[sacw] SACW | 19 March 03
Wed, 19 Mar 2003 01:56:50 +0100
South Asia Citizens Wire | 19 March, 2003
#1. NWFP slides closer to Sharia ( Iqbal Khattak)
#2. Iraq war 'will help extremists' (Paul Anderson)
#3. Crossing Sabarmati
An oasis of peace sits in a city divided by hate (Meena Alexander )
#4. Gujarat's 'Successful Experiment' (Arvind Rajagopal)
#5. An alternative women's reservation Bill (Madhu Kishwar)
#6. Tehelka on the weekend: Support independent, public interest media in India
The Daily Times
March 19, 2003
NWFP slides closer to Sharia
By Iqbal Khattak
PESHAWAR: The Frontier province moved on Tuesday a step closer to the
enforcement of what the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal - an alliance of six
fundamentalist religious parties - called "the Islamic system" or
Sharia when the alliance presented a confidential report containing a
set of recommendations to the provincial government.
"I shall not disclose the contents of the report unless my cabinet
approves it," Chief Minister Akram Khan Durrani silenced a crowd of
curious reporters minutes after Mufti Ghulam-ur-Rehman, the head of
the Nifaz-e-Shariah Council, had presented the report to the
province's chief executive.
A special cabinet meeting was called in for Friday (March 21) to
discuss the report within what Mr Durrani said two hours before
releasing it to the media. However, the chief minister retracted his
statement when a reporter asked him how the cabinet could study the
whole report, which had taken almost two months to complete, within
Mr Durrani claimed he was not releasing the report to the media
because he could not do this without "meeting the legal
requirements". He, however, said he would have been a happier man had
he ordered for the acceptance of all the recommendations. "But this
is not possible as I have to seek first the cabinet's approval and
then the [provincial] assembly's," he added.
The other major point referred to security and public order,
unemployment and a lack of healthcare and education facilities. "We
have given some suggestions for addressing these problems," he said,
adding that the report had asked the federal government to solve the
problems. He gave no further details about the request.
Meanwhile, sources close to the council told Daily Times that the
report sounded "moderate" and that it might not have suggested
"harsher steps" for the MMA government to take.
18 March, 2003, 19:25 GMT
Iraq war 'will help extremists'
By Paul Anderson
BBC correspondent in Islamabad
Pakistan's independent Human Rights Commission has warned that a war
against Iraq will strengthen Islamic radicals in Pakistan and across
the Muslim world.
The conflict, it said, would play into the hands of the religious right.
The commission made the warning during a presentation of human rights
abuses and improvements in Pakistan during 2002.
The commission also said President Pervez Musharraf's transfer of
power to the parliament and government was fundamentally flawed.
One of the Human Rights Commission's leaders, Asma Jehangir, said
liberal and progressive forces in the Muslim world would be
marginalised by war.
She said Pakistan's contribution to the US war on terror had already
led to the erosion of human rights and a war against Iraq would
exacerbate the situation.
She said the international community had given a carte blanche to
General Musharraf, who she described as a military dictator.
She was referring to the extra-judicial transfer to the Americans of
hundreds of foreign al-Qaeda suspects.
On the domestic front, the commission said there had been some
advances in human rights, such as the greater representation of women
But it criticised the transfer of power from President Musharraf to parliament.
The general seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.
The commission said a series of orders issued last year shifted real
power to the unelected president and a military-dominated National
Pakistan's Information Minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, dismissed her criticisms.
He said General Musharraf had stuck to the internationally agreed
timetable for democracy to the day.
The fact that the opposition was attacking the government in full
force, he said, was testimony to Pakistan's functioning democracy.
He also said foreign al-Qaeda suspects, and there are about 350 of
them, were only handed over after the authorities got permission from
their countries of origin.
The commission's report sits awkwardly with the president's assertion
that the transfer to civilian rule is now complete after the recent
elections to the upper house of parliament.
Western governments have shared that assertion.
Last weekend, the US lifted sanctions imposed after the 1999 coup,
recognising the transfer to civilian rule.
The Women's Review of Books
An oasis of peace sits in a city divided by hate
By Meena Alexander
SEPTEMBER 11, 2002, AHMEDABAD. I had traveled north from Tiruvalla in
Kerala to visit the relief camps for the survivors of the carnage
against Muslims. In February a Muslim mob had torched a train
carrying Hindu activists and 59 people lost their lives. The
aftermath of Godhra--a single word suffices to summon up that
tragedy--was carefully orchestrated by right-wing Hindu groups. The
plundering and burning of Muslim properties, the killing and
mutilation of men and the terrible rape of women all showed signs of
meticulous planning. Muslim women, including those who were pregnant,
were targeted for brutal sexual violence. From the documentation it
is clear that the state, under the sponsorship of the ruling
Bharatiya Janata Party, was complicit: after the December 2002
elections, the BJP was returned to power in the state of Gujarat,
The city of Ahmedabad lies on the banks of the river Sabarmati. It is
where Gandhi had chosen to set his ashram. In the clear morning
light, in the company of my friend Svati, I crossed the river over
the main bridge. We found a decrepit three-wheeler that dropped us
off in Shahpur, a poor neighborhood. With the help of a Dalit
activist--"Dalit" is a term of resistance used by those who were
previously called Untouchable--we made our way to a large relief
camp, Quraish Hall, that in better times had been used for weddings.
As we sat, two women in our cotton kurtas on the low wooden stools in
the courtyard, the people pressed around us. They were the survivors
of the killings in Naroda Patiya, a neighborhood of Ahmedabad. Svati
explained that she was collecting information for PUDR, the People's
Union for Democratic Rights, as part of their project of documenting
human rights violations. I don't have anything material to give you,
Svati said, but please tell us what happened. People pressed forward.
There was a terrible hunger to tell their stories.
Afterwards, I could not sleep, hearing those voices. A thin, elderly
woman in an orange sari told us how her daughter-in-law Kausar Banu,
nine months pregnant, was set upon by armed Hindu men, her belly
ripped open, the unborn child pierced by a sword, thrown into the
fire. A small dark man, Bashir Yusuf, had survived by hiding under
dead bodies. He showed us the marks on his back from knife blades
where the Hindutva men had attacked him. He had to run for his life
from the Civil Hospital--you are a Muslim, a doctor said to him, I
won't help you live.
Then a tiny child, barely two, was raised up in the arms of a thin
woman. The child's name was Yunus. He was dressed in a torn green
shirt, and the woman who was carrying him and said she was his mother
turned him around and lifted his shirt and we saw the burn marks on
his bottom, where the skin had scarred, the marks stretching over his
tiny back, making it look like a raw fruit, terribly disfigured. He
had been thrown into a fire and someone had pulled him out and
rescued him. The child had enormous eyes and kept staring at me. Even
now, back in this wintry city, I see his eyes staring into mine.
AHMEDABAD ITSELF IS A CITY SPLIT IN TWO. On one side of the river, a
thriving city, cars and money and people eating bhel puri on the
streets or flocking to restaurants. On the other side of the river,
marks of devastation and victims with no means of livelihood filled
with fear of what will happen if they dare to return to their old
One thing I cannot forget--when people desperate for help approached
the Sabarmati Ashram, those who were in charge of the ashram closed
the doors on them, denied them shelter.
I first entered the ashram in what feels like another life, over two
decades ago, in the company of Svati's father, the Gujarati poet Uma
Shankar Joshi. He was a follower of Gandhi and knew the compound and
the buildings well. I followed him into the cool, low-ceilinged house
as he showed me where Gandhi and his wife Kasturba had lived. Now in
this season of difficulty I felt the peace inside Gandhi's dwelling.
I stopped, touched the walls of the small whitewashed kitchen I have
always held in memory. Low shelves, windows, small receptacles for
food. There was peace here, but at what cost was it maintained?
At the threshold I shut my eyes. I saw the Mahatma, in his pale
loin-cloth. He tore open the doors of the house, he strode down the
path under the neem trees. He cried out in words that were hard to
understand. He leapt into the river, a flash of flesh and cloth. In
bold, unhurried strokes he swam across the Sabarmati. Then, just as
he was, Gandhi walked into the burning city.
That afternoon, as always, there were green parrots. I saw them as I
walked down the steps of Gandhi's house. They flitted through the
trees, into the holes in the outer wall of the ashram. The walls went
down all the way to the river.
On the other side of the river innocent human beings had been killed
and raped. I watched the parrots disappear into their hiding holes.
Slowly it grew dark, then darker. The river, with the smoke-stacks on
the other side, kept flowing on.
[ Appearing on opendemocracy.net 19 March 2003]
o o o
Gujarat's 'Successful Experiment'
by Arvind Rajagopal
'The Gujarat experiment is a success', declared Ashok Singhal, after
the massacre of over 2000 Muslims in Gujarat and the election of the
Hindu nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) . He and other BJP
leaders went on to assert that this 'success' would be replicated all
over India. Its recent defeat at the polls earlier this month in
Himachal Pradesh and elsewhere have confounded this prediction. But
the apprehension that the BJP will try to translate further violence
into votes in Madhya Pradesh, in Rajasthan and elsewhere where
elections are forthcoming, is acute.
How should we understand the routinization of political violence in
the world's biggest democracy today?
In the western media, Hindu-Muslim violence in India is regarded
largely as an internal matter, the latest manifestation of an endemic
and unchanging problem. Pankaj Mishra, for example, writing in the
New York Times on the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's death on 31
January, made a direct connection between his assassination by a
Hindu fanatic in 1948 and the recent wave of political violence in
Gujarat. ("The Other Face of Fanaticism," NY Times Magazine, Feb 2,
2003). Interviewing the brother of Gandhi's assassin, Gopal Godse,
Mishra quotes him as saying that India has finally turned its back on
Gandhi and come close to embracing his brother's vision.
This view of the rise of Hindu fundamentalism takes no account of the
changed political context. Rajeev Bhargava, writing on openDemocracy
(link to , "Gujarat: Shades of Black," opendemocracy.net, 17 Dec,
2002) avoids this fatalistic interpretation. He suggests we look to
the experience of globalisation for causes of the Gujarat massacre;
to the disorientation, the weakening of traditional boundaries and
the 'generalised egoism' brought by economic success. Extending this
argument to a larger view of globalisation and its effects, Tom Nairn
has argued that the doctrine of free-trade, with its 'absurdly
parched philosophy of humanity and society' has been a key factor in
the changing character of political violence (e.g., Tom Nairn,
"Apocalypse is in the Air," opendemocracy.net, 22 Jan 2003).
I would go further. In India at least, the threat of genocide only
appears like an atavistic throwback. In fact, it is a thoroughly
contemporary response to international events such as the war on
terror. It has been refashioned as a strategy of electoral politics
and benefits from improved communication technologies. Its advocates
skilfully negotiate the gaps between English and regional language
debates, and exploit their critics' inability to do so. Hindu
nationalism may be murderous, but it is also worldly and requires
careful political analysis, not just denunciation. The worst of it is
that this claim of an unchanging identity is all too often assumed
even by critics and opponents. As a result, the adaptation of mass
murder to electoral politics does not get exposed as the bizarre
mutant of democracy that it is.
Stirring the violence
In Gujarat last December, for example, the Hindu nationalist BJP
state government won elections campaigning on national security and
Hindu pride. The two issues were interwoven: Hindu assertion, backed
by state terror, was the guarantee against the threat of Muslims, who
in this view were all Pakistani agents. Never before had elections
at the state-level been fought on a national issue, with such a deft
appeal to regional identity at the same time. The international panic
about Islamic terror has been projected onto domestic events, to make
greatly enlarged claims for local politics. And such is the momentum
of this rhetoric that even its opponents watch their words.
The Gujarat election followed the burning of a train compartment
containing 58 Hindus, many of them Hindu militants by a Muslim crowd
in February last year. Violence swept across Gujarat, in an
orchestrated series of "revenge" massacres. During the violence,
those who sought police help were told, "We have no orders to save
you," in the words of a Human Rights Watch report, and had to
confront mobs of up to 10,000 people alone. The violence was
remarkable for its brutality, and for the intensity of media scrutiny
accompanying it. For once, no one, at least in Gujarat, could say
they did not know who was behind the violence. This itself signalled
a momentous change from previous politics.
The main opposition party, the Congress Party, has ruled the country
for 40 years. It claimed it was opposing the BJP on strictly secular
principles, but confined such views largely to speeches in New
Delhi. In Gujarat, the Congress leader was a decades-long member of
the hardcore Hindu militant group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
(RSS, or National Volunteer Corps). The campaign platform was cow
protection, a staple of conservative Hindu politics. The Congress's
candidate against the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, demanded
that a Ram temple be built in Ayodhya, the erstwhile campaign promise
of the BJP.
Illustrating this split, the Congress election manifestos in English
and in Gujarati were completely different. The English document
copiously defended secularism, diversity, and religious tolerance,
while the Gujarati manifesto studiously avoided any mention of these
things. The Congress Party's manifesto for the Gujarat elections
demanded ''a white paper on the Godhra episode,'' and called the
polls a ''battle for the soul of India.'' But the Gujarati newspapers
did not report this, because no mention was made of it in the
Congress party's manifesto in Gujarati. The Gujarati manifesto,
instead, referred to a battle between "humanity" and "demons," the
latter being Hindu nationalist argot for Muslims. A Congress
spokesman explained the difference between manifestos as a
"mistranslation." In fact, a social divide was reflected here,
between secularism's advocates, mainly English-speaking, and the
Gujarati reading public. The "mistranslation" was a routine one, only
revealed in an Indian Express news dispatch, in a report on which
only Anjali Mody of The Hindu followed up.
Paradoxes of the new politics
There has always been a split between the hurly burly of local
campaigning and the lofty debates of national politics, maintained
precisely through the gulf between English and regional languages.
English is the language of statecraft and secularism, while regional
languages like Gujarati are more porous to local cultural forces,
partly because they escape scrutiny from metropolitan intelligentsia.
But improved communications, including cell phones, cable and
satellite television, now allow national politics to beam into towns
and villages directly, bypassing local intermediaries. This is both a
problem and an opportunity, exposing the hypocrisies of national
leaders but publicising their statements too.
The BJP, for many years in opposition against the erstwhile-ruling
Congress Party, has defined the terms in which this split public can
be reconstituted. They have aligned their national politics with the
more communal campaigns at the local level, using the power of the
religious image to bypass the gulf in language and literacy.
Simultaneously, their opponents' inability to bridge this gap has
been critical for their success.
In the process, they have come to dominate the rhetorical field of
politics. In a poor country where Hindus are 80 percent of the
population, arguments for state protection of minorities have been
hard-pressed to withstand Hindu chauvinism's assault. Deliberately
engineered riots against Muslims have been an indispensable tool in
this connection. Together with vicious rumour-mongering, which a
state government is well-placed to carry out unopposed, fear and
suspicion resulting from violence project a deeper divide than
actually exists between the religious communities.
Paradoxically, these new and violent forms of politics, then, result
not from poor communication or undemocratic politics. They depend on
improved communication, and are oriented to electoral politics and
popular consent. By synchronizing local with national campaigns, they
reap the benefits of synergy, galvanizing local volunteers with the
excitement of participation in nation-wide conversations, and
generating political brand images that are reproduced from state to
state. The appeal to lower castes, long subject to benign neglect or
worse, can be exhilarating, especially to the youth amongst them.
This is also a short-term game of diminishing returns, tearing away
at the tissues of society in order to win elections. For all its
success in dominating political rhetoric, the BJP's record of
governance is so poor that it currently controls only two of the 22
states in the Indian union, one of which is Gujarat. It has taken all
of this carnage (over 2000 dead, community relations wrecked, and
billions of rupees in damage) to win one state election. The threat
of replicating the Gujarat "experiment" all over India is one that
the BJP is clearly eager to act on, in the assembly elections due in
several Indian states later this year. Part of the problem in
responding to this threat is that its opponents have not presented
credible alternatives, or been able to operate simultaneously at
local and national levels with the same dexterity as the BJP. This is
a set of issues distinct to current politics; to extrapolate it from
Hindu nationalism fifty years ago misses all the developments during
Arvind Rajagopal is Associate Professor of Media Studies at New York
University. He is author of Politics After Television: Hindu
Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India (Cambridge,
2001). His book has won the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Prize from
the Association of Asian Studies for 2003.
The Indian Express, March 18, 2003
An alternative women's reservation Bill
After a seven year long stalemate, it seems the Women's Reservation
Bill finally stands a good chance of getting passed into an Act
because for the first time the debate is not centred around the
The deadlock around the official Bill was in large part due to the
fact that those opposed to an enhanced representation of women in Lok
Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas would just not allow even a discussion to be
held on the provisions of the Bill.
This meant that some of the glaring flaws could not be dealt with,
nor improved ways for providing women a fair opportunity of
representation be explored and discussed.
Now that the Prime Minister has openly declared his party's
commitment to break this stalemate and Sonia Gandhi has agreed in
principle her party's willingness to consider other possible ways of
bringing in a critical mass of women into our Legislatures, the
Alternative Bill drafted and canvassed for long years by Manushi in
collaboration with Lokniti and Loksatta is finally on the table for
This proposal had received enthusiastic endorsement by the Election
Commission way back in January 2000, because it avoids the many
pitfalls inherent in the rotational system of reservation through
which one-third of Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha constituencies would be
reserved for women in each election and compulsorily dereserved after
one term to make way for yet another randomly selected lot.
This would mean compulsory uprooting of one-third women and one-third
male legislators from their chosen constituencies. Such a system of
reservation endangers the political fortunes of both men and women
because it jeopardises the possibility of advance planning and
preparation to fight an election by nurturing a political
constituency and develop a strong base among voters. The main
features of the Alternative Bill are as follows:
* Instead of reservation of constituencies, it provides for a 33 per
cent quota in ticket allocation. This can be achieved through an
amendment of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, making it
mandatory for every recognised political party to nominate women
candidates in one-third of the constituencies. Among seats reserved
for SCs and STs also, one-third of the candidates nominated by
recognised parties shall be women.
* In the event of any recognised party failing to nominate one-third
women candidates, for the shortfall of every single women candidate,
two male candidates of the party shall lose the party symbol and
affiliation as well as all the recognition related advantages.
This way, parties will be free to choose constituencies where they
have women candidates capable of offering a good fight. By contrast,
the official Bill requiring rotational reservation puts all parties
at a disadvantage because it forces them to put up women candidates
in pre-fixed constituencies, whether or not they have viable women
candidates in those constituencies.
* Our Bill also enables women political workers to select years in
advance the constituency they wish to develop as their political
base, something impossible to achieve if the reserved constituencies
are being constantly rotated.
* To prevent a party from nominating women candidates only in states
or constituencies where its chances of winning are weak or
negligible, and to ensure an even spread of women candidates, the
unit for consideration shall be a state or union territory. For the
Vidhan Sabha, the unit shall be a cluster of three contiguous Lok
Sabha constituencies which is roughly equivalent to 27 Vidhan Sabha
Those who think that merely giving women party nominations to fight
elections will not ensure a critical mass of women actually getting
elected to Legislatures, need to look at the track record of female
While 32.43 per cent of women candidates of recognised parties have
been elected to Lok Sabha since 1984, the success rate of male
candidates of recognised parties is only 26.50 per cent. This is true
of all general elections since 1984, except in 1989. Therefore, it is
very likely that women's presence in Lok Sabha will exceed one-third.
Most important of all, it will not be artificially frozen at 33 per
cent, as would happen if the official Bill's provision for reserving
33 per cent constituencies were to be implemented.
As per our proposal, if each party fields 33 per cent women
candidates, theoretically women could even win the vast majority of
seats all on merit since they will not be confined to the one-third
''women only'' or zenana constituencies. The higher success rate of
women contestants shows that voters do not discriminate against women
candidates. The very low representation of women in Legislatures is
due to the fact that party bosses shut the door to women at the very
entry point of the electoral process by denying them adequate number
of party tickets.
If this particular door is opened for women, we are likely to witness
a substantial increase in the number of women MPs and MLAs.
* Another major advantage of the Manushi-proposed Bill is that it
bypasses the need for quota within quota for backward castes - an
issue which has so far obstructed the passage of the Women's
As per our Bill, parties are free to nominate women of their choice
in constituencies of their choice, keeping the caste-community
arithmetic and other social factors in mind. Thus, all those leaders
concerned about enhancing the representation of backward caste women
will have the option to give all, or as many tickets as they like, to
backward caste women.
The OBC & BC castes have a huge numerical advantage in our
one-person-one-vote electoral system. That is how majority of MLAs in
our State Legislatures and MPs in Parliament are from OBC & BC castes
without any quotas or reservations. The same numerical advantage is
bound to work for BC women candidates as well. Thus there is very
little likelihood of upper caste women cornering the women's quota in
The few upper caste women who manage to win elections despite the
electoral arithmetic going against upper castes, will be those who
have worked hard to win the confidence of OBC and SC voters in their
* Finally, the most clinching factor in favour of our Alternative
Bill is that this can be passed swiftly since it only involves an
amendment in the Representation of People Act, requiring no more than
a simple majority vote in Lok Sabha. By contrast, the official Bill
necessitates a Constitutional amendment, requiring a two-thirds
majority in Parliament and ratification by several State Legislatures.
This process can be stalled endlessly since no party commands such an
overwhelming majority in Parliament, leave alone have the capacity to
make so many State Legislatures do its bidding.
The Alternative Bill can go through if the two big national parties,
the BJP and the Congress, make common cause for this one purpose.
Both Vajpayee and Sonia have publicly committed themselves to
enhancing women's representation in our Legislatures. Our Alternative
Bill provides them an easy way to honour their commitment and prevent
smaller parties from endlessly stalling this urgently needed
affirmative action for women.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of
Developing Societies and founder editor of Manushi
The People's Paper
Tehelka on the weekend
HELP CREATE FREE, FAIR, AND FEARLESS MEDIA
In India over the last three years Tehelka has come to stand for
public interest journalism, exposes of corruption, and courage under fire.
For two years Tehelka has been victimised by vested interests and a largely
corrupt establishment. This has resulted in its complete financial ruination.
But Tehelka has refused to compromise, bend or sell-out.
This has earned Tehelka the most extraordinary goodwill and admiration of
Indians from all walks of life. It is being continually exhorted by
them to continue
with its aggressive, non-partisan, public interest journalism.
Tehelka is determined to do so.
Tehelka is now preparing to launch a varied and well-rounded independent
weekly newspaper with public interest journalism at its core.
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