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Hindu nationalists raise spectre of ‘love jihad’ with marriage law



Days after a Muslim man and a Hindu woman in northern India eloped last year, they were traced to another state and Owais Ahmed was jailed. He was only freed after the woman insisted she had not been kidnapped.

She is now married to someone more to her parents’ liking. But Mr Ahmed, 24, is again in trouble: he has become the first man arrested under a new law designed to eradicate what Hindu nationalists call “love jihad”.

A bogey of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party and its hardline base, love jihad is depicted as a conspiracy by Muslim men to erode Hindus’ overwhelming demographic majority by seducing Hindu girls and persuading them to convert to Islam for marriage.

The country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, which led by divisive Hindu cleric Yogi Adityanath, last week pushed through an emergency law to prevent such unions by prohibiting religious conversion for marriage. The “crime” will be punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.

Four other BJP-ruled states — Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam, and Haryana — have announced plans for similar laws to combat a practice they insist poses a serious threat to Hindu women. Hindus make up almost 80 per cent of the population and Muslims just over 14 per cent.

“You need to prevent any kind of deception, fraud and misrepresentation,” said Nupur Sharma, a BJP spokeswoman. “The government wants to know that you are not converting under pressure.”

Women’s groups and opposition politicians insist that the practice is not a real social hazard, existing solely in the fevered imaginings of social conservatives uncomfortable with women choosing their own spouses in a society where arranged marriages within castes or religious groups are the norm.

“There is nothing like love jihad. There is no concerted conspiracy that has been unearthed in India,” said Madhu Mehra, a feminist lawyer. “It’s just about demonising Muslims.”

India’s Special Marriage Act permits people of different faiths to marry, but only after a month’s notice period during which the couple’s intentions, and their personal details, are widely publicised.

When interfaith couples seek to marry against their families’ wishes, the notice period gives parents time to block the unions. In recent years, Hindu vigilantes have disrupted interfaith weddings, even when families approved the match.

To circumvent those obstacles, interfaith couples seeking to elope often turn to quick religious weddings, preceded by the religious conversion of one partner. But that recourse has been blocked by the new rules in Uttar Pradesh, where Mr Adityanath has repeatedly warned Muslim boys to stay away from Hindu girls or face severe punishment.

Under the emergency law, a person who wishes to change faiths must apply to a government official 60 days in advance so that police can investigate the “real intention, purpose and cause of the religious conversion”.

Any “undue influence” discovered will render both the conversion and the marriage void.

A Muslim bride: Muslims make up 14% of India’s population © EPA

Even after someone converts, the law allows any member of their extended family to file a police complaint. The burden of proof then falls to those who facilitated the conversion, including the spouse, to prove a crime had not been committed.

“There is no recognition of autonomy of the girl,” said Ms Mehra. “The state is now the patriarch, which owns Hindu girls as their property, and is going to decide who they marry.”

In the case against Mr Ahmed, the complaint was filed by the woman’s father hours after the law came into force. “He was putting pressure on the girl to convert and marry him,” a UP police officer said. Mr Ahmed, who had fled, was tracked down and arrested on Wednesday.

Though it is cloaked in warnings of forced conversion, the law has been likened by lawyers and academics to the 1935 Nuremberg laws banning marriages between Jews and those of “pure” German blood, as well as to now defunct anti-miscegenation laws in the US.

The marriage restrictions follow a series of BJP-backed laws that analysts say have marginalised India’s Muslim minority, including a controversial rule giving fast-track citizenship to Hindus and followers of Indic religions over others, notably Muslims.

Ali Khan Mahmudabad, a political-science professor at Ashoka University, said the spectre of love jihad echoes century-old stereotypes propagated by upper-caste, vegetarian Hindus that Muslim men have rapacious sexual appetites, fuelled by eating meat.

“It’s an old trope centred around the idea of the Muslim as a sexual predator,” he said. “This whole rhetoric centres around sexual anxieties. As far back as the 19th century, there is this anxiety that the Hindu population is declining.”

Today, he said, the BJP’s legislative push to curb what they see as a demographic shift is largely aimed at reinforcing the perceptions of Muslims as a persistent threat to Hindu society.

“The law is giving legal credibility to a conspiracy theory,” he said. “All this is designed to drive people apart and create an unbridgeable chasm between the two communities. It’s dehumanising the other.”

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Emerging Markets

Tech-heavy Taiwan stock index plunges on Covid outbreak




Taiwan’s stock market, home to some of the world’s biggest tech companies, suffered one of the largest drops in its history as investors were rocked by a worsening Covid-19 outbreak.

The Taiex fell as much as 8.55 per cent on Wednesday, the index’s worst intraday fall since 1969, according to Bloomberg. It finished down 4.1 per cent.

Construction, rubber, automotive and financials — sectors retail investors had been shifting into from technology in recent months — were the worst hit in the sell-off.

The world’s largest contract chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, which has a 30 per cent weighting in the index, fell as much as 9.3 before recovering ground to be down 1.9, while Apple supplier Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn, dropped 9.8 per cent before paring losses to be down 4.7 per cent.

While Taiwan’s sell-off was related to domestic Covid-19 problems, it followed recent declines in global markets as investors worried about possible inflationary pressures.

The falls came as Taiwan’s government was expected to partially close down public life to contain a worsening coronavirus outbreak — something the country had managed to avoid for more than a year.

“The reason that triggered the escalated sell-off during the trading session is the new [Covid-19] cases to be reported this afternoon, and probably the raising of the pandemic alert level,” said Patrick Chen, head of Taiwan research at CLSA. “On top of that, the market before today was already at a point where the index was at an inflection point.”

Taiwan’s strict border controls and quarantine system and meticulous contact tracing measures had helped it avoid community spread of Covid-19 until recently.

That success, which allowed Taipei to forego lockdowns, helped boost the local economy, which grew about 3 per cent last year and 8.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2021.

But health authorities announced 16 locally transmitted confirmed cases on Wednesday, for three of which the infection source was unclear — a sign of widening spread in the community. Authorities had confirmed seven untraced cases on Tuesday, and domestic media reported that the government might introduce partial lockdown measures.

President Tsai Ing-wen called on the public to be vigilant but avoid panicking.

Taiwan’s stock market rose almost 80 per cent over the past year, peaking at a historical high late last month. It is now down 8.5 per cent from that mark.

Retail investors have increasingly moved out of technology stocks in recent weeks, reducing the sector’s weight in trading volume from almost 80 per cent at its height to just over 50 per cent.

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China factory gate prices climb on global commodities boom




The price of goods leaving factories in China rose at the fastest pace in more than three years, on the back of a rally in commodities supported by the country’s economic recovery.

The producer price index rose 6.8 per cent in April year-on-year, beating economists’ expectations and surpassing March’s increase of 4.4 per cent.

The rate was driven in part by comparison with a low base last year in the early stages of the pandemic. But it also reflects a global surge in the prices of raw materials that was first stoked by China and now incorporates expectations of recovering global demand.

While PPI prices in China have leapt, economists suggested there was limited spillover into consumer prices and that the central bank was unlikely to react. China’s consumer price index added just 0.9 per cent in April, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Tuesday, although it touched a seven-month high.

“It tells us that demand at this moment is super strong,” said Larry Hu, head of greater China economics at Macquarie, of the PPI data, although he suggested policymakers would see the increase as “transitory” and “look through it”.

“We’re going to see some reflation trends,” he added.

Signs of tightening in China’s credit conditions have drawn scrutiny from global investors eyeing the prospect of higher inflation as the global economy recovers from the pandemic, especially in the US, which releases consumer price data on Wednesday.

China’s PPI index remained mired in negative territory for most of 2020 following the outbreak of coronavirus, but has started to gather momentum this year. Gross domestic product growth in China returned to pre-pandemic levels in the final quarter of 2020.

An industrial frenzy in China has stoked demand for commodities such as oil, copper and iron ore that make up a significant portion of the index and have helped to push it higher. 

Policymakers in China have moved to tighten credit conditions, as well as attempted to rein in the steel sector. Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura, said the relevant question now was “whether the rapid rise of raw materials prices will dent real demand, given pre-determined credit growth”.

Retail sales in China have lagged behind the growth rate of industrial production, putting downward pressure on CPI, which has also been weakened by lower pork prices that rose sharply on the back of African swine fever. Core CPI, which strips out food and energy, rose 0.7 per cent in April 

Julian Pritchard-Evans, senior China economist at Capital Economics, said that producer prices were feeding through into the rebound in consumer prices, but also suggested that pressures on the former were “likely to be mostly transient”.

He added that output prices for durable consumer goods were rising at their fastest level on record.

China’s rapid recovery has been driven by its industrial sector, which has churned out record quantities of steel and fed into a construction boom that policymakers are now trying to constrain. On Monday, iron ore prices hit their highest level on record, while copper prices also surged.

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Iron ore hits record high as commodities continue to boom




The price of iron ore hit a record high on Monday in the latest sign of booming commodity markets, which have gone into overdrive in recent weeks as large economies recover from the pandemic.

The steelmaking ingredient, an important source of income for the mining industry, rose 8.5 per cent to a record high of almost $230 a tonne fuelled by strong demand from China where mills have cranked up production.

Other commodities also rose sharply, including copper, which hit a record high of $10,747 a tonne before paring gains. The increases are part of a broad surge in the cost of raw materials that has lasted more than a year and which is fanning talk of another supercycle — a prolonged period where prices remain significantly above their long term trend.

The price of timber has also hit a record high as US sawmills struggle to keep pace with demand in the run-up to peak homebuilding season in the summer.

“Commodity demand signals are firing on all cylinders amid a synchronised recovery across the world’s economic powerhouses,” said Bart Melek, head of commodity strategy at TD Securities.

Strong demand from China, the world’s biggest consumer of commodities, international spending on post-pandemic recovery programmes, supply disruptions and big bets on the green energy transition explain the surge in commodity prices.

Commodities have also been boosted by a weaker US dollar and moves by investors to stock up on assets that can act as a hedge against inflation.

The S&P GSCI spot index, which tracks price movements for 24 raw materials, is up 26 per cent this year.

Strong investor demand pushed commodity assets held by fund managers to a new record of $648bn in April, according to Citigroup. All sectors saw monthly gains with agriculture and precious metals leading the way, the bank said.

Agricultural commodities have had an especially strong run owing to rising Chinese demand and concerns of a drought in Brazil. Dryness in the US, where planting for this year is under way, is also adding to the upward rise in prices. Corn, which is trading at $7.60 a bushel and soyabeans at $16.22, are at levels not seen since 2013.

“From a macro economic environment to strong demand and production concerns, the ingredients are all there for the supercycle,” said Dave Whitcomb of commodity specialist Peak Trading Research.

Rising copper and iron ore prices are a boon for big miners, which are on course to record earnings that will surpass records set during the China-driven commodity boom of the early 2000s.

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JPMorgan reckons Rio Tinto and BHP will be the largest corporate dividend payers in Europe this year, paying out almost $40bn to shareholders. Shares in Rio, the world’s biggest iron ore producer, hit a record high above £67 on Monday.

Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, has crept back up
towards $70 a barrel, which it surpassed in March for the first time in
more than a year, recovering ground lost as the pandemic
slashed demand for crude and roiled markets.

Supply cuts by leading oil producers have helped to bolster the market
as consumption has begun to recover around the world.

While some Wall Street banks have hailed the start of a new supercycle, with some traders talking of a return to $100 a barrel oil, others are less convinced. The International Energy Agency said oil supplies still remain plentiful meaning any talk of a supercycle is premature.

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