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Vandalized Statute in Portugal sparks debate on racism and colonialism

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Protesting for black people

Despite having been a colonial power for about half of its history, starting in the 15th century, Portugal’s public and international image has successfully distanced itself from the darker aspects of its past. Tourists in the country will most likely be reminded of Portugal as the leading country during the Age of Discoveries and Portuguese sailors will be described as heroic and intrepid explorers who accelerated globalization and promoted cultural exchanges, ignoring the role they played in establishing the transatlantic slave trade and the dehumanization of Africans which continued for centuries.

However, there is a growing generation of activists and academics calling on Portugal to come to terms with its colonial past and acknowledge how it still influences the lives of Black Portuguese people and immigrants in the country.

The recent Black Lives Matter protests and the conversations they generated in Portuguese society have led anti-racist and anti-colonialist activist groups to become more vocal and attract media attention. On the dawn of June 11, a statue of Jesuit priest and author António Vieira was vandalized in Lisbon, leading to a heated public debate about the limitations of anti-racist activism and Portugal’s erasure of colonialism.

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The significance of this statue

 The statue of Father António Vieira was erected three years ago. Already at that time, there was a lot of criticism surrounding the imagery and the homage paid to Vieira. The Father stands holding a cross with three indigenous children around him. This is supposed to illustrate how Vieira was critical of the treatment of indigenous people at the hands of Portuguese colonizers in Brazil and also of slavery as an institution.

Because of his work defending indigenous communities at a time when almost no one else would, Vieira is often considered to be one of the precursors of the abolitionist movement. However, this is an anachronism. Although Vieira criticized the actions of colonizers, he still viewed slavery of Africans as necessary. Some activists and academics accuse him of being a selective anti-slavery campaigner, who still perpetuated the dynamics of exploitation and dehumanization of Africans despite being critical of the enslavement of indigenous people.

Anti-colonialist activists saw the decision of the Lisbon Municipality to erect a statue celebrating Father António Vieira in 2017 as another example of Portuguese colonial revisionism. When the statue was inaugurated, it led to clashes between anti-colonialist activists and far-right groups. Although the clashes were not violent, it was probably the first time that a statue celebrating Portugal’s past was so heatedly debated in the public sphere.

Influence of Black Lives Matter

On June 11, 2020, the statue of Father António Vieira was splattered with red ink imitating blood with the words “decolonize” written on it. The Lisbon Municipality harshly criticized the action and cleaned it immediately, but photos of the vandalized statue spread like wildfire on social media.

Although this kind of vandalizing is unusual in Portugal, it seems to follow the trend inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Several other statues have been targeted in Europe, including in Brussels and Bristol. As Europe is faced with its colonial history, European society is forced to examine the significance of certain statues and the people and actions they value.

As Brazilian historian, Ana Lucia Araujo stated to Euronews, “[The statues] “They are about memory, they are about the particular moments when the monuments were created, usually to sustain, to support a particular agenda of a particular group. The ghost of the past, the colonial past, is still haunting these spaces”.

However, in most European countries, the statues that are being vandalized date back to the colonial period, such as that of British slave trader Robert Milligan in London and those of King Leopold II in Belgium.

The Portuguese case is particular because the statue, despite its strong colonialist imagery, is extremely recent. While other countries seemed to have moved forward and are now debating whether to keep statues that glorify colonialists, Portugal is still wondering whether it should erect new statues about its colonial history – albeit through a revisionist perspective that downplays the violence and exploitation at the heart of Portuguese colonialism across the the the world.

Alternatives to grapple with the colonial past

Portuguese society is still very influenced by the myths of Portugal as “the good colonizer”, which never succumbed to the brutality of its Spanish or British counterparts. Although this narrative has been debunked several times, many generations were taught history through these lenses during the dictatorship period in the 20th century, and school history books were not updated with the Carnations Revolution in 1974. Instead, Portugal’s rapid and clumsy exit from the former colonies in Africa led to thousands of returnees, and refugees and led to extremely violent civil wars in the newly independent African states.

But post-colonialist debates taking place in academic circles all over the world have inspired scholars to dig deeper, and encouraged a new generation of Portuguese-African activists and artists to come forward with their unique experiences. Slowly, criticism of Portuguese colonialism seems to be penetrating mainstream consciousness and discourse.

One such example is the decision by the Lisbon Municipality to build a Slavery Memorial following a call through the Participatory Budget of Lisbon in 2017. There was a public consultation in which citizens could vote for the best project for the Memorial and the proposal “Plantation – Prosperity and Nightmare” of Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda was chosen as the winner. The monument is supposed to pay homage to all the Africans enslaved between the 15th and 19th centuries, which mostly worked in the sugar cane plantations in Brazil.

The construction of this monument seems to be a step in the right direction, as it encourages Portuguese people to reflect on the impact of Portugal on the transatlantic slave trade. Yet, the construction of this Memorial may also be seen as a concession to vocal anti-racist activists, considering that the Municipality is simultaneously debating the construction of a Museum of the Discoveries to celebrate Portuguese history. It seems like Portugal is still struggling to move beyond a pleasant version of its past and face it head-on.

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Gulf of Oman: The New Battleground Between USA and Iran

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US military ship

On July 5, 2023, a Wednesday morning, two Iranian Navy ships approached US oil tankers in two separate incidents in the Gulf of Oman. One of the Iranian Navy ships fired its weapons at an oil tanker – escalating tensions in the region. The incident is marking another chapter in a string of incidents that have been occurring since 2019.

The Gulf of Oman Incident

According to commander Tim Hawkins, spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet:

“The Iranian navy did make attempts to seize commercial tankers lawfully transiting international waters.”

At 01:00 AM local time, an Iranian Navy ship came near the oil tanker TRF Moss, which was flagged by the Marshall Islands. However, the Iranian Navy ship left the region when the US Navy destroyer USS McFaul arrived in the area.

Further, three hours later, at 4:00 AM, the US Navy received a distress call from the Bahamas-flagged oil tanker Richmond Voyager. According to the US Navy, the Bahamas-flagged oil tanker was more than 20 miles from the coast of Muscat, Oman, when another Iranian Navy ship came approaching the US oil tanker.

The Iranian Navy ship was signaling the oil tanker to stop when the same US Navy destroyer, USS McFaul, headed towards the oil tanker at full speed. 

US Military ship in the Gulf of Oman

The Iranian Navy fired its weapons before the US Navy destroyer USS McFaul arrived on the scene with a lot of bullets in a short period of time. According to the US Navy, the Iranian Navy fired with both small arms, such as pistols and rifles, and crew-served weapons, such as machine guns and cannons.

The bullets struck the side of the oil tanker near the crew’s living spaces, but no one was injured. However, The US Navy destroyer USS McFaul arrived on the scene, and the Iranian Navy ship left.

The Continual Attacks of Iran in the Gulf of Oman –

Iran has been continuously involved in multiple attacks on oil tankers since 2019 on a major shipping route for oil. According to the US Navy, Iran has either harassed or seized nearly 20 commercial ships that have been flagged by other countries since 2021.

Such attacks on major shipping routes for oil pose a clear threat to the security of shipping in the region and the global economy – according to the US Navy. The recent attack of July 2023 was not the first attempt by Iran; on June 14, 2019, Iran attempted to seize two US oil tankers by blast, which spiked the oil price significantly. However, the explosions raised concerns about a potential military conflict between Iran and the United States.

Earlier this year, Iran took control of two oil tankers in less than a week in the same region of the Strait of Hormuz, near the Gulf of Oman. Hence, knowing the importance and criticality of waterways for the global economy, such seizures prompted the US to send more ships and aircraft to patrol the Strait of Hormuz. The United States is working with individual countries in the region to deter threats to commercial shipping and prevent attacks on commercial ships.

In May 2023, Greece issued a serious notice and warned ship owners to stay away from Iranian waters because there was a risk of being attacked. However, the latest seizure of an oil tanker by Iran is part of a series of attacks on commercial vessels in the Gulf of Oman that have been happening since 2019.

Why is Iran Constantly Attacking US Oil Tankers? 

According to the U.S. Navy, in the past two years, Iran has taken commercial vessels in at least five instances. Additionally, they have recorded more than a dozen instances of Iran bothering commercial vessels during the past two years. And many of the incidents have happened in the Strait of Hormuz or nearby regions, a major shipping route for oil, which accounts for about 20% of all crude oil. 

The constant attack of Iran on US oil tankers in waterways is considered retaliation for withdrawing Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers and restoring crippling sanctions by the US during the reign of President Trump. 

The Trump administration’s decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal and impose new sanctions on Iran has led to increased tensions between Iran and the United States. 

However, after the decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal, Iran has increased its nuclear activities within the country, which could be used to develop nuclear weapons. However, the United States and other countries in the world have worked together to prevent such practices by Iran. 

Nevertheless, Iran has denied such practice and says that its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes, such as generating electricity. Further, Iran is providing Russia with armed drones that can be used in the war against Ukraine. This is further increasing tension among countries and is a serious concern for the international community. 

What will Happen Next?

The ongoing tension between Iran and the US serves as a stark reminder of the delicate balance that should be maintained in international waters. Iran’s repeated attack on the US and other countries’ oil tankers and commercial vessels shows the ever-complex geopolitical landscape in the middle-east region.

However, as countries work together to maintain maritime trade security, diplomatic efforts and international cooperation must be at the forefront of resolving these conflicts. 

The world is watching closely with the hope of a peaceful resolution – especially in times of current economic and diplomatic uncertainties. 

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Manipur Violence Sparks Debate in Indian Parliament

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For the past few days, India’s Parliament is unable to function properly. The opposition has been pushing for a debate on the violence in Manipur under relevant rules of the parliament proceedings. However, the ruling BJP party has been refusing the opposition’s request. As a result, the Indian lawmakers have not been able to carry out much business in the parliament. People have raised questions about the losing credibility of the parliament.

Also, read Modi Bats for Uniform Civil Code in India

Manipur Violence

Since May this year, Manipur has been engulfed in ethno-religious violence. The violence erupted on May 3 after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. More than 160 people have been killed in the violence so far. The government has imposed curfew in the state.

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GOI avoiding accountability on Manipur violence

While the law-and-order machinery in the state has broken, the state government has largely avoided accountability for the Manipur violence. Further, people at the helm of affairs in Manipur, including police have played partisan role in the violence. There are reports of police officers of one ethnic community inflicting violence against members of the other community. Reports and videos of sexual violence coming from Manipur this week shocked India except for the ruling party. There had been efforts to suppress the reports and videos of Manipur sexual violence. Despite attempting to delete the video clips from phones and internet ban in the state, the videos somehow went viral on social media.  

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Opposition parties on Manipur violence

Given the gravity of the situation, various opposition parties in India had called for the resignation of the state government. The state government however continues to ignore these calls. Similarly, Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has not spoken a word on the issue. During these three months, Modi has attended various rallies and functions and spoken a lot about the achievements of his government, but Manipur does not seem to exist for him.

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Modi not attending parliament on Manipur violence

Modi has also not attended the parliament to talk about Manipur violence. He has been absent from the parliament. The opposition demanded his presence in the parliament to debate and discuss on Manipur. However, the ruling government has rejected the opposition demands. Even though the government agreed to have a short discussion on Manipur, it wanted to do it without the presence of Modi.

Also, read India’s Opposition Leader Rahul Gandhi Disqualified

GOI’s whataboutery on Manipur violence

One of the horrible things that was witnessed in parliament recently was the ruling government resorting to whataboutery. When the opposition demanded a discussion on Manipur sexual violence, the members of ruling party, including Minister for Women and Child Development, Smriti Zubin Irani resorted to whataboutery. If the opposition wants to discuss Manipur sexual violence, the ruling government wants to discuss sexual violence in opposition-ruled states. However, opposition members argued that while sexual violence against women was happening in other states, the sexual violence in Manipur had a genocidal intent.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders asked the Upper House to suspend all other business and take up the discussion on Manipur. Rajya Sabha chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar did not allow the discussion and rejected the demands for PM’s presence in the House.

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Opposition parties demand discussion on Manipur violence

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Raghav Chadha cited an example from Congress days when the chairman had suspended all other businesses to take up the issue of attacks on migrants from Northeast. Manipur is one of the states located in the Northeast. The people from Northeast are discriminated and attacked in the mainland India. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there were various reports of violence on migrants from Northeast states.

“The images of brutality and monstrosity coming from Manipur have shaken the soul of India to its core. Is this India of 21st century? Is this the New India of which the prime minister sings paens across the world? Did the people of Manipur vote for this?” Chadha said.

“The ministers of BJP tweet if there is a small earthquake anywhere from Pakistan to Kazakhstan. And now when Manipur is burning, these people are not even bothered. The cries of Manipur have reached every corner of the world, but not the corridors of power in Delhi,” he added.

Also, read BBC’s Modi Documentary Rattles Modi Government

Indian parliament over Manipur violence

The way the current regime has handled parliament proceedings has made parliament a joke. The opposition is not being heard in the parliament. The only function of parliament for Modi’s party is to pass bills and make laws conveniently with the help of its brute majority. The government does not want any inconvenience. It does not want discussion on anything inconvenient. The opposition can either toe the line or they can shout and stage a walk-out. However, the government will not concede, and it will do what it wants to do. One wonders what the function of the opposition in India’s parliament is today. Currently, it seems it has none.

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LGBT Rights in India: The Long and Difficult Battle to Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

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Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage in India

They might be a minority, but the majority cannot decide the rights of the minority,” utters the Supreme Court advocate during the hearing on same-sex marriage. 

Same-Sex Marriage in India

On January 6, 2023, the Supreme Court of India decided to address the pending petitions for same-sex marriage pending in different high courts.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in India in 2018. But, same-sex marriages are still not accepted by the law.

However, in a discussion during parliament on the same petition, BJP minister Sushil Modi’s position was completely different. According to him, “Same-sex marriages go against Indian culture.” He also added, “Same-sex marriage is neither recognized nor accepted in any uncodified personal law.” 

The statement from the BJP MP manifested a completely different outlook and belief for the Indian government regarding same-sex marriages. Marriage laws in India are governed by personal laws, which vary based on an individual’s religion.

Currently, Indian law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Hence, the concept of same-sex marriage is a hard pill to swallow for Indian culture and society. 

Legalizing Same-Sex Marriges – Fighting for Equality

The current situation of the LGBTQ+ community in India is not yet entitled to the same legal recognition as other communities. The LGBTQ+ members often live in shadows, rejected by their families or society at large.

Their efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in India are still ongoing, with various advocacy groups and individuals working towards achieving marriage equality with little hope in sight.

In 2018, the Supreme Court of India decriminalized homosexuality. According to the law, same-sex couples can live together legally in India.

Then a question might arise – what could be the reason behind not legalizing same-sex marriage?

Understanding What is the LGBTQ+ Community-Fighting? 

Here, the battle is to legalize same-sex marriage and get the same legal rights and protections that heterosexual couples enjoy or gain in India.

According to the law, a same-sex couple cannot adopt a child. The law also allows a single woman to adopt a child of any gender. But a single man is eligible to adopt only a male child.  

Thus, LGBTQ+ individuals can apply for the adoption of a child as a single parent. But their partner will not have legal rights to the adopted child. Thus, supporters of LGBTQ+ rights emphasize how such laws give rise to prejudice in society. 

In India, there are many family laws that regulate matters of adoption, surrogacy, inheritance, etc. However, in all such laws, “Marriage” plays a crucial part. As LGBTQ+ couples cannot legally marry, they are deprived of rights afforded by these laws. 

Moreover, the LGBTQ+ couple is not eligible to get life insurance for their partner. They cannot buy a joint home loan as there is no legal recognition of their marriage, and they experience a lack of safety and security from society and the government. Further, there is no law specifying who inherits the property in case of the absence of a will. Thus, the LGBTQ+ community wants to legalize same-sex marriage in India.  

The On-going Arguments by LGBTQ+ supporters 

The LGBTQ+ supporters argue that the Supreme Court of India has intervened in many inter-caste and inter-religious marriages in the past. Then, why can’t the Supreme Court support same-sex marriages? Many legal experts have pointed if we legalize same-sex marriage, we do not necessarily involve in changing the articles of the Constitution. 

All it requires are a few amendments to the Special Marriage Acts. Legal experts claim that the act should be made gender-neutral. That is if a man’s marriage to a woman is a legal procedure, then same-sex marriage should be legally recognized under the Act. 

Changing the Law

The second argument that LGBTQ+ supporters proposed is that by changing the law. They argue that by changing the law, the people’s opinions towards them will also change.

According to the reports, after the decriminalization of homosexuality, there has been an increase in societal acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Existence of Same-Sex Relationships in the History

The third argument that LGBTQ+ supporters proposed is that same-sex relationships in India date back to the past. According to Harbans Mukhia, a well-known historian, homosexuality in India was criminalized by the British government under Indian Penal Code 377 in the 19th century due to their Christian belief system.  

But both Hindu and Muslim histories show multiple mentions of homosexual relationships in India. For example, the Khajuraho temple in Madhya Pradesh has an ancient sculpture chronicling four women having homosexual or the Hindu text Kamasutra.

Moreover, Devdut Patnayak, the famous Indian author, shared that in the Rigveda, Mitra, and Varuna, both male gods, are said to have a child. In the Mahabharata, the story of Shikandi, who was responsible for the death of Bhisma. She was born as a daughter but raised as a man. 

In Muslim history, Shah Hussain, the Sufi poet, is believed to have fallen in love with a Hindu boy, Madho Lal. Even a Mughal Emperor had a similar experience. In his Memoir, Baburnama, Babur enunciates his attraction towards a boy named Baburi in Kabul. 

However, the counterargument is: Indian history may have seen same-sex relationships, but there is no evidence of same-sex marriages. 

India Is Not Ready for Same-Sex Marriage

The people who oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage in India argue that same-sex marriage violates the fundamental unit of our society—the family. Many also argue that legalizing same-sex marriages is an acceptance of Western culture and a violation of Indian values.

Moreover, Indian society also believes that marriage is not just an instrument of enjoyment but it is procreation. As same-sex couples can’t procreate, what’s the use of their marital union? 

However, India’s society and culture are designed on the basis of exceptions, which makes India not ready. Moreover, to make Indian society accept such a community, the first thing it needs is a change in their perspective of thinking and adoption of what is truthful and natural. 

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