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15th April Current Affairs

Human Rights Violations against Uygurs

(GS-II: India and neighbourhood relations)

In News:

The US State Department report, based on accounts by news outlets and NGOs as well as research by diplomats, has singled out China for abuses against ethnic minorities, including Uygurs in Xinjiang.

Details:

The report said the Chinese government continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang against predominantly Muslim Uygurs among other minority groups.

What’s the issue?

Various countries have called on China to “ensure full respect for the rule of law” for the Muslim Uighurs community in Xinjiang.

Credible reports indicate that over a million people have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang and that there is widespread surveillance disproportionately targeting Uighurs and members of other minorities and restrictions on fundamental freedoms and Uighur culture.

China’s response:

Despite mounting evidence, China denies mistreating the Uyghurs, and goes on to insist it is simply running “vocational training” centres designed to counter extremism.

Who are Uighurs?

The Uighurs are a predominantly Muslim minority Turkic ethnic group, whose origins can be traced to Central and East Asia.

The Uighurs speak their own language, similar to Turkish, and see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations.

China recognises the community only as a regional minority and rejects that they are an indigenous group.

Currently, the largest population of the Uighur ethnic community lives in the Xinjiang region of China.

A significant population of Uighurs also lives in the neighbouring Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Uighur Muslims for decades, under the false accusation by the Chinese government of terrorism and separatism, have suffered from abuses including persecution, forced detention, intense scrutiny, surveillance and even slavery.

Flex Fuel Vehicles

(GS-III: Conservation related issues)

In News:

The Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) has called for a faster launch of flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) to achieve 20 per cent of ethanol blending.

What are flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs)?

An FFV is a modified version of vehicles that could run both on gasoline and doped petrol with different levels of ethanol blends.

FFVs will allow vehicles to use all the blends and also run on unblended fuel.

FFVs have compatible engines to run on more than 84 percent ethanol blended petrol.

Benefits:

FFVs are aimed at reducing the use of polluting fossil fuels and cutting down harmful emissions.

Alternative fuel ethanol is Rs 60-62 per litre while petrol costs more than Rs 100 per litre in many parts of the country, so by using ethanol, Indians will save Rs 30-35 per litre.

For India, FFVs will present a different advantage as they will allow vehicles to use different blends of ethanol mixed petrol available in different parts of the country.

Also, these vehicles are a logical extension of the Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) programme launched by the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas in January 2003.

Since India has surplus produce of corn, sugar and wheat, the mandatory blending of ethanol programme will help farmers in realising higher incomes.

For the overall Indian economy, higher usage of ethanol as an automobile fuel will help save import costs as the country meets more than 80 per cent of its crude oil requirements through imports.

Disadvantages/challenges of using FFVs:

Customer acceptance will be a major challenge since the cost of ownership and running cost are going to be very high compared with 100 per cent petrol vehicles.

Running cost (due to lower fuel efficiency) will be higher by more than 30 per cent when run with 100 per cent ethanol (E100).

Flex Fuel Engines cost more as ethanol has very different chemical properties than petrol. Ethanol has very low (40 per cent) Calorific value as compared to Gasoline, very High Latent heat of vaporization causing cooling of charge/combustion etc.

Ethanol also acts as a solvent and could wipe out the protective oil film inside the engine thereby could cause wear and tear.

Raising legal age of marriage for women

(GS-II: Parliament and state legislatures- functioning)

In News:

The Parliamentary Standing Committee tasked to study the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2021, which proposes to raise the age of marriage for women to 21 from 18 years, met recently.

Details:

The Standing Committee was assigned the task of studying the Bill in January 2022 and granted three months to do so but it was granted a three-month extension till June 2022.

The Bill has attracted criticism from the civil society.

Rationale behind the legislation:

The age of marriage should be uniformly applicable to all religions, caste, creed, overriding any custom or law that seeks to discriminate against women.

The Bill would amend:

  • The Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1972.
  • The Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936.
  • The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937.
  • The Special Marriage Act, 1954.
  • The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
  • The Foreign Marriage Act, 1956.

Task force:

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget speech last year proposed a panel on the “age of a girl entering motherhood” to lower maternal mortality rates and improve nutrition levels.

But when the decision to appoint a task force was announced, its terms of reference included examining “the correlation of age of marriage and motherhood” with health and nutritional status of mothers and infants.

Important recommendations:

The age of marriage should be increased to 21 years.

The government should look into increasing access to schools and colleges for girls, including their transportation to these institutes from far-flung areas.

Skill and business training has also been recommended, as has sex education in schools.

These deliveries must come first, as, unless they are implemented and women are empowered, the law will not be as effective.

Criticism:

Women’s rights activists have opposed the suggestion and have cited evidence to show that such a move may be used to incarcerate young adults marrying without parents’ consent.

Also, this move would lead to criminalisation of a large number of marriages that will take place once the law comes into effect.

What the law says?

Currently, the law prescribes that the minimum age of marriage is 21 and 18 years for men and women, respectively.

The minimum age of marriage is distinct from the age of majority, which is gender-neutral.

An individual attains the age of majority at 18 as per the Indian Majority Act, 1875.

For Hindus, Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 sets 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 years as the minimum age for the groom. Child marriages are not illegal but can be declared void at the request of the minor in the marriage.

In Islam, the marriage of a minor who has attained puberty is considered valid under personal law.

The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men respectively.

Why is the law being relooked at?

From bringing in gender-neutrality to reduce the risks of early pregnancy among women, there are many arguments in favour of increasing the minimum age of marriage of women.

Early pregnancy is associated with increased child mortality rates and affects the health of the mother.

Despite laws mandating minimum age and criminalising sexual intercourse with a minor, child marriages are very prevalent in the country.

Also, according to a study, children born to adolescent mothers (10-19 years) were 5 percentage points more likely to be stunted (shorter for their age) than those born to young adults (20-24 years).

Biden signs bill making lynching a federal hate crime

(GS-II: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation)

In News:

U.S. President Joe Biden has signed a bill into law to make lynching a federal hate crime, more than 100 years after such legislation was first proposed.

Details:

The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is named after the Black teenager whose killing in Mississippi in the summer of 1955 became a galvanising moment in the civil rights era.

Details:

The new law makes it possible to prosecute a crime as a lynching when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime leads to death or serious bodily injury.

The law lays out a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and fines.

Recent incidents of mob lynching in India:

In 2021 in Assam, a 23-year-old student leader was allegedly killed by a mob.

In October 2021 a man was allegedly lynched, his limbs cut off and left to die at the Singhu Border, site of the farmers’ protest against the three farm laws.

In August 2021, a bangle seller in Indore was reportedly beaten up by a mob for allegedly hiding his identity.

The man survived and was sent to judicial custody.

In May 2021, a 25-year-old Gurugram man was allegedly lynched when he went out to buy medicines.

On December 18 2021, a man was lynched to death by the Sikh Sangat (Sikh devotees) in Shri Harmandir Sahib Gurudwara (Golden Temple) in Amritsar over an alleged attempt to disrespect the holiest book of Sikh religion, Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

What is meant by Lynching?

Any act or series of acts of violence or aiding, abetting (encouraging) such act/acts thereof, whether spontaneous or planned, by a mob on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, language, dietary practices, sexual orientation, political affiliation, ethnicity or any other related grounds.

How are these cases handled?

There is “no separate” definition for such incidents under the existing IPC. Lynching incidents can be dealt with under Section 300 and 302 of IPC.

Section 302 provides that whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine. Offence of murder is a cognisable, non- bailable and non-compoundable offence.

SC guidelines:

There should be a “separate offence” for lynching and the trial courts must ordinarily award maximum sentence upon conviction of the accused person to set a stern example in cases of mob violence.

The state governments will have to designate a senior police officer in each district for taking measures to prevent incidents of mob violence and lynching.

The state governments need to identify districts, sub-divisions and villageswhere instances of lynching and mob violence have been reported in the recent past.

The nodal officers shall bring to the notice of the DGP about any inter-district co-ordination issues for devising a strategy to tackle lynching and mob violence related issues.

Every police officer shall ensure to disperse the mob that has a tendency to cause violence in the disguise of vigilantism or otherwise.

Central and the state governments shall broadcast on radio, television and other media platforms about the serious consequences of mob lynching and mob violence.

Despite the measures taken by the State Police, if it comes to the notice of the local police that an incident of lynching or mob violence has taken place, the jurisdictional police station shall immediately lodge an FIR.

The State Governments shall prepare a lynching/mob violence victim compensation scheme in the light of the provisions of Section 357A of CrPC.

If a police officer or an officer of the district administration fails to fulfill his duty, it will be considered an act of deliberate negligence.

Need of the hour:

Every time there is a case of honor killing, hate crimes, witch hunting or mob lynching we raise demands for special legislation to deal with these crimes.

But, the fact is that these crimes are nothing but murders and the existing provisions under IPC and CrPC are sufficient to deal with such crimes.

Coupled with the guidelines laid down in Poonawala’s case, we are sufficiently equipped to deal with mob lynching. However, what we lack is due enforcement of the existing laws and accountability of the enforcement agencies.

Attempts by various states in this regard:

Manipur government came up first with its Bill against lynching in 2018, incorporating some logical and relevant clauses.

Rajasthan government passed a bill against lynching in August 2019.

West Bengal too came up with a more stringent Bill against lynching.