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An Indian-founded organisation rehabilitates Syrian refugees in Germany

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Syrian refugees

As Europe continues to grapple with the problem of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, an organisation founded by an Indian is helping a small town in Germany in rehabilitating these people.

R Ventures Foundation, registered in Amsterdam, is helping the university town of Heidelberg in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg in rehabilitating the Syrian refugees by setting up an incubator to impart skills so that these people can become entrepreneurs and job creators.

Founded in 2017 by Shantanu Prakash, an IIM Ahmedabad graduate and a member of the Global Futures Council on Migration at the World Economic Forum (WEF), the organisation is focused on the intersection of refugees and entrepreneurship with the belief that refugees and displaced persons can help catalyse a new era of job creation and integration.

So what kind of skills are being imparted to these refugees?

“Currently, we are looking at more of the hi-tech area, innovation technology area, but it also depends on who it applies to,” Prakash, who was on a visit here, told IANS in an interview.

“Our idea is to really look at people who have a desire to become entrepreneurs, who are educated,” he said.

He said that a lot of these people are already well-educated, but being refugees, they have to start from zero.

In this connection, he drew a parallel with the situation during the 1947 Partition when many people migrating from newly-created Pakistan to India were highly educated but had to restart their life from scratch.

“Now, it would be a pity if a highly qualified engineer has to take up a job of a janitor or something,” Prakash said.

“So, the idea is that we provide them a supportive environment. We give them the skills, how to create a business in a different country.”

Pointing out that that there is the issue of cultural sensitivity and the rules of business being different, Prakash said R Ventures Foundation helps the refugees to create a business pitch.

“We have got a full curriculum for it, what to teach step by step, teaching them a whole variety of skills, how to build up a business,” he stated.

“Our idea is that the graduates of this programme will set up businesses in Heidelberg or elsewhere.”

Prakash said that once these entrepreneurs become successful, people will write about them and then Germans and people of the rest of the world will know that the refugees are adding value to the society.

So how did the whole idea of imparting skills while rehabilitating refugees come about?”

“There was no compelling reason for us,” Prakash said on a philosophical note. “Maybe it was a calling. Maybe it was something that we were meant to do.”

Prakash said that through his involvement with the WEF, he got to understand the contentious issues regarding refugees.

“When I got deeper into it, I got more fascinated about it,” he explained. “And I thought that people are referring to this as a crisis rather than opportunity.”

Though a lot of foundations are working for refugees, Prakash said that what is different about R Ventures is that it is trying to address the issue from a different angle.

“Our dimension is: Can some of them become job creators? For us, that is good enough,” he stated

So, how did a small German town and this organisation founded by an Indian come together?

Heidelberg City Manager Nicole Huber said that the idea took shape when she came in touch with R Ventures co-founder Archish Mittal sometime in 2017.

She said that the state government of Baden-Württemberg has made Heidelberg the registration hub for refugees in the whole of south Germany. There are around 1,000 Syrian refugees in the town with a population of a little over 160,000 while many have left for different places within Germany.

So, have there been law and order problems in Germany with the influx of such a huge number of refugees?

“We don’t see any more crime… than with an average German population,” Huber said.

(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at [email protected])

Analysis

YouTube testing new video recommendation format: Report

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San Francisco, Jan 16 : Google-owned video sharing platform YouTube is testing a new video recommendation format that displays blue bubbles on the screen with relevant keywords and related topic suggestions, facilitating easier browsing, media reported.

“The screenshots obtained show these blue bubbles just underneath the video player showing more specific video recommendations,” The Verge reported on Tuesday.

The video-sharing platform is currently testing the feature with some users on its main desktop page as well as on the mobile app.

For sometime now users have been complaining that the videos recommended on the side on YouTube’s interface often have little to do with the current video, making recommendations a point of contention for the platform.

“It’s unclear if the videos that populate from the new recommendation bubbles will face similar algorithmic issues that YouTube’s recommendation feed currently suffers,” the report added.

There has not been any word from YouTube as of now on the working of these blue bubbles and whether or not they will roll out the test feature to a bigger group in the coming months.

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Analysis

2002 Gujarat riots: Judge P.B. Desai ignored evidence, says activist Harsh Mander

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Harsh Mander

New Delhi, Jan 9 : Special SIT court judge P.B. Desai “ignored evidence” that former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in a mob attack in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Housing Society during the 2002 riots, did all that was possible within his power to protect Muslims from the “rage of the mob” and instead echoed the position of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi that his killing was only a “reaction” to his “action” of shooting at the mob, says human rights activist Harsh Mander.

He says that “the learned judge”, who retired in December 2017, overlooked statements by surviving witnesses that Jafri made repeated desperate calls to senior police officers and other persons in authority, “including allegedly Chief Minister Modi”, pleading that security forces be sent to “disperse the crowd” and rescue those “against whom the mob had laid a powerful siege”.

Mander, who quit the IAS in Gujarat in the wake of the riots, makes these observations in his just released book, “Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India”, published by Penguin.

The 66-year-old activist, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger as well as homeless persons and street children, goes on to quote the late journalist Kuldip Nayar to establish that Jafri had desperately telephoned him, “begging him to contact someone in authority to send in the police or the Army to rescue them”.

Mander says Nayar rang up the Union Home Ministry to convey to it the seriousness of the situation. The Home Ministry said it was in touch with the state government and was “watching” the situation. Jafri called again, pleading with Nayar to do something as the mob was threatening to lynch him.

In the chapter titled “Whatever happened in Gulberg Society?”, Mander contends that Jafri did everything within his power to protect “those who believed that his influence would shield them from the rage of the mob”. Mander says Jafri begged the mob to “take his life instead” and in a show of valour went out “to plead and negotiate” with the angry crowd.

“When he realised that no one in authority would come in for their protection, he also did pick up his licensed firearm and shoot at the crowd…,” Mander notes, describing it as the “final vain bid” on behalf of Jafri to protect the Muslims in the line of fire.

The author notes that in describing Jafri’s final resort to firing as an illegitimate action, the judge only echoed the position taken repeatedly by Modi, who had given an interview to a newspaper in which he had said that it was Jafri who had first fired at the mob.

“He forgot to say what a citizen is expected to do when a menacing mob, which has already slaughtered many, approaches him and the police has deliberately not responded to his pleas,” says Mander.

He says that it was as if even when under attack and surrounded by an armed mob warning to slaughter them, “and with acid bombs and burning rags flung at them”, a good Muslim victim should do nothing except plead, and this would ensure their safety.

Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, according to Mander, was firmly convinced that her husband was killed because of a conspiracy that went right to the top of the state administration, beginning with Modi. The author notes that the court, in its judgement running into more than 1,300 pages, disagreed.

“It did indict 11 people for the murder but they were just foot soldiers,” observed Mander.

He further says that the story the survivors told the judge over prolonged hearings was consistent but Judge Desai was convinced that there was “no conspiracy behind the slaughter” and that the administration did all it could to control it.

“Jafri, by the judge’s reckoning, and that of Modi, was responsible for his own slaughter,” he laments.

Mander also argues in the book that recurring episodes of communal violence in Ahmedabad had altered the city’s demography, dividing it into Hindu and Muslim areas and Gulberg was among the last remaining “Muslim” settlements in the “Hindu” section of the city.

He says that Desai also disregarded the evidence in the conversations secretly taped by Tehelka reporters, mentioning that superior courts, according to Desai himself, have ruled that while a person cannot be convicted exclusively based on the evidence collected in such “sting operations”, such evidence is certainly “admissible as corroborative proof”.

“But he chose to disregard this evidence, not because there was proof that these video recordings were in any way doctored or false but simply because the Special Investigative Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India chose to ignore this evidence,” says Mander.

According to Mander, the Tehelka recordings “certainly supported the theory that there was indeed a plan to collect, incite and arm the mob to undertake the gruesome slaughter”.

The SIT was headed by R.K. Raghavan, today Ambassador to Cyprus. Mander contends in the book that just because the investigators did not pursue Tehelka recordings in greater depth, Desai concluded that the “recordings cannot be relied upon as trustworthy of substantial evidence and establish any conspiracy herein”.

In the book, Mander takes stock of whether India has upheld the values it had set out to achieve and offers painful, unsparing insight into the contours of violence. The book is now available both online and in bookstores.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Number of suicides highest in Army amongst three services

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

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Ajit Doval

New Delhi, Jan 7 : The number of defence personnel committing suicide was highest in the Army amongst the three services in the last three years, data shows.

In 2018 alone, as many as 80 Army personnel are believed to have committed suicide. This number is 16 for Air Force and 08 for the Navy, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply on Monday.

In 2017, the number of Army men who are suspected to have committed suicide was 75, while in 2016 this number was 104.

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

In his reply, the Minister said that various steps have been taken by the armed forces to create healthy environment for their officers and other ranks.

“Some of the steps include provision of better facilities such as clothing, food, married accommodation, travel facilities, schooling, recreation etc and periodic welfare meetings, promoting yoga and meditation as a tool for stress management, and training and deployment of psychological counsellors,” the reply read.

It said mental health awareness is provided during pre-induction training.

Besides, institutionalisation of projects “MILAP” and “SAHYOG” by the Army in Northern and Eastern Commands to reduce stress among troops has been done.

A helpline has also been established by the Army and the Air Force to provide professional counselling.

IANS

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