The Government of India will be discontinuing the Haj pilgrimage subsidy from 2018, Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi confirmed on Jan. 16.“This is part of our policy to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement,” Naqvi was quoted as saying by the Times of India.The funds that were used for the Haj subsidy will now be used for educational empowerment and welfare of girls from minority communities. The government is also going to offer two transport options now — air and waterways.The new policy seeks to rationalize distribution of the quota between Haj Committee of India and private tour operators in 70:30 ratio in the next five years. It also seeks to get rid of the cartel of contractors by inviting other contractors through a transparent bidding process.With the subsidy, thousands of Muslims from India were able to get cheaper air tickets to Saudi Arabia to go to Mecca. However, Saudi Arabia has now allowed waterways travel for Indians.“We believe in empowerment without appeasement,” Naqvi said, adding that 1.75 lakh Muslims would be going for the pilgrimage in 2018 since Saudi Arabia increased India’s quota by 5,000.“Muslims didn’t benefit from it. Development with dignity is what we believe in. The subsidy will be used for educating girls,” Naqvi said.The subsidy is being scrapped as per a 2012 Supreme Court order asking the Center to abolish it gradually by 2022.“A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court had, during the Congress regime, directed that the Haj subsidy be done away with (till 2022). Hence, in the new policy, as per the recommendations of a committee, we have decided to do away with the Haj subsidy gradually,” Naqvi had said earlier.In an effort to ease travel for Muslim women, the government had earlier said that women aged above 45 years can go on Haj in a group of four without any mehram — male relatives they cannot marry. Related ItemsIslamMeccaSaudi Arabia
While excavating a 5,000 year-old burial mound at Başur Höyük near Siirt in southeast Turkey, archaeologists have unearthed a set of carved stones that may represent the earliest recorded gaming tokens. The stones depict dogs, pyramids, pigs, and other shapes with each set of tokens painted a different color. There were even dice.Archaeologists have matched these 49 apparent game pieces with similar objects found in several sites in Syria and Iraq. At these locations, the stones were found alone, so they were assumed to be counting stones, not part of a game. This mysterious game might have been a common way to pass the time in ages past. The Başur Höyük site dates to 3100-2900 BCE, suggesting board games like this one may have originated in the Fertile Crescent and Egypt before spreading outward.Some bits of decomposed wood were also found in close proximity to the stone game pieces. Researchers are hoping that they will provide some hints on the rules of the game, which seems to have something to do with the number 4 — most of the tokens are in sets of four or eight.The site where the game pieces were discovered also contained a large cache of beads and pottery, which indicates it was connected to an individual in the ruling class. This reinforces evidence from other Mesopotamian sites and Egyptian writings that board games were common among the elite in the ancient world. Some tombs from Mesopotamian societies dating around 3,000 BCE have contained intricate game boards and pieces from the “Game of Twenty Squares.”The game pieces were found in one of nine graves at the Başur Höyük site. Archaeologists are going over the area more closely in search of more related pieces.