Haj Subsidy Canceled, Funds to be used for empowering Minority Women

Image Courtesy: Reuters
Around 1,75,000 pilgrims to visit Haj this year from India.

On January 16th, the government decided to cancel the historical Haj subsidy. The subsidy given to Haj pilgrims can be dated back to 1932. The Port Haj Committee Act was adopted by the British to encourage the Muslims to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Over the decades, the policy was greeted by a number of changes. And in contemporary times it had turned into a matter of criticism. Though the initial discussions to do away with the Haj subsidy began with a Supreme Court order in 2012, it was only in 2017 that the Central Haj Committee decided to abolish the subsidy with start of a new year in 2018.

With the government announcing the withdrawal of the Haj subsidy, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minority Affairs Minister stated that the funds used for the subsidy will now be directed towards education. He claimed that the objective was to empower the women hailing from the minority section. It also interesting to note that the verdict to eliminate the subsidy came a day after the government permitted Muslim women over 45 years of age to perform a Haj yatra, in groups of four, without being accompanied by a male guardian.

However, regardless of the decision to cancel the subsidy, Naqvi told the media that around 1.75 lakh Muslims might be undertaking the Haj pilgrimage through the course of the year. He also added that the Saudi Arabian government is in talks with India to permit Haj pilgrims from India via ships.

Concerning the cancellation of the subsidy, makes one question the actual intention of the government. Did Air India and a Saudi airline feed on the subsidy arranged by the Centre for Muslims to fly budget to Jeddah? The truth is that the Haj subsidy was surrounded by numerous layers.

According to reports from Outlook magazine, in 2017 the pilgrims were required to pay a subsidized return airfare amount of Rs 45,000 for Air India. This advance booking was expensive as the Delhi – Jeddah return ticket was available at Rs 30,000 during the peak season. And in August, again during the peak season, Etihad provided tickets at Rs 39,846.

These figures reveal that the amount paid by the pilgrims was equivalent to or higher than the market price. Thus making the subsidy a financial excuse to keep Air India afloat.  However, Air India stated that the definite rate fluctuated between Rs 63,750 to Rs 1,63,350 based on the ports of embarkation.

Since 2012, there has been a decline in the amount of subsidy allocated. In 2016-17, the Centre released Rs.450 crore towards Haj. Reacting to this, Asaduddin Owaisi, leader of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen insisted on the cancellation of the subsidies as he was convinced that they were used as an armour to benefit airline companies.

Keeping the matter of airlines aside, Congress positively reacted to Modi government’s decision and demanded the successful utilization of money towards education. And since the government also supplies subsidies for Hindu pilgrimages like Kumbh Melas and the Kailash Mansarovar yatra, the Vishva Hindu Parishad requested the allocation of funds utilised for the education of poor Hindu girls.


Source: The Wire, The Indian Express

Google CEO Sundar Pichai clears air on Diversity policies

On August 10 Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai cancelled a company meeting that was scheduled to discuss the controversial  memo that threatened diversity policies.

The crux of the meeting was engulfed around the personal attacks on the company’s employees from alt-right commentators. But more importantly, the meeting was called to discuss Google’s decision to fire engineer, James Damore, when he posted a memo on Google’s in-house network asserting that the small number of female engineers at Google was because women are genetically inferior or less-suited to software engineering as compared to their male counterparts.

Google then released a statement saying that Damore violated their code of conduct and were starkly against gender stereotypes.

Pichai, in a statement wrote, “Googlers are writing in, concerned about their safety and worried they may be ‘outed’ publicly for asking a question in the Town Hall. “In recognition of Googlers’ concerns, we need to step back and create a better set of conditions for us to have the discussion.” the Economic Times reported.

In a turn of events, Damore filed a complaint to the National Labour Relations Board saying he was subjected to “coercive statements” at the company

In order to clear the air on Google’s stand on diversity policies, Sundar Pichai addressed a coding event for women on the campus today and assured them in his statement saying “I want you to know there’s a place for you in this industry. There’s a place for you at Google. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise”.

Sources: The Economic Times, TechCruch

Woman arrested in Saudi Arabia for wearing miniskirt in Snapchat video

A Saudi woman has been arrested by Saudi police after a Snapchat video of her walking around in public dressed in a miniskirt and crop-top emerged on social media. The woman’s attire goes against the strict Islamic dress code which is enforced upon women of the country.

In the video, which has since gone viral, the woman can be seen walking through a historic fort located in the desert region of Najd, which is often considered to be one of Saudi Arabia’s most conservative areas.

The video evoked significant response on social media and the internet. It sparked the creation of a Twitter hashtag that demanded her arrest, with several people claiming she openly disobeyed Saudi rules, which require all women residing in Saudi Arabia, including foreigners, to wear abayas in public. The abaya is a loose, robe-like over-garment that usually covers a large part of the body. Many women in Saudi also wear a headscarf and veil that covers the face.

Social media is very popular in the country and is used as a space to vent frustrations and gauge public opinion. The protest against the video and the opinions on the woman’s subsequent arrest reveal how deep-rooted and widespread conservative views are, in spite of several recent moves by Saudi Arabia to modernize and get rid of rules that do not belong in contemporary society.

Sources: Washington Post, Glamour

Companies can appoint qualified female relatives on their board, says SBI Chief

In 2013, the business world saw a great reshuffle as many of the firms got their female family members on the company’s board after India revamped its laws and made it mandatory for listed companies to have at least one woman as a board member.

Taking a cue from this, Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chief of State Bank of India on Wednesday said that it is totally acceptable as long as they are eligible to hold the post and understand the nitty-gritty of their businesses. After Securities and Exchange Board of India started imposing fines on firms failing to abide by this policy from 2015, many companies jumped into appointing female board members thereby improving the skewed ratio of women in the workplace.

Bhattacharya is the first woman chairperson of SBI, India’s oldest and biggest public sector banking giant. According to the Forbes, she is one of the 5 powerful women in the world of finance. She rebuffed the common myth that there is a dearth of talented women for the board’s post. The International Labour Organization ranked India 121 out of 130 in terms of female participation in the workforce.

The main reason for women to fall off the corporate ladder is after embracing motherhood. Hence, she enforced a law that allows women to take a sabbatical of two years post their deliveries. She is also known to be vocal about her views on bad debts and the inability of Vijay Mallya to repay his loans. Investors are speculating whether she would continue as the head for the next term. Albeit, she has debunked a myth that a corporation’s responsibility cannot be in a woman’s hand.

Sources: Scroll.inEconomic Times


First Haryana Women Police Day celebrated on Rakshabandhan 

On Wednesday, when the entire country was celebrating Rakshabandhan, district of Sector 51, Haryana marked it first Haryana Women Police Day. The event saw cultural celebrations and motivational speeches which were inaugurated IPS Y. Puran Kumar of Haryana. The event was organized by the Gurgaon Police at ‘All Women Police station’ which too was inaugurated around the same time last year, to promote women of Haryana to be unhesitant in regards to report rising domestic violence cases in the state, reported Times of India.

The event saw the second anniversary of All Women Police station of sector 51 and the launch of the Women Help Desk which was inaugurated by Gurgaon police commissioner Navdeep Singh on August 13. “The police is highly sensitive towards the safety of women in the city. Recently, we launched women help desks for those who don’t find it feasible to come to this police station. I hope all the girls here remember the women helpline number – please don’t hesitate to seek our help whenever someone tries to harass you”, Y. Puran Kumar stated in his speech during the inauguration.

The helpline is completely operated by female staff and the progressive nature of the helpline not only pertains to guiding victims about the rights, but it will also guide them about the case filing and legal court actions.

Starting March, instant emergency alert to the police on dial

In a recent development for the women security in India, Women and Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi declared that from the coming March a long press of the number 9 on mobile phone will send an instant emergency alert to the police.

Adding to this she also said that all the old and new phones will be covered under this project and anyone can use their phone to send distress alert to the police and also to their near and dear ones. According to sources, the phone will also automatically send an emergency SMS to the numbers dialed from the call history.

Sources also revealed that in future, government is also planning to enable new cell-phones with a volume button, and a long press on it will act as a trigger. The alert will provide the SMS receiver with all the details of the person in distress with its location. Officials say that the government has already planned to launch the programme under the Telecom Ministry in the month of March.

In a recent meeting Maneka Gandhi declared that ‘app’ is not the ultimate solution for the questions against women security as many rural people still don’t possess smartphones.

“Every handset, as explained by the service providers, works on a program. It was felt that rather than having an extra button or providing an app, it was advisable to upgrade the existing program of the mobile phones,” said a senior official privy to the development.

Although the Telecommunications are yet to send formal official letter to ask the service providers to upgrade all their existing phones. Maneka Gandhi also mentioned that both service provider and mobile manufacturers have agreed to this proposal.


Sources: The Economic TimesBusiness Insider

Asmita movement – “Our Daughter Our Pride”

Image Source: Economic Times
Image Source: Economic Times

Asmita Movement, a non profit social initiative launched with a motto “Our Daughter Our Pride” where empowerment of female population and preserving dignity of girl child will be given consideration. It offers a platform where the underprivileged daughters and girls can live together and nurture their lives to have a good livelihood and individual personalities.

The reports revealed that 1000 girls have been enrolled for the programme which imparts free training in six different categories which includes education and career guidance, health and nutrition, awareness against sex selected terminations of pregnancy, safety and lifestyle, challenge to young girls, sports and fine arts.

Dr Sanjay Gupte, managing trustee of Asmita medical foundation, a senior gynaecologist and a member of Armed force Research Committee under DRDO  told the reporter that the cost of the programme will be met by voluntary contributions from different social activists and NGOs. The committee has planned to gradually spread this movement in different parts of Maharashtra and then to the whole country by aiming to create voluntary force by changing the face of the society and to bring empowerment and equality for girls and womans.

This programme also aims at creating awareness regarding sex education through activists acting as catalysts and overcoming evil practices of sex selected terminations. The cyber safety rules will also be taken into account while educating these girls and will teach them to stay away from undesirable elements that deceive female population. The programme will be mentored by Former Inspector General (CID) Maharashtra, A D Shinde.