Singapore has lost 60 lives to the coronavirus in the entire COVID pandemic till now. The country is being idolized for its rapid and effective victory over the coronavirus pandemic. But the price that the island’s migrant workers had to pay for the curb is not highlighted by many.
So, how did Singapore succeed in halting the virus infections? Why were the migrant workers forced into perpetual lockdowns? And what does the future hold for these blue-collar migrant workers?
Coronavirus in Singapore
The first case of coronavirus infection in Singapore was reported in late January of 2020, and just within the next week, over 100 cases. With the help of an advanced tracing program, the authorities were able to crack down on most of the infected patients and the people they got in contact with. The island was praised globally for its pandemic curbing practices, but the crisis in the densely populated migrant worker’s residential buildings was hidden from the international media.
After the circuit-breaker provisions were issued in March, Singapore’s 300,000 migrant population has been pushed into a state-enforced forced lockdown. As residents of the city-state are spread out across 43 ‘mega dormitories‘ – which can house up to 20 workers without air conditioners – they remain vulnerable and precarious.
With no maximum occupancy limit, over 20 migrant workers shared a single dorm room in the pre-covid era. As a result, many migrant worker rights groups, including Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), warned the government about the high chances of mass infections in the dorms, and weeks later, the prediction came true.
Every day, more than a hundred cases of infections were being recorded in the migrant worker dormitories, making them the hotspot of COVID 19 in the country. By mid-April, the government started releasing two daily reports of infection, one of the local communities and one of the dorms. The starking contrasts in the difference of number highlighted the inequality in the country.
The Detiroating Conditions of Migrant Workers in Singapore
Witnessing the spike in cases of COVID amongst migrant laborers, the Singapore government banned nearly all 30,000 workers from mixing with the general population. However, under the “pilot scheme,” a handful of migrant workers were allowed to visit a few places outside their dorm in a fixed amount of time.
Even though Singapore has mature labor laws, the gaps within their enforcement and coverage have been exacerbated by COVID-19.
According to reports, for precautionary measures, thousands of migrant workers have been physically confined to their dormitories in order to prevent the spread of the virus. The fact of the matter is, employers, continue to provide employees with many essential needs such as housing and healthcare, even under optimal scenarios. Currently trapped under these conditions, workers are apprehensive about complaining because of the fear of retaliation.
According to many critics, Singapore’s response to the second spike in migrant worker cases and how cases are recorded are both symptomatic of a fundamental weakness in its management of migrant workers. Accordingly, the Ministry of Health selectively categorized cases according to whether they belonged to either the ‘community’ or dormitories, implying that migrants were not considered a part of the ‘community.
Most of the migrant workers residing in these confined dormitories are native to South Asian countries and are a vital part of the manual labor market of Singapore. For example, Tarif, a migrant worker of Bangladesh living in Singapore, says, “We are working tirelessly for the country,” he says. “We’re making everything, and we’re doing everything for you guys.”
However, living in a dormitory means sharing rooms with 30 or more people and sharing bathrooms, kitchens, and recreational areas with hundreds more. In March 2020, these conditions are what triggered the major outbreak of Covid-19 in dormitories in the first place. After clusters spread extensively in Singapore, the island was shut down for two months.
In this system, labor has been reduced to a commodity and turned into something that can be traded and sold like any other commodity. Often, workers arrive in Singapore with heavy debts owing to recruitment agents and brokers from illicit cash payments they made along the way.
Singapore’s former ambassador to the UN, Tommy Koh, rebuked the government recently for its actions. Mr. Koh said, “This should be a wake-up call for us.”. “To treat our indispensable foreign workers as a first-world country should and not in the disgraceful way in which they are treated now.”
Post-Mortem: A Wake Up Call
Sadly the government officials in Singapore have always made it clear that dormitory residents are separate from everyone else. These men work under different labor laws and do not have the same rights as foreign white-collar workers in the city because they hold different visas. Even the cases were classified into three categories of daily Covid-19 case numbers: “Imported,” “Dormitory Residents,” and “Community.”
The statistics are stark. Approximately 74% of all reported cases are related to migrant workers as of 16 September. For context, just 5% of Singapore’s population is made up of workers. Post the confinement, many media outlets covered suicides and attempted suicides in dormitories last year.
As a result of the dire living conditions workers have to endure while working under a bonded regime, the psychological pressure is heightened. It is further escalating with the forced confinements.
Gulf of Oman: The New Battleground Between USA and Iran
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.
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.
Manipur Violence Sparks Debate in Indian Parliament
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.
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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.
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.
Read here, Karnataka Elections: Setback for Modi
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.
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.
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.
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.
LGBT Rights in India: The Long and Difficult Battle to Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage
“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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