Hindu nationalists now want India’s biggest helicopter company banned

Flying blind.
Flying blind.
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India’s Hindu nationalists, who have been up in arms in recent weeks over issues like Muslim attires and loudspeakers at mosques, have found a new target: state-owned Pawan Hans.

The country’s biggest helicopter service provider (pdf) has apparently caused displeasure among the extremists with its alleged list of new apprentices. Its critics have been widely circulating on social media a list of trainees—all of them Muslims—who allegedly joined the company on March 30.

Those on the list, the Hindu nationalists allege, are all products of Delhi’s famed Jamia Milia Islamia University, and that this was “unfair” to those following the “majority” religion.

Not surprisingly, #BanPawanHans has been trending on Twitter over the past few days.

The critics even alleged that the government-owned aviation company had carved out a secret quota for Muslim candidates.

Pawan Hans did not respond to Quartz’s queries on the matter.

Pawan Hans owns 43 helicopters and serves firms like Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and other state-owned energy firms for their off-shore and remote locations like the northeast and India’s island territories. The Narendra Modi government has been trying to sell a majority stake of 51% in Pawan Hans since 2018, but without luck so far.

Why does Pawan Hans face trouble?

A Hindi-language news channel, reputed for its rabble-rousing content, seems to have sparked the row. Last week, it reported that Pawan Hans was hiring only Muslim candidates for its apprentice programme.

It reported that Hindutva activists had been protesting against the company. It also reached out to a company official who, however, refused to respond.

The channel claimed that it was a “security concern” that Pawan Hans, which ferries pilgrims to popular Hindu shrines like Vaishno Devi, was hiring only Muslim candidates.

Earlier, hinting at the channel’s tone and tenor, India’s supreme court had said that “a particular community cannot be targeted” in the name of investigative journalism and that the “country cannot survive with such an agenda.”

Did Pawan Hans actually hire only Muslim candidates?

In 2017, the company signed a deal (pdf) with Jamia to provide a full-time basic aircraft maintenance training course to select students. The self-financed course has a total fee of 1.3 lakh rupees ($1,703), out of which only 30% goes to the university and the rest to Pawan Hans.

This year, the company selected a total of 30 students for the interview, a selected candidate told the news portal The Wire.

“Out of these 30 students, four—two Muslims and two Hindus—dropped out for personal reasons. Out of the remaining 26, a total of 10 candidates…were selected. Later, a Muslim student who cleared the interview also opted out for personal reasons,” the portal reported.