The World Today for September 19, 2019

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Papers, Please

Imagine being declared a foreigner in the country of your birth.

That’s what happened to seven-year-old Afsana, who is one of 1.9 million people who lost their citizenship under a new drive to identify undocumented immigrants in the northeastern, tea-producing state of Assam in India.

One might support or disapprove of the goals behind the publication of a National Register of Citizens. Intelligent people can disagree about how to secure national borders and protect the rights and privileges of citizens while treating everyone else justly and humanely.

But the plan’s implementation in Assam has been less than stellar. Afsana was the only member of her family who didn’t qualify as a citizen. “We are shocked,” the girl’s father, Nijamul Haque, told Bloomberg. “Whatever may happen, I will fight for my child.”

Haque is rightly concerned. The Indian government is building detention centers to house residents who are declared illegal, reported the Independent.

Also, the process to appeal the register’s findings is not yet up and running. And when it is set up, it might not help. Financial Times writer Amy Kazmin, who is married to an Indian citizen and gave birth to a daughter in New Delhi in 2011, wrote about how the father and daughter’s names were spelled incorrectly on the girl’s birth certificate, a glitch that could have left the child vulnerable to deportation under the register’s rules if it hadn’t been corrected.

Bureaucratic hurdles are only one reason why the register is controversial.

Assam – the only state to have produced a register of Indian citizens so far – happens to be one-third Muslim, the second largest religion practiced in India after Hinduism. The state borders Bangladesh, a poor, majority Muslim country that is a source of undocumented migrants living in India.

Critics say the register is a simply an excuse for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who wants to take the register nationwide, to kick Muslims out of India, Al Jazeera wrote.

Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party are often called “Hindu nationalist” because of the primacy of the religion in their policy platform. Fueling suspicions of their Islamophobia, party bosses have supported legislation that would offer citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from neighboring countries.

Analysts argued that the project is a legacy of the split between Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan and what became Bangladesh after the British granted independence to their former colonies in 1947, reported the Nation magazine.

Conflicts over Kashmir, a territory disputed between India and Pakistan, and ethnic strife like the slaughter of 2,000 Muslims in Assam in 1983 highlight the ongoing tensions related to that legacy.

Kicking out non-citizens might help India move beyond its past. Or it might create new problems for the future.



Don’t You Believe It!

Algeria’s powerful army chief on Wednesday ordered police to seize vehicles bringing protesters into the capital, the latest measure aimed at curbing weekly demonstrations going on since February demanding a purge of the ruling elite.

The measure followed a march by thousands of students in Algiers Tuesday demanding Dec. 12 elections be delayed. They have already been postponed twice since the ouster of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April, who was in power for 20 years, Al Jazeera reported.

The protesters want political reforms and the removal of Bouteflika loyalists before any election is held.

The government has made some concessions to the protesters by arresting several high-ranking members of the establishment, but it has also cracked down on demonstrations and arrested several prominent activists.

Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaid Salah said the protesters are being led astray by “the gang” – a reference to those who held powerful positions under Bouteflika. Salah himself is a target of the protests.

Still, the army chief has emerged as the most prominent figure in the power vacuum that followed Bouteflika’s departure.

Meanwhile, students say they will continue to protest until they see reform.


Accidents, Responsibility

A Tokyo court on Thursday acquitted three former Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) executives accused of failing to take action to prevent the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

To date, the case has been the only criminal prosecution related to the disaster, which resulted in nearly 18,500 people dead or missing and the evacuation of 470,000, the BBC reported.

The prosecution argued that the three executives had information about a large tsunami potentially hitting the plant, but failed to implement countermeasures to avoid a disaster.

If convicted, the defendants would have faced five years in prison for professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

Japanese prosecutors were initially hesitant to try the case, believing there was little chance of a conviction due to lack of evidence. However, a judicial panel ordered them to go to trial. The proceedings began in 2017.

Dozens of protesters at the courthouse expressed shock at the decision.

“I cannot accept this,” one woman said, according to Agence France-Presse.


Divided We Stand

Some Ecuadorian lawmakers criticized the national assembly on Wednesday for rejecting a reform bill that would decriminalize abortion in cases of rape.

“The debate over abortion for rape was not in vain. Today society knows that in Ecuador, raped women are criminalized,” lawmaker Wilma Andrade said, according to the Guardian.

The comments follow clashes between pro-choice activists and police outside the country’s national assembly after the proposed bill – which also permitted abortion in cases of incest and fetal malformation – fell five votes short of the 70 it needed to pass.

Activists argued that the decision amounts to a death sentence for those women forced to seek an illegal abortion: These resulted in 15.6 percent of all maternal deaths in 2014, according to the latest figures available.

Lawmakers have been debating reforming the draconian law for years, but the recent rejection underscored lingering divisions on the issue in the staunchly Catholic country.

The current law only allows for abortions in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, or if the pregnancy is the result of the rape of a mentally disabled woman.

Women who have the procedure face up to two years in prison.


Replacing the Irreplaceable

Teeth are the hardest substance in the human body, but we all know they are vulnerable to decay.

Billions of people suffer from tooth decay stemming from the loss of tooth enamel, the irreplaceable outer layer that covers the teeth.

Promisingly, scientists in China have created a special liquid solution that can grow back the external surface of damaged tooth enamel, Science Alert reported.

In their study, researchers combined tiny calcium phosphate ion clusters (CPICs) with a chemical called triethylamine, to prevent them from clumping together. The new substance mimics the natural mineralization process of tooth enamel, which only occurs during tooth development.

Results showed that the new gel-like material successfully fused with human tooth samples donated by patients, adding a new protective layer to the natural enamel.

The new coating is initially very thin, but the team hopes that repeated coatings could effectively thicken the artificial enamel.

The scientists believe their new procedure could replace the use of fillings, and they’re now conducting trials to ensure its effectiveness and safety.

It might take years, however, before local dentists can offer the procedure. In the meantime, doctors suggest that proper brushing and flossing are the best protection.

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