the petitions of two prominent Bollywood production houses, Red Chillies Entertainment and Prakash Jha Productions, to stop file-sharing websites from distributing pirated copies of two recently released Bollywood movies, “Jab Harry Met Sejal”, and “Lipstick Under My Burkha”.

In two separate requests, dated 16 August and 24 August, Indian authorities asked Twitter to suspend more than two dozen Twitter accounts and censor more than 100 tweets.

Kashmiri woman protestor dares a policeman to stop her from moving ahead during restrictions imposed in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Administered Kashmir. Photo by Ieshan Wani, used with permission.

Shortly thereafter, Twitter notified the account holders and asked them to voluntarily remove the questionable content, warning that Twitter might otherwise be obliged to take action regarding the content identified in the complaint.

Early this year Sri Lanka enacted the Right to Information Act. On November 8, 2017 independent news website LankaeNews had been blocked across all internet service providers in Sri Lanka. Three independent news sites in Sri Lanka filed requests as per the RTI Act in order to get more information about the blocking process and the Telecom Regulatory Commission (TRC) revealed that 13 websites had been blocked from 2015 and the paper trail leads to the highest levels of the government. The websites included political news and pornographic material.

Violent threats against bloggers and media workers

Several journalists, bloggers and media workers were killed in a number of South Asian countries.

As many as nine Pakistani bloggers went missing within the first week of 2017. Four of the missing activists are known for their secular and left-leaning views. Some of the activists returned after weeks of captivity. According to media reports, the bloggers were subjected to torture and made to sign agreements stating that they would not seek legal course to file cases against their abductors.

In India, activists, journalists, and human rights defenders have faced increasing strain and legal intimidation under India’s sedition laws and Information Technology Act 2008 in recent years.

Several journalists, writers, and poets were sued for their writings. Freelance cartoonist Bala G was arrested on November 5, 2017 for defaming the Chief Minister of the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu in a cartoon shared on social media. On on June 5, 2017, India’s oldest private news channel New Delhi Television Network (NDTV) known for its hard-hitting, anti-establishment journalism had multiple offices raidedby the country’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Gauri Lankesh (2012), Image from Flickr by Hari Prasad Nadig. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Veteran Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot to death by assailants on September 5, 2017, outside her home in Bangalore. Lankesh, 55, was the editor of a Kannada-language tabloid called Gauri Lankesh Patrike that took a fierce stance against Hindu nationalist organizations and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Hate speech in public discourse in India is growing, and Lankesh’s murder is seen as a clear warning to the voices in India who express dissent that intolerance is growing.

In the Maldives, blogger and activist Yameen Rasheed was stabbed to death in his home in the capital Malé on April 23, 2017. An outspoken critic of the government and radical religion-based politics, Rasheed had previously reported to police that he received death threats via text message and social media for his writings. Police have said that religious extremists killed Yameen Rasheed and have initiated proceedings for a closed trial on his murder. Rasheed’s family is pushing for the trial to be open to the public, out of fear that some evidence against the defendants might be destroyed.

In a statement commenting on the assassinations of Lankesh and Rasheed, the International Federation of Journalists wrote:

These killings horribly encapsulate the latest picture of threat and danger emerging from the violent discourse overtaking parts of South Asia, and more broadly around the world where authoritarian rule is eroding the very essence of democracy. With it, suffers press freedom and the public’s right to know.

In May, four independent Maldivian bloggers and activists living overseas were issued arrest warrants by the police. They were warned that authorities may seek to prosecute them in absentia if they fail to return to the Maldives within two weeks of the warrants being issued. They have not yet been prosecuted.

This year, over a span of four months in Bangladesh, more than twenty journalistswere sued under the country’s controversial ICT law. Nearly 700 cases have been filed under the law since it was amended in 2013. Almost two thirds of the cases have been filed under Section 57 of the 2013 Information and Communication Technology Actwhich prohibits digital messages that can “deteriorate” law and order, “prejudice the image of the state or person,” or “hurt religious beliefs.”

 

Cinema censorship

The film industries in a number of countries also faced censorship for its contents.

The Bhutanese Authorities have banned screening of feature film Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait, cannot be screened in the country for ‘misusing’ religious masks on screen.

Screenshot from YouTube

In India, the authorities banned two movies for ‘Being Too Lady-Oriented’ and ‘Glorifying Homosexuality’. Although the Constitution of India guarantees freedom of expression, it places certain restrictions on content, in order to protect communal and religious harmony and control obscenity.

As we look ahead to 2018, we hope to see justice for the many online voices and media workers who have been threatened because of their work, and we pledge to continue our coverage of the many legal and technical threats to free expression online.

 

India miffed as Palestine envoy shares stage with Hafiz Saeed in Rawalpindi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

India miffed as Palestine envoy shares stage with Hafiz Saeed in Rawalpindi

Photos of the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan, Walid Abu Ali, sharing the stage with Hafiz Saeed and addressing the rally organised by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council at Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi were circulated on social media on Friday. The rally was organised to condemn the US move on Jerusalem.

INDIA Updated: Dec 30, 2017 08:30 IST

Rezaul Hasan Laskar
Rezaul Hasan Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Walid Abu Ali (L), Palestine ambassador to Pakistan, seated next to Hafiz Saeed at a rally in Rawalpindi.
Walid Abu Ali (L), Palestine ambassador to Pakistan, seated next to Hafiz Saeed at a rally in Rawalpindi.(Photo: Twitter)

India reacted with anger after Palestine’s envoy to Pakistan joined Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed at a rally organised by jihadi groups on Friday, just days after New Delhi backed a UN resolution that denounced the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Photos of the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan, Walid Abu Ali, sharing the stage with Saeed and addressing the rally organised by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council at Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi were circulated on social media on Friday. The rally was organised to condemn the US move on Jerusalem.

The development triggered an angry response from the external affairs ministry, with spokesperson Raveesh Kumar saying in a brief statement: “We are taking up the matter strongly with the Palestinian ambassador in New Delhi and with the Palestinian authorities.”

The statement noted that the Palestinian envoy had been seen at the rally “organised by the JuD chief and mastermind of the Mumbai terror attack Hafiz Saeed”.

Officials said a strongly worded demarche would be sent to the Palestinian government.

The external affairs ministry was especially angered as the development came less than 10 days after India joined 127 other members of the United Nations to back a resolution criticising US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The countries disregarded Trump’s threat to cut aid to countries that voted for the resolution.

India’s decision to back the resolution prompted a protest from Israel, a key ally in defence and security matters.

New Delhi explained the vote by saying its position on Palestine is “independent and consistent” and “shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country”.

The “Tahafuz Baitul Maqdas” rally organised by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) in Rawalpindi featured several jihadi leaders condemning the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The event was attended by thousands, including members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah.

Photos on social media showed the Palestinian envoy seated next to Saeed and addressing the large gathering. Several speakers at the gathering, including Saeed, also referred to the Kashmir issue and made anti-India remarks. Saeed also called on Muslim nations to act in the defence of Jerusalem.

The DPC is a grouping of some 40 extremist and jihadi groups that was formed by Hafiz Saeed and other extremists in 2012. It has campaigned for long for snapping ties with India and the US.

Al Qaeda threatens attacks in Delhi, Mumbai

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Al Qaeda threatens attacks in Delhi, Mumbai for ‘victory’ in Kashmir

In a video interview with al Qaeda’s mouthpiece, released on jihadi online networks, Usama Mehmood, spokesman of al Qaeda in Indian sub-continent, said there could be no easy solution to the Kashmir issue which needs “blood and sweat” of Muslims.

INDIA Updated: Dec 27, 2017 21:51 IST

Indo Asian News Service, New Delhi
Calling for attacks in Delhi and Mumbai, the al Qaeda said it was necessary for “the jihadi movement to strengthen and expand its activities in the region and target Indian interests.”
Calling for attacks in Delhi and Mumbai, the al Qaeda said it was necessary for “the jihadi movement to strengthen and expand its activities in the region and target Indian interests.”(PTI Photo)

Global terror network al Qaeda that formally announced its affiliate in Jammu and Kashmir earlier this year has said targeting Indian cities and sidelining Pakistan and its army were key to jihadi success in the state.

In a video interview with Al Qaeda’s mouthpiece, released on jihadi online networks, Usama Mehmood, spokesman of al Qaeda in Indian sub-continent, said there could be no easy solution to the Kashmir issue which needs “blood and sweat” of Muslims.

Mehmood, in the 42-minute video recorded in Urdu, said it was necessary for “the jihadi movement to strengthen and expand its activities in the region and target Indian interests.

“India has protected itself by deploying 600,000 troops in a small place like Kashmir. We will target it and its interests in Kolkata, Bangalore and New Delhi, it will come to its senses, its atrocities will be controlled and its grip on Kashmir will weaken by the will of Allah,” said the group’s second-in-command in the sub-continent.

This is the first detailed al Qaeda talk on its activities in Kashmir since July 27 this year when the group announced it was establishing an affiliate in Jammu and Kashmir called Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, headed by the 23-year-old former Kashmir commander of the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen, Zakir Musa.

The al Qaeda announcement was promptly rejected by militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen. Even the Hurriyat Conference dismissed it, saying the Kashmir issue was political and had nothing to do with global Islamist jihad even as the longstanding militant outfits also espouse an Islamist outlook for Kashmir.

Mehmood called on all Muslims in the sub-continental region, including from India, to “stand behind the Kashmiri people and perform their duties for jihad in Kashmir”.

“It is imperative to wage jihad against India. It can only happen when jihadi activities are strengthened in the entire region.

“We should help our Kashmiri brothers first, defend our jihad from apostatic forces like Pakistan Army and its policies and then expand the jihadi activities,” he said, terming the Pakistan Army “an obstacle in the path of victory, is an enemy of the sharia and a slave of global infidels”.

“It fights only for its salary, personal aggrandisement and plots of land. It is the same army that spills the blood of the mujahideen for American dollars.”

Citing al Qaeda’s attacks against the US within and outside America, he said: “Look at America. Securing itself has become difficult for America throughout the world. We will make it difficult for the Indian Army and Indian government the same way and make its peaceful world a war zone.”

The video also shows clips of slain al Qaeda military commander Illyas Kashmiri and frequently cites quotes from the book of Afzal Guru, who was hanged for his involvement in the 2001 Parliament attack.

Kashmir/Jammu 318 Deaths, Militant, Civilian Killings Highest in 2017

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE KASHMIR OBSERVER)

 

With 318 Deaths, Militant, Civilian Killings Highest in 2017

Up to 14 December this year, 337 militancy-related incidents were reported in Jammu and Kashmir in which 40 civilians, 75 security personnel and 203 militants were killed and 321 persons injured, the highest in the last four years.


New Delhi—As many as 318 people, including 203 militants and 75 security personnel, were killed in militancy-related incidents in Jammu and Kashmir this year, the Lok Sabha was informed on Tuesday.

In the northeast, 97 people, including 51 insurgents and 12 security personnel, were killed in insurgency-related incidents, Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir said during Question Hour.

Up to 14 December this year, 337 militancy-related incidents were reported in Jammu and Kashmir in which 40 civilians, 75 security personnel and 203 militants were killed and 321 persons injured, the highest in the last four years. Ninety-one militants were also arrested.

Referring to incidents in the areas affected by left wing extremism, Ahir said up to November 30 this year, 813 incidents took place leading to the death of 170 civilians, 75 security personnel and 111 left wing extremists. One hundred and forty five people were also injured. He said 1712 left wing extremists were also arrested.

While there have been two attacks each in 2014 and 2015 on defence establishments, six attacks took place in 2016. This year up to 10 December, one defence establishment came under attack.

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Sikhs In Pakistan Complain Of Pressure To Convert (To Islam)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Sikhs in Pakistan complain of pressure to convert

A complaint by a Sikh leader in Hangu district alleged an assistant commissioner had told members of the minority community to convert to Islam.

WORLD Updated: Dec 16, 2017 23:34 IST

Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
File photo of Sikhs walking through the narrow streets of Peshawar with Gorvindar Singh (centre), one of three Sikhs who was kidnapped for ransom, after his return home on March 1, 2010.
File photo of Sikhs walking through the narrow streets of Peshawar with Gorvindar Singh (centre), one of three Sikhs who was kidnapped for ransom, after his return home on March 1, 2010.(Reuters)

A representative of a Sikh body in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province has complained that members of the minority are being asked to convert to Islam by officials in the local administration.

A complaint filed by Farid Chand Singh, who represents the Sikh community in Hangu district, alleged that the assistant commissioner of Tall tehsil, Yaqoob Khan, had told members of the Sikh community, who had paid him a visit, to convert to Islam if they wanted their problems solved.

An incensed Singh filed the official complaint against Khan with the district commissioner. Singh told The Express Tribune newspaper that he had expressed serious concern as some Sikhs were “being forced to convert to Islam” by the government official.

Singh also said in his complaint that the Pashto-speaking Sikh community had been living in Hangu since 1901 and had never offended by anyone, specifically for religious reasons. He said they had always lived peacefully with Muslims.

Despite Hangu having been a hotbed for sectarian conflict, residents of the district had never harmed Sikhs, who were never approached by anyone to convert to Islam, he said. Sikhs have friendly relations with Muslims, who have always stood up for the community in times of need, he added.

“Had it been from someone ordinary, it would have never felt so offending but when you hear such things from a government official, it becomes something really serious,” Singh told the newspaper.

“We the residents of Doaba area are being tortured religiously,” the complaint said.

“The Constitution empowers us to defend our religious beliefs against anyone and we want you to call (the assistant commissioner of) Tall, Yaqoob Khan, and inquire (about) the issue,” it said, adding the issue “should be investigated so that the community could live in Pakistan with love, peace and harmony”.

The district commissioner, Shahid Mehood, said members of the Sikh community were offended during their meeting with the assistant commissioner but had never meant to insult them.

“There was no such issue of converting someone forcefully to Islam. Rather, the district administration ensures religious freedom,” Mehmood said.

Earlier this year,a public prosecutor told a group of Christians facing trial that he would get them acquitted if they converted to Islam. Nearly 60 Christians were on trial for the mob killing of two men mistaken for militants shortly after two suicide bombers blew themselves up near St John’s Catholic Church and Christ ‎Church of the Church of Pakistan,‎ at Youhanabad in Lahore, on March 15, 2015.

There is a sizeable Sikh population in parts of northwest Pakistan, including the lawless tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. Many of the Sikhs are petty traders and there have been instances of members of the community being kidnapped for ransom in recent years.

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