Archive for ‘Social & cultural’

01/12/2016

Divorce is on the rise in China | The Economist

WITH his slick navy suit, silver watch and non-stop smoking, Yu Feng is an unlikely ambassador for Chinese family values. The office from which he operates, in Chongqing in western China, looks more like a sitting room, with grey sofas, cream curtains and large windows looking out on the city’s skyscrapers.

Women visit him here and plead for help. They want him to persuade their husbands to dump their mistresses.

Mr Yu worked in family law and then marriage counselling before starting his business in 2007. He charges scorned wives 100,000-500,000 yuan ($15,000-75,000); cases usually take 7-8 months. He befriends both the two-timing husband and the mistress, encouraging them to find fault with each other, and gradually reveals that he has messed up his own life by being unfaithful. He claims a 90% success rate with clients, most of whom are in their 30s and early 40s. “This is the want, buy, get generation,” he says; sex is a part of China’s new materialism. But changing sexual mores and a rocketing divorce rate have prompted soul-searching about the decline of family ties.

The ernai, literally meaning “second wife”, is increasingly common. So many rich men indulge that Chinese media sometimes blame extramarital relationships for helping to inflate property prices: some city apartment complexes are notorious for housing clusters of mistresses, paid for by their lovers, who often provide a living allowance too.

It is not just businessmen who keep mistresses: President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has revealed that many government officials do too. According to news reports Zhou Yongkang, the most senior person toppled by the current anti-graft crusade, had multiple paramours; former railways minister Liu Zhijun is rumoured to have kept 18.

China has a long history of adultery. In imperial times wealthy men kept multiple concubines as well as a wife; prostitution was mostly tolerated, both by the state and by wives (who had little choice). Married women, in contrast, were expected to be chaste. After 1950 concubines were outlawed and infidelity deemed a bourgeois vice. Even in the 1980s few people had sex with anyone other than their spouse or spouse-to-be.

Over the past 30 years, however, sexual mores have loosened and more young Chinese are having sex, with more partners and at a younger age. Some clearly continue to wander after marriage. Some 20% of married men and women are unfaithful, according to a survey of 80,000 people in 2015 by researchers at Peking University.

In many respects growing infidelity is a predictable consequence of economic development. Individuals are increasingly willing to put their own emotions or desires above familial obligations or reputation. Improved education and living standards mean they have more financial freedom to do so. Most Chinese couples previously had few chances to meet members of the opposite sex in social situations after marriage, but migration means that many couples live apart. Even if they live together, the pool of temptation has grown larger and easier to dip into, thanks partly to social media.

Businesses like Mr Yu’s indicate that not all spouses see affairs as an unpardonable offence. But surveys also suggest that infidelity is the “number one marriage killer”. Last year 3.8m couples split, more than double the number a decade earlier. China’s annual divorce rate is 2.8 per 1,000 people (also double a decade ago). That is not quite as high as America’s 3.2, but higher than in most of Europe. Chinese families are fraying fast.

Source: Divorce is on the rise in China | The Economist

25/11/2016

China battles foreign influence in education | The Economist

CHINA has long oscillated between the urge to equip its elite with foreign knowledge and skills, and an opposing instinct to turn inward and rebuff such influences.

In the 1870s the Qing imperial court ended centuries of educational isolation by sending young men to America, only for the Communist regime to shut out the world again a few decades later. Today record numbers of Chinese study abroad: over half a million people left in 2015 alone, many for America (see chart).

The Communist Party officially endorses international exchanges in education while at the same time preaching the dangers of Western ideas on Chinese campuses. A new front in this battlefield is emerging, as the government cracks down on international schools catering to Chinese citizens.

Only holders of foreign passports used to be allowed to go to international schools in China: children of expat workers or the foreign-born offspring of Chinese returnees. Chinese citizens are still forbidden from attending such outfits, but more recently a new type of school has proliferated on the mainland, offering an international curriculum to Chinese nationals planning to study at foreign universities. Their number has more than doubled since 2011, to over 500. Many are clustered on the wealthy eastern seaboard, but even poor interior provinces such as Gansu, Guizhou and Yunnan have them.

Some international schools are privately run, including offshoots of famous foreign institutions such as Dulwich College in Britain or Haileybury in Australia. Even wholly Chinese ventures often adopt foreign-sounding names to increase their appeal: witness “Etonkids”, a Beijing-based chain which has no link with the illustrious British boarding school. Since 2003 some 90 state schools have opened international programmes too, many of them at the top high schools in China, including those affiliated with Peking University and Renmin University in Beijing.

New laws are making it harder for such schools to operate. In 2014 Beijing’s education authorities stopped approving new international programmes at public high schools. Several other cities, including Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wuhan, have also tightened their policies on such institutions. Some have capped fees for international programmes. The Ministry of Education says it is pondering a law that would require public high schools to run their international programmes as private entities (fearing this event, a few schools have already begun doing so).

Earlier this month a new law banned for-profit private schools from teaching the first nine years of compulsory education. That came only days after Shanghai started to enforce an existing ban on international schools using “foreign curriculums”. Some such institutions already offer a mixture: Wycombe Abbey International, which is based in Changzhou in eastern China and affiliated to a British girls’ boarding school, teaches “political education”, a form of government propaganda, and follows a Chinese curriculum for maths. But the new regulations threaten to nullify the very point of such institutions for most parents, which is to offer an alternative to the mainstream Chinese system, in which students spend years cramming for extremely competitive university-entrance exams that prize rote learning over critical or lateral thinking.

Lawmakers say the rules are prompted by concerns about the quality of international schools. The expansion of international programmes within regular Chinese schools also spurred a popular backlash against the use of public facilities and funds to teach pupils who plan to leave China. Since the number of people attending public schools is fixed, the elite high schools are accused of squeezing out regular students to feed their lucrative international stream. Local governments often provide capital for private schools, too.

The move to control international schools is “the next logical iteration” of a wider campaign against Western influences, reckons Carl Minzner of Fordham University in America. In 2015 China’s education minister called for a ban on “textbooks promoting Western values” in higher education.

This mission extends far beyond the educational realm: the government has called for artists and architects to serve socialism, clamped down on video-streaming sites that carry lots of foreign content and even proposed renaming housing developments that carry “over-the-top, West-worshipping” names. Chinese organisations that receive foreign funding, particularly non-governmental ones, face increasing scrutiny.

The Communist Party is instead seeking to inculcate young Chinese with its own ideological values: the new directive on for-profit schools calls on them to “strengthen Party-building”. After pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, nationalistic “patriotic education” classes were stepped up in schools, a move that Xi Jinping, the president, has taken to new levels since 2012, seeking to infuse every possible field with “patriotic spirit”. “Morals, language, history, geography, sport and arts” are all part of the campaign now. Unusually, he also seeks to include students abroad in this “patriotic energy”.

But lashing out against international schools could prove risky. Any attack aimed at them essentially targets China’s growing middle class, a group that the ruling Communist Party is keen to keep onside. Chinese have long seen education as a passport to success, and it is not just the super-rich who have the aspiration or means to send their offspring abroad to attend university. Some 57% of Chinese parents would like to do so if they could afford it, according to the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Even Mr Xi sent his daughter to Harvard, where she studied under a pseudonym.

Since school is optional after 15, and parents must pay for it, even at public institutions, the state will find it tricky to prevent high schools from teaching what they want. Moreover, constraints on international schooling in China are likely to swell the growing flow of Chinese students leaving to study abroad at ever younger ages. This trend is the theme of a 30-episode television series, “A love for separation”, about three families who send their children to private school in America.

Restricting for-profit schooling also risks hitting another growing educational market: urban private schools that cater to migrant children who cannot get places in regular state schools because they do not have the required residence permits. A law that undermines educational opportunities for the privileged and the underprivileged at once could prove far more incendiary than a little foreign influence.

Source: China battles foreign influence in education | The Economist

02/11/2016

China’s Alibaba in ‘flying pig’ controversy – BBC News

A Chinese Muslim‘s call for e-commerce giant Alibaba to rename one of its services because it uses the word “pig” has sparked a backlash in China.

It all began when Alibaba changed the name of its popular travel booking app from Alitrip to one that means “Flying Pig” in Chinese. Its English name is Fliggy.

Over the weekend, Uighur businessman Adil Memettur criticised this decision on popular microblogging network Sina Weibo, where he has hundreds of thousands of followers.

He noted that the app is popular among minorities because it lets people whose names have unusual spellings make bookings.

“But now that Alitrip has changed its name to Flying Pig, I can only uninstall it, and maybe all my Muslim friends too, because the word “pig” is taboo to Muslims all over the world. Alibaba is an international corporation, could it take Muslim taboos into consideration?” he said.

Image copyrightSINA WEIBO / ADIL MEMETTUR. Mr Memettur is an Uighur Chinese who runs a cake business

His post quickly sparked condemnation and ridicule from other Chinese online, with some asking if this meant China had to expunge all references to pigs in popular culture and literature.

“We each have our own way of life; we do not force you to live according to our rules, but you cannot force us to change the law,” said Weibo user Fireflyinred.

Mr Memettur quickly took down the post and on Sunday night he posted an apology.

Alibaba told the BBC that they decided to rebrand the app to appeal to a younger demographic. “We embrace diversity and respect all creeds and religions. The name change is meant to reflect the demographic’s aspirations to pursue dreams, sit back and enjoy life,” said the spokesman.

The visceral pushback stems from the fact that the pig occupies an important place in Chinese culture.

Pork is not only a staple of Chinese cuisine – the government keeps a national reserve of pork in case of market shortages – but the pig is also celebrated in folklore and the Chinese zodiac.

Online, the reaction to Mr Memettur has been intense, often descending into derogatory comments and insulting jokes about Muslims and Uighur culture.

It has also highlighted how gaps in understanding between Muslim minorities and the Han Chinese majority can arise.

Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES – The Uighurs are one of China’s biggest Muslim minorities

Because of their relatively small numbers, concentrated mostly in the West, Muslims still do not figure largely in Chinese public discourse.

China’s 21 million Muslims, comprising minority ethnic groups such as the Huis and Uighurs, make up only 1.6% of the population, with the rest from the Han ethnic majority and they have mostly co-existed peacefully.

The western province of Xinjiang, home to many Chinese Uighurs, has seen unrest with residents saying they have been economically and culturally displaced by a growing influx of Han migrants. Violence there has been attributed by the authorities to Islamist militants and separatists – rights groups point to increasingly tight control by Beijing.

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES- Xinjiang cities like Kashgar are home to Muslim minorities such as the Uighurs

In this instance some online, like blogger Han Dongyan, have called for respect and calm.”Don’t extend this to all Muslims… (Mr Memettur) has made a mistake and he can be criticised, but don’t respond to an extreme with another extreme and tar them all with the same brush, this is wrong too!” he wrote in one popular post.

Source: China’s Alibaba in ‘flying pig’ controversy – BBC News

31/10/2016

An uncertain community | The Economist

FOR a community of 172m, almost 15% of the population, Muslims at first glance appear oddly absent from the pages of India’s newspapers. In fact, they crop up a lot, but not by name.

Instead, reporters coyly refer to “a certain community”. The clumsy circumlocution is a way of avoiding any hint of stoking sectarian unrest. The aim is understandable in a country that was born amid ferocious communal clashes and which has suffered all too many reprises. But the dainty phrase also hints at something else. Since India’s independence in 1947, the estrangement of Muslims has slowly grown.

India’s Muslims have not, it is true, been officially persecuted, hounded into exile or systematically targeted by terrorists, as have minorities in other parts of the subcontinent, such as the Ahmadi sect in Pakistan. But although violence against them has been only sporadic, they have struggled in other ways. In 2006 a hefty report detailed Muslims’ growing disadvantages. It found that very few army officers were Muslim; their share in the higher ranks of the police was “minuscule”. Muslims were in general poorer, more prone to sex discrimination and less literate than the general population (see chart). At postgraduate level in elite universities, Muslims were a scant 2% of students.

A decade later, with most of the committee’s recommendations quietly shelved, those numbers are unlikely to have improved. Indeed, since the landslide election win by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014, some gaps have widened. There are fewer Muslim ministers now in the national government—just two out of 75—than at any time since independence, even though the Muslim share of the population has grown.

India remains a secular country, yet some laws proposed by the BJP bear a disturbingly sectarian tint. One bill would allow immigrants from nearby countries who happen to be Hindu, Sikh, Christian or Buddhist to apply for citizenship, while specifically barring Muslims. Another would retroactively block any legal challenge to past seizures of property from people deemed Pakistani “enemies”, even if their descendants have nothing to do with Pakistan and are Indian citizens. Courts have repeatedly ruled in favour of such claimants—all of them Muslim—but their families could now be stripped of any rights in perpetuity.

Far more than such legislative slights, what frightens ordinary Muslims is the government’s silence in the face of starker assaults. A year ago many were shocked when a mob in a village near Delhi, the capital, beat to death a Muslim father of three on mere suspicion that he had eaten beef. Earlier this month, after one of his alleged killers died of disease while in police custody, a BJP minister attended the suspect’s funeral, at which the casket was draped, like a hero’s, with the Indian flag.

Earlier this month, too, newspapers reported a disturbing discrepancy between the fates of two men arrested for allegedly spreading religiously insulting material via social media. One of the men, a member of a right-wing Hindu group in the BJP-run state of Madhya Pradesh, was quickly released from custody after the customary beating. The arresting officers have been charged with assault; their superiors up to the district level transferred. In the other case, in the state of Jharkhand, a Muslim villager was arrested for posting pictures implying he had slaughtered a cow. Police claimed he died of encephalitis following his arrest. A court-ordered autopsy revealed he had been beaten to death. To date, no police officers have been charged.

The BJP’s handling of a popular uprising in India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, has also raised Muslim concern. Four months into the unrest, in which dozens of civilians have been killed and hundreds injured, with continuous curfews and strikes keeping schools and shops closed, the government still refuses to talk to any but the most supine local politicians. “You don’t understand,” snaps a cabinet minister, “It’s a violent movement to build an Islamic theocracy. No democracy can tolerate that.”

Omair Ahmad, a writer on Muslim affairs, scoffs at this. The problem, he says, is that Indian governments insist on treating Kashmir as a “Muslim issue” when the real question is one of democratic representation. Yet most Indian Muslims tend to toe the official line, either from a desire to appear loyal or because they genuinely feel only a faint bond with Kashmir.

The fact is that India’s Muslims are divided, not only between dominant Sunnis and a large Shia minority but also between starkly different social classes and regions: a Muslim in Bengal is likely to share no language and few traditions with a co-religionist far to the south in steamy Kerala. The divisions may soon get deeper. Both India’s supreme court and the national law commission, a state body charged with legal reform, are deliberating whether laws governing such things as divorce and inheritance should remain different for different religious groups, or should be harmonised in a uniform national code, as the constitution urges. Spotting another “Muslim issue”, past governments have let conservative clerics control family law. As a result India, unlike most Muslim-majority countries, still allows men to divorce simply by pronouncing the word three times.

The BJP, however, is calling for sweeping reform, with Narendra Modi, the prime minister, painting the issue as a straightforward question of women’s rights. Much as many Muslims heartily agree that change is long overdue, suspicions linger that the BJP’s aim is less to generate reform than to spark inevitable protests by Muslim conservatives, so uniting Hindus in opposition to Muslim “backwardness”.

This question may play out in elections this winter in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, nearly 40m of whose 200m people are Muslim. The state has witnessed repeated communal clashes since the destruction by Hindu activists, in 1992, of a medieval mosque said to have been built over an ancient temple marking the birthplace of Rama, a Hindu deity. Many expect the BJP to play the “Muslim card” in an effort to rally Hindu votes.

There is hope: a similar ploy flopped last year in the neighbouring state of Bihar. Whatever the outcome, India’s Muslims feel increasingly like spectators in their own land. “They called it a secular state, which is why many who had a choice at partition wanted to stay here,” says Saeed Naqvi, a journalist whose recent book, “Being the Other”, chronicles the growing alienation of India’s Muslims. “But what really happened was that we seamlessly glided from British Raj to Hindu Raj.”

Source: An uncertain community | The Economist

13/10/2016

Is this the world’s most oversubscribed school? – BBC News

The VidyaGyan Leadership Academy, a boarding school in India‘s Uttar Pradesh state, is offering an elite education for pupils drawn from the rural poor.

There are about 200 places on offer each year – but such is the appetite for families to get a better life for their children, there are 250,000 applications.

The school, set up by the Shiv Nadar Foundation, is completely free, and offers the type of education usually available only to the very wealthy.

Roshni Nadar Malhotra, a businesswoman and trustee of the foundation, says the school has been modelled on India’s private schools, which put students on the pathway to top universities and high-flying careers.

Roshni Nadar Malhotra wants the school to produce a more meritocratic generation of leaders for India

But the VidyaGyan school is open only to the very clever and very poor – which she describes as the “top of the bottom of the pyramid”.

No-one can even apply u

Unless their family income is below the equivalent of £1,500 per year, and the school carries out checks to make sure that better-off families are not trying to get in.

“Most of India is rural, there is a huge population in India not being tapped for their excellence. They have no access to great universities,” says Ms Malhotra, who is chief executive officer of the HCL technology company.

A performer from Uttar Pradesh prepares to take part in a festival

“We wanted to see if we could have an admissions system that was truly meritorious.”

The admissions system operates on an epic scale.

After the initial 250,000 applications, Ms Malhotra says, about 125,000 turn up to take a written test.

The drop-out rate is a reflection of the tough lives of these families, who might struggle to travel to a local test centre or be stopped by bad weather.

The school’s ambition is for its students to compete anywhere in the world

Based on the results, there is a shortlist of about 6,000 students, who then take another set of tests. There are also visits to the homes of applicants.

This sifting process produces an intake of 200 pupils, boys and girls, who are taught, clothed, fed and housed by the school.

These children from the poorest rural families, a deliberate mix of religions and castes, then receive a high-cost education, exposing them to ideas and opportunities.

It is an intensive process, designed to create a “stepping stone” to top universities in India or abroad.

The school has been founded to help clever poor pupils from Uttar Pradesh

It has become such a phenomenon that there are now coaching academies dedicated to training people for the test.

So far the school has cost the foundation £59m – and Ms Malhotra says there have been questions about whether the money would have been better spent on teaching basic literacy to much bigger numbers of young people.The final intake of 200 pupils stands compared with Uttar Pradesh’s population of about 200 million.

But Ms Malhotra says the distinct purpose of the school is to create a leadership academy focusing on providing a chance for disadvantaged youngsters to compete with India’s elite.

These are the children of poor, uneducated farmers, and she wants them to be equipped to reach the top in politics, business or sport.

The school is intended to provide a stepping stone to top universities

And she says there is a “ripple effect” on the home villages of these pupils, as they see their young people being able to go to a top university in India or in Europe or the United States.

“When students get into a great university, it’s a huge aspirational lift for their village. These students become beacons of hope.”

There are also expectations of paying back to their local communities. In the summer, when they go home, they have to carry out a socially useful project, such as providing cleaner water, clearing away rubbish or finding a safer way of cooking.

“It’s about getting their hands dirty and finding out how to solve problems,” says Ms Malhotra.

Once pupils are accepted, everything in the school is free for families

The school’s first graduates have left with “stellar results”, but she also wants them to be equipped to compete with international students anywhere.

“It’s not just about getting in, they need to be able to survive. All of a sudden you’re thrown in with other highly competitive students from all over the world.”

It will be some time before it is possible to see if they become India’s future leaders, she says. “But they’re on their way.”

Source: Is this the world’s most oversubscribed school? – BBC News

07/10/2016

Keeping pure and true | The Economist

CHINA’S cities abound with restaurants and food stalls catering to Muslims as well as to the many other Chinese who relish the distinctive cuisines for which the country’s Muslims are renowned.

So popular are kebabs cooked by Muslim Uighurs on the streets of Beijing that the city banned outdoor grills in 2014 in order to reduce smoke, which officials said was exacerbating the capital’s notorious smog (the air today is hardly less noxious).

Often such food is claimed to be qing zhen, meaning “pure and true”, or halal, prepared according to traditional Islamic regulations. But who can tell? Last year angry Muslims besieged a halal bakery in Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, after pork sausages were found in the shop’s delivery van. There have been several scandals in recent years involving rat meat or pork being sold as lamb. These have spread Muslim mistrust of domestically produced halal products.

In response, some local governments have introduced regulations requiring food purporting to be halal to be just that (though not going into detail of what halal means, such as the slaughter of animals with a knife by a Muslim). Earlier this year, however, the national legislature suspended its work on a bill that would apply such stipulations countrywide.

There is much demand for one. Local rules are often poorly enforced. Advocates of a national law say a lack of unified standards is hampering exports to Muslim countries. According to Wang Guoliang of the Islamic Association of China, the country’s halal food industry makes up a negligible 0.1% of the global market.

The government began drafting a national halal law in 2002. But Muslim communities in China have varying definitions of the term. Work on the bill was slow. Each year, during the legislature’s annual session in March, Muslim delegates called for faster progress. But there were opponents, too. Some scholars argued that the government should not regulate on matters relating to religious faith. Others said that by giving in to the Muslims’ demands, China would encourage them to press for more concessions and ultimately form their own enclaves run by sharia.

Such views may have given pause to China’s leaders. In April, at a high-level meeting on religious affairs, President Xi Jinping said religion should be prevented from interfering with the law. That month Wang Zhengwei, a Muslim official who had been pushing for halal legislation, was removed from his post as the head of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission.

Also in April, the Communist Party chief of Ningxia urged officials to “sharpen [their] vigilance” against the use of halal labels on products such as toilet paper, toothpaste and cosmetics. And the government of Qinghai province ordered the inspection of Muslim-only toilets and hospital rooms, as well as shops catering to Muslims, to make sure that halal symbols were being used only on food. Xinjiang, the far-western region that is home to the Uighurs, recently introduced an anti-terrorism law threatening punishment of those who “overextend” halal rules. Officials clearly worry that those who do so might be the same sort of people who embrace jihad.

Ismael An, a Muslim writer, says this is overreacting. “Supporters of the halal law are not the so-called extremists, because real extremists don’t make demands through legislation,” he says. On the internet, however, a small but vocal group of Islamophobes has been calling for a boycott of halal-certified products. They say the price of such goods factors in payments to Islamic groups that grant the certificates—they do not want to give the religion even indirect support. Ironically, it is the non-Muslim love of Muslim food that will ensure the campaign will not succeed.

Source: Keeping pure and true | The Economist

07/10/2016

China’s other Muslims | The Economist

THE faithful are returning from the haj. Waiting for prayers outside the Great Mosque in Tongxin, a remote town in the western province of Ningxia, Li Yuchuan calls his pilgrimage a liberation: “Our prayers are just homework for it.” His 84-year-old friend (pictured, right) leaps up and twists himself with lithe agility into the shape of a pretzel. “We Muslims pray five times a day,” he says. “We are flexible and tough.” China’s Muslims need to be.

China has a richly deserved reputation for religious intolerance. Buddhists in Tibet, Muslims in the far western region of Xinjiang and Christians in Zhejiang province on the coast have all been harassed or arrested and their places of worship vandalised. In Xinjiang the government seems to equate Islam with terrorism. Women there have been ordered not to wear veils on their faces. Muslims in official positions have been forced to break the Ramadan fast. But there is a remarkable exception to this grim picture of repression: the Hui.

China has two big Muslim groups, the Uighur of Xinjiang and the more obscure Hui. Though drops in the ocean of China’s population, they each have about 10m people, the size of Tunisia. But while the Uighur suffer, the Hui are thriving.

The number of mosques in Ningxia (cradle of the Hui, as one of their number puts it) has more than doubled since 1958, from 1,900 to 4,000, says Ma Ping, a retired professor at Northern Nationalities University. New ones are being built across the province. The Hui are economically successful. They are rarely victims of Islamophobia. Few Muslim minorities anywhere in the world can say as much.

The Hui’s religious practices reflect the waves of Islam that have washed over China. According to Ma Tong, a Hui scholar, just over half of them follow the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, which was brought to China centuries ago. At the Najiahu mosque south of Yinchuan, Ningxia’s capital, banners adorn the entrance saying “ancient and authentic religion” and “cleave to the original path”. A fifth of the Hui follow the more austere code of Wahhabism brought to China in the 19th century (there are also a handful of more extreme Salafist converts resulting from recent contacts through the haj). And a fifth follow one of three Sufi schools of Islam, an esoteric and mystical branch derided as apostate by hardline Salafists. The Hui’s religious diversity makes it easier for the party to tolerate them. Divide and rule.

But the real secret of the Hui’s success lies in the ways they differ from the Uighur. The Uighur, of Turkic origin, are ethnically distinct. They speak their own language, related to Turkish and Uzbek. They have a homeland: the vast majority live in Xinjiang. A wall of discrimination separates them from the Han Chinese. If they have jobs in state-owned enterprises, they are usually menial.

In contrast, the Hui are counted as an ethnic minority only because it says so on their hukou (household-registration) documents and because centuries ago their ancestors came as missionaries and merchants from Persia, the Mongol courts or South-East Asia. Having intermarried with the Han for generations, they look and speak Chinese. They are scattered throughout China (see map); only one-fifth live in Ningxia.

Unlike the Uighur and Tibetans, they have taken the path of assimilation.

At the new Qiao Nan mosque in Tongxin, the congregation is celebrating the life of an important local figure in the mosque’s history. The ceremony begins with a sermon by the ahong (imam). Then come prayers chanted in Arabic. At the house of the local worthy’s grandson, the worshippers read from the Koran, then visit the tomb. But the afternoon ends very differently, with a reading from an 18-metre-long scroll written by the grandson, Ma Jinlong. This consists of excerpts from eighth-century classical Chinese poetry, illustrated with his own delicate water-colours. Mr Ma is both a stalwart of the mosque and a Chinese gentleman-scholar.

A close connection with Chinese society is characteristic of the Hui. Some of the most famous historical figures were Hui, though few Chinese are aware of it. They include Zheng He, China’s equivalent of Columbus, who commanded voyages of discovery around 1400. Recently, the party chief in Jiangsu province as well as the head of the Ethnic Affairs Commission, a government body, were Hui.

Relations with the Han have not always been good. The so-called Dungan revolt by the Hui in the 1860s and 1870s was a bloodbath. But since the death of Mao in 1976, the two sides have reached an accommodation. Dru Gladney, of Pomona College in California, says a hallmark of the Hui is their skill at negotiating around the grey areas of China’s political system.

Thanks to this, they have been successful economically. They dominate halal food production. They are emerging as the favoured middlemen between state enterprises and firms in Central Asia and the Gulf. China’s largest school of Arabic is a private college, set up and partly financed by Hui, on the outskirts of Yinchuan. Most students are training to be corporate interpreters.

One sign of how far the government tolerates the Hui is that they are even able to practice Islamic (sharia) law to a limited extent. Sharia is not recognised by the Chinese legal code. Yet at the Najiahu mosque, the ahong and the local county court share the same mediation office. Every week or so, the ahong adjudicates in family disputes usingsharia. Only if he fails do civil officials step in.

Surprisingly, the Hui have not lost their religion or identity despite centuries of assimilation. Mr Ma, the retired professor, says Hui people often form close-knit communities and pursue similar occupations; restaurants and taxis in many cities are run by Hui. But their religion is “still the most important binding factor”, he says. The Hui maintain a delicate balance. They can practise their religion undisturbed thanks to assimilation. But it is their religion that makes them distinct.

This is a fine line, and it means the Hui are vulnerable to China’s shifting religious attitudes. They have so far mostly escaped Islamophobia. But bigotry is becoming more common on social media. “The greens” (a significant colour in Islam) has become an online term of abuse. So far the government has tolerated the Hui’s culture. But in Ningxia in July, Xi Jinping, the president, told his audience to “resolutely guard against illegal infiltration”—even though there is little sign of any. His government has become more repressive towards many religious groups. The Hui could be next.

But the lessons offered by the Hui’s experience are largely positive. Islam, the Hui show, are not the threat that party leaders sometimes imply it is. They show that you can be both Chinese and Muslim. At Yinchuan airport, a returning pilgrim is waiting for his luggage. He wears a white robe with “Chinese pilgrimage to Mecca” stitched in green Arabic letters below a Chinese flag embroidered in red, the symbol of an atheist party-state. “It was the experience of a lifetime,” he says of the haj—and disappears into a sea of white hats worn by hundreds of cheering fellow Muslims who fill the arrivals hall to welcome him home.

Source: China’s other Muslims | The Economist

05/10/2016

Why are millions of Indians marching in silence? – BBC News

It is a unique protest: the silent marchers have no leaders; and they include the peasant and the professional. Women lead many of the marches; and politicians are not allowed to seize them. It is a sound of silence, says a commentator, that India can ill afford to ignore.

The protesters belong to the Maratha caste, one of India’s proudest – the warrior king Shivaji was one of them. Mostly farmers, they comprise more than a third of one of the population of Maharashtra, a relatively prosperous state, which is home, on one hand to Bollywood, thriving factories and farms and on the other, malnourished children and neglected tribespeople living in abject poverty.

Huge protests

The rape of a teenage Maratha girl allegedly by three low caste Dalit men triggered the silent marches in July. Then the protests expanded to include a demand for quotas in college seats and government jobs and a review of a 27-year-old federal law that protects Dalits and tribespeople from caste-related atrocities.

What is India’s caste system?

Why India’s farm communities are angryAfter more than 20 such rallies, the silent marchers – who call themselves the Maratha Revolutionary Silent Rallies – are expected to gather in the western Indian state capital, Mumbai, at the end of October. More than 10 million people are expected to participate in what could turn out to be one of largest protests in India in recent memory.

The upper-caste, largely land-owning Marathas have a handful of grumbles.

For one, they have turned their ire on the Dalits and tribespeople, alleging that the law to protect them has become a pretext to target the upper caste community, and lodge false cases against them. (The victims also get state compensation for as many as 47 offences against them.)

Image copyright VAISHALI GALIM

But this may not be an entirely truthful claim. Although dalits and tribespeople – India’s wretched of the earth – comprise 19% of Maharashtra’s population, but only 1% of the police complaints were filed by them last year, according to one report. Also the federal law was applicable in less than 40% of the complaints.

Social unrest

Clearly this disingenuous grievance masks a longer-standing demand: caste quotas in government jobs and seats in educational institutions. India’s Supreme Court has put a 50% cap on caste quotas, a limit that has already been reached in Maharashtra. Any concessions to the Marathas will mean that they will have to be officially labelled backward or less-privileged and the quotas will have to come at the expense of those for the less privileged castes. This could potentially trigger off bloody caste wars in the state.

The silent marchers of Maharashtra point to a host of structural infirmities afflicting India, which, if not resolved in time, could stoke widespread social unrest.

Growing inequity and decades of flagrant cronyism has meant that power and wealth continue to belong to a few.

The majority of colleges, cooperative banks and sugar factories in Maharashtra, for example, are owned by a clutch of politicians. According to one estimate, 3,000 families own more than 70% of all the farms in the state. The majority of the state’s 18 chief ministers have been Marathas. Half of its lawmakers belong to the community as well.

Image copyright MANSI THAPLIYAL Maratha farmers have taken their lives after they failed to repay debts

But caste and class don’t often coalesce in India, and the Marathas, like other upper caste communities have mixed fortunes: they are the educated elite and the rich farmers, but they are also the struggling small and landless farmers and farm workers. More than a third of Marathas are landless, according to one estimate.

It is the “lower and middle-rung Marathas who feel isolated, neglected, marginalised in the job market and denied opportunities in higher education,” in a fast-changing country, as commentator Kumar Ketkar points out in this perceptive essay on the ongoing protests.

The silent marches also shine a spotlight on its looming farm crisis as farmer incomes plummet due to expensive feedstuff, fertiliser, labour and erratic crop prices.

Frustration

Plot sizes have also shrunk, making farming unrewarding. Most of India’s farms are rain fed, and irregular weather changes are playing havoc with crops as rivers are drying up, and drought is common. Farmers are often left to fend for themselves and have no skills for jobs in India’s services-based economy. Aspiration is turning into frustration.

The Maratha protests also point to how India is veering towards what sociologist Andre Beteille called a “populist democracy” where social and political life are influenced by group identities and loyalties. “Problems arise when the loyalties of kinship and community are allowed to distort and override the demands of constitutional government,” wrote Professor Beteille.

Image copyright MANSI THAPLIYAL Farming is becoming an unrewarding profession

Many believe India’s quotas for seats and jobs are in a sordid mess of its own making.

It is indisputable that affirmative action is essential for communities like dalits and tribespeople who have been historically wronged. But extending it to other castes recklessly can distort matters.

How much burden of quotas can a state bear without being weakened irreparably? India needs jobs – and fast – and skills training if it has to avoid the social unrest that could blight a developing nation. Otherwise, the marchers of Maharashtra may not remain silent for long.

Source: Why are millions of Indians marching in silence? – BBC News

05/10/2016

Transforming lives in India’s manufacturing hubs – BBC News

By day she works as an assistant engineer, leading a team of 10 in a car factory manufacturing parts for Renault-Nissan Alliance vehicles.

The Make in India scheme aims to make the country a global manufacturing hub

Like hundreds of thousands of people across India, Sujitha‘s journey from an under-developed village in India’s south to the outskirts of the city of Chennai (Madras), has transformed her life.

“My native place is a small village called Kizhattur. There is not even proper transport over there,” says Sujitha. “Because I grew up in that situation, I knew that I had to study hard and find a job.”

And she did just that – albeit against the wishes of her family who wanted her to marry and settle down.Sujitha secured a diploma and when Renault-Nissan advertised a position for a junior engineer five years ago, she jumped at the opportunity.”I can’t even imagine what I would be doing if I did not work in this factory. Perhaps I would be in the village doing small jobs on the farm,” she says. “I would just about make ends meet.”

Detroit of Asia

Nissan and Renault are two of several international carmakers that have set up shop outside Chennai in the last 10 years.

Nearly a fifth of all cars made in India are produced in the area around Chennai in Tamil Nadu state

Today the area, known as the “Detroit of Asia”, is a thriving manufacturing hub where cars are produced for export as well as for the domestic market.India makes about 24 million vehicles a year, nearly a fifth of them in this region of Tamil Nadu state.

“We have seen a number of other car manufacturers establish plants in the state and that has helped us attract and help local suppliers relocate and set up in Tamil Nadu itself,” says Colin Macdonald, managing director of Renault-Nissan.

“Since 2010, we had about 15% of our suppliers in the Tamil Nadu area. We are now operating with 60% of our Indian suppliers in Tamil Nadu. So from an employment perspective, this is huge.

“High unemployment

Creating jobs is central to Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Make in India campaign, an effort to promote inclusive growth in the country.Modi has promised foreign players he will make it easier to do business in India.

But more than two years after taking power, and after introducing a raft of policies, unemployment rates are at a five-year high.According to a recent government survey, about 77% of Indian households have no regular wage or salaried person, and so for many, life is not improving fast enough.

Domestic market growth

Despite that, success in places like Chennai is a sign that India remains appealing to foreign companies.Now that the area has become an auto hub, cost-effective raw materials can be sourced. With the port less than 100km away, it is easy to import parts and export products back out. Labour is cheap too.

Several car companies have set up shop on the outskirts of Chennai. Workers here are seen at Ford’s plant in Chengalpattu

The growth of the domestic market only adds to India’s appeal.”Today, only 20 in 1,000 people in India own a vehicle but we expect that to grow dramatically in the next five years and we expect the market to be five million cars by 2020, making India the third biggest market on the planet,” says Colin Macdonald.

A matter of pride

For Sujitha Rajendrababu, owning a car one day has become more of a reality than a dream.

“What I had dreamed of becoming in the future was made true by this job. I do not know how to express this.”

The daughter of a farmer, she has already used the money she has earned to buy a fridge, a TV, some jewellery and even a holiday around India. But her ambitions don’t stop there.

“My long-term goal is to become the manager of the stamping shop. I don’t only want to be the manager of the stamping shop, but of this organisation as well.”

And she wants the same for other people just like her.

“A lot of people in my village ask me if I can help them find jobs for their children. That makes me feel proud.”

Source: Transforming lives in India’s manufacturing hubs – BBC News

03/10/2016

Amitabh Bachchan: ‘If she gets paid more than me, that’s fine’ – BBC News

One of India’s biggest stars, Amitabh Bachchan, says he’s glad people are talking about the gender pay gap.

He recently starred in a film called Pink about feminism and attitudes towards women in India which has caused quite a stir in the country.

He spoke to the BBC’s Yogita Limaye.

Source: Amitabh Bachchan: ‘If she gets paid more than me, that’s fine’ – BBC News

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