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South Asia Citizens Wire | November 23, 2006 | Dispatch No. 2322
 Gaining Power, Losing Values (Pankaj Mishra)
 India's veneer of religious integration (Praful Bidwai)
 India: Victims of terror (Jyoti Punwani)
 India: Afzal's hanging - Politics of hate
comes to the surface (J. Sri Raman)
+ Kathua Forum to begin signature campaign against Guru's hanging
 India: Phantom of Indira Stalking (I K Shukla)
 India: Gujarat ticked off on Godhra cases
 UK: Casualties of culture (Hari Kunzru)
 UK: Playing the oppression game (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown)
New York Times
November 22, 2006
GAINING POWER, LOSING VALUES
by Pankaj Mishra
PRESIDENT Hu Jintao of China, who arrived in New
Delhi on Monday to consolidate ties between the
world's two fastest rising economic powers, can
feel comfortable that at least one protester
won't be troubling him.
When China's prime minister at the time, Zhu
Rongji, visited Mumbai in January 2002, Tenzin
Tsundue, a young Tibetan, scaled 14 floors of
scaffolding to unfurl "Free Tibet" banners
outside his five-star hotel. Last year in
Bangalore, Mr. Tsundue appeared on the roof of a
200-foot tower just above the building where Wen
Jiabao, Mr. Zhu's successor as prime minister,
was meeting Indian scientists. From there he
threw pamphlets at bystanders, shouting, "Wen
Jiabao, you cannot silence us."
This year, however, Mr. Tsundue has been
silenced, although not by Chinese leaders.
Invoking a penal code established by India's
colonial rulers, the Indian police have imposed a
travel ban on Mr. Tsundue. He is not allowed
outside Dharamsala, the Himalayan town where the
Dalai Lama and many of India's nearly 100,000
Tibetan refugees live. This week he is under
constant surveillance by armed police officers.
Pre-emptive arrests of and even police assaults
on Tibetan protesters are not new in India. But
the government's gagging of a well-known writer
and activist like Mr. Tsundue raises questions
about the moral values that India and China, the
emerging superpowers of the new century, are
likely to embody.
Both countries have mollycoddled Myanmar's
extraordinarily repressive military rulers, which
hints that neither is likely to let the human
rights of the Burmese get in the way of trade.
China's growing relationship with Sudan suggests
that even genocide may not interfere with the
supply of raw materials to China's perennially
Upholding business interests above all in its
foreign policy, as in its domestic policy, China
at least appears to be internally consistent. The
gap between image and reality is greater in the
case of India, which claims to be the world's
largest democracy, with an educated middle class
and a free news media.
And yet fundamental rights to clean water, food
and work remain empty abstractions to hundreds of
millions of Indians, whose plight rarely impinges
on the news media's obsession with celebrity and
consumption. The country's culture of greed
partly explains why a woman is killed by her
husband or in-laws every 77 minutes for failing
to bring sufficient dowry.
Pundits in India deplore, often gleefully,
American excesses in Guantánamo Bay and Abu
Ghraib, and the inadequacies of the American news
media in the run-up to the war in Iraq. But the
Indian news media has yet to carry a single
detailed report on the torture and extrajudicial
killing of hundreds of civilians in Kashmir over
the last decade.
Chinese nationalism is a tamed beast,
occasionally unleashed by the Communist
leadership to stir up mass protests against Japan
and America. But in India, religious nationalists
have run wild in the last 10 years, conducting
nuclear tests, menacing minorities and
threatening Pakistan with all-out war. In 2002,
members of a Hindu nationalist government in the
state of Gujarat, in western India, instigated
and often organized the killing of as many as
Free markets and regular elections alone do not
make a civil society. There remains the task of
creating and strengthening institutions -
universities, news media, human rights groups -
that can focus public attention on the fate of
the powerless and oppressed and spread ideas of
human dignity, compassion and generosity.
This task is never perfectly realized. But at
least in the United States, many liberal
institutions have vigorously pursued such goals,
even as successive governments have made their
pacts with various devils around the world.
For Western nations to criticize Chinese
investments in Africa or Indian overtures to
Myanmar may seem hypocritical in light of the
West's history of ruthlessly exploiting Africa
while appeasing its brutal dictators. But, as La
Rochefoucauld pointed out, hypocrisy is the
tribute vice pays to virtue.
However tainted in practice, the idea of virtue
cannot be discarded in policymaking. By treating
it with contempt, the ruling elites of India and
China may soon make the world nostalgic for the
days when America claimed, deeply hypocritically,
its moral leadership.
Pankaj Mishra is the author of "Temptations of
the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan,
Tibet and Beyond."
Inter Press Service
14 November 2006
INDIA'S VENEER OF RELIGIOUS INTEGRATION
by Praful Bidwai
India, which has long prided itself as
a shining example of democracy and
religious-cultural pluralism, is being forced to
contend with an unpleasant truth: the foundations
of its claim to religious integration and harmony
may be far shakier than earlier believed.
Media stories based on official data being
gathered by a government-appointed committee have
shockingly disclosed that Muslims, India's
largest religious minority, face systematic
exclusion and serious discrimination at multiple
Over the past fortnight, various Indian
newspapers and television channels have run
reports quoting statistics being collated by the
prime minister's High-Level Committee on the
Social, Economic and Educational Status of
Muslims, chaired by a former High Court judge,
The Sachar Committee's report has not yet been
officially presented to the government. It is
likely to be submitted any day, and is expected
to cause a political storm.
"Going by what has appeared in the media, the
committee has established a sad and shameful
truth," said Mohammed Hamid Ansari, chairman of
the official National Commission on Minorities
and a distinguished diplomat who served as
India's ambassador to the United Nations.
"The truth is that Muslims now constitute India's
new underclass; they are worse off than the rest
of the population in respect of access to public
services, literacy, education, income, social
mobility and jobs," said Ansari. "Researchers
have long known this, but the truth has come out
of the closet; it cannot be wished away."
Muslims form 13.4% of India's population of more
than a billion, but are seriously
under-represented in schools, universities,
government jobs and parliament. They typically
claim a share of only 4-6% in state employment.
In some respects, Muslims compare unfavorably
even with Dalits (officially called Scheduled
Castes), India's former untouchables, who have
suffered systematic, cruel discrimination for
centuries at the hands of upper-caste Hindus.
Muslims fare far worse than the lower and middle
orders of the caste hierarchy, officially called
Other Backward Classes (OBCs), in education,
employment, poverty levels and landholding.
For instance, only 80% of urban Muslim boys are
enrolled in school, compared with 90% of Dalits
and 95% of others. (Earlier, in 1965, both
Muslims and Dalits had 72% of their urban
children enrolled in school.)
In the rural areas, just 68% of Muslim girls are
at school, compared with 72% of Dalit girls and
80% of others.
The gaps have widened. In 1965, Muslim girls (52%
enrollment) were considerably better off than
Dalits (40%). In villages, enrollment ratios for
Muslims and Dalits were 32% and 19% respectively.
But now, Muslim girls are worse off.
"If you are a Muslim, the chances are that you
live in areas deprived of electricity, roads and
municipal services," said Ansari. "There is
growing ghettoization of Muslims."
Even worse is the discrimination Muslims face in
respect of jobs. The Sachar Committee data from
12 states, where the Muslims' share in total
population is 15.4%, show that their
representation in government jobs is a tiny 5.7%.
Sadly, such under-representation is more acute in
states where Muslims constitute large minorities.
For instance, in West Bengal, Muslims form 25.2%
of the population, but account for a measly 4.2%
in government jobs.
Muslims are particularly poorly represented in
the judiciary, where their share can be as low of
1.5% (Orissa). Barring Jammu & Kashmir (67% of
whose people are Muslim), Muslim representation
in judicial services is consistently low: only 5%
in West Bengal, and 12.3% in Kerala (Muslim
population, 24.7% of the total).
In the elite administrative, police and
diplomatic cadres, Muslim representation varies
from 1.6-3.4%. This is not surprising given that
Muslims form a very low proportion of India's
graduates, just 3.6%, or less than a fourth of
their overall population share.
Muslims are poorly represented in the armed
forces, where their proportion is believed to be
just 2%. Recently there was a furor because the
military refused to divulge this information to
the Sachar Committee.
Muslims are altogether excluded from "sensitive"
posts such as jobs in the intelligence agencies,
especially the external-espionage Research &
Analysis Wing, the National Security Guard and
other elite protection forces. Their presence in
the top national police and paramilitary agencies
However, there is one place where Muslims are
over-represented: prisons. Muslims claim a
grossly disproportionate share of prisoners,
including convicts and those undergoing trials.
Barring the northeastern state of Assam, their
proportion in prison is considerably higher than
their population share.
For instance, in Maharashtra, Muslims, who
account for 10.6% of the population, form 40.6%
of the prisoners. In the Delhi Capital Region,
the respective percentage ratios are 11.7 and
27.9, in Gujarat 9.1 and 25.1, and Tamil Nadu 5.6
"This tears to shreds the claim that India is
successfully overcoming the inter-religious
divide and equitably assimilating Muslims," said
Rajiv Bhargava, a political theorist attached to
the Center for the Study of Developing Societies
"That claim took a knock with the
Hindu-chauvinist anti-Babri Mosque movement in
the mid-1980s, and the ascent of the
Hindu-exclusivist Bharatiya Janata Party to
national power in 1998 for six years," Bhargava
said. "It was further dented by the Gujarat
carnage of 2002, in which 2,000 Muslims were
killed with state collusion. Now, it stands
exposed as a tissue of lies."
Anti-Muslim discrimination has visibly increased
as a result of the government's
"counter-terrorism" strategy, which critics say
is largely Islamophobic and involves the harsh
application of discriminatory measures. This
explains the large number of jailed Muslim
"The plain, bitter truth is that Muslims have
long been the target of systematic exclusion and
discrimination," said Bhargava. "They face
institutionalized religious prejudice, just as
ethnic minorities from the former colonies face
institutionalized racism in Western Europe, or
the blacks do in the United States."
This prejudice is acutely reflected in the
political under-representation of Muslims.
In India, only half as many, or fewer, Muslims
get elected as legislators as their population
share would dictate. The proportion is abysmally
low for Muslim women.
Many in India used to deny this. Now the time has
come to face and remedy the situation. Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh recently acknowledged
this and said it is essential for "peace and
harmony" that "the minorities get a fair share in
central and state government and private-sector
He proposed more schools in areas with "a predominantly Muslim population".
The parties on the left have been pushing for,
and the government is so inclined, allocation of
15% of all development funds for the religious
minorities (which together with Christians,
Sikhs, Buddhists and others make up 18.4% of the
This may not be enough. There are two parts to
plans to combat anti-Muslim discrimination:
ending exclusion, and promoting empowerment.
The proposed "special component" plan could help
address the empowerment issue, if it is
implemented and monitored better than official
plans for, say, Dalits.
"But that'll still leave the question of
exclusion largely unaddressed," said Bhargava.
"This will need bold affirmative action,
including aggressive recruitment processes.
Above all, it will entail appointing Muslims to
'sensitive' positions in police, military and
intelligence agencies. Without bold action, the
project of combating anti-Muslim discrimination
won't get anywhere."
The Times of India
22 November 2006
VICTIMS OF TERROR
by Jyoti Punwani
With Malegaon also being attributed to Muslims,
the alienation is complete. Initial fears of a
communal backlash to the July 11 bomb blasts in
Mumbai quickly disappeared as the media flashed
images of Muslims helping out feverishly at blast
sites and hospitals.
If indeed Muslim extremists had carried out the
blasts, it was obvious they were completely out
of touch with their community in Mumbai.
But within four months, the police have succeeded
in effecting a turnaround among Mumbai's Muslims
that any jehadi would envy. Perhaps this was what
the bombers wanted. For a change, initially, even
the Urdu press was out of sync with its readers.
It condemned the blasts, but blamed the CIA,
Mossad, and the RSS for them, unwilling to
acknowledge even the possibility that Muslims
could have been responsible.
Outraged by this mentality, two Muslim groups,
one religious, the other secular, decided to
carry out anti-terrorism campaigns within their
community to isolate those supporting it.
Today, these crusaders are not sure they can
succeed. The Urdu press's stock has never been as
high as it is now, and the English press's
credibility as low for being a mouthpiece of the
police. The police's handling of the blasts has
sent someone else's stock soaring. His community
had voted him out two years back.
Today, even those who detest his methods
acknowledge that state Samajwadi chief Abu Asim
Azmi is the only politician to have taken up, at
the highest level, the way Muslims are being
exclusively targeted by the police. It's no
secret that the PMO's intervention has had some
impact on harassment faced by Muslim families.
Dismissing allegations of harassment, the ATS
chief cites the Al-Qaida manual which directs its
operatives to accuse the police of torture as
soon as they are arres-ted. Does one need to
visit Al-Qaida's website to make allegations
against Mumbai police?
What these families have allegedly undergone is
not half as savage as what was done to many
Muslim families after the March 12, 1993 blasts.
The targets then were random (anyone surnamed
Memon, for instance). Now, they are uniform: SIMI
and Ahle-Hadees followers.
After the Malegaon arrests, astute Muslims are
wondering whether the Indian government is trying
the US tactic of pitting Muslim sects against one
another. The Ahle-Hadees obey the Qur'an
strictly; their women wear the much-maligned
Tearing it off, throwing it on the faces of male
relatives who are the accused, trampling it under
foot, and threatening that this would happen to
all the women in the family what could be the
consequences of such action by the police on the
victims and the community?
A substantial number of SIMI and Ahle-Hadees
followers are educated. At least five of those
arrested, and many of those "picked up" (for
questioning, often for days, with no record of
their detention), are professio-nals.
First-timers at police stations, they initially
felt incredulous and indignant, and finally
helpless and bitter at the way they, their
parents and their religion have been humiliated,
for no 'crime' other than being related to a SIMI
member, or being active members of a mainstream
They have not been allowed to inform their
families of their detention, and, in exchange for
their release, have had to point out a friend's
home to the police for 'questioning'.
All this has been done with 'suspects', or
families of the accused. Treatment meted out to
the accused has been vintage Mumbai police. One
of them was reported by the press as having being
"propped up" when brought to court. Yet the court
dismissed his mother's application alleging
torture, because he refused to say anything
against the police.
Have such tactics been used to investigate
another blast in April, where two Bajrang Dal
boys died while making bombs inside an RSS
activist's house in Nanded? How widespread were
the links of that conspiracy, given that fake
beards and moustaches were found at the site? The
ATS has been uncharacteristically discreet here.
If having once been a member of SIMI makes you a
terror suspect, what does that make members of
the Bajrang Dal, which openly instigates violence
against minority Indians? What is certainly
suspect is the July 11 investigation.
The writer is a political commentator
November 23, 2006
POLITICS OF HATE COMES TO THE SURFACE
by J. Sri Raman
THE death sentence meted out to Mohammed Afzal
under the Indian Constitution is not just in any
way." This is not a line from any appeal for
commutation of the punishment decreed by the
Supreme Court for Afzal Guru. It is a quote from
a section of the Hindutva camp that does not find
the punishment harsh enough.
An outfit in Tamil Nadu called the Federation of
Hindu Organisations has called upon President
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, with whom a mercy petition
for Afzal is pending, to set aside the death
sentence. Sounding as pious as the Fallen Angel
citing the scripture, the federation asks Mr
Kalam to recommend punishment as prescribed
(according to it) by the Shariat and the Quran.
A Tamil statement issued by the federation spells
out the alternative punishment with sadistic
glee. A free translation: "The sentence should be
so amended that his (Afzal's) right hand and left
leg are cut off and one of his eyes is gouged out
and he is allowed, in this state of mutilation,
to freely tour the whole of India and make an
exhibit of himself in order that no extremist or
terrorist ever emerges in this country again."
The widely circulated statement adds that the
federation is "waiting with hope" for the
President to make this recommendation, achieve
"indelible fame in history" and prove himself "a
The statement seeks to kill three birds with one
stone. The federation's demand, of course, is
designed to deter a sympathetic official
consideration of the plea for commuting the
sentence to life imprisonment. It is also a
continuation, by other means, of the maliciously
communal campaign against Indian Muslims and the
Muslim personal law. And none but the most naive
can miss the mischievous tenor of the plea
addressed to the President with an unstated
reference to his religious identity.
What the statement illustrates, more than
anything else, is the hate - or the ideology as
well as politics of hate - behind the campaign at
the mass level for Afzal's hanging. The avowedly
constitutional and anti-terrorist arguments we
hear in decorous television debates in favour of
the maximum punishment for the convict hardly
conceal the character of this campaign, which
matters far more in our free-for-all democracy.
The noose-for-the-anti-national demand is
particularly dangerous in a country and a system
where a political party can profit by a pogrom in
a state and actually threaten to repeat it as an
electoral tactic elsewhere. The demand is all the
more dangerous because it is not being raised
only in the state under Mr Narendra Modi. Lethal
assaults have been made on satyaghrahis asking
for clemency to Afzal even in Left-ruled Kerala.
The clamour against clemency has only become
shriller and cruder after the expiry of the
original date for the hanging (October 20).
Mahatma Gandhi may have measured the distance to
Swaraj by the length of the khadi yarn spun in
the country. The present-day "patriots" do not
measure the distance to a victory in the "war of
terror" by the length of the hangman's rope
(already announced along with its weight). They
do so by counting the days that remain for the
death sentence to be carried out.
The strongest argument for commutation of the
sentence, as some have pointed out, is the utter
anachronism of capital punishment. Most countries
have abolished this form of punishment, and it
does not do India proud that the latest to join
the list are five, far less developed Asian
nations - Cambodia, Nepal, Timor-Leste, Bhutan
and the Philippines. Intimately linked is the
argument about the unwisdom of empowering the
state as an executioner. An almost equally valid
objection to death sentences, however, is the
vicious social atmosphere they almost always
Hanging of persons convicted even of petty thefts
was a public spectacle in Britain of the early
Industrial Revolution, when the punishment was
intended to teach the young working class respect
for private property. Lynch mobs laughed and
cheered as the noose tightened around a Negro's
neck in the United States not too long ago. No
one may say it on the camera, but Afzal's hanging
is also being billed as mass communal
Custodians of public morality in these past cases
of both the US and Britain (which have now
declared a crusade against "Islamic terror") held
up the hangings as attempts at civilising the
economically or racially handicapped. A vitally
essential part of the exercise is the portrayal
of the victims - and, by implication, their class
and community - as criminal. Strikingly similar
is the way the holy warriors of the hang-Afzal
camp are now waxing self-righteous.
This finds crude evidence in the kind of
responses the campaigners against Afzal's hanging
have to cope with. One of the many examples is
the electronic epistle received by Sukla Sen of
the Ekta (Committee for Communal Amity), Mumbai,
after launching an online petition for the
Presidential pardon for Afzal. The petition said:
"One is only asking for the commutation of the
death sentence - not quashing of the punishment
altogether, whereas a demand for retrial would
have perhaps been more justified given the fact
that all the relevant facts were not allowed to
be presented before the trial court and that the
facts presented were doctored." The plea could
not have been less provocative.
The angry response asked Sen: "how would have
reacted if Afzal had brutally raped your wife or
sister and killed your child? Why don't you ask
your wife what she would have wanted?" The
questions are not connected in any way to the
attack on Parliament, which involved no such
crimes. They only seek to reinforce a demonic
image of Kashmir rebels in defence of the death
Pundits like Mr Soli Sorabjee may really mean it,
and do sound plausible, when they say the
sentence cannot be set aside on the ground that
its implementation will create an explosive
situation in Kashmir. The learned man of law,
personally opposed to capital punishment, argues
that, so long as the statute book provides for
it, an exception in its enforcement cannot be
made just because a political or pressure group
opposes it. What he fails to note is the force of
support from a much larger and more fiercely
determined family of political and pressure
groups for expeditious implementation of the
death sentence in this case.
The orchestrated opposition to the pursuit of the
constitutional process of the mercy petition and
a Presidential pardon is not seen as a pressure
campaign. The character of the campaign is not
readily recognised because the campaign is more
invisible than visible. Mr Sorabjee's stance
represents the campaign at its best, followed by
fervent pleas from retired luminaries of the
Foreign Service and the like for "responsible"
self-restraint by rights activists in such
sensitive natters of state. It is statements like
the one we started with that illustrate the
invisible but the more important part of the
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has threatened
to launch a "public awareness campaign" across
the country on the importance of hanging Afzal.
To be sure, the party has officially put its
stress on issues of "internal security" and
drafted its select Muslim showpieces in the
struggle for an early execution of the convict.
But then L.K. Advani, too, only kept repeating
his mantra of "cultural nationalism" during his
Ayodhya "rath yatra", which left a trail of
communal riots and culminated in the Babri
o o o
Kathua Forum to begin signature campaign against Guru's hanging
PHANTOM OF INDIRA STALKING
by I K Shukla
Megalomania can wreak havoc and leave in its wake
unimaginable wreckage. This one-liner may
emcapsulate Indira Gandhi's fall from grace when
she declared Emergency in June 1975 and
compromised grievously all the state institutions.
There was an authoritarian streak in her that had
virulently surfaced first in the 50s when she, as
Congress President, sought the overthrow of the
most popular, democratically elected,
Namboodiripad government of Kerala, and on her
"advice", the then Prime Minister, Pt Nehru, had
obliged. I am using the word "overthrow"
deliberately. No legalese, no casuistry in the
name of the Constitution, could suffice to
cleanse this move of its patent malafides.
Honestly speaking, it was ultra vires of the
spirit of the Constitution. But the overthrow was
fobbed off as "preserving law and order".
UP may not be he best administered state.
Economically, educationally, and industrially it
remains among the most backward states of India,
part of the inglorious combine deservedly called
BIMARU. But Mulayam Singh Yadav may not be the
worst of the Chief Ministers. That he is the bete
noire of the Congress is quite another matter.
But that gives Sonia Gandhi, another Congress
President, no carte blanche to do as she pleases
and conspire to overthrow his government. Yes, it
would be nothing less than overthrow.
The euphemisms like 'removal', 'President's
Rule', 'legislature in suspended animation',
'mid-term elections', etc., will fail to provide
even the skimpiest fig leaf needed on such
ignoble occasions bearing witness to the
egregious violation of the Constitutional order
and a brutal assault on the democratic protocol.
That there is law and order problem in UP which
has stirred Sonia Gandhi is a big lie. Before
anyone else she knows it only too well. That
Mulayam has proved too slippery an eel, not
amenable to her designs and dispensations, is too
obvious a fact to need elaboration. But she must
be warned against any precipitous and peremptory
resort to constitutional mayhem. She must be
reminded that Congress is only a major component
of the UPA governmemt in New Delhi. Congress
presuming a mandate solely in its own rights, is
insufferably obscene hubris and willful
detachment from the reality calculus of a
government composed of many parties.
Sonia must be dreaming that she can revive the
Congress fortunes in UP by this maneuver. Whoever
has fed her this advice is living in the fool's
paradise, where she need not rush in. Indira
Gandhi too was given advice that she liked, but
nothing unpleasant or disagreeable. That proved
Had Sonia really been concerned over law and
order, there were many candidates for dismissal
and dissolution. I will mention just one: Modi's
Gujarat. She would be alone in the world, except
for the Atals and Advanis, to believe that things
are normal in Gujarat in terms of law and order.
Did it ever prick her conscience that total
failure of the "Modi estate" called for New
Delhi's intervention long ago?
And, why have she, Congress, and UPA opted for
total blindness and paralysis vis-a-vis the
Gujarat carnage that took a toll of over 2000
lives and rendered over 100,000 innocent
citizens into homeless refugees overnight, for
ever? Eloquent inaction in the case of Gujarat
bared her pretensions, and Congress posturings to
universal condemnation, finding them , to their
surprise, as collaborators and bed-fellows of
No reprise of Indira will be tolerated even by UP.
November 23, 2006
GUJARAT TICKED OFF ON GODHRA CASES
Our Legal Correspondent
New Delhi, Nov. 22: Gujarat today sought
dismissal of an NHRC petition seeking transfer of
17 post-Godhra riot cases outside the state.
In an application before the apex court, Gujarat
contended no third party should be allowed to
interfere in criminal cases via a PIL.
Appearing for the state, counsel K.T.S Tulsi said
the apex court had ruled in a PIL against Lalu
Prasad that once a charge-sheet was filed "the
process of monitoring by this court'' had to end.
But the court refused to compare the two cases.
"Don't compare other cases with the Gujarat riot
cases. These are peculiar cases."
The court explained that it would have to
consider that procedures under CrPC had been
overlooked in the cases, post-mortem had not been
done and doctors had given false evidence.
Tulsi said the trial court could handle these
matters if an application was filed. But the
court said it would have to ensure the criminal
justice system was not derailed.
The court then fixed February 20 for the next hearing.
Of the 17 cases sought to be transferred, 13 were
filed by the NHRC and four by an NGO.
The NHRC cases pertain to massacres in Godhra,
Sardarpura, Gulbarg Housing Society of
Meghaninagar, Naroda Patiya, Naroda Goan and Ode.
Citizens for Justice and Peace filed nearly 65
affidavits by victims and witnesses to back its
November 21, 2006
CASUALTIES OF CULTURE
Multiculturalism should not be seen as a fixed
and fragile entity, but something that's being
made and remade every day on British streets.
by Hari Kunzru
There's a cult animation in New Zealand called
Bro'town, which centres on the adventures of a
bunch of Pacific Islander kids growing up in
Auckland. A kind of Kiwi South Park, it
occasionally heads off into fantastical
territory. In one episode, we see rebellious 19th
century Maori hero Hone Heke, famous for serially
chopping down flagpoles flying the Union Jack,
and thus initiating the so-called Flagstaff war
against the British. Hone Heke is up in heaven,
chopping away at everything in sight, as a
neurotic Jesus ineffectually remonstrates with
him for damaging the fixtures and fittings. "Fuck
off," says the Maori chief. "It's my culture."
Somehow the idea of culture has got very confused
in the UK. Multicultural politics once provided a
light in the post-imperial gloom for a nation
coming to terms with mass immigration.
Multiculturalism was creative and
forward-looking, a frame in which to think about
new ways of being British. However, as biological
racism has faded away, a form of cultural racism
is taking its place, often propagated by
left-liberals who consider themelves, um, whiter
than white on issues of diversity. Underlying
much of the current hot air about "respect" and
"offence" we find implicit the idea that as BME's
(or whatever the current jargon is for those of
us who don't trace our descent back to Nick
Griffin), we're somehow more determined by our
culture than our flexible white co-Britons.
Certain things have to be excused us. Our views
on the usefulness of the clitoris, evolution,
ladies fashions or the relative merits of other
ethnic minorities are off limits, particularly to
white politicians, because such questioning might
constitute a form of racist pressure. It's our
culture. Fuck off.
Of course there exists a constituency on the
headbanging right who'd love the opportunity to
"question" us as hard as their boots could kick.
During the Danish cartoons controversy, a lot of
the hacks solemnly draping themselves in the toga
of European Enlightenment values were more
accustomed to cooking up stories about
swan-eating asylum seekers. Such people will
never be happy until the darkies are back where
we belong, holding trays of drinks in the
background of Merchant Ivory movies.
Our more serious conversation has to be with the
communitarian politicians who feel happiest when
dealing with us in groups. Instead of asking us
as individual British citizens what we think or
feel about contentious issues, our views are too
often inferred from a dialogue conducted with
so-called "community leaders", who are frequently
self-appointed, and almost always cultural
conservatives, with every incentive to take
offence on our behalf in order to preserve their
own access to funding and influence. This odd
coupling of white liberals and brown
conservatives has produced a form of
multiculturalism in which culture appears as
fixed and fragile as a dried flower, something to
be preserved, in danger of being shaken apart by
the slightest breath of criticism, rather than
something being made and remade every day on
British streets, by people who often have little
in common with the old chaps we watch on the TV,
shaking hands and clutching their MBEs.
This ossified form of multiculturalism creates
casualties within the ethnic minority communities
its proponents believe they are protecting.
Women, homosexuals, religious, social or
political dissidents and artists must all contend
with a political environment in which their
freedoms are considered less important than the
"representative" power of community leaders, who
will zealously wield the weapon of offence when
their authority is challenged. The government's
record on civil liberties is shameful, and
nowhere worse than in situations where taking a
stand would threaten their fragile grip on the
allegiance of their minority-community
In the wake of the forced closure of Gurpreet
Kaur Bhatti's play Behzti, Home Office minister
Fiona Mactaggart famously opined that the death
threats made against the playwright would
increase ticket sales. "That people feel this
passionately about theatres is a good sign for
our cultural life," she said, a breathtakingly
patronising comment which in its disregard for
both the safety of the playwright and the anger
of the protestors perfectly encapsulates the
cowardice and opportunism of a government which
dangles the carrot of "protection" from offences
against cultural norms, while waving the big
stick of "shared values" at those who fail to
conform to whatever fuzzy definition of
Britishness is currently doing the rounds in
Pity the poor muddled Muslim Council of Britain
(a creation of this political culture),
enthusiastically begging for a religious offence
law, then howling in protest at the glorification
provisions in the anti-terrorism act. Their
confusion illustrates the limits of the current
dialogue, and exemplifies a tendency within
minority communities to see freedom of expression
solely as a weapon white people use to attack or
insult us, rather than a tool which can be used
to challenge the strong and powerful.
And so everyone stands in their cultural corner
and snarls, generating a lot of heat and very
little light. The consequences of Jack Straw's
comments about the niqab (condemnation from both
brown and white wings of the
multicultural-igarchy and a field day for the
send-em-back-to-wogland brigade) were so
numbingly predictable that unless he was having a
dizzy moment, it's hard not to imagine some kind
of ulterior motive, a bid to reconnect with the
neglected Alf Garnett vote. Wittingly or not,
Straw has inaugurated a new low in our
debilitating offence culture. Around Britain,
politicians are making the same mental note.
Don't get too involved. Let their leaders deal
with it behind closed doors. It's just their
November 22, 2006
PLAYING THE OPPRESSION GAME
Religionists do not want parity - they want
special treatment and an unacceptable influence
by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
We have lift off, emailed Sunny Hundal
delightedly after he launched our New Generation
Network manifesto. Flying in a balloon on an
optimistic breeze I contemplate the possibilities
we have freed up. Too many wretched years have
been wasted under communal political management
which skilfully divided and relabelled black and
Asian Britons to disable progressive politics.
This operational model was used effectively
during colonialism and worked splendidly for New
Labour and "ethnic" henchmen until recently, of
course, when both have been panicked by home
grown terrorism and self -segregation.
I can't remember when unelected religious and
community leaders, politicians and institutions
decided the religious identity was primary and
that the broad black political movement was dead
as was any claim to multiple identities and
complicated allegiances. But they did and it was
without our consent. Once human rights and
equality activists mobilised to stand up for all
victims of racism and the internal oppressions
within groups, particularly violence against
women and children. Our compassion and action
were not rationed, colour-coded or preserved for
our own kind. When Joy Gardener, a young black
mother, was killed by immigration officers in
front of her young boy, we didn't see her as an
Afro-Caribbean cause; when a Hindu wife was burnt
to death because she didn't bring a big enough
dowry we didn't consider that to be a little
local difficulty to be sorted by the community.
We believed in universal standards and rights
which are enshrined in the UN Human Rights
charter. Citizens were autonomous individuals
with not creatures owned and controlled by rigid
traditions. My dearest friend Gary Younge is
worried that we are against group entitlements.
We are. Fighting racism doesn't require
designated and preserved rights for communities.
In South Africa individuals are protected not
self defined, demarcated groups. We were not
reverential towards faith or cultural practices
that violated the human spirit and yet
passionately campaigned to topple white,
middle-class, male domination over the country
and its institutions. Organisations like the
Southall Monitoring Group and Southall Black
Sisters worked to promote a collective agenda to
combat injustice and inequality. Yes, I do think
those were halcyon days even though the struggles
were hard and the state more resistant to change.
Today the enemy of equality, freedom and justice
is as likely to be within. Broken up into simple
tribes which compete for attention and resources
(who is the most oppressed of us all?),
commonalities are negated, differences
fetishised. Religionists - Muslim, Catholic,
Hindu, Protestant- want not parity but special
and exceptional treatment and unacceptable
influence over policies. The responses of Salma
Yaqoob and the Muslim Council of Britain to our
manifesto make those demands without a blush. The
country is held to ransom if objections are
raised to practices that violate deeply held
principles. Community leaders use diversity to
silence democracy. We are not permitted to
question the maltreatment of some women and young
people within enclaves.
The MCB and several others put out a joint
statement on their website over the veil
controversy: "The veil, irrespective of its
specific juristic rulings is an Islamic practice
and not a cultural or customary one as is agreed
by the consensus of Muslim scholars. It is not
open to debate (my emphasis). We advise all
Muslims to exercise extreme caution in this issue
since denying any part of Islam may lead to
disbelief...we recognise the fact that Muslims
hold different views regarding the veil but we
urge all members of the Muslim community to keep
the debate within the realms of scholarship
amongst people of knowledge and authority in the
Muslim community." These authoritarians also
decide who is a real Muslim and who is not. They
have excommunicated my Shia community and many
others who reject their conservative and
This is what Mr Bunglawala thinks is freedom in a
democracy? Sikh, Hindu and Christian "leaders"
using faith as a weapon, instead of respecting
faith as a guide to life and spiritual solace?
Finally, international issues of grave importance
are being grabbed by these separatist
anti-democrats. It is a shame and scandal that
the antiwar movement which brought together all
Britons is today throwing in its lot with MCB and
others defending the divisive status quo. The
injustices heaped on Palestine and Iraq are not
examples of "Muslim" suffering but political and
military annihilation. Many who have given their
lives to these causes are not Muslim.
We have lift off. Now watch as these obscurantists try to shoot us down.
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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