SACW | 5-6 July 2006 | Sri Lanka - crisis ; Pakistan: book ban; India: Gujarat divide
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Wed Jul 5 20:42:47 CDT 2006
South Asia Citizens Wire | 5-6 July, 2006 | Dispatch No. 2268
 Sri Lanka:
(i) An Interview with Radhika Coomaraswamy (Namini Wijedasa)
(ii) Anatomy of a confrontation (Jayadeva Uyangoda)
 Pakistan: Ban on the book is deplorable (Tariq Rahman)
 India: Hindu, Muslim ghettos arise in Gujarat (Anuj Chopra)
 SRI LANKA:
July 5, 2006
PEACE AND HUMAN RIGHTS
INTERVIEW WITH SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE UN SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR
CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT DESHAMANYA DR. RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY
Q: What is the significance of your appointment for Sri Lanka? How does it
raise the country's profile in the international arena?
A: I think it would be wrong to think of this appointment in national
terms. It was an appointment to an international civil service that is
supposed to transcend national considerations. In fact, on my first day of
work, I signed a pledge that requires that I not be influenced by any
government or group of individuals in my work and that I must keep the
interest of the United Nations (UN) above all such interests. It is not
only Sri Lanka that has pledged. I am, however, touched by the response of
fellow Sri Lankans - and I hope I will honour their faith in me.
Q: You have been at the receiving end of stinging criticism from some
members of the Tamil community for your position on various issues. Some
even campaigned unsuccessfully to prevent your appointment to the post you
now hold. How do you feel about this?
A: I think they are misguided. However, if one takes a stand, there will
be consequences - and one has to face them.
AWARD WINNER: Anoma Gamage receiving her award
Q: The pro-LTTE lobby seems to question any Tamil intellectual who doesn't
toe the LTTE line. Do you feel victimised by this?
A: They have never threatened me personally, only criticised me
extensively. The LTTE must transform and accept the value of dissent and
the freedom of holding contrary opinions. But as for me, at the moment. I
see myself as an international civil servant - and that identity
supersedes both my Tamil and Sri Lankan identities when it comes to a
discussion of political issues.
Q: How can we achieve a lasting peace in Sri Lanka?
A: I believe the solution for Sri Lanka is the Oslo formulation - a
Federal solution within a united Sri Lanka. However, we have to persuade
the Sinhalese people that this will be in their interest and will not lead
We also have to persuade the Tamils that the powers devolved will be
meaningful and that they will have a right to determine matters in areas
where they are a majority. In the meantime, we must not forget the
Muslims. Their right to participation and protection must also be part of
any structure set up for the solution of the ethnic conflict.
Q: What would you say are the challenges to peace?
A: Distrust. I think anyone analysing the situation from a rational,
objective point of view can draw up a solution. However, there is so much
distrust, hatred and emotion that it is difficult to move forward. Lately,
for some reason, the forces of hatred have taken control of our political
discourse on all sides. It is important that we move forward towards a
language and an attitude that help us in the struggle for reconciliation.
Q: In your opinion, what role does the international community play in Sri
Lanka's peace process?
A: Sri Lanka is a sovereign state and with regard to political processes,
as opposed to human-rights issues, the international community can only be
present with the consent of the Sri Lankan government. Nevertheless, I
feel it is in enlightened self-interest to invite the international
There is such deep distrust between the two parties to the conflict that
Sri Lanka needs an honest broker. I think we should ask the international
community to help us in negotiating a final settlement and in providing
humanitarian assistance to our people.
Q: Do you feel that international intervention or involvement has shaped
Sri Lanka's peace process in any way? Has this been positive or negative ?
A: I believe international involvement has been positive in general. There
have, perhaps, been some mistakes; but in the long run, the voice of the
international community has been the objective, detached voice that we in
Sri Lanka need to hear if we are to turn the tide.
Q: The crisis in Sri Lanka's peace process has worsened. In April, a
suicide bomb seriously injured the Army Commander and the government
declared national security to be a priority. Do you see any reason to be
A: Well, optimism is difficult in the short term. However, no matter what
happens, at some point - perhaps out of weariness - I am confident we will
negotiate that final contract - the political solution that is needed for
the people to live in dignity in Sri Lanka. I think it will be within a
united Sri Lanka, but with a different political arrangement. If we are
wise, this will come sooner rather than later.
If we continue to bait each other, engage in violent one-upmanship and
generally move away from the spirit of reconciliation, it will take much
longer. We must ensure, however, that there is not only a political
solution to the ethnic problem, but that democracy and tolerance are also
strengthened. I think the international community has a duty to ensure
Q: In the past few months, we have seen many targeted attacks against both
Tamil and Sinhalese civilians. What are your reactions to this ?
A: I think the targeting of civilians is a terrible aspect of war. The
only way to prevent that is to ensure that there is no war. Even in times
of peace, civilians can be targeted. We have to strengthen the Sri Lanka
Monitoring Mission and, perhaps, set up a separate mechanism for
human-rights monitoring as well.
Q: The voices of extremism from within all communities in the country have
grown stronger. How do you assess this ?
A: I feel that insecurity breeds extremism. I think the growth of
extremist voices is a sign of that insecurity. If we make people feel more
secure about their future, about their place in the sun and a life with
dignity, the voices will lessen.
Q: What - or who - can compel the two parties of the conflict to return to
A: They have to come to the realisation that there is no military
solution, so it requires another military stalemate.
Q: You are widely recognised for your role as an advocate for women's
rights. Did you ever think you would secure such a high-profile
appointment to protect child rights ?
A: In many ways, there are very common elements between women and
children. In many cases, they are vulnerable groups in need of
international protection. In many cases, those who commit violence against
them are given impunity - and often, women and children's lives are
However, the international regime for the protection of children is far
greater. One of the most innovative developments has been Security Council
Resolution 1612, which provides for the naming of groups that engage in
child recruitment for combat. This is an extraordinary development with
the UN Security Council taking an interest in social and human-rights
issues. It is truly a rare occurrence.
Q: What are your plans for the office of the UN Secretary-General's
Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict?
A: At the moment, we are in the process of building a strategic vision for
the office for the next two years. In many ways, it is the era of
application - especially when it comes to child soldiers. International
standards and frameworks have been set. Now we must apply those standards
and framework to concrete situations. This, I think, has to be the
centrepiece of any strategic vision.
I also feel this position has two roles. One is as a special
representative on children and armed conflict. This is an important issue.
It has seized the conscience of the Security Council and it is, therefore,
important that we push forward with the agenda set out by Olara Otunnu.
We must do everything to bring an end to the six violations against
children: child soldiers, killing and maiming, abduction, sexual violence,
attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access.
Q: Otunnu is, indeed, remembered for his blacklist, or list of shame, and
for urging the UN to introduce stronger sanctions against State and
non-state parties who are guilty of violations against children during war
situations. Will you take this further?
A: It is my duty to take it further. It is important not only for
children, but for all issues that deal with impunity in times of war.
Q: What concrete measures do you intend taking?
A: These are already spelt out in the Security Council resolutions. With
regard to child soldiers, the concrete measures are already in place.
There are national task forces that will be reporting to us, there is a
Security Council Working Group that will hear our inputs, and there is the
annual report on concrete situations and specific parties.
Q: In July 2005, the Security Council adopted a resolution relating to the
protection of children in armed conflict. What, in your opinion, is the
most important aspect of this resolution?
A: It allows for a process to name and same parties that engage in child
recruitment, and other grave violations of international law relating to
children. It also carries the threat of sanctions.
Q: A new report from the Watchlist On Children And Armed Conflict says
that, notwithstanding considerable force and pressure from the UN, child
soldiers are multiplying in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite the
world's best efforts, we have failed to end the scourge of child
Where have we gone wrong?
A: Whenever we address human-rights issues, there are two plans. The first
is to understand the phenomenon, its roots and its history. The second is
to eradicate it. Child soldiers are not a new phenomenon.
In most of the world where there have been guerrilla struggles and where
whole communities get involved in the fight or are forced to get involved
in the fight, children are often expected to play their role.
What is needed is to change that pattern of behaviour globally. We have to
make people understand that the damage to children is long lasting and
profound. That is why it is a war crime. Changing these behaviour patterns
is difficult because many of these groups also openly reject mainstream
Q: Many analysts feel that the UN could have done more to protect children
in armed conflict. Some maintain that the UN simply skims the surface with
its resolutions and that concrete measures will never be taken against
offenders. Do you feel the same?
A: The Security Council is a very political place. For concrete measures
to take place, one must deal with the politics. However, on the issue of
children, there is a resonance in both the Security Council and the
General Assembly. Somehow, this issue often gets by the politics. So,
perhaps, there will be a chance of concrete UN action.
Q: What is the most important role of the UN? Has it regained credibility
after the war in Iraq, where the US and the UK invaded a country in
defiance of the UN?
A: I think the UN is just getting a lot of bad press. The world could not
survive without organisations such as the World Health Organisation, the
World Food Programme, UNICEF, UNHCR, etc. They do an enormous amount of
work. I think the UN's human rights and humanitarian agencies really work
hard on the ground.
Why the UN gets bad press is that it seems politically impotent or biased.
In that sense, it is the political process at the Security Council that is
at fault. In such a context, the UN is only the sum of its parts - the
nation states of which it is composed. The UN only mirrors and reflects
their political positioning.
Q: What is the big picture of child rights in Sri Lanka? How do we measure
up? Good, can do much better or abysmal?
A: On these issues, it is better not to compare. Either we become
complacent by saying we are better than other countries, or we become
defensive. It is best to say that there are many issues with regard to
child rights in Sri Lanka, from child soldiers to child trafficking.
Q: What is your most pressing area of concern regarding child rights in
A: If the right to life is the most precious of all rights, then the most
pressing issue is child soldiers. The international community has also
recognised this as the preeminent concern. The International Criminal
Court makes child recruitment a war crime and the Security Council, in an
unprecedented move has been listing parties that violate these concerns
with the possibility of sanctions.
Q: What is your opinion of the LTTE and child recruitment?
A: The LTTE must realise that child recruitment is one of the gravest
violations of international law. Not only has the International Criminal
Court begun to prosecute individuals for child recruitment as a war crime
and a crime against humanity, it is the only human-rights issue on which
the Security Council has acted - monitoring and reviewing the situation,
and threatening sanctions.
Child recruitment destroys children. According to research, they lose the
capacity to tell right from wrong. They suffer terrible trauma and, if
peace comes, they become delinquent. The LTTE must realise this and ensure
that no more children will be recruited - and that the ones who are
recruited are released.
Q: UNICEF's halfway homes for child soldiers in Sri Lanka have been a
failure, even by their own admission. Can you think of a workable system
to decommission child soldiers?
A: Well, decommissioning is mostly successful if it is linked to a
successful peace process. If we do not have a successful peace process,
then there must be a system of independent monitoring. I think an action
plan involving all three parties - the government, the international
community and the LTTE - with targets and time lines, has to be
negotiated. But it is difficult if there is no peace process.
Q: Can international pressure have any bearing on the behaviour of
non-state parties such as the LTTE, which has continued to recruit
children to its ranks? Even Otunnu's celebrated list of shame seems to
have had no effect?
A: I think international pressure can work. It has to be targeted and
highlighted. I feel there has been some improvement, but definitely not
enough with regard to the LTTE. It may have recruited less in the past few
months, but it is not releasing any of the children it has recruited.
Q: What do you think of civil-society action in Sri Lanka - whether it be
in regard to child, human or women's rights?
A: We have an active and vibrant civil society. However, it is mostly
small institutions led by charismatic individuals. If real change is to
take place, we still have to rely on political parties, trade unions,
religious organisations and other traditional institutions. We should
spend more time with them and have them take up some of these causes.
Q: In 1996, you delivered the Rajani Thiranagama Memorial Lecture on 'LTTE
Women: Is This Liberation?' What are your current views on female LTTE
cadre, particularly their use as suicide bombers?
A: I wrote that piece because I am a believer in non-violence and I do not
believe that women engaging in violence is an answer to anything. But that
is my own personal opinion.
Q: You successfully headed Sri Lanka's Human Rights Commission (HRC) for
several years and have indepth knowledge about the country's situation.
How do you rate the HRC's achievements during your tenure?
A: There were relative successes, but I also feel a great deal more needs
to be done. Some of our successes were the introduction of the
zero-tolerance policy on torture, which has had an impact, as well as
surprise visits to custodial institutions and visits to the Eastern
Province, after we highlighted some of the human rights-issues there.
Our Disaster Relief Monitoring Unit, set up after the tsunami, did
considerable work and we initiated a database on disappearances. We
started the committee for the protection of migrant workers and held a
national conference on the rights of people with disabilities. These were
only some of the initiatives we took.
However, there still remain problems of delays in the caseload. Many of
these cases relate to promotions and transfers in the public service.
Q: The term of the HRC commissioners expired in April 2006 and new members
must be appointed by the Constitutional Council, which itself is not
functioning. Against the backdrop of the fragile situation in the country,
is there a danger of delays in this process?
A: There is a tremendous problem with this. The commission has 200 staff
members - and at the moment, they are leaderless. In addition, the
commission cannot summon people or make recommendations. So the thousands
of cases before the commission would have come to a standstill. Something
has to be done. The Constitutional Council must be appointed.
Q: There has been a massive outcry about torture in police custody. How
would you assess the extent of this practice in Sri Lanka?
A: Torture is widespread and endemic because there isn't enough training
of police personnel in investigative skills - and so, torture is the first
method of interrogation. However, things have improved somewhat, according
to NGOs working on the ground.
Q: Are you worried that if the HRC is not activated soon, the police will
return to business as usual?
A: Yes. One of the HRC's main reasons for existence after the terrible
violence of the 1980s was to prevent torture. Unless the HRC is activated,
a main safeguard against torture will be removed.
Q: How do you assess the status of women in Sri Lanka?
A: We have some of the best physical quality-of-life indices - for
instance, maternal mortality rates, education, health and so on. But we
also have specific problems including discrimination at the highest
managerial levels, violence against women, personal laws and poor
Q: Apart from the conflict, what are Sri Lanka's most serious issues? How
can the nation turn around and become a successful State?
A: For Sri Lanka, and for the rest of the Third World, the most important
issue is that of equity. Globalisation has its positive side, but it has
created a great gulf between the haves and the have-nots.
This terrible divide is widening, increasing frustration and anger. It is
important that we realise this, and try and take the part of equitable
development. This means being sensitive to class, caste, gender, ethnics
distinctions, and protecting vulnerable groups such as children and
internally displaced persons.
Q: What are Sri Lanka's saving graces? What have we done right?
A: Our saving grace is our resilience. We have gone through terrible
times, but we are a resilient people. I also think that democracy has been
an important part of our post-colonial history. We must protect it - not
only in the south, but in all parts of the country.
Q: How would you assess the LTTE's respect for, or observance of, human
A: When I was Chairperson of the HRC, we found the allegations with regard
to LTTE violations were impunity for alleged political killings, the
recruitment of child soldiers, preventing the freedom of association of
groups and printing presses as well as extorting. The Muslim community
also felt it was discriminated against.
Q: How would you assess the government's respect for or observance of
A: Well, during the ceasefire, it was better than that of the LTTE - but
towards the end of last year, there were some alarming events. The
security forces were again acting recklessly.
There were allegations with regard to a rape case against the navy, the
killing of five students in Trincomalee and tolerance for Tamil
paramilitary action such as the killing of Joseph Pararajasingham. There
were also cases of torture and extrajudicial killings in the south,
primarily aimed at organised crime.
Q: Do you see a transformation of the LTTE for the better?
A: We can only say that there is plenty of room for improvement with
regard to human rights.
Q: Do you see a positive transformation of the Sri Lankan state?
A: I fell that the majority of Sinhalese people and a majority of
Sinhalese parliamentarians are ready for some type of political solution
that will involve the transformation of the Sri Lankan state.
Q: In your opinion, what is the situation of Tamils in Sri Lanka?
A: I think there was a well-founded fear of persecution in the past. I
think the riots of the persecution in the past. I think the riots of the
1950s and the 1980s made the physically insecure. I feel the Sinhala Only
Act was discriminatory and that they have a right to ask for a sharing of
However, their situation is similar to the struggle of many minorities
around the world, and the choice of armed struggle as the primary means of
fighting for their rights has backfired and destroyed the fabric of that
Q: What is the situation of Muslims and other minorities in Sri Lanka?
A: The Muslims living in the North and East have identical grievances
against the LTTE that the Tamils used to have against the Sinhalese. The
failure of the Tamil political leadership to realise this is one of the
great weaknesses of the Tamil nationalist cause.
Q: The Armed Forces and police have often been accused of paying scant
regard to human rights. Do you agree?
A: I think in times of war, armies do not always respect human rights.
Though one would expect them to behave, one can only hope that there is no
war - and then there will be no abuses.
When I was Chairperson of the HRC, I found that torture had become endemic
to the police and its first resort with regard to investigation -
especially at the local level. Luckily, due to pressure from within the
police force and the international community, this is changing. We're now
[ . . . ] .
o o o
July 01-14, 2006
ANATOMY OF A CONFRONTATION
by Jayadeva Uyangoda
Behind the failure to reach a compromise is the incompatibility of
the Sinhalese and Tamil nationalist projects.
July 4, 2006
BAN ON THE BOOK IS DEPLORABLE
by Dr Tariq Rahman
THE fear of the word has a hoary history. Plato, the father of
philosophy, while discussing the perfect curriculum for the citizens
of his republic, argued in favour of banning almost all Greek
literature on the pretext that it would have a negative influence on
In the end he had to exile the creator of literature (the poet)
himself. In a passage which bears repetition he said that if the
state was visited by a poet: "We shall treat him with all the
reverence due to a priest and a giver of rare pleasure, but shall
tell him that he and his kind have no place in our city..." (The
The modern decision-maker, not being brought up to revere poetry,
will not even show the literary artist any 'reverence'. He would ban
him with pleasure because he has never been brought up to understand
the value and function of literature.
The most recent example of banning books is the ban on Pakistani
Kahanian for the 'O' Level Urdu course examined by the University of
Cambridge. There are actually two books of the same title. The first
is entitled: Pakistani Kahanian: Pakistani Afsane ke Pachas Sal
edited and compiled by Intizar Hussain and Asif Farrukhi and
published by Sang-e-Meel in 2000. The second was published by Caravan
Book House of Lahore in 2005 and includes 19 poems but excludes eight
short stories which were part of the previous volume. The reason the
second book was published was that parents as well as teachers had
complained against the stories which were, therefore, excluded.
In the present battle between the spirit of censorship and
literature, parents and teachers started complaining once again about
the other stories. Finally, in June this year, things came to a head
and the second book was also withdrawn. The censoring mind won
another victory; literature was defeated.
There were a few feeble protests in letters to the editor but no
eminent literary figure, intellectual, social activist or academic
spoke up in favour of literature. This implies that those of us who
understand what literature is supposed to be, have given up all hope.
Is it not, as Yeats said, "the best lack all conviction, while the
worst/Are full of passionate intensity?" This may be a lost cause but
I believe one should at least point out what good literature does.
First, a bit of the background. The spirit of censorship in
literature has been gaining victory after victory since the British
rule as far as the Muslims in South Asia are concerned. Victorian
Englishmen, reacting to the sexual explicitness of Persian
literature, condemned it as being obscene.
Though the references to the body and its functions were there in a
spirit of naturalism, they appeared obscene to the Victorians. Muslim
reformists, including people like Hali, Nazeer Ahmed and Sir Syed,
agreed with this opinion and condemned most Persian classics of the
day. Thus even the contents of Gulistan and Bostan of Sa'adi were
expurged and most others were banished from the curricula.
After the British left the subcontinent, the Muslim identity of
Pakistanis was interpreted to mean the adoption of an attitude of
hypocrisy, shame, guilt and the denial of sex. This, in turn, meant
that the tender and ennobling emotion of romantic love was to be
either suppressed or explained away as the mystic annihilation of the
self. At another level, swear words, which children hear from
infancy, were to be excluded.
Going even further, rape, the giving away of girls as punishment for
murder (swara), killing women in the name of honour (karo kari) were
all to be taboo subjects.
The PTV went to absurd lengths in its plays to depict husbands
standing at a puritanically enjoined distance from their wives even
when the latter were weeping. So, parents complaining against these
stories and the teachers teaching them are from the generation
brought up during the time of the puritanical onslaught on art and
The stories banned are by some of the greatest writers of this
country. Sa'adat Hasan Manto's story Khol do, on the theme of the
exploitation of women during the riots of 1947, is a world-famous
classic. Hajra Masroor's Bhag Bhari is about the norms of existence
in a feudal society in which the police itself showers gifts on the
criminal - in this case a feudal lord - who rapes a servant girl. A
story by Bano Qudsia is again about a woman whose sexual liaisons are
to escape the intolerable conditions of her life.
These and other stories by great and respected literary figures were
part of the first book but not of the second. The latter, as far as I
can make out, came under the hatchet because it contained swear
words, and referred to such realities of life as the fact that women
have bodies and, possibly most annoying for the inquisitors, that
social customs such as swara and karo kari are condemned.
Possibly the idea that sex is tied down to honour - the source of
misery for women in our society - might have caused a few ruffled
male (and female) feathers. Personally, I did not find the stories
offensive. I found the attitude of teachers who could not teach them
and parents who did not want them to be taught offensive.
And why? Because literature has human significance. It should present
a view of society which should make people reflect. It should wake
people up from their somnambulism and sit up and notice the joys and
the sorrows of life; the beauty and the ugliness; the hope and the
This is not done through direct preaching. It is done through the
plot, the characterisation and the use of symbolism and figurative
language. That is why, in contrast to a sociological treatise,
literature evokes emotion. Good literature has tremendous power to
move people. It may give as much pain as pleasure, but that pain may
also be cathartic.
Literature is a great experience. By making students study it for
examinations, the best part of that experience is lost anyway. But a
young person is genuinely touched and maybe in the holidays goes back
to the great literary voice which has touched him or her.
That is why one should expose young people to great literature. It is
very narrow-minded to deny them the experience which Manto provides
while the most exploitative, anti-women, violent, degrading,
commercial pornography is only a few clicks away. It is foolish to
deny them an excellent story because there are words in it that they
use every day and which they have heard from almost everybody around
While it may make sense to ban things which can provoke violence or
hurt somebody, there is little sense in banning the best literature
in Pakistan because it shows us our face in the mirror. While banning
graphic violence (as seen in horror and action-packed films) may save
sensitive young people from trying them out in real life, banning the
classics of literature is simply appalling. It is the kind of thing
which creates barbarians and philistines. Of course, the classics do
not shy away from war, rape and murder, but would we ban them for
that? It would be like throwing out the baby with the bath water.
The banning of Pakistani Kahanian causes deep anxiety. Is it that we
are becoming so bigoted and narrow-minded as a nation that we have
become incapable of reading or teaching our literature?
The Christian Science Monitor
July 05, 2006
HINDU, MUSLIM GHETTOS ARISE IN GUJARAT
INDIA'S GOVERNMENT FINDS INCREASING POLARIZATION IN THE STATE STILL
SCARRED BY THE RIOTS OF 2002.
by Anuj Chopra | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
PIRANA, INDIA - With shackled feet and closed eyes, pilgrims walk
toward the tomb of Pir Imam Shah Bawa, a Sufi saint. If the shackles
disentangle on their own as the devotees take their first few steps,
the faithful here - Hindus and Muslims alike - believe their prayers
will come true.
"Faith can move mountains," says Mohan Majhi, a resident of Pirana in
India's Gujarat state. He says his chains disentangled thirteen years
ago, and his prayer for a son was granted. Now, kneeling on the dusty
floor of the 600-year-old syncretic shrine, Mr. Majhi is praying for
peace between Hindus and Muslims who are fighting to control this
religious common ground.
Eager to slough off the shrine's Muslim identity after the Gujarat
riots of 2002, Hindu devotees of the saint built a barbed-wire fence
between the shrine and the mosque that was originally built in the
same complex. Muslims and Hindus then accused each other of stealing
religious items and are now locked in a bitter court battle, each
claiming the shrine is rightfully theirs.
The divisions over the shrine are a microcosm for the polarization
within Gujarat, where religious segregation is expanding not only to
places of worship, but also neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces.
At the entrance of some villages, gaily painted message boards have
sprung up since the riots that read: "Welcome to this Hindu village
in the Hindu nation of Gujarat."
Expressing concern over this increasing polarization, a recent report
by a high level committee from the Indian Prime Minister's office, to
be tabled in the Indian Parliament in October, states that Gujarat
still hasn't recuperated from the riots in which over 1,000 people,
mostly Muslims, were killed. The committee noted that several
Gujarati cities and towns are sharply divided into Hindu and Muslim
ghettoes. Muslims, a minority in the state, face social and economic
boycott from society at large. The committee also observed that
dropout rates of Muslim girls have risen. And there's a dismal
representation of Muslims in public-sector jobs.
"There's a state of fear and insecurity among Muslims," says a member
of the committee. "The state government has done little to end the
state of alienation."
Parts of Gujarat where Hindus and Muslims reside in equal numbers
have been largely untouched by communalism. But for Hindu-majority
areas scarred by the rioting, the divide has hardened, according to
activists working for communal harmony.
Rahimanagar, a Muslim ghetto just outside the town of Anand, sprang
up right after the riots. The ghetto is now home to many Muslims who
are afraid to return their villages. One of them, Sattar Ghani
Ibrahim, lost his transport business in the riots after all his
vehicles were incinerated. Since then, without a job, Mr. Ibrahim
finds it hard to feed his family of 15. "Only the H-class [Hindus]
land jobs now-a-days," he says bitterly. "It isn't as easy for the
Back in his home in the small village of Navli, his decrepit house
bears the scars of arson. Mr. Ibrahim's father, Haji Ghani Ibrahim,
braved coming back after the communal flare-up was quelled, to tend
to a grocery business. The only customers are the few Muslim families
who have returned.
"This state," Haji Ibrahim says, "is ruled by Hindus and for Hindus.
Muslims don't exist for them."
The Indian Express, a national daily, reported last month that
Muslims are being sidelined from the Indian government's ambitious
antipoverty project that promises the country's rural poor 100 days
of employment every year.
"Where the communal divide was hardened, where violence led to murder
and widespread arson ... Muslims are nowhere on the employment
rolls," the newspaper reported after touring six districts within
Gujarat where the scheme is being implemented. Not just are there
information blackouts, even those Muslims who enquire about jobs are
turned away, the report said.
In response, Bharat Barot, Gujarat's minister of state for rural
development, said that in villages "the majority community called the
shots." The state was probing whether the alienation of Muslims was
deliberate, and, if so, "it'll be fixed immediately."
Chandrakant Pandya, a member of the ruling political party in
Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), calls the committee's
report a vicious attempt to defame Gujarat. "We're for the
development of all Gujaratis - and Gujaratis includes Hindus and
Muslims," he says.
Mr. Pandya points out that according to a 2005 report by the Rajiv
Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, a think tank led by BJP
rival Sonia Gandhi, Gujarat emerged as the number one state in India
in the economic freedom of its people. It also topped the nation in
terms of development, administration, and curbing corruption.
"Such rapid industrialization and economic development wouldn't take
place if such prejudices existed," says Pandya.
However, most of the data used by the foundation came from years
prior to the 2002 riots. Activists say the situation has since
Social scientists point out that intercommunity dialogue is the only
way to make acrimony between the religious groups subside.
Rahil Subedar runs a computer class for poor slum dwellers in a
ramshackle apartment on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Besides imparting
knowledge about computers, local Hindu and Muslim kids are made to
intersperse and participate in plays and cultural programs.
"When you participate in cultural programs together, you forget what
religion your colleagues belong to," he says. "Integration will heal
(Photograph) COMMON GROUND: Mohan Majhi prays at the tomb
of Pir Imam Shah Bawa, a Sufi saint revered by Hindus and Muslims
Buzz on the perils of fundamentalist politics, on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. SACW is an independent & non-profit
citizens wire service run since 1998 by South
Asia Citizens Web: www.sacw.net/
SACW archive is available at: bridget.jatol.com/pipermail/sacw_insaf.net/
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed in materials carried in the posts do not
necessarily reflect the views of SACW compilers.
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