a) Such a strange silence: India’s stand on the Rohingya crisis

The Pope has been in South Asia this week, with the focus of his stops in Bangladesh and Myanmar on the reconciliation and rehabilitation of more than 836,000 Rohingya (including 623,000 since August, according to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration) who have fled gruesome violence in Myanmar.

Flurry of diplomatic activity

The Pope is by no means alone. In the past month, the U.S. sent Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Myanmar, while a senior State Department team as well as the British and Canadian international development ministers travelled to Rohingya camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar. Singapore’s Foreign Minister has made trips to Naypyidaw and Dhaka, exploring a role for ASEAN countries to help in the crisis. And earlier this month, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali took the European Union’s Foreign Affairs High Representative along with the German, Swedish and Japanese Foreign Ministers for a survey of the refugee camps. No Indian leader has, however, visited them. In a rare shift of position from not involving itself in the internal politics of another country, China decided to play a mediatory role in the issue, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi went to Dhaka to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on November 18, and then to Naypyidaw to meet President Htin Kyaw. Within days, Bangladesh and Myanmar announced an agreement to begin the repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to Rakhine province in about two months, as part of what Mr. Wang called a three-phase solution. It is significant that within the same week, Myanmar Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing visited China for more talks on the Rohingya crisis, while the country’s other power centre, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, is now headed to Beijing for three days.

Biggest nation, smallest voice

In this flurry of diplomatic activity, it would be natural to ask why India has been so soft-footed and silent in comparison. As the subcontinent’s biggest nation, neighbour to both Bangladesh and Myanmar, as well as the country most likely to be affected if the numbers of Rohingya refugees continue to grow, India in fact should be showing the most initiative in this crisis. Instead, through a series of blunders that began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own visit to Myanmar, India has allowed its voice to be muffled. Even as hundreds of thousands were fleeing violence at home, Mr. Modi refused to refer to the Rohingya in his press statements in Naypyidaw in early September. Nor did India refer to anything other than the terror strike by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army while discussing the violence in Rakhine. It wasn’t until two days later, and after some prodding from Ms. Hasina, that the Indian foreign office even issued a statement of concern over the refugee crisis that had reached alarming proportions, something the U.S. has now called a clear case of “ethnic cleansing”. Moreover, in Bali, India refused to endorse a 50-nation parliamentarian conference’s declaration because it referenced the Rohingya. Every other South Asian country, including Buddhist-majority Bhutan and Sri Lanka, endorsed the Bali declaration. Later in September, the government began to dispatch humanitarian aid in an operation rather grandly named “Operation Insaniyat (Humanity)”, but was only one of several countries including the U.S., Turkey, Azerbaijan, Malaysia and others to do so. The government’s consignment to Myanmar of a mere 3,000 “family bags” last week also slipped notice given the large numbers of those displaced inside Rakhine and in desperate need of assistance. The Indian effort, coupled with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Bangladesh, where she didn’t even spare time for a trip to the camps, stands out not just in stark contrast to other nations, but to India’s own record. In every way, the Rohingya crisis is mammoth, with around a million men, women and children in Bangladesh and Myanmar living perilously. India, which has a tradition of rushing humanitarian aid and medical assistance, doctors and volunteers to other nations — for example, after the 2004 tsunami, the 2008 Cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar, and the 2015 Nepal earthquake — has been seen to visibly hold back during the Rohingya crisis.

Position at the UN

Meanwhile, at the UN too, India’s voice has been consistently muted, ceding space to other countries to take the lead on the issue. The U.K., for example, hosted a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly with Myanmar’s National Security Adviser and Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, attended by senior officials from Indonesia, Turkey, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and the U.S. At the UNGA’s Third Committee vote, India abstained on a resolution calling for an end to military action, one of 26 abstentions on the proposal to send a UN fact-finding mission to Myanmar — 135 countries voted in favour of the resolution. While India’s vote is consistent with its position on interventionist resolutions, it doesn’t mark itself out for principled leadership of any kind. If anything, the votes have had a bearing on India’s standing in Bangladesh, one of its closest allies in the region, whose leadership is struggling to cope with the flow of refugees as Ms. Hasina braces for a tough election next year. In short, all of India’s actions since the outbreak of this round of violence in Myanmar have negated its position as a regional, subcontinental and Asian leader. Regaining that stature will require a more proactive stance in being part of the solution to the crisis. To begin with, the impression that the government’s decision to push out nearly 40,000 Rohingya living in India since 2012 is guided by its domestic political compulsions is not conducive to India’s international ambitions. Therefore, it may be necessary for India to put its own concerns about repatriation on hold until it is able to work with both Bangladesh and Myanmar on the issue, preferably in a trilateral format. This should have been easier for India than for China, given it already works with them on regional issues as a part of BIMSTEC.

Spell out the refugee policy

The government must also iron out internal contradictions on India’s refugee policy. Even though it is not a signatory to any UN refugee convention, India has a proud tradition of giving a home to neighbours in distress: from Tibetans in 1960s to East Pakistanis in the 1970s, from Sri Lankans in the 1980s to the Afghans in the 1990s. More recently, the Modi government even changed its long-term visa rules to help minorities fleeing violence from neighbouring Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. If India now says it cannot help Rohingya, who are a minority in Myanmar, it is either saying that Rohingya are not Myanmarese or that Myanmar is not a neighbour, both of which contradict previous positions. The government’s argument in court that Rohingya refugees pose a terrorist threat wasn’t used for Sri Lankans or Afghans. India also has a unique position as a country that is home to every religion practised in the region and must play to this strength. For all these reasons, India, which has high stakes in global and regional governance, must ensure its voice is heard on the Rohingya crisis. Mumbling as part of a chorus while one of the biggest human tragedies is unfolding across two of India’s borders does not behove a nation with global leadership aspirations. Those questioning India’s push for a Security Council seat have often cited its record as a fence sitter at the UN. All those critics must be silenced now by clarity in India’s position on an issue where abstentions cannot suffice.

  1. b) Dealing with data

The dawn of the information age opened up great opportunities for the beneficial use of data. It also enhanced the perils of unregulated and arbitrary use of personal data. Unauthorised leaks, hacking and other cyber crimes have rendered data bases vulnerable. But it is the conflict between the massive scope for progress provided by the digital era and the fear of loss of individual autonomy that is foregrounded in any debates about data protection laws. It is against this backdrop that the White Paper made public by the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee to elicit views from the public on the shape and substance of a comprehensive data protection law assumes significance. To some, in this era of Big Data analytics and automated, algorithm-based processing of zettabytes of information, the fear that their personal data may be unprotected may conjure up visions of a dystopian world in which individual liberties are compromised. Therefore, it would be appropriate to draw up a law using the rights-based approach of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, 2016, in which data protection is comprehensive and exemptions limited. Some may prefer the American model in which the norms are stringent for government departments processing personal information, while private entities have to abide by the norms of giving notice and receiving consent. An enlightened citizenry will only help itself in participating in the search for a good data protection framework. India does not have a separate law for data protection, though Section 43A of the Information Technology Act provides a measure of legal protection of personal information. In 2012, the Justice A.P. Shah Committee recommended a set of principles for a legal framework for protecting privacy. Drawn from OECD guidelines, these principles were centred on sufficient notice and disclosure to citizens when data are collected, limitations on data collection and use, and norms related to data security and accountability. The Srikrishna Committee has also flagged seven major principles. It wants the law to be technology-agnostic and enshrine the principle of informed consent. It favours data minimisation and accountability of those who process and control data. It privileges a holistic approach as the law would apply to both government and private entities, but with “differential obligations”. This is where the law requires careful drafting and strictly defined concepts. It is legitimate to collect personal data in the public interest, but this information should be protected and used only for the purposes it was collected. Above all, the law must provide for a suitably empowered statutory authority to enforce its promised protection to citizens’ data.


1) Reconciliation

Meaning: The restoration of friendly relations.

Example: His reconciliation with your uncle.

Synonyms: Reunion, Conciliation

Antonyms: Estrangement, Feud

2) Fled

Meaning: Run away from a place or situation of danger.

Example: To escape the fighting, his family fled from their village.

Synonyms: Run, Bolt

3) Gruesome

Meaning: Causing repulsion or horror; grisly.

Example: The most gruesome murder.

Synonyms: Grisly, Ghastly

Antonyms: Pleasant

4) Repatriation

Meaning: The return of someone to their own country.

Example: The voluntary repatriation of refugees.

5) Flurry

Meaning: A number of things arriving or happening suddenly and during the same period.

Example: A flurry of editorials hostile to the government.

Synonyms: Spate, Wave

Antonyms: Dearth, Trickle

6) Blunders

Meaning: A serious mistake, usually caused by not taking care or thinking.

Example: He said that the tax was a major political blunder.

7) Muffled

Meaning: Make (a sound) quieter or less distinct.

Example: His voice was muffled.

Synonyms: Deaden, Dull

Antonyms: Loud, Clear

8) Prodding

Meaning: Stimulate or persuade (someone who is reluctant or slow) to do something.

Example: They attempted to prod the central bank into cutting interest rates.

Synonyms: Spur, Stir

9) Endorse

Meaning: Declare one’s public approval or support of.

Example: The report was endorsed by the college.

10) Dispatch

Meaning: Deal with (a task or opponent) quickly and efficiently.

Example: The Welsh team were dispatched comfortably by the opposition.

Synonyms: Conclude, Settle

11) Grandly

Meaning: In a proud, impressive, or ambitious manner.

Example: The purchase of the painting was grandly announced.

12) Consignment

Meaning: A batch of goods destined for or delivered to someone.

Example: A consignment of drugs.

Synonyms: Delivery, Load

13) Desperate

Meaning: Feeling or showing a hopeless sense that a situation is so bad as to be impossible to deal with.

Example: A desperate sadness enveloped Ruth.

Synonyms: Hopeless, Pessimistic

Antonyms: Cheerful, Composed

14) Stands out

Meaning: Be easily noticeable.

Example: He was one of those men who stood out in a crowd.

15) Perilously

Meaning: In a way that is full of danger or risk.

Example: Houses perched perilously on craggy outposts.

16) Ceding

Meaning: Give up (power or territory).

Example: In 1874, the islands were ceded to Britain.

Synonyms: Surrender, Concede

Antonyms: Keep, Gain

17) Abstained

Meaning: To stay away from work.

Example: During a recent general strike, employees of all major trade unions abstained.

18) Abstentions

Meaning: An instance of declining to vote for or against a proposal or motion.

Example: A resolution passed by 126 votes to none, with six abstentions.

Synonyms: Non-voting, Refusal to vote

19) Braces

Meaning: Prepare (someone) for something difficult or unpleasant.

Example: Both stations are bracing themselves for job losses.

Synonyms: Prepare, Fortify

20) Negated

Meaning: Make ineffective; nullify.

Example: Alcohol negates the effects of the drug.

Synonyms: Invalidate, Nullify

Antonyms: Confirm, Ratify

21) Proactive

Meaning: (Of a person or action) creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened.

Example: Employers must take a proactive approach to equal pay.

22) Stance

Meaning: The attitude of a person or organization towards something; a standpoint.

Example: The party is changing its stance on Europe.

Synonyms: Attitude, Outlook

23) Push out

Meaning: To make someone leave a job or stop being involved in an activity by being unpleasant or unfair to them.

Example: I felt I was being pushed out of the job.

24) Iron out

Meaning: To remove problems or find solutions.

Example: We’re still trying to iron out some problems with the computer system.

25) Stakes

Meaning: A situation involving competition in a specified area.

Example: We will keep you one step ahead in the fashion stakes.

Synonyms: Competition, Contest

26) Mumbling

Meaning: Say something indistinctly and quietly, making it difficult for others to hear.

Example: He mumbled something she didn’t catch.

Synonyms: Mutter, Murmur

27) Chorus

Meaning: A simultaneous utterance of something by many people.

Example: A growing chorus of complaint.

Synonyms: Together, Simultaneously

28) Behove

Meaning: It is a duty or responsibility for someone to do something.

Example: It behoves the House to assure itself that there is no conceivable alternative.

29) Fence sitter

Meaning: Someone who supports both sides in a disagreement because they cannot make a decision or do not want to annoy or offend either side.

30) Suffice

Meaning: Be enough or adequate.

Example: A quick look should suffice.

Synonyms: Do, Serve

31) Dawn

Meaning: Come into existence.

Example: A new age was dawning in the Tory party.

Synonyms: Begin, Start

Antonyms: End

32) Rendered

Meaning: Provide or give (a service, help, etc.).

Example: Money serves as a reward for services rendered.

Synonyms: Give, Provide

33) Foregrounded

Meaning: Make (something) the most prominent or important feature.

Example: Historically, issues of this kind have not occupied the foreground of political debate.

34) Elicit

Meaning: Evoke or draw out (a reaction, answer, or fact) from someone.

Example: I tried to elicit a smile from Joanna.

Synonyms: Obtain, Extract

35) Conjure up

Meaning: To make a picture or idea appear in someone’s mind.

Example: The glittering ceremony conjured up images of Russia’s imperial past.

36) Dystopian

Meaning: Relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

Example: The dystopian future of a society bereft of reason.

37) Draw up

Meaning: Come to a halt.

Example: Drivers drew up at the lights.

Synonyms: Stop, Arrive

38) Exemptions

Meaning: The action of freeing or state of being free from an obligation or liability imposed on others.

Example: Vehicles that may qualify for exemption from tax.

Synonyms: Immunity, Exception

39) Enshrine

Meaning: Preserve (a right, tradition, or idea) in a form that ensures it will be protected and respected.

Example: The right of all workers to strike was enshrined in the new constitution.

Synonyms: Embody, Realize

40) Consent

Meaning: Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.

Example: No change may be made without the consent of all the partners.

Synonyms: Agreement, Assent

Antonyms: Dissent