1. Nandigram precipitates a mini crisis in the Indian communist movement (Daya Varma)
2. Uncalled for criticism of Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Zinn et al (Daya Varma)
3. Nandigram and beyond (Srinivasan Ramani)
4. Challenges facing the peace
5. Policing and Minorities (Asghar Ali Engineer)
6. Resist, resist, resist: the gift of a crisis (Beena Sarwar, the Hindu, November 26, 2007)
7. Taslima Nasreen: no where to go?
1. NANDIGRAM PRECIPITATES A MINI CRISIS IN THE INDIAN COMMUNIST MOVEMENT
Daya R. Varma
Fortunately, and somewhat
uniquely, the Indian communist movement did not the face the same crisis that
befell most other communist parties in the aftermath of the collapse of the
There are two main trends in
the Indian communist movement – one represented by CPM and CPI and the other by
the Maoists. In between, there are other Marxist-Leninist parties, which talk
like the Maoists but act like CPM-CPI. The Maoists and Marxist-Leninist parties
do not constitute now and are unlikely to constitute in the future the main trend
of the Indian communist movement. Therefore the crisis facing CPM is a crisis
of the mainstream Indian communist movement and hence ought to be a matter of
grave concern to secular, democratic and progressive forces in
At one level, it seems that
the crisis has been caused by the economic policies of the CPM, which have not
garnered the full support of its other left partners such as CPI, Revolutionary
Socialist Party, RSP, and Forward Bloc, FB (the RSP and FB, which exist at a
state level only in West Bengal, do not represent distinct policies, however).
The CPM’s economic policy is born out of necessity
and is essentially based on the cumulative experience of the communist
governments that failed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and also of
those that did not fail such as in
More importantly, the crisis has occurred because the reactionary forces have been waiting for a long time to bring the communist movement to its knees and for them the time was running out. So the very fact that West Bengal, a state where the Left Front led by CPM won a huge electoral victory last year, is in a crisis itself denotes a significant victory for Advani of the BJP and Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress. A large number of genuine democratic forces as well as long-standing communists like Ashok Mitra have also been drawn in because the manner in which the CPM has tried to solve the Nandigram issue is extremely shabby and full of violence. The CPM leadership utterly failed to take into consideration the full implications of getting its cadre to forcibly confront the cadre of the Trinamool Congress and Maoist-led BUPC (Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee, or Land Eviction Resistance Committee) who had occupied Nandigram. It is clear that the CPM leadership failed to use a correct approach to defuse the crisis.
Political violence, in which
ordinary citizens are brutalized, unfortunately happens all the time,
Communist governments in the
past have committed violence against common people. The most important of such
unfortunate episodes and the first, happened soon after the birth of
The problem of CPM is that it
is the ruling party in
No one can blame the
opponents of CPM who are exercising their right of free expression guaranteed
by the Constitution. They are responsible to no one and their only agenda is
anti-CPM. But CPM has a bigger responsibility, the most important of which is
to not let the people of
2. UNCALLED FOR CRITICISM OF CHOMSKY, TARIQ ALI, ZINN et al
Daya R. Varma
It is surprising that the brief note “To our friends in Bengal” by Professor Noam Chomsky and his peers, which appealed for left unity in India in the aftermath of the unfortunate developments in Bengal and expressed solidarity with forcibly dispossessed peasants, received such a scathing attack by the venerable Mahashweta Devi, writer Arundhati Roy and 16 other intellectuals.
According to Ms Devi and her associates, Chomsky and other “fellow travellers” wittingly or unwittingly fell prey to “A CPI (M) public relations coup”. About a year ago when Arundhati Roy was accused of saying something under external pressures, she blurted out: “I am not stupid”. Ironically, she and her colleagues seem convinced that Chomsky et al., all of impeccable integrity and independent thinking, were sucked into making a statement because of public relations maneuvering by CPI (M).
note by Mahashweta Devi and others is a tirade
against the “unbridled” capitalist policies of CPI (M) as well as some remarks
about the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, who has been living in sanctuary in
appeal by Chomsky and his friends for left unity is both timely and desirable.
Unfortunately it seems to have made things worse, which merely points to the
utter confusion about the feasibility of a non-capitalist path of development
in the aftermath of the failure of the one that was tried. It is very possible
that Chomsky et al are more concerned about an organized left with a mass base
and less so about the attitude of free lance leftists. Only the Indian people
can ultimately decide what is good for them and whether they should opt for
other options after 30 years, if all is so bad in
3. NANDIGRAM AND BEYOND
The recent events
in Nandigram and it's coverage by a section of media as well as the response by
sections of civil society (wrongly mentioned as intellectuals) point out to a
grotesque dysfunction of bourgeois democracy, but that is not the concern of
this article. This piece will be concerned more about the whys and wherefores
of the problem that erupted in
The state of West
Bengal remains apart from any other in India, as politically, this state
remains the only one where there has been no anti-incumbency for the past 30
years, ruled as it is by a political entity, the Left Front, that remains the
only effective one which has fulfilled a vital directive of state policy of the
liberal Indian constitution, land reforms. This measure has ensured enduring
political support from a section of society that pervades the demography in
As the Indian state took a
turn toward neoliberalism
after wide ranging economic reform,
A controversial SEZ Act was passed in the WB Assembly in the earlier tenure and provisions of this act was used to determine the contours of land acquisition from villagers in Nandigram for a chemical hub project What happened in Nandigram? Obviously learning that the WB government was determined to forge ahead with this model of industrialization through land acquisition (from the Singur experience), villagers in Nandigram took up a violent means of protest, spurred on in the meantime by elements who had spread doomsday rumors playing upon the fears of land loss for the peasants. The means of protest included throwing away CPI(M) supporters from the village and forcing them to stay as refugees in a nearby area (Khejuri). Most of the confusion was spawned after a notice of land acquisition was pasted by a Haldia Development Authority (HDA) official, himself a CPI(M) leader, who was not authorized to take this move. Clarifications followed from the chief minister that no land acquisition would take place without due consultation, but the fire was already lit No amount of political cajoling through meetings or talks could create an atmosphere of peace and what followed was state action to mitigate the violent takeover of the Nandigram village by partisan villagers, now assembled under a motley grouping titled, Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh committee (BUPC), led by Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders. The state action, involving police personnel on March 14th resulted in a police firing that saw the deaths of 14 villagers. Widely berated for this move, the Chief Minister regretted the firing and held himself responsible for the deaths and resolved to find a solution to the impasse through further political meetings and talks with opposition members at the local level as well as the state level in Nandigram. At the same time, a CBI inquiry was ordered into the incident which is still pending, even as the government has at long last announced relief compensations to the casualties of the firing, recently.
Political meeting after political meeting was called to find a solution for this problem of lawlessness that had been instigated by the TMC and a section of Naxalite and Maoist sympathizers in the Nandigram area. None of these were attended by the very stakeholders in the opposition: the TMC-Maoists. One meeting was attended by Mamata Bannerjee; however, she left the meeting even before it started. Essentially CPI(M) supporters were made to stay as refugees for a full 11 months, before these villagers took it upon themselves to return back. Admittedly, at the same time, no action was taken against the officers involved in the firing, a concern raised by civil society groups who also question the fact that the turbulent area was not visited by the Chief Minister. The state government asked for CRPF personnel from the center, knowing very well that any state action would only be assessed as failure in this volatile area. CRPF personnel were late in coming, ostensibly because of the center's apathy, even as the state government was coy at intervening between the villagers again caught up in conflict.
The opposition and civil society were now back to berating the state government for its inaction and for letting the circle of violence go on allegedly for retribution by the displaced CPI(M) supporting villagers. No longer is the SEZ tune played now, however, as everyone now realizes that it is a turf war. The incidents in Nandigram are a repeat of what happened in Panskura (Keshpur-Garbeta story) in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Knowing fully well that there is a large chunk of support base for the Left entrenched among rural segments, the opposition realized that the only way out for wresting control was physically removing these sections from their strongholds. Hence, in a bye-election held after Geeta Mukherjee (of the CPI)'s death, the Panskura Lok Sabha seat was lost by a huge margin, which surprised many. The TMC cadre and leadership had gone on marches hailing the Panskura line in 2001. It took a concerted effort by the CPI(M) cadre to drive back the occupiers in Keshpur (yet another bloody culmination) to wrest back control over Keshpur and other areas. No wonder, Gurudas Dasgupta (the present CPI Lok Sabha member) won by a good margin in the next conducted elections, in the area. A thorough understanding To observers who have a liberal bent, the situation would not be understood using the mechanisms of liberal democratic principles that cloud their opinions. What requires is a more correct understanding of the class and rural settings in West Bengal to get the picture as to what exactly entails these violent political conflicts that have erupted in an otherwise progressive state Land reform in West Bengal has not only created entrenched support bases for the Left but it has also created several entrenched antagonists. A cursory look at the percentages that have voted for both the Left and the TMC-Congress will provide a better understanding. The absentee-landlords and rent-seeking sections supporting the same as well as middle class absentee landowners are all antagonistic to the Left in mofussil towns, because of the alienation of their owned land which was registered to the tillers and share-croppers. In one swoop, these sections lost their statuses as owners of land which they never tilled and their ability to play poker with their holding i.e. for example, if someone has a large piece of land on which some sharecroppers work, the owner has the prerogative to sell the piece of land to some other sharecropper or small peasant as he might will. This ability was gone after land reforms were undertaken. No wonder, these segments of the population have gone on to become supporters of the Congress and its likes, who later on manifested as the regional Trinamool Congress. The problem is that, these sections do not have committed political workers, as a peasant or a worker supporting the left would be. Apart from electoral work and some other mobilizations, political work is not quite a vocation for these people, in comparison to trade unionists, peasant organizations, for whom political activity is 24/7. This explains the grooming of musclemen and henchmen from lumpen sections in the right bourgeois parties, for the purpose of doing the hatchet political jobs. Yet, even this will not explain how sections of the Trinamool could take up causes for sections of the poor peasantry alienated from the Left, either. One would have to bring in the role of the political outfits from the radical and ultra left in here. The ultra-left (Naxalites and parties such as SUCI fall into this category) are primarily sections which have protested that the land reform measures enacted by the Left Front government have not been taken to the next “logical” extent- further distribution of land to landless laborers. This opinion is drawn from their theoretical understanding that places the peasantry in the vanguard of an agrarian revolution, a model that is termed, “Maoist”. In essence, the ultra left have tried to play upon the concerns of the landless peasants and laborers and held the Left responsible for only part-bourgeois and moderate land reforms.
A greater Mahajot
Since the support base for the Left Front in rural areas is still intact, obviously due to the measures of land reform and popular mobilization as well as the institution of Panchayati Raj and local governance, the oppositional space has been considerably narrowed. This space therefore saw the formation of one opportunist alliance after another by the bourgeois parties, termed, a mahajot. In the case of Nandigram, this mahajot received a new entrant, sections of the Naxalites and the Maoists, as the issue of a SEZ was harped as a move inimical to the small peasantry. The leaders in this mahajot, the BUPC, however had no qualms in having disparate sections from the ultra-left to the petty bourgeoisie right (the Trinamool), including sections which were representative of partisan communal elements such as the Jamaat-e-Ulema Hind.
Apart from this motley political crowd in the opposition, Neo-Gandhian groups from civil society, including voices such as Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (a non-governmental entity, which does not participate in elections) also ranged themselves against the government. For these sections, the problematic was not merely the allegation of excesses committed in the name of development, but the whole concept of development in itself. That industrialization is seen as a sine qua non by the state government and the CPI(M) for development, is not a vision that is shared by these neo-Gandhian sections, for whom no imperative to disturb “idyllic” peasant life can be justified. One could call these sections reminiscent of the Narodniks or even the anti-industry Luddites in the political spectrum. Thus even though ostensibly, the likes of Medha Patkar articulated their concerns about the non-democratic means of functioning of the state government, the fundamental problem for these sections as has been evinced from their “politics” across the country, is a serial opposition for the concept of industrial development inasmuch. A better term for such outfits led by Medha Patkar, could be “post-modern”.
One could therefore say that, the turf war in Nandigram is very much a class-war, except that the State government and the Left have to be bound by the liberal instruments of the Constitutional processes, while the petty bourgeois right wing opposition willfully rejects these instruments and performs foul play, aided and abetted tactically by sections disillusioned with what they call “reformist” leftism. At best, such an alliance is incredibly opportunist, and even more critically, this alliance does not subject itself to the norms by which the state government is judged. One therefore cannot better explain the months of anarchy and egregious behavior of the BUPC, which was bent upon declaring Nandigram as a ³liberated zone² despite the shifting of the SEZ project. If the Trinamool Congress considered itself as a parliamentary party, subject to liberal norms, it should have declared victory at the precise time that the government backed off from the SEZ moves and should have used this as a platform to garner and win support in forthcoming elections. Instead, Trinamool thought it apt to emulate the Keshpur model, of using Nandigram as a platform for a “military victory” which could be used to enthuse sections opposed to the Left.
It was even more easier
for the Naxalites and other ultra-left elements to acquiesce in this plan,
partly because such “liberation” was part of their understood praxis and partly
also because of the fact that there was no other means to dislodge the well
entrenched CPI (M) and it's partners from rural
Owing to the dominant economic ideology prevalent in the nation of which West Bengal was a part, and from whose problems of crisis the state could not escape and added to that the burden of increased pressure on agriculture due to diminishing holdings and consequently lower increases in productivity, the state government was squeezed into adopting the goal of private investment led growth. The origin of the saga at Nandigram is but a symptom of this goal. Added to this assessment, is the fact that 30 years of “parliamentarianism” and state rule has created a new dialectic that governs the class character of the largest left party, the CPI(M).
The party is seen
to be mostly supported by sections of the small peasantry, the state government
workers, teachers and that one could term that the support base was quite
“petty bourgeois” and not quite “revolutionary working class”. The emphasis on
the middle peasantry to play a transformatory role
can rest on the theoretical understanding that since this class is exposed to
capitalism in contrast to the rural proletariat, they can act as allies of the
working class and tenurial reforms ensured this
alliance. However, if whether this was truly the case in
4. CHALLENGES FACING THE PEACE PROCESS IN
Tapan K. Bose
The peace process in
The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M) had signed the 12 Point
Understanding with the Seven Party Alliance in November 2005 and joined the
‘peaceful struggle’ for democracy agreed to abandon their armed struggle. They
joined forces with the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) to transform
The Maoists who had voluntarily laid down their arms and put the members of
their ‘Peoples’ Army’ in UN monitored camps, had earlier participated in the
creation of an interim parliament, an interim constitution and an interim
government. Their walk out of the ‘Interim Government’ on the ground that the
interim parliament had to declare
In addition to the demand for declaring Nepal a republic before the election to the Constituent Assembly the Maoists also insisted that the election to the Assembly should be conducted on a fully proportional basis that would provide an opportunity to the divergent different ethnic communities and national minorities an opportunity to be represented in the Constituent Assembly on the basis of their status in the national population. The Maoists rejected the agreed ‘dual system’ of half first past the post and half on the basis of the seats won by each party in the first past the post system. The Seven Party Alliance, particularly the Nepali Congress rejected these demands of the Maoists.
Most of the political leaders, the intellectuals, civil society actors and
the news analysts of
The Seven Party Alliance opposed the demand of the Maoists on the ground that it was the prerogative of the elected Constituent Assembly to formally remove the monarchy and declare the country as a republic. They argued that it would be illegal for the ‘interim’ parliament to take this decision before the election of the Constituent Assembly. However, considering the fact that the ‘interim parliament’ has taken many decisions including declaring the ‘interim Prime Minister’ as the de-facto head of state replacing the monarch, this argument sounded a bit hollow. Also, one can not deny that there is merit in the argument of the Maoists that if the status of the monarchy was left ambiguous and the political parties loyal to the monarchy were allowed to contest in the election to the Constituent Assembly, there is the possibility that the king and sections of Nepal’s feudal elite and the army loyal to the monarch would try to influence the electoral process to restore the monarchy.
The Maoists also pointed out that the people of
Similarly the demand of the national minorities and the ethnic communities
The unrests in the hill areas by the Janajatis (indigenous/ethnic
communities) and the Madhesis in Terai plains have exposed the weaknesses of
Tension between the Janajatis and the Madhesis on one side and the
Bahun-Chetri hill elite on the other has been building for several years. It
has been largely ignored by the political elites dominated by the Pahadi Bahun
and Chetri communities. The Madhesh or the Terai plains that stretch the length
of the southern part of
The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) has emerged as a powerful umbrella group though it lacks an organizational base and clear agenda. It has decided to enter the electoral fray but if it is to challenge the established parties, it must first deal with the traditional Madhesi political parties like the Sadbhavana Party and other Madhesi politicians competing for the same votes. There has also been a proliferation of Madhesi armed groups; some have expanded significantly in numbers, and their strategy and attitudes will affect the political process. As is evident the from the continuing ‘Bandhs’, strikes and violent clashes the mood among Terai residents is increasingly confrontational, with collapse of trust between most Madhesis and the government. The armed Madhesi groups, led by break away leaders of the Maoists party have been attacking the cadres and leaders of the Maoists all over Madhesh.
Unresolved grievances and the hangover from the Maoist insurgency,
especially the lack of reconciliation and the greater tolerance for violence,
make a volatile mix. The unrest has also provided a fertile ground for
subversion to the diehard royalists and Hindu fundamentalists in
For the Maoists, the Terai violence was a wake-up call. As much of it was
directed against their cadres, the Maoists characterized the Madhesi movement
as a regressive movement supported by the Hindu fundamentalists from
The key political issues in
The political parties and the government in
5. POLICING AND MINORITIES
Asghar Ali Engineer (Secular Perspective November 1-15, 07)
Mahatma Gandhi had said that quality of democracy should be judged from the way minorities are treated. Democracies are participative system of governance but numbers assume great importance in it and when it is multi-religious or multi-cultural society, those in larger numbers tend to dictate to those who are fewer in numbers. It has been termed as majoritarianism. Any democracy which is based on the concept of majoritarianism is qualitatively inferior. That is why Mahatma Gandhi maintained that real test of democracy is how it treats its (religious, linguistic or cultural) minorities.
But then everyone is not Mahatma, not even
statesperson. An average person is motivated by his/her interests or
prejudices. Most of the democracies in the world are infected by the virus of
majoritarianism. Even western democracies treat immigrant populations from Asia
It is this poor and weak Muslim minority, which
Majority communalists, and strangely even some rationalists, keep on blaming them for refusing to reform and become part of ‘national mainstream’. This kind of civil society discourse holds only Muslims responsible for their backwardness and illiteracy. They are supposed to be living embodiment of ‘religious fundamentalism’.
The textbooks taught in municipal or state schools are no better examples of our composite culture and pluralist society. They are, on the other hand, worst examples of majoritarian ethos of our democracy. Thirdly, our media, especially, regional media, plays no less important role in disseminating raw prejudices against Muslims. Papers like Samna (Marathi), Daily Jagran (Hindi), Sandesh (Gujarati) and several others publish provocative material against Muslims and are read by millions of people including the police.
The lower levels of police officials, particularly constabulary, are deeply influenced by these papers, apart from textbooks and their family atmosphere. Some top police officials, are also infected and have to take orders from political bosses who freely use casteism and communalism as powerful instruments to fulfill their political ambitions. This was so obvious in Gujarat 2002.
Add to all this is the fact that our police is largely colonial in ethos. The British colonialists had created this police to suppress people, not to help them, to oppress and torture them, not to help them maintain law and order, to serve political masters, not to effectively check crimes in the society. But our colonial policing continues uninterrupted further embittered by anti-minorityism. Thus it becomes explosive mix.
From Mumbai blasts in 1992-93 to two
TADA was a monstrous law which was opposed by all human rights activists and which was misused to the maximum by all those who rule including the Congress governments but particularly the BJP rulers against minorities. After the train blasts in Mumbai in which more than 180 innocent lives were lost, the Mumbai police, has failed to lay its hands on real culprits, whosoever they are. Those arrested were inhumanly tortured and humiliated in most unimaginable manner before their family members.
Ms. Jyoti Punwani, a human rights activist and noted
freelance journalist, exposed some of these cases. She was the lone voice of
sanity. The national media by and large ignored these cases. Only the Urdu
press focused on them. But Urdu press is read by Muslims alone. Now same thing
is happening in
It is indeed a long and painful story of torture and
humiliation of young Muslims from
The whole text of this report is before me and it makes very painful reading. One is saddened to read this report and one wonders such flagrant violation of laws at the hands of their protectors, has been going on even sixty years after independence. Lower levels of judiciary and bureaucracy is no less insensitive to such blatant violations of law and victims and members of their families feel totally helpless.
Not only this, these victims and members of these families are so traumatized that they refuse to speak except in total confidentiality. Sometimes they do not speak even after all assurances of confidentiality are given to the victims and their families. The police even manipulates records of arrests or detentions. They arrest victims on slightest suspicion, torture them for days and then after several days will show them arrested or detained. The report under reference mentions several such cases. They were never produced before court within 24 hours as stipulated by law.
Most of them were detained illegally and tortured
for days and even their family members were not informed. In certain cases
habeas corpus petition had to be filed in the
This is one among several cases mentioned in the report on such illegal detentions and inhuman torture. Our police is generally very much against weaker sections of society, dalits, women from poor families and Muslims. When it comes to Muslims they are also motivated by their raw prejudices against Islam and Muslims.
I keep on conducting workshops for the police and experience these prejudices in the form of their questions. But I do not blame them as they are hopelessly ill informed and authorities make no attempts to train them in secular values and responsibilities in multi-religious society. Policing in multi-religious societies in modern competitive societies is highly challenging.
Media is also either prejudiced and justifies such torture for solving terrorist attacks (police has hardly ever succeeded despite such torture and indignities inflicted on people) or does not consider worthy of news. In the Hyderabad case also only Urdu papers, particularly Siyasat Daily, a sober Urdu daily, was reporting these cases and the English and Telugu papers turned a blind eye to it.
Such state terror to counter terror by terrorist groups would never solve the problem, but would intensify it. The problem is political and has to be solved with justice and wisdom. All state governments have failed to solve Naxalite problem too, for the same reason. The police lets loose repression against innocent citizens and ultimately derive them in the fold of Naxalites. We will create more terrorists by letting loose terror against innocent citizens.
Are our authorities listening? Perhaps not, and will not. (Centre for Study of Society and Secularism; firstname.lastname@example.org)
6. RESIST, RESIST, RESIST: THE GIFT OF A CRISIS
Beena Sarwar (The Hindu, November 26, 2007)
Those who came of age during General Zia’s regime and after may have a sense of déjA vu, but for newcomers into the activist field the sense of outrage is purer.
It may not exactly be a revolution, but the revolutionary zeal is there, particularly amongst the younger lot. Those who came of age during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime and after may have a sense of déjÀ vu, but among newcomers into the activist field the sense of outrage and betrayal is purer. Something about the present situation has fired them up enough to engage in “subversive” activities such as public demonstrations against the martial law, for which they know they can be arrested, tried for treason, or worse.
“We’ve been gifted with a crisis,” is how
Ahsan Jamil, a businessman in
The “judicial crisis” that dominated Pakistani politics since March has much to do with the general sense of discontent that began building up among those who otherwise had nothing much to complain about. This includes many among the “Musharraf generation” — well-to-do young urbanites for whom the pre-email, pre-cell phone and pre-independent television channels era is prehistoric — corporate bankers and lawyers, chartered accountants, television journalists (fabulously well-paid compared to their print counterparts), software engineers and business-people. In general, members of the amorphous, consumer-oriented urban middle class that benefited materially from the liberal economic policy of the Musharraf regime.
General Musharraf’s announcement of an
“Emergency” on November 3 stunned many among this otherwise complacent
generation — enough to finally act upon their convictions. In doing so, many
re-grouped through contacts originally formed during times of natural disaster,
such as the
Some landed up at the Human Rights Commission
of Pakistan in
In Karachi too, the jumble of women’s and human rights activists, journalists, trade union members and workers of small left wing political parties, who used to come together under the banner of the Joint Action Committee (JAC), were joined by those who have never been “activists” before: techies, artists, bankers and accountants. They eventually named this diverse, loose coalition of individuals the People’s Resistance. “This is the beginning of a movement,” someone said at this meeting.
Whether or not that is the case, many are fired up enough to engage in actions they have never done before. Some have gone to visit total strangers at their homes — the deposed judges of the High Courts — taking flowers in appreciation of the stand they have taken. “At first I thought this was all nonsense,” said a seasoned lawyer, who has been helping to get his colleagues released from Karachi Central Jail. “But it has made a huge difference to the morale of these judges. They’ve never engaged with the public before, and now they are proudly telling friends that ‘civil society’ came to visit them.”
Some new activists are using their talents to make and design posters that they distribute at public meetings, or make stencils to spray graffiti in public spaces. Some want to make their presence felt in public with candle-light vigils and demonstrations. Many turn up at short notice for what are called “flash protests” at a given public spot, each armed with his or her banner or placard. They demonstrate for a pre-determined period of time, and disperse before the police arrive.
“I want to collect a million signatures,” said Ali Assad, 26. An unlikely contender for the term “activist,” this mild-looking, clean-cut young investment banker, a graduate of the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences, has purchased several notebooks and is working with friends to formulate the text they want to get people to sign, incorporating basic demands such as “Lift the Martial Law, Restore the Judiciary and Media Independence.” His banker colleagues think he is slightly mad.
He is “mad” alright — as in angry. Angry at what is happening to his country. An avid reader, he was already familiar with the works of writers such as Eqbal Ahmad and Noam Chomsky, who reinforced his liberal political views and innate distaste of anti-authoritarianism and religious extremism. But he had never participated even in the anti-Iraq war protests at while a student at the LUMS.
So what changed things for him? “The lawyers’ movement and the media coverage … lawyers being beaten on streets and for what? They were fighting for judiciary; not for power, unlike political parties.”
The new heroes
The bloodshed on May 12 when the Chief
Justice was prevented from coming into
Most importantly, after the PCO orders of November 3, he found like-minded people with whom he could connect and coordinate. “I just wanted to make my voice heard. I felt that in a country where the highest judiciary receives no protection, what is my ‘auqaat’ [standing]? It scared me.”
Another unlikely young activist is Adnan
Mufti, a chartered accountant, who is spreading the word among his colleagues.
Responding to an e-mail from a lawyer in
“I won’t sit still,” says Mr. Assad. “Maybe
10 years down the line I will be able to do more. But I will continue to do
something.” He likes the Dante quote in the advertisement released a few days
ago by leading intellectuals and retired bureaucrats in
[In the Meantime, Musharraf has parted with his army uniform; nothing else seems to have changed. Ed.]
7. TASLIMA NASREEN: NO WHERE TO GO?
Feminist writer Taslmia Nasreen of
THE SHAME OF AN ILL-INFORMED DEBATE ABOUT TASLIMA NASRIN
(Dawn, November 26, 2007) “Taslima Nasrin has been living in Kolkata
for some time now. Her Indian visa
expires in February. Rightwing Muslim groups recently threatened to bring life
to a standstill in