Row over slum demolition: Arvind Kejriwal takes dig at Rahul Gandhi, calls him a ‘kid’


NEW DELHI: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal on Monday hit back at Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for questioning AAP’s protest over the demolition of a slum in Delhi.

“Rahul Gandhi is a ‘kid’. Perhaps, the Congress Party did not tell him that the Indian railways comes under the ambit of the central government,” Kejriwal said in a tweet.

Earlier, Rahul Gandhi had said: “Why is AAP doing dharna? They are in power in Delhi.”

Meanwhile, AAP and TMC MPs staged a protest outside Parliament over the demolition of Shakur Basti.

Kejriwal will take up the demolition drive in Shakur basti and death of a baby at the site with railway minister Suresh Prabhu as he was not satisfied with the ministry officials’ response.

“In the meeting, Railway officials told the CM said that there is no rehabilitation scheme before demolition. The chief minister completely rejected the claims of the railways,” a Delhi government official said.

After meeting the evicted dwellers, Kejriwal said that those people had been living there since 1992-94, but in one moment, railways demolished the shanties.

“Those who have done this (demolition of shanties) are not humans, instead they are animals and bestial,” Kejriwal said.

The Delhi government ordered a magisterial probe into the demolition of 1,200 slum units at Shakur Basti in West Delhi. The railways, on its part, said the removal of “fresh encroachment” was necessary for expanding the infrastructure and that the action had been taken after three notices, the first one with the March 14, 2015 deadline.

A six-month-old baby died in one of the slum units, which the railways insisted had “nothing to do with removal of encroachments”, claiming that it occurred two hours before the demolition started at 12pm.

Rare US army exception lets Sikh soldier keep beard and shed ‘double life’

On his first day at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Simratpal Singh sat in a barber chair where new cadets get their hair buzzed short, forced to choose between showing his faith and living it.

Singh had grown up a Sikh. As part of his faith, he had never cut his hair or beard. But his faith also encouraged protection of the oppressed, which inspired him to join the Army.

The Army would not allow a soldier with long hair or a beard, so that day he watched his locks drop to the floor.

“Your self-image, what you believe in, is cut away,” he said in an interview. For a long time after, he would shave without looking in the mirror.

That was almost 10 years ago. The cadet graduated, led a platoon of combat engineers who cleared roadside bombs in Afghanistan and was awarded the Bronze Star.

Last week, the Army finally granted now Capt. Singh, 27, a religious accommodation that allows him to grow his beard and wrap his hair in a turban.

“It is wonderful. I had been living a double life, wearing a turban only at home,” he said. “My two worlds have finally come back together.”

It is the first time in decades that the military has granted a religious accommodation for a beard to an active-duty combat soldier — a move that observers say could open the door for Muslims and other troops seeking to display their faith. But it is only temporary, lasting for a month while the Army decides whether to give permanent status to Singh’s exception.

If it decides not to, the captain could be confronted with the decision of whether to cut his hair or leave the Army. He has said he is prepared to sue if the accommodation is not made permanent.

“This is a precedent-setting case,” said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, a nonprofit public interest law firm that specializes in religious liberty. “A beard is a beard is a beard. If you let one religious individual grow it, you will need to do it for all religions.”

The Army does not comment on individual personnel decisions, said Lt. Col. Jennifer R. Johnson, a spokeswoman. She added that future requests for accommodations would be evaluated “on a case-by-case basis, considering the impact on unit and individual readiness, unit cohesion, morale, discipline, and health and safety of the force.”

For years, the Army has argued that beards in the ranks — religious or not — threatened the very foundations of military order and discipline.

The US military has become increasingly inclusive, allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly, and women to serve in combat roles. But it has held a stiff line on uniforms and grooming standards. Though over the centuries these standards have included powdered wigs and Civil War mutton chops, in recent decades the military has insisted on men being clean-shaven with hair shorn high and tight.

Resistance to departures from uniformity is so strong that while official standards allow for toupees, it took a Supreme Court case and an act of Congress in the 1980s to clear the way for skullcaps.

In recent years, almost all requests for a religious accommodation for a beard have been dismissed. In a 2014 letter denying a beard to a Sikh student at Hofstra University who had tried to join the Army’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, Lt. Gen. James C. McConville, the officer in charge of all such accommodations, said beards under gas masks posed a safety hazard. The general added that any break from uniformity could erode esprit de corps and “damage the esteem and credibility” of the entire officer corps.

However, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Special Operations soldiers have had lax facial-hair regulations, and having a beard has even become a mark of elite soldiers.

(Captain Simratpal Singh at his home in Auburn, Washington. Photo: NYT)

This summer, a US District Court judge rejected the safety argument, noting that more than 100,000 troops have been allowed to grow beards for medical reasons such as acne and sensitive skin. The judge ruled the Army’s denial was illegal. But the decision applied only to students enrolling in ROTC, leaving the larger question of beards for active-duty troops untouched.

Sikhs say lifting the ban is particularly important to them because they have had a long history of military service. Sikhism developed in northwestern India as a religion centered on protecting the innocent and resisting tyrants during long bouts of conflict and oppression from invading Mughals and Afghans.

Bearded Sikhs fought in the US Army in World War II and Vietnam. Today, Sikhs in full religious garb serve in militaries around the world.

For centuries, Sikh teachings have required adherents to leave their hair and beard unshorn, and to wear a turban.

“It was a way to identify the Sikhs, who became a sort of military order that stood up against oppression,” said Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, a doctor who is a major in the Army Reserve.

Kalsi got permission to grow a beard in 2009. He was the first of only three Sikhs to receive permission before Singh. Two Muslims and a Jewish rabbi also have been granted accommodations since 2009. But all apparently served either as chaplains or in specialty medical fields, a spokeswoman for the Army said. No combat soldiers had been given a pass.

The Army has used a procedural Catch-22 to sidestep the question of whether regulations protecting religious freedom allow for beards. For years, it denied requests from incoming recruits, saying accommodations could be granted only after recruits had formally joined. Recruits could not formally join without conforming to grooming standards. In short, to get permission to not shave, you had to shave.

After Singh had his hair and beard cut at West Point, he continued following Sikh teachings. He went to temple on Sunday. While on roadside bomb-clearing missions in Afghanistan, he ate only vegetarian versions of military field rations. But he said his faith demanded that he do more.

“A true Sikh is supposed to stand out, so he can defend those who cannot defend themselves,” he said. “I see that very much in line with the Army values.”

During leave before a new assignment this fall, he stopped shaving and filed for an accommodation with the help of the advocacy group the Sikh Coalition. He received the accommodation, at least on a temporary basis, on Thursday.

He has made his own camouflage turbans to wear to his first day of work at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, on Monday.

“I hope this shows others that they can both serve their faith and serve their country,” he said.


Nepal urges foreign rescue workers in Kathmandu to return home

KATHMANDU: Nepal government on Monday urged foreign rescue workers in the quake-hit capital to return home as hundreds of people visited Buddhist shrines and monasteries to mark the birthday of Gautam Buddha. 

Information minister Minendra Rijal said the major rescue work in Kathmandu and surrounding areas have been completed and that the remaining operations can be handled by local workers. However, work remained in the villages and remote mountain areas and foreign aid volunteers could work with local police and army rescuers in those areas, he said. 

Since the April 25 earthquake, 4,050 rescue workers from 34 different nations have flown to Nepal to help in rescue operations, provide emergency medical care and distribute food and other necessities. The death toll from the quake, Nepal’s worst in more than 80 years, reached 7,276, police said.


FCAT is Censor Board’s higher body: Col. Rathore

Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore on Friday stated that the Censor Board has a higher body, the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), where parties aggrieved by the decisions of the former may appeal.

“The Censor Board has a job to do and if anyone feels that their decision is not correct, they appeal in a higher body. The higher body is called FCAT. It is headed by a retired justice and has eminent members, including Justice (retd) Rewa Khetrapal, advocate Bina Gupta and so on,” Colonel Rathore told ANI.

“We have complete faith in the Censor Board, despite the fact that it has been placed by the previous government. It may be a change of party, but the Indian Government has faith in its institutions. We did not change a single member of the Censor Board, nor superimpose any member,” he added.

Colonel Rathore further stated that his ministry does not interfere in the workings of the Censor Board, citing the example of the Aamir Khan-starrer ‘PK’, which had sparked widespread protests across the country.

“We did not intervene when a movie was released two weeks earlier, when there was a furore in the country. People wanted us to take action but we did not intervene,” he said.

Replying to claims by Censor Board chairman Leela Samson that the body had held no meetings for around one year, the I-B minister also clarified that his ministry does not convene the meetings.

“It is not the decision of the ministry to convene meetings of the Censor Board. The chairperson has entire authority to call for meetings. In nine months, the chairperson has not called for a single meeting. I would also like to know if she has ever written to the ministry asking to convene a meeting. The answer is never,” he stated.

“We would also like to see if there is any message or letter in which a ministry official was trying to coerce her – there is no such case,” he added.

Earlier in the day, Samson tendered her resignation, citing alleged ‘interference, coercion and corruption’ by the FCAT after the latter apparently cleared the controversial film Messenger of God (MSG), starring Dera Saccha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. (ANI)


Mamata minister’s shocker: CPM women stage rape to frame Trinamool Congress leaders

West Bengal minister and Trinamool Congress leader Swapan Debnath sparked an outrage on Tuesday with his remarks against women from the opposition CPM, saying they “stage” their rape to discredit the ruling party in the state.

“They have often torn their own blouses and claimed they were assaulted,” Debnath said while addressing a rally in Burdwan, adding, “We say that a police officer arrests his own son for a promotion. Similarly, we know many women’s wing leaders of CPI-M who used to tear their own blouse and accuse others of molestation.”

When someone in the crowd reportedly clapped for the statements, Debnath further said, “If they have a fight with their husband at home and are attacked, they will frame a Trinamool person for it.”

The CPM has slammed the remarks and called for action against the minister. “These comments have no place in politics or democracy. The question really is you and I are outraged about it. How is it that the chief minister of Bengal is not outraged? What is the standard of Mamata’s politics?” CPM leader Brinda Karat told Headlines Today.

Sports ministry recommends Saina’s name for Padma Bhushan

Sports ministry recommends Saina's name for Padma Bhushan

NEW DELHI: The sports ministry decided to recommend ace shuttler Saina Nehwal for the Padma Bhushan award but insisted that it did not receive her nomination from the Badminton Association of India (BAI) within the stipulated deadline. 

“In view of the achievements of Ms. Saina Nehwal, the Department of Sports has decided to recommend her case for Padma Bhushan to the Ministry of Home Affairs as a special case although the last date for making the recommendation is long over,” the Ministry said in a statement. 

Saina lashes out at ministry over Padma snub 

On Saturday, a disappointed Saina had stated that the Badminton Association of India (BAI) had recommended her name for the Padma Bhushan in August last year but the sports ministry rejected her application, citing norms. But Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal refuted the claim, saying that his ministry received the letter of nomination only on Saturday. 

The ministry on Monday reiterated its stand and said not just this year, it didn’t receive any letter from BAI nominating Saina for the Padma awards in 2013 as well. 

“The ministry had not received nomination in respect of Ms. Saina Nehwal from Badminton Association of India or any other agency, for Padma Bhushan for 2014,” the ministry said in a statement today.

“It is also clarified that ministry had not received any nomination in respect of Ms. SainaNehwallast year either. So the question of Department of Sports intimating Ms. SainaNehwal that her nomination for PadmaBhushan was not recommended to the ministry of home affairs in 2013, as there has to be a gap of 5 years between two Padma Awards, does not arise. 

“The ministry has since received the nomination of Ms. Saina Nehwal for Padma Bhushan on 3rd January, 2015 from Badminton Association of India. The Ministry further added: “On 1st May, 2014, the ministry of home affairs invited nominations for Padma Awards. Last date for forwarding nominations to ministry of home affairs (MHA) was 15.09.2014. “The Department of Sports circulated the MHA’s letter to all the National Sports Federations/Sports Control Boards for sending the nominations of sportspersons and coaches to the Department of Sports by 20.08.2014.”