SACW | Oct. 3-5, 2008 / Sharia in NWFP / Bangladesh: Surveillance / Hindutva's Bombers / Nanavati subverts the truth
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Sun Oct 5 00:27:39 CDT 2008
South Asia Citizens Wire | October 3-5, 2008 | Dispatch No. 2576 -
Year 11 running
[apologies for the resending this dispatch - the reason being an
erroneous date in the headers of the previous post]
(i) Much sorrow, some joy too (I.A. Rehman)
(ii) Islamabad’s Margala Towers Tragedy (Margala Towers Victims)
 National ID Cards: In the Interest of Surveillance? (Rahnuma Ahmed)
 India: Malegaon, Modasa and Mehrauli Blasts : The Hindutva
Connection ? (Subhash Gatade)
 India: The Nanavati Mehta Commission Report 1 Exposed
(i) In Truth, Dark Times (Tarun J Tejpal)
(ii) Manufacturing A Conspiracy (Ashish Khetan)
(iii) What Nanavati Did Not See (Teesta Setalvad)
(iv) Modi let off the hook? (Kuldip Nayar)
 India: Stop the violence against Christians (The Hindu)
 India: The nation state's sexual inadequacies (Sadanand Menon)
 USA - Bangladeshi Diaspora: Hindu-Muslim Family's Choice of
Cremation Arouses Anger (Anne Barnard)
(i) The Road to Happiness" featuring the work of Hawra Harianawalla
(Karachi, 5th Oct 2008)
(ii) Madan Gopal Singh - Reflections on Culture: of Resonance and
Resistance (New Delhi, 11 October 2008)
(iii) Sustainable Communications Technology in India's villages: Lee
Thorn / Vickram Crishna (Bombay, 15 October 2008)
October 4, 2008
MUCH SORROW, SOME JOY TOO
by I.A. Rehman
PAKISTANIS seem to have forgotten the joys of unadulterated
celebration. Quite often one joins obligatory festivities full of
doubts about their justification or under advice to reflect on the
sobering aspects of the individual’s or the state’s condition. This
happens on all national days and religious festivals.
This year’s Eid was observed by Muslim Pakistanis with a heavy heart,
heavier than on many past Eids. A last-minute fit of sanity made
agreement on having Eid on the first of October possible but this
annoyed many who were caught unprepared.
A roaring inflation had spoiled the prospects of pleasure limited-
income families used to derive from buying happiness for their little
ones. The rush in markets did not conceal the fact that business had
declined. A large number of producers of small pieces of decoration,
indigenous playthings for children and hundreds of colourful trivia
to add to the festivities did not receive as many customers as needed
to cover costs.
Almost all those going to Eidgahs, parks and mohalla mosques for Eid
prayers were praying for their safe return home and for the
effectiveness of the security personnel under whose guns they offered
prayers. At the same time it was impossible to banish from one’s mind
either the feeling of grief at the loss of life in the conflict-torn
north-western part of the country or the plight of the survivors who
had lost all reason to smile. Above all every conscious citizen was
weighed down by the seriousness of the threat to the state’s
integrity. The attack on Asfandyar Wali’s home on Thursday again
showed how serious this matter is.
There is no doubt that the multi-dimensional threat to the state is
more serious than anything it has faced in the past, including the
1971 crisis that led to the state’s dismemberment. The militants have
resolved to assume control of not only the tribal area but also the
whole of the Frontier province.
Despair is writ large on the actions of the Frontier government, e.g.
the proposal to again enforce Sharia in Malakand division and the
governor’s reported advice to the US to start negotiations with
Mullah Omar. What makes the present threat to integrity especially
grave is the push to knock down the basic features of the Pakistan
state and the apparent acceptability of the challengers’ thesis among
fairly large sections of the people.
Quite a few other things are adding to public anxieties over
Pakistan’s drift towards stormy seas. The US-Nato forces are not
going to stop their air/missile attacks on Pakistan’s territory
despite all the noise about our sovereign rights that were mortgaged
long ago. The hopes of a political and economic turnaround aroused by
the popular verdict of February last have largely dissipated. Even
the feeling of relief at the change in the presidency has been
replaced by the painful realisation that the more things seem to
change the more they remain the same.
For a large number of Pakistanis the lawyers’ movement for the
restoration of judges unjustifiably sidelined by the outgoing
president was at the top of prestige issues, for which they had
struggled as best they could for more than a year. Most of these new
fighters for justice and rule of law feel frustrated to the extent of
withdrawal from social activism.
At the same time, hardly a day passes when one does not hear of
utterly horrible acts of bestiality against the weak and the
underprivileged. Some of the most heart-rending reports in recent
days included the disclosure of a cellar-prison in the city of Lahore
where a man, literate enough to be a government employee, had
imprisoned his father and sisters for over a decade, a treatment they
did not deserve especially because of being infirm in mind, and the
plight of an old man in Arifwala who had been chained in the street
like a dog for several decades.
Stories of little girls being given away as vani and women bludgeoned
to death under jirga orders appear every other day. A wretched man
sold his newborn child for Rs100 and the nation was not outraged, so
used it has become to wanton killing, sale of children and human
beings’ brutality to fellow beings.
All this is grist to the mills of a dirge-loving people. But this is
not all that is happening in Pakistan. The cup of sorrow may have
filled up to the brim but nothing should make us forget that
humankind, Pakistanis included, is moving forward despite the efforts
of warmongers and agents of death and doom to push it back into a
There is no need to lose heart if all expectations of change after
Feb 18 do not appear to have materialised. For one thing some change
has taken place. For another the people never give up. They have
survived many electoral disappointments and they will show their
ballot power again.
Likewise, post-Musharraf disappointments cannot obscure the people’s
role in the battle for the presidency, for it was they who paved the
way to change. They had done this more than once earlier and they
will do so again whenever required.
The lawyers and their supporters should be celebrating their triumph
instead of lamenting their imaginary failures. They have succeeded to
a greater extent than many other civil society movements operating on
a comparable (and quite small) base. They have deprived their
opponents of all decent excuses. They have carried the day even if
losses on their side are unwelcome. And the struggle goes on. The
loss of a battle or two does not matter so long as the war is not
The stories of brutality against and oppression of the marginalised
are surely having some effect, though not as quick and dramatic as
some expect. The pressure on the government to treat violence against
women and children as social problems and not merely as law and order
matters is growing.
Even in the conflict-torn northern territory public resistance to
terrorists is taking shape. This offers better hope of salvation than
gunfire and appeasement of the pseudo-religious clerics.
Then quite a few positive things are happening. For the first time
the Sindh government is offering land to hari women. One hopes the
scheme will be carried out as promised. The Punjab government’s
decision to open a library at each union council is the medicine
needed to save the nation from falling victim to Alzheimer’s disease.
This will surely provoke all those who recognise change only when it
occurs at the macro level. But there is no harm in doing one’s bit at
the micro level without giving up the tools that will be needed when
the time for revolution comes.
o o o
ISLAMABAD’S MARGALA TOWERS TRAGEDY
5 October 2008
This is an appeal to your conscience.
As you are well aware on October 8th, 2005 as a result of corruption
and negligence Margala Towers collapsed, leaving 72 people dead and
over two hundred families homeless. Subsequently a case was filed in
the Supreme Court on behalf of all the victims (Constitutional
Petition No. 26 of 2005 Saad Mazhar etc vs. C.D.A. etc.) after nearly
2 years of struggling, the victims were compensated due to an
historic, precedent setting judgment/order (October 3rd, 2007) by the
former Chief Justice Chaudry Ifthikhar who ordered the CDA to
compensate the victims. During this process the Prime Minister
created an Inspection Commission to evaluate the technical causes of
the collapse. The final report was made confidential. The victims
felt that a milestone had been achieved and an element of
accountability had been introduced into the nation and its
governance. As a nation we are still grappling with questions of
social responsibility and social accountability.
However, last month on September 11th, 2008 an order (see attached
file) was issued from the Supreme Court ordering the release of
payment/compensation to Ramzan Khokar as well, the corrupt builder of
Margala Towers whose innate corruption and negligence claimed 72
precious lives. As you will no doubt notice in the order, the victims
were not even given the dignity of representation. Subsequently a
review of the order was filed in the Supreme Court to ensure that
Ramzan Khokar was not paid by default or inaction on the victims part.
Through this open email, we the victims hope to appeal to your
conscience, your sense of decency and urge you to highlight this
level of corruption that has crept back into all our lives, on any
and all platforms known to you. Tell the local or international
media, Journalists, lawyers, architects, engineers, developers,
humanitarian agencies, family and friends etc. Tell them that you and
I have drawn the line. This is where corruption must end. Even if it
is just you and I left standing. Let this be our legacy.
If your conscience is moved by these few words we also encourage you
to join us in lighting candles of hope on October 8th 2008 at Margala
Towers to mark the 3rd year of the tragedy. Always remember, just by
your mere presence you can make a difference. Be there and become
part of a new voice of hope. - rising wave of conscience.
Margala Towers Victims
September 29, 2008
NATIONAL ID CARDS: IN THE INTEREST OF SURVEILLANCE?
by Rahnuma Ahmed
Official: “You ought to have some papers to show who you are.”
Protagonist: “I do not need any papers. I know who I am.”
Official: “Maybe so. But others are also interested in who you are.”
– Kafkaesque journey of American sailor who has lost his identity
papers, B. Traven, The Death Ship (tr. 1934)
A non-fraudulent voter list, `a priceless gift to the nation’
Praise was due. And it was given.
Ms Renata Dessallien, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident
Representative, at a function marking the celebration of the
successful completion of voter registration, organised by the
Election Commission on July 22, spoke of it in glowing terms. It was
“a truly historic achievement,” because never before “have so many
people been electronically registered in such a short time” in any
other country in the world. What was impressive was the immense scale
of the undertaking, the accuracy of the list, the elimination of
duplicate and fraudulent entries. “If there were a Nobel Prize for
voter lists, Bangladesh would be the clear winner!”
The Chief Advisor Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed termed it a “milestone,” one
that would enable not only the upcoming elections to be “free, fair
and credible” but also, future ones, by setting high standards. The
Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda, called it a “memorable
event in the annals of country’s history.” At an earlier event,
“Celebrating the Halfway Mark of Voter Registration” held in early
March, the Chief of Army Staff General Moen U Ahmed had voiced hopes
that it would “lay the foundation for building a meaningful democracy.”
A similar nationwide voter registration venture had failed in 1997
because the names and pictures of most people did not match, and many
had failed to turn up to register at the appointed time. The nation,
as a result, had been Tk 115 crore poorer. A proposed integrated
project of Machine Readable Passports (MRP) and National Identity
Cards (NID) in 2005 had been budgeted at Tk 1,400 crore. Its
completion would take 5 years, the first year would be a “test”
period. The 2006 voter list, prepared by the past EEC Justice MA Aziz
for the 2007 elections had been faulty, it had registered an excess
of 1.2 crore voters, leading to a political impasse that helped usher
in the current military-backed Fakhruddin government.
In comparison to all previous efforts, the current effort has yielded
a faultless voter list, one that is computerised, consisting of a
data-base of 80 million 500 thousand 723 voters with photographs and
fingerprints. It has cost only Tk 424 crore, one-third of the 2005
estimate, and has been successfully completed in a mere 11 months.
The Election Commission was the sponsor and the coordinating agency,
the Bangladesh army was the operational agency. Together they
coordinated the huge logistics in a “very tight time frame”, as Major
General Shafiqul Islam, Military Secretary, Bangladesh Army, said in
an interview to find Biometrics, `we required 12,000 laptops to be
deployed throughout the country, 8,000 printers, paper, toner, train
a staff of 18,000 computer and enrollment personnel, in a situation
where on an average data was collected on 300,000 to 400,000 people
daily.’ The resulting electoral rolls, perhaps one of the largest
electronic databases in the world, will definitely be the largest
among developing countries.
A survey of the voter registration process funded by the UK
Department for International Development (DFID) announced it to be of
international standard, in the words of one of the consultants, “a
list of quality no less than that of America or England.” The UN is
said to be considering replicating this model in other developing
The current voter list, as one of the national English dailies
commented in its editorial, is “a priceless gift to the nation.”
The National ID Card, 'an offshoot’
The EC project was titled the Preparation of Electoral Roll with
Photographs and Facilitating the Issuance of National Identity (ID)
Card. In the words of Mike DePasquale, Chief Executive Officer of BIO-
Key International Inc, a US-based company which is a leader in finger-
based biometric identification and wireless public safety, the NID
was “an offshoot” of the voter registration project — a “co-operative
venture” between BIO-Key in the US, Tiger IT in Bangladesh, and the
Brigadier General (Retired) Shahedul Anam Khan, a defence analyst,
thinks the government did well to undertake both projects
simultaneously. Up to a stage, “the modalities involved for the
preparation of both” like basic data collection and cross checking,
are similar. The ID Card was a “spin-off,” which, if it had been put
off for later, would have cost more.
But, for people on the ground, the two were not as separable. M
Sakhawat Hussain, one of the Election Commissioners, puts it in words
closer to how we, as potential voters, experienced it, “No one will
be listed as a voter without the registration of the name on the
electoral roll and no one will get the national ID card.”
Advocates of e-government are also advocates of national ID cards,
for instance Farooq Sobhan, M. Shafiullah and others write in a Study
of eGovernment in Bangladesh (Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, April
2004), “Bangladesh should take active steps to initiate a project for
national ID” because it will provide an important base for the
provision of eGovernment services “efficiently and in a personalized
way,” to citizens who will have unique ID numbers. I came across
several Bangladeshi bloggers who seemed to hold similar views.
According to one, it would be “a solution to many problems,” a
national database would hold information from voter lists to tax
records, it would make easier many tasks from machine-readable
passports to criminal investigations. According to another, the
digitisation of national-level information would make governance
procedures “more scientific.”
The EC has drafted an ordinance making national ID cards mandatory
for citizens, ‘for getting any services from the government, its
departments and institutions or from any statutory government
offices.’ Twenty two services are listed, these include the issuance
and renewal of passport, driving licence, trade licence, tax
identification number, business identification number and bank
account. It also states that nobody will get government subsidy
facilities, allowance and relief if they do not have identity cards.
Very recently, the council of advisors approved the formation of the
National Identity Registration Authority Ordinance 2008. It
authorises the home ministry to provide national ID cards. Under the
proposed ordinance, the EC will hand over all information that has
been collected — data and biometric features of the citizens — to
NIRA, a statutory body. The ordinance declares false information,
forgery, having more than one ID card a criminal offence, punishable
by three months to seven years rigorous imprisonment, along with
That confusion exists among people in general — the beneficiaries of
the national ID card — was revealed during the four city corporation
and nine pouroshobha elections held recently. Voters had come to the
polling centres with their national ID cards, and were confused over
why the serial number of their ID cards did not tally with the voter
serial numbers. This resulted in delays in vote casting, and in long
queues. Voter identity cards had been given in the 90s, or torn-off
slips containing registration numbers, and as a newspaper report
states, during the recently-held local-level elections, the common
perception had been that the `ID card was to be used for voting
purposes.’ Reports say, polling officers had been similarly
confused. M Shakhawat Hossain, Election Commissioner, blamed the
media for publicising what in effect was a `national ID card’, as a
`voter ID card’, even though, according to him, the EC had carried
out a huge campaign to clarify the differences between the two.
The ‘largest biometric database in the world’
What is less public knowledge is that the four fingerprints of each
voter that was captured with BIO-key’s fingerprint ID software, and
FBI-certified fingerprint readers, has already generated over 300
Million ISO fingerprint templates. Combined with the 400 million
projected to be generated, it will become by far the largest
biometric deployment in the world.
Duplicate registrations are being accurately identified says Ziaur
Rahman, Managing Director of Tiger IT BD Ltd. (Tiger IT), a company
that is a leader in both prepackaged and customized software
solutions and was BIO-Key’s “systems integrator on the ground,” at a
speed of “one million matches per second on a single processor.”
Tiger IT Bangladesh’s website provides further information on the
national ID card (by the way, the domain tigeritbd.com was registered
as recently as August 2007). The card includes a standard barcode
which is encoded with ISO fingerprint templates, and PKI digital
hash. These can be used to quickly verify the identity of the
cardholder while ensuring the integrity and authenticity of the ID
card. The Cognitec Facial Recognition Software has been used to
capture facial images.
While Renata Dessallien enthuses over how “modern technology” enables
the prevention of vote theft, and DePasquale prides on how BIO-Key’s
patented technology is “performing better than anything else in the
market for finger matching,” I have simple questions to ask: who owns
my fingerprints? how will it be used? can NIRA transfer it to
government departments within Bangladesh without my knowledge? or,
maybe even outside the country’s borders? As the British government
did when it passed more than 500 samples of DNA to foreign agencies,
but when asked “no one seemed to know” to which countries.
The European Comission recently proposed the harmonisation of
security features on passports across the European Union. The
proposal, introduced in October 2007, requires Member States to take
measures to introduce biometric features, including fingerprinting,
on passports and travel documents. The fingerprints would be stored
in a centralised database. The European Union Data Protection
Supervisor, Peter Hustinx, who is in charge of safeguarding the
personal data and the right to privacy of EU citizens, has expressed
his concern since it fails to “adequately safeguard the right to
privacy of EU citizens.” He says, the Commission failed to consult
with his office prior to submitting the proposal, as required by EU law.
The current regime’s voter registration list has, in all probability,
lessened the likelihood of fraudulent votes. But it also has, in all
likelihood, laid the groundwork for installing a new regime of
surveillance, one that will be deployed against the citizens of
sacw.net 3 October 2008
MALEGAON, MODASA AND MEHRAULI BLASTS : THE HINDUTVA CONNECTION ?
by Subhash Gatade
Saba Parveen still repents the fact that she sent her younger sister
Farheen to Bhikku Chowk to buy some Pakoras. Little she could have
the premonition that she would never get to see her 10 year old
sister a class V student alive.
The blast at Malegaon’s Bhikku Chowk, has literally shattered the
family of Shaikh Liaquat Wahiuddin, Farheen’s father who lives around
100 feet away from the Chowk near the Kasbapada masjid. A father of
three daughters and two sons and a wife has seen all the hell broke
lose soon after the bomb blast.
The couple fainted when they reached Wadia hospital to see their own
daughter who had suffered severe burns in the blast turned lifeless.
The latest bomb blasts in Malegaon have seen four deaths wherein a
motorcycle parked near old SIMI office which was laden with
explosives exploded killing four people on the spot. It was worth
noting that the people living in the vicinity of the Chowk had
informed the police about this unclaimed motorcycle standing there
for hours together. But the police did not bother to turn up and
reached the place only after the blast which saw these deaths.
It is not difficult to imagine the palpable anger which exists among
people about the callousness of the police and the insensitivity of
the administration. People of this town which has a significant no of
Muslim population have not forgotten the treatment meted out to them
by the police and the administration when there were similar blasts
in the city during their religious congregations killing 40 people in
2006. Despite enough hints about the involvement of Hindutva terror
groups in the perpetration of these acts, where a torso with a fake
beard was also identified, ultimately saw few Muslim youths getting
booked for this crime who are still languishing in jail. A CBI
enquiry which was ordered after lot of pressure claims to have
reached a deadend. In a recent meeting with Baba Siddique, the
’guardian’ minister of Nasik, representatives of different Muslim
organisations in Malegaon gave vent to their feelings of disgust and
deep hurt over the developments. Angry community leaders asked the
minister "You blame SIMI for blasts in temples, you blame SIMI for
blasts in market places, you blame SIMI for blast Masjids. The latest
blast has taken place just below the SIMI office. Now whom will you
blame ?"( Mailtoday, Oct 3, 2008)
Hemant Karkare, chief of the Anti Terrorist Squad of Maharashtra
Police, who was instrumental in nabbing the activists of Sanatan
Sanstha and Hindu Janjagruti Samity for the bomb blasts in Thane,
Vashi and few other places in Maharashtra (June 2008) and his team of
officers also shied away from blaming some or the other Islamic
terrorist organisation for the blast.The perpetrators of the bomb
blast who had packed a splendour motorcycle with nuts, bolts, nails
and ballbearings and three kilograms of explosive material, near a
mosque, beside a SIMI office and the time chosen by them - on the eve
of Eid - has definitely put local police and ATS groping in the dark.
But according to an investigative report filed by Mailtoday ( 1
October 2008) : "Police, however, are sure of one thing - that the
blasts in Malegaon and Modasa in Gujarat were a coordinated effort,
as both occured at around 9.30 p.m. in Muslim dominated areas.Karkare
felt that the Gujarat and the Malegaon blasts were similar in nature
also." In fact any close watcher of the bomb blasts in the country
cannot miss the fact that bikes have been a favourite instrument of
the Bajrang Dal to attack Muslims. A narcotest of those involved in
Nanded bomb blasts (April 2006) which saw deaths of two Bajrang Dal
activists had clearly revealed that ’mysterious blasts’ in Parbhani
in 2003 and Jalna (2004) which involved perpetrators on bikes
throwing bombs at the congregation and fleeing were actually the
handiwork of a terror module of the Bajrang Dal itself.
The report in Mailtoday further adds " This is similar to the blast
in Mehrauli market in New Delhi blast on Saturday and also some other
cases where bombs were placed on bikes."
Of course Mailtoday is not alone in pointing fingers at Hindu terror
groups for these bomb blasts, a detailed writeup in Indian Express
( Hindu Extremist Groups on Radar In Malegaon Probe, Sagnik
Chowdhury, 1 st October 2008) reiterates the line of thinking of the
ATS officials as far as the particular blast is concerned. " A day
after the Maharashtra police said it could not rule out the
possibility of Hindu extremist hand in Monday’s blast in Malegaon,
investigators are revisiting the crude bombs that were planted in
auditoriums on the outskirts of Mumbai earlier this year." The ATS is
planning to question the activists of Hindu Janjagruti Samiti,
Sanatan Sanstha and other stray Hindu extremist organisations for
their possible involvement in the act.The 1020 page chargesheet filed
by the ATS in September against the members of these organisations
for their terrorist acts is an added reminder for it to pursue the
case in a balanced manner.
A deeper analysis of terror strikes since 2006 also reveal that there
are at least five such terror strikes which targeted minorities and
their religious places and they still remain unresolved. A report
filed by Aman Sharma ( Mailtoday, October 3, 2008) provides details
of these blasts and the status of investigations. Jama Masjid blast
( 14 injured, April 2006 - Friday) where low intensity, crude bombs
were placed in a polythene bag is still pending with Delhi police, no
outfit has been named. Malegaon ( 40 killed, September 8, 2006 -
Friday) which saw four bombs outside mosques on Shab-e-Barat where
RDX-ammonium nitrate bombs in boxes on bicycles was used, still
remains unresolved. The investigation in Samjhuta express blasts (66
killed, Feb 19, 2007) where six bombs were planted inside Indo-Pak
Samjhauta Express has also not shown any progress and neither any
organisation has been named. The case of Mecca Masjid blasts ( 11
killed, May 18, 2007 -Friday) where two bombs were planted inside
Mecca Masjid in boxes, is also pending with CBI. The enquiry into
Ajmer Sharif bomb blasts (3 killed, October 11, 2007 - Friday) where
two bombs in tiffin boxes wee used and where ammonium nitrate bombs
were triggered by mobile phone has also not made much headway.The
case at present pending with Rajasthan police has also not named any
Looking at the fact that communal common sense dominates the
functioning of the police and the media in our country it is
difficult to predict what will happen next. The investigations into
the recent Kanpur blast (24 August 2008) which saw deaths of two RSS
activists, Rajiv Mishra and Bhupendra Chopra, while making ammonium
nitrate bombs, is an example worth studying. While the police took
two of their colleagues for narcoanalysis, it did not even bother to
question their alleged mentors -one of whom happened to be a
Professor in IIT with RSS background.
Oct 11, 2008
IN TRUTH, DARK TIMES
The Nanavati report is another depressing sign of Indian democracy’s
by Tarun J Tejpal
DICTATORSHIP WALKS in through the front door, often without a
preamble, one sunlit morning. Fascism almost never rings the bell. It
slips in through the backdoor, climbs in over window-sills, pads up
the basement, locates a rotten rafter to make its covert entry.
Dictatorship is showy. It lodges itself in the living room, confident
it commands the house. Fascism is sneaky. It quietly settles into
every room, knowing it runs the house. Dictatorships can be
overthrown by the people. Fascism is the people.
Of course we must not be alarmist. We are a great democracy. Look at
our Constitution. Look at our Parliament. Look at our free and fair
elections — well, okay, prolific elections. Look at our free and fair
media — well, okay, prolific media. Look at our free and fair
judiciary — well, okay, our judiciary. Let us not try and list the
police and the bureaucracy: we have a consensus of unhappiness about
them. In a great democracy — well, okay, a great democracy in the
making — these are minor flaws. No doubt, evolution will make us
This catalogue of virtues is only enumerated by those of us who live
inside India’s charmed circle. To whose privileged lives the soaring
idea of democracy can provide a glittering embroidery. It’s the
banquet hall view of the state — cosy with good food and fine
conversation. And it is articulated only by those of us who have
somehow managed to grab a seat at the table, even if it is a low one.
It’s useful to remember, every ruling class from Caesar to Stalin has
believed it was doing right by its people.
Today to read the Indian state through the banquet hall is to read a
crocodile through a handbag. Only those who confront the beast know
its true nature. A thousand handbags cannot tell you how mercilessly
the jaws of a crocodile clamp. But all around the country there are
numberless Christians, Muslims, displaced tribals, turfed-out
farmers, brutalised dalits, disputing citizens, who can give you a
clear idea of its brutal force. Each of their accounts tears the
heart out of the idea of India.
Experience is a gift for anyone. Especially for journalists. Seven
years ago some of us at TEHELKA were accorded a special opportunity
by the Indian state. For blowing a sharp whistle we were dragged into
the entrails of the beast. How fearsome its innards were — with not a
hint of the beauty of the handbag! Among the many intimate journeys
we were taken on was a special starring role in a commission of
inquiry. This is a special trick of the beast — an invite to a
lengthy palaver at the end of which, when no one is looking, the
guest is eaten. For 19 months we participated, along with more than
15 lawyers including some of India’s finest, in a burlesque of lies
and immorality against us. It was a rare education. We were forever
cured of the banquet hall view of the state
IN GUJARAT last week, a commission of inquiry has just eaten up its
guests. Justice Nanavati, mandated to inquire into the Godhra tragedy
and its violent aftermath, has delivered an astonishing verdict.
Flying in the face of all evidence, he has perilously declared that
the bogey burning was the result of a local Muslim conspiracy. At the
best of times such a conclusion would have called for caution. To do
so in a time of ratcheting communal tensions, with all the facts
suggesting otherwise, is nothing short of disastrous.
The truth of Godhra is awful, but it’s not a conspiracy. All the
evidence indicates that neither the state nor the local Muslims
played any premeditated role in the horrific assault on the train.
Once the dastardly event was over, a sinister attempt began to give
it a political colour. In the pages that follow, a six-month-long
TEHELKA investigation reveals how the establishment and the police
broke every rule in the book to manufacture a conspiracy theory.
Nanavati was meant to snooker the state’s unlawful conduct. Instead
he has endorsed it!
The chances are he will get away with it. As it is universally,
India’s secure classes have a charitable view of the system they run.
Breathless with carving out the pie, they have little time for
distant niceties. In a country of a billion people, a few hundred
Muslims mouldering in jail can arouse only so much concern. Citizens
move on slogans not on details. Politicians and policemen bank on
that.Terrorism is a headline; individual innocence is a nuance. And
anyway all those Muslim names sound the same after a while. As do the
tribal. And the dalit.
Fascism keeps padding in into our rooms on animal feet. We know the
answers. Enforce the law. Ensure justice. Follow the Constitution.
The beast knows them too. Only too well. It knows these are the very
leash by which it should be bound. But the stake anchoring the leash
— public will: as represented by media, intelligentsia, civil society
— has come loose. It has badly splintered, lost its sense of
anchorage, and it believes the beast will maraud elsewhere and never
round on it. The fables of the world are full of such foolishness.
Once, a few good men had a good idea. The idea of India. It resulted
in the most magical political experiment of the 20th century. It
allowed a complex, ancient, trampled civilisation an enviable entry
into modernity. The experiment is still on. In truth, there are dark
days — increasingly too many — when it seems to be sliding towards
failure. In their roster of virtues, the original visionaries had a
gift that made their grand experiments possible. Like the finest
literary writers they had the gift of empathy. The ability to
intimately imagine the life of another. It took them to a place
beyond caste, community, and religion. It made the idea of India
possible. It is a gift we need to rediscover again, at every level.
To imagine once again the life of one man, one woman. One people.
o o o
MANUFACTURING A CONSPIRACY
The Nanavati Commission Report is based on untenable theories and
statements of bribed witnesses. In a painstaking investigation,
ASHISH KHETAN rebuts the report and uncovers the deliberate and
malicious subversion of the truth by the state
o o o
Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 40, Dated Oct 11, 2008
WHAT NANAVATI DID NOT SEE
by Teesta Setalvad
The fire was described as an accident. Chargesheet by chargesheet, it
became a conspiracy
THE ALLEGED deliberate torching alive of 59 persons in coach S-6 of
the Sabarmati Express, returning from Faizabad (Ayodhya) to Ahmedabad
at the Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002, became the sordid
justification for unleashing the post-Godhra carnage across Gujarat.
The incident was first described by the district collector, Jayanti
Ravi, as an accident. But from 7.30 pm onwards the same evening,
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, started portraying it as a
conspiracy inspired by Pakistan’s ISI.
On the afternoon of February 27, in Parliament, the then prime
minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, also described the incident as an
accident. Weeks later, at the BJP’s national meet in Goa, he too fell
in line, justifying the post-Godhra carnage with his famous “agar
Godhra na hota to Gujarat na hota” (If Godhra had not happened
Gujarat, too, would not have happened). The Sangh Parivar’s
Goebbelsian propaganda machine relayed this message of ‘Muslim
aggression’ and ‘Hindu retaliation’ throughout the country and
abroad. Modi, worried that an independent investigation into Godhra
and post-Godhra (directed by the Supreme Court) may indict him for
conspiracy and mass murder, pushed the compliant Justices Nanavati
and Mehta to release part one of their report, on Godhra.
The judges have swallowed the Gujarat Government’s untested but
widely-publicised theory of a preplanned conspiracy in toto. They
have not been so meticulous in contextualising Godhra and the post-
VHP’S ‘CHALO AYODHYA’
It had all begun with the VHP’s mobilisation for a programme in
Ayodhya, which they called ‘Purnahuti Maha Yagna’. Three groups from
Gujarat, consisting of about 2,000 Ram bhakts (devotees) each, were
to go to Ayodhya for karseva. The first group of about 2,200 Ram
sevaks was to leave Ahmedabad on February 22, 2002. They left for
Ayodhya, as planned, on February 22 and began their return journey to
Ahmedabad by the Sabarmati Express on February 25, 2002.
There is no clear evidence that any person in Gujarat (except,
perhaps, members of the VHP) knew of the specific date on which the
karsevaks would travel from Ayodhya to Gujarat i.e., on February 25.
Central, state and local intelligence agencies have, in fact, deposed
before the Nanavati-Shah Commission stating that they did not have
any information about the karsevaks’ travel plans. State IB
officials, including former ADGP RB Sreekumar, have produced detailed
records to reveal that while Gujarat intelligence had recorded the
unruly and provocative behaviour of karsevaks, the Central IB had
issued no information or directives on their movements. Neither had
the UP state intelligence. The only letter that arrived from Central
intelligence about the karsevaks’ return was received by the Gujarat
SIB a day after the Godhra tragedy i.e., on February 28, 2002. In the
absence of specific information about the karsevaks’ return journey,
there is little likelihood of a conspiracy hatched to burn coach S-6
of the Sabarmati Express on February 27.
CHIEF MINISTER SETS THE AGENDA
Yet, on February 27, the chief minister made the following press
statement which was widely publicised all over Gujarat: ‘The
abominable event that has occurred in Godhra does not befit any
civilised society...it is not a communal event but is a one-sided
collective terrorist attack by one community…’ He further said that
this was not a simple incident of violence or a communal event but a
‘pre-planned incident’. Who could fit the ‘international terrorist’
They found a maulana — Maulana Umarji — and booked him a whole year
after the incident had occurred. Who was this ‘terrorist’? An old,
semi-invalid, respected Muslim figure from the Ghanchi community in
Godhra who ran a riot relief camp at the Iqbal Primary School from
March 2002 until August 2002. The maulana was a senior and respected
member of his community who had consistently galvanised resources for
national tragedies, including the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984, from
Godhra’s citizenry. Bilkees Bano and hundreds of other victims and
survivors from the minority community, humiliated and attacked in the
Panchmahals and Dahod districts, had found succour in this relief
camp. Justice JS Verma of the NHRC also visited this camp.
A SUDDEN ABOUT TURN FROM KEROSENE TO PETROL
It is in the second chargesheet, filed on September 20, 2002, that
(i) the burning from inside story evolves into a conspiracy carried
out by a core group; (ii) the spontaneous collection of a mob on
hearing that a girl was pulled into the train is alleged; (iii) Chain-
pulling is said to have been done by Anwar Kalandar, who is not made
an accused because it is tacitly accepted that he did this to protect
the girl. The first chargesheet, which details the altercations
between the karsevaks and the vendors, has no mention of a conspiracy.
The fourth chargesheet, filed by a willing Noel Parmar (an officer
who has been given four extensions just for this case after his
retirement) added the terrorist conspiracy angle. Thereafter, up to
the present 16th supplementary chargesheet, the police version has
not changed qualitatively. The case made out in the second and third
chargesheets was ‘refined’ by adding a ‘conspiracy’ story. According
to the police, the conspiracy was hatched by Razzak Kurkur, Salim
Paanwala, Haji Bilal and a few others in room no. 8 of the Aman Guest
House (owned by Razzak Kurkur) at around 9 pm on February 26, 2002.
The alleged conspiracy included the plan to set fire to the Sabarmati
Express on February 27, 2002. For that purpose, 140 litres of petrol
was allegedly bought from Kalabhai’s petrol pump the previous night
and kept in Kurkur’s house. It is alleged that at around 9.30-10 pm
on February 26, 2002, Maulana Umarji had directed that coach S-6
should be set on fire.
The entire charge by the prosecution (Gujarat Government) that coach
S-6 was burnt down in pursuance of a pre-planned conspiracy rests on
a forensic science laboratory report, which mentions that some
residual hydrocarbons were found in samples collected from the site
and that petrol was found in two carboys.
The reliability of the FSL report on samples collected from the site
is highly doubtful. Hundreds of onlookers and visitors, including the
chief minister and other ministers, had visited the site and also
entered coach S-6 before the samples were collected. Suspect material
could easily have been removed from inside the coach. Equally, what
the FSL found inside the coach could well have been planted from
The FSL report dated March 20, 2002, was accessible to the
investigation officer (IO), KC Bawa, before he filed the first
chargesheet on May 5, 2002. Yet, the chargesheet made no specific
allegation about the use of petrol in torching coach S-6. Bawa’s
first chargesheet was quite vague: ‘At that time the accused armed
with deadly weapons and highly inflammable fluids filled in cans and
shouting slogans, ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, ‘Hindustan Murdabad’, burnt
down the coach S-6’.
The big question is, why did the IO refuse to specify the fluid that
was allegedly used by the ‘conspirators’? It appears therefore, that
initially the investigation began in right earnest. The two petrol
pumps near Godhra station were sealed off by the police on February
27, 2002. The first petrol pump, on Vejalpur road, was owned by MH &
A Patel, while the other was owned by Asgarali Qurban Hussein
(Kalabhai). On April 9, 2002, seven samples of petrol and diesel were
collected from these petrol pumps and panchnamas were made. These
samples, four samples of diesel marked A, B, E and F, and three
samples of petrol marked C, D (from Kalabhai’s pump) and H (from MH &
A Patel’s pump), were sent for forensic examination to find out
whether the petrol or diesel from these pumps had been used to burn
In his report dated April 26, 2002, DB Talati, assistant director,
FSL, said that samples A, B, E and F contained diesel while C, D and
H contained petrol. He added, however, that he could not give a clear
opinion on whether the petrol detected in some samples in and around
coach S-6 as per the FSL report dated March 20, 2002, and the petrol
detected in samples C, D and H came from the same source.
The fatal blow to the prosecution’s ‘petrol theory’ was delivered by
two employees of Kalabhai’s petrol pump, Prabhatsinh G Patel and
Ranjitsinh J Patel. In their statements recorded on April 10, 2002,
the two men flatly denied having sold loose petrol to anybody, adding
that they did not sell loose petrol from their pump. (Ranjitsinh told
the TEHELKA undercover reporter that the police had paid him Rs
50,000 to change his statement).
The chargesheet filed by KC Bawa on May 22, 2002, therefore,
‘created’ evidence to establish that coach S-6 was burnt from outside
using some inflammable liquid. Bawa ‘recorded’ the statements of nine
important eyewitnesses between February 27 and March 15, 2002,
namely, Janaklal K Dave, Rajeshbhai V Darji, Nitinkumar Harprasad
Pathak, Dilipbhai U. Dasadiya, Muralidhar R Mulchandani (reportedly,
the current vice-president of Godhra Nagarpalika), Dipakbhai M Soni,
Harsukhlal T Advani, Chandrashekhar N Sonaiya and Manoj H Advani.
All nine of these eyewitnesses, who declared themselves to be active
members of the VHP, made identical statements to the effect that they
had gone to Godhra station on the morning of February 27 to meet the
karsevaks who were returning from Ayodhya and offer them tea and
breakfast (The judges do not mention their political antecedents).
After making out a case that coach S-6 was burnt from outside, Bawa
started discovering any number of carboys containing traces of
kerosene from around the A cabin. Between March 29 and April 5, three
carboys were allegedly recovered from three of the accused, Haji
Bilal, Abdul Majid Dhantiya and Kasim Biryani.
Since Bilal was considered to be the main conspirator at the time,
along with Kalota, the kerosene theory was accepted. In his report
dated April 26, 2002, DB Talati said he had found traces of kerosene
in the three carboys that were sent to him for examination! The
kerosene theory prevailed until the beginning of July 2002. From then
on the new investigation officer, Noel Parmar, had more refined ideas
and fuel in mind.
THE FOURTH CHARGESHEET
It is the fourth chargesheet that outlines the Gujarat Government’s
theory in full.
The primary motivation to introduce ‘petrol’ as the ostensible fuel
used by the alleged conspirators along with the theory that coach S-
6 had been set alight from inside was the May 2002 report by Dr MS
Dahiya, director of the FSL, Ahmedabad. Dahiya said that coach S-6
could not have been burnt from outside. His report also said that it
would take 60 litres of petrol poured inside the coach to burn the
same. Dahiya’s report apparently did not reach Bawa in time for him
to realise that his theory that the coach was burnt from outside
using kerosene would contradict a report based on scientific analysis.
So one year after the incident, the kerosene theory was suddenly
abandoned in favour of petrol as the inflammatory fuel used. But the
problem lies precisely in this double switchover: from kerosene to
petrol, and from the earlier claim that the coach was burnt from
outside, to the new theory that the coach was set afire from inside!
The contradictions are so glaring they make the investigation a
complete charade. Truth, of course, is the biggest victim.
Another significant point is that the carboys containing traces of
petrol were not found near coach S-6 but some distance away. They
were found at a distant location adjacent to a Muslim-owned garage
that was burnt down by karsevaks at around 11 am on the same day
(February 27, 2002) as a reaction to the burning of coach S-6.
Modi had obviously decided on the motives and identity of those who
had set coach S-6 on fire by the evening of February 27, 2002 itself.
The conspiracy theory has been developed without the slightest
application of mind. By using torture, coercion and the draconian
provisions of the POTA law, absurd confessions have been extracted
whereby a person ends up confessing to having done something that it
was impossible to do. As pointed out earlier, it was impossible to
stop the train by rotating the alarm disc from outside because of the
modifications in design. Yet the investigators forced such a
‘confession’ to support their claim that Salim Paanwala had
instigated Muslim hawkers to stop the train near the A cabin as part
of a ‘pre-planned conspiracy’!
The most glaring omission in the prosecution’s tale is, however, in
its silence about what the conspirators’ original plan was, had the
train not been delayed by several hours. The VHP has alleged that if
the train had arrived at the correct time, the plan was to set fire
to the entire train at Chanchelav, a village about 12 km to 14 km
from Godhra (towards Dahod) around midnight. But the Sabarmati
Express has no scheduled halt there. The VHP has so far not disclosed
how, in its view, the conspirators planned to stop the train at
midnight when its activists had not allowed anyone to even board the
train from Lucknow onwards!
The fact is that if the karsevaks had not pulled the chain to pick up
their colleagues who had been left behind at Godhra station, the
Sabarmati Express would have passed through Godhra without a hitch
and saved the nation one of its greatest tragedies.
While the prosecution’s entire theory revolves around the allegation
that several Muslims, including Jabir Binyamin Behra, had cut through
the vestibule canvas of coach S-7 to get onto the train, there is
absolutely no proof of such a claim.
It is evident from their statements that the nine active members of
the VHP who were standing next to the A cabin right from the
beginning did not see or make any allegations about anyone climbing
onto coach S-7 and cutting through the vestibule canvas. The ASM,
Rajendra Mina, who was in the A cabin at the time, also does not make
such an allegation. In fact, his deposition stated that he had not
seen anyone climbing onto the train. If the slashed canvas was the
most vital piece of evidence in their case, why didn’t the police
preserve it? Why was it allowed to be sold as scrap for a few rupees?
How does the prosecution explain the statement it recorded from the
parcel office clerk on March 1, 2002, to the effect that after the
first chain-pulling at the Godhra station, passengers in the train
were pelting stones at the people behind the parcel office?
Where are the black plastic 20-litre carboys that were supposedly
filled with petrol and brought on a tempo to a spot behind the A
cabin and from which petrol was allegedly poured into the coach? The
FSL has found three carboys containing traces of kerosene and three
small carboys containing traces of petrol. Why didn’t the police find
a single one of these 20-litre carboys? The FSL report clearly stated
that the burnt residue of materials inside the coach did not contain
any residue of a ‘plastic container’.
How will the prosecution explain the fact that the two small plastic
containers that were found to have petrol in them were found not near
the coach but across the tracks near the Mallas Auto garage which was
burnt down by passengers and kar sevaks on the Sabarmati Express
around 11 am on February 27, 2002? Two trucks outside the garage were
burnt using petrol. From where did the passengers get the petrol?
Why did police inspector Barot from the police control room,
Gandhinagar, inform the DGP’s office at 9.35 am on February 27, 2002,
that karsevaks had set fire to three coaches of the Sabarmati Express
train at Godhra and that the number of injured was not yet known?
Barot, therefore, asks the police to be vigilant.
It is no one’s case that Godhra is not communally sensitive, that
Godhra’s Ghanchi Muslims, as Hindus and Muslims unfortunately in many
parts of the country are quick to react, assemble, even commit acts
of violence. The moot question is whether here in this case on
February 27, 2002, the act of burning alive 59 persons was a
preplanned act designed and executed meticulously? While the state of
Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sangh Parivar has
booked the guilty without trial, fair or unfair, better sense was
expected from retired members of the higher judiciary. If meticulous
judicial examination and judgement thus fall prey to ambitious
political design, where will the victim turn, for justice?
o o o
October 4, 2008
MODI LET OFF THE HOOK?
by Kuldip Nayar
I SUSPECTED some design when the Justice Nanavati Commission
submitted only a part of the inquiry report on what was known as the
Godhra incident. I could see the contents written on the face of a
gleeful Gujarat Chief Minister Narender Modi in a photograph at the
time of the report’s presentation.
It was clear that Modi had been exonerated. Was it necessary for
Justice Nanavati to suggest this or even release a part of the report
if he did not want to favour Modi and the BJP? Nanavati has clarified
after heavy criticism that his first report was confined only to the
burning of the Sabarmati Express.
He has said that he did not give a clean chit to Modi or his
government, and that he was still working on the rioting after the
Godhra incident. Why should the Nanavati Commission which has had as
many as 16 extensions submit an incomplete report? There was no
pressure on the commission. Then why hurry?
It looks as if Nanavati is a party to the travesty of justice:
separating the report into two parts when it should have been one
document. True, the BJP and Modi wanted it that way. But I cannot
comprehend why Nanavati has done so. He knows that nobody can condone
the killing of some 2,000 Muslims, not even his commission. The
ethnic cleansing in Gujarat has been recorded visually and there are
many witnesses and documents to corroborate it. Are compulsions
stemming from the second part the reason for splitting the report?
Maybe Nanavati has a point. But he has already held local Muslims
guilty of “conspiracy” in the burning of the Sabarmati Express. The
manner in which he has exonerated Modi and his officials suggests
that Nanavati was discussing the Gujarat carnage, not the burning of
the train’s bogie.
Since the full report will be ready only by the end of the year, this
gives an opportunity to Modi and the BJP to go to town on what
Nanavati has already said and exploit the findings in November’s
assembly elections in five states.
It was clear that Nanavati was more or less repeating the version
which Modi and the BJP had projected to provide an alibi for the
massacre of Muslims soon after 59 kar sevaks were burnt alive in the
compartment that caught fire.
The report released by Nanavati is no different. He too says the fire
was “a pre-planned conspiracy” by local Muslims. Justice Nanavati has
also ruled out the involvement of any religious or political
organisation, exonerating the BJP, the Bajrang Dal and the like.
The version which Nanavati has relied upon is in stark contrast to
what another Supreme Court judge, Justice U.C. Bannerjee, had
reported. According to him — he was appointed by the railways — the
fire was not ignited from outside the coach but from within it,
either by accident or design. Bannerjee has repeated his findings
even after Nanavati’s report.
The special investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court to
reinvestigate the riots is still at work. Nanavati should have waited
till it had given its report. By not doing so, Justice Nanavati,
himself from the Supreme Court, has shown scant respect to the apex
court. Even the petition challenging the Bannerjee Committee’s
findings is still pending before the state high court. Should
Nanavati have still gone ahead?
The conflicting reports bring no credit to the judiciary. Had such a
thing happened at the level of two judges in a subordinate court, the
high court would have taken them to task. I cannot say anything more
but I do feel intrigued by the spectacle when the judges involved are
from the Supreme Court.
It is obvious that Nanavati wanted to favour Gujarat, the state which
appointed him to head the inquiry commission. He knows he cannot but
criticise the state in the post-Godhra report. Did he intentionally
separate the two incidents, which are really one? Since the first
report is favourable to the state, he let it go as if it were
independent of the other.
Legally, there is nothing wrong in releasing the report in parts. But
ethically it is not correct because people are now expected to make
up their mind on the basis of a partial report.
I have a nagging feeling that the post-Godhra report, which is bound
to hold Modi and the Gujarat administration guilty, and corroborate
the thesis that there was a prior plan to cleanse the state
ethnically, will be released after the general elections due early
next year. Wittingly or unwittingly, Nanavati has helped Modi and his
The Jan Sangarsh Manch (JSM), a Gujarat NGO, is the first to react to
the submission of an incomplete report. It has criticised the
Nanavati Commission for being hasty in presenting an incomplete
report to the state government. The JSM’s convenor, S.H. Iyer, has
questioned the urgency of releasing the partial report.
He asks: “Don’t the thousands of victims of the post-Godhra riots
have any right to know why their lives and property were destroyed?
And which minister, politician, police officer or organisation was
responsible for the massacres”?
I recall talking to Justice Nanavati before he submitted his report
on the 1984 riots in which 3,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone. He
told me what happened in Delhi could happen anywhere in India and at
any time because the police knew no limits and politicians no norms
He even commented on the probe that he was conducting into the
Gujarat killings. He said “I have seen the same pattern in Gujarat.”
He also said he had no good word either for the politicians or the
authorities. Therefore, I find it difficult to understand when he
gives a clean chit to Modi, his council of ministers and police
Former Chief Justice J.C. Verma, who has also served as chairman of
the National Human Rights Commission, has released a letter which
shows that he had cautioned Nanavati. In his statement, Justice Verma
has said that Nanavati’s clean chit is far from the truth.
In the report on the 1984 riots, Nanavati had expressed his
helplessness. After 20 years, he said, there was no concrete evidence
to pursue, nothing to bring the killers to book. I hope he does not
take the same line on the post-Godhra killings and expresses his
helplessness once again. The 1984 killings were two decades old when
Justice Nanavati was asked to probe. The killings in Gujarat are only
six years old. The nation expects him to do a better job.
The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.
Oct 04, 2008
STOP THE VIOLENCE AGAINST CHRISTIANS
The continuing large-scale violence targeting Christians in Orissa’s
Kandhamal district is indicative of a constitutional breakdown in the
area. More than a month after organised violence broke out in the
wake of the August 23 murder of an anti-conversion Hindutva activist,
Swami Lakshmanananda, by suspected Maoist elements, the district
continues to be out of bounds for the secular Constitution and the
rule of law. Numerous atrocities have been committed — inc luding
murder, rape, arson, assaults on Christians, their churches, and
service institutions, the intimidation of Dalits to make them give up
the Christian faith, and the conversion of large numbers of people
into refugees. This reign of terror, which has been reported in depth
and with fresh detail in the columns of The Hindu, calls for the
strongest action by the State government. Chief Minister Naveen
Patnaik professes modernity and secularism but his Biju Janata Dal is
locked in a political alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. In
consequence, the coalition’s response to the crisis has been worse
than inept. If it is to regain credibility, the State government must
act urgently to stop the semi-fascist attacks carried out by
extremist saffron organisations. It must protect the people and
places targeted, restore public order in Kandhamal district, ensure
the safe return of the internally displaced, and enforce the rule of
law. At another level, the situation calls for effective intervention
by the Central government. Up to this point, it has done precious
little to stop the mischief, with its Article 355 advisories failing
to have any effect on the ground. As many as 77 companies of Central
paramilitary forces are available to the State government but it has
avoided their effective deployment to act against the thugs and
protect their target. Now, after enormous damage has been done, the
Central Cabinet has bestirred itself over the “very grave situation”
and Home Minister Shivraj Patil has issued a stern warning to the
What is evident from the published accounts of the victims, clerical
and lay, is that in several instances the police have watched the
atrocities in silence. They have refused to register cases — even
when the crime was murder — on the basis of complaints made by the
affected families. Such extreme indifference suggests complicity of a
dangerous political kind. So bad was the situation that the Orissa
High Court had to direct the Superintendent of Police of Kandhamal to
take stringent action against policemen found sympathising with the
rioters. The rape of a 28-year-old nun and the brutal assault of a
priest on August 25 at K. Nuagaon took place in front of a police
outpost. It was only after the media began to focus on this shocking
case that it was handed over to the State police’s Crime Branch, four
persons were arrested, and the inspector in charge of the Baliguda
police station was placed under suspension. Unfortunately, under the
circumstances, there will be little confidence that any arm of the
State police can uphold the law, free from political interference. In
the interest of an objective and speedy investigation, pressure must
be brought on the State government to hand over the case to the
Central Bureau of Investigation; if this fails, the higher judiciary
can be approached through a petition seeking the transfer of the
case, by court order, to the CBI. Equally important, tough
disciplinary action must be taken against senior police officers
guilty of dereliction of duty. This will send out a salutary signal
and help turn the situation around.
THE NATION STATE'S SEXUAL INADEQUACIES
by Sadanand Menon / New Delhi October 03, 2008, 0:38 IST
Shyam Benegal is not my favourite filmmaker. I find his insipid,
timorous treatment of gratuitous political themes, very compromised.
His flirtation with issues of feudal oppression, gender conflicts,
class struggles and rural resistance have been elaborate cover-ups
against any serious show of commitment or any radical departure.
In his latest film, Welcome to Sajjanpur, however, Benegal has chosen
to move out of his customary tokenism. One of its telling moments is
the suggestion of a sexual/political revolution through the agency of
a new party of hijras (transgenders), which trounces the routinely
corrupt and violent ‘normal’ parties — with their rousing election
song, Ab aayi hamaari baari (“It’s our turn now”). It might not be
such a bad idea, after all, to explore this political alternative.
The timing is impeccable, considering the subtext of the film is
framed by the utter confusion being exhibited by the Union Law and
Home Ministries on the one hand and the Union Health Ministry on the
other, in the case in the Delhi High Court over the anachronistic
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which violates the rights
of transgenders and homosexuals and punishes “carnal intercourse
against the order of nature” with imprisonment of up to ten years.
Home Minister Shivraj Patil, in particular, has found time in between
combing his whiskers to make homophobic remarks, too illiterate and
Jurassic for comfort.
The Public Interest Litigation in the Delhi Court was brought by an
NGO, the Naz Foundation, in 2001, arguing that Section 377 violated
the constitutional rights of sexual minorities in India and
interfered with the provision of HIV/AIDS prevention services. It
asked for a reading down of 377, to de-criminalise consensual sex
between adults of the same sex.
In 2005, the High Court dismissed the petition on a flimsy
technicality. The Lawyer’s Collective, representing Naz Foundation,
filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court, challenging the
dismissal. In February 2006, the SC ordered the High Court to hear
the case on merits and it is here that the government has exhibited
comical reticence to rectify a 150-year-old colonial law, routinely
employed to harass those with alternate sexual orientation.
Even the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) has impleaded
itself in the case with a progressive affidavit claiming that the law
contributes to pushing gays into hidden spaces, thereby rendering the
sensitive issue of monitoring and treatment of some 8 per cent
prevalence of AIDS in that community all the more difficult.
Section 377 is also used extensively to subject hijras to brutal
violence, sexual abuse and extortion at the hands of the public as
well as the police, even as it denies same-sex partners legal
protection or recognition within the law.
It is not just Health Minister A Ramadoss who has now openly placed
his weight on the side of revising the obnoxious law. In recent
years, even official bodies like the Law Commission, the Planning
Commission and the National Commission for Women have advocated the
deletion of the Section.
Of course, the task is still uphill. There is a prevalent
patriarchal, homophobic mindset of the State that has to be dealt
with. Readers might have forgotten, but in 1987, there was a
disgusting manifestation of this affecting a film made by the
charismatic Malayalam director, Aravindan.
Dancer/Choreographer Chandralekha was commissioned to conceptualise
Stree, a massive exhibition on Indian women, for the Festival of
India in the USSR. She devised it around five exceptional concepts of
women. It concluded with a futuristic statement on gender parity,
referring to the older concept of ‘Ardhanarishwara’. She wanted to
illustrate this through film on Indian dance vocabularies where male
dancers perform female roles and, in the process, transform or ‘become’.
Some of the great names of the Indian dance pantheon like Kelucharan
Mahapatra and Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma, were lined up. Based on
Chandralekha’s script, Aravindan made a flowing 30 minutes film
called Sahaja, with Shaji Karun and Sunny Joseph on the camera.
After clearance from ministers-in-charge P V Narasimha Rao and
Margaret Alva, when the film was mounted in Moscow, ambassador T N
Kaul flew into a white rage and famously went on record saying, “Hum
in hijron ko yahaan nahin dikhayenge. Hum hijre nahin hain; hum poore
mard hain (We will not allow these eunuchs to be shown here. We are
not eunuchs; we are 100 per cent males).”
To which Chandralekha’s equally famous rejoinder in the press was,
“Mr Kaul must be an oddity. The rest of humanity is either 51 per
cent male or female. Some may be 50 percent. Only he’s the unique 100
Sahaja was stopped and substituted with a hagiographic film on Indira
Gandhi — in the exhibition section titled ‘Ardhanarishwara’.
Ironically, Aravindan went on to enter the film at the next National
Film Festival, in Hyderabad, and won the award for the ‘Best Short
But in the government, the ‘hijra’ mindset still prevails.
 USA - Bangladeshi Disapora:
New York Times
October 4, 2008
HINDU-MUSLIM FAMILY'S CHOICE OF CREMATION AROUSES ANGER
by Anne Barnard
Friends and family remember Shafayet Reja as an affectionate young
man who stayed up late to write poetry, danced exuberantly at
weddings and explored the faiths of his father and mother with an
openheartedness that led him to declare on his Facebook page, "I
never get tired of learning the new things that life has to offer."
But within hours of his death on Sept. 10 after a car accident, his
memory — in fact, his very body — had become the object of a tug-of-
war over religious freedom and obligation. It began when his mother,
who was raised Hindu, and his father, who is Muslim, decided to have
his body cremated in the Hindu tradition, rather than burying him in
a shroud, as Islam prescribes.
His parents, Mina and Farhad Reja, say a small group of Muslims who
do not understand their approach to religion are trying to intimidate
them over the most private of family choices. "This is America," Mrs.
Reja said. "This is a family decision."
The couple say that people accosted them at their son's funeral, that
an angry crowd threatened to boycott a shopping center they own in
Jackson Heights, Queens, and that on Sept. 13, two men they know
threatened to bomb and burn down the building.
The men they accused in a complaint filed with the police — one is a
doctor and the father of a close friend of Shafayet Reja, the other a
Bangladeshi business leader — say that they made no threats and deny
that they have called for a boycott. They say they and others simply
expressed their concern about what they see as a deep violation of
their religion and of the wishes of the son, who, according to some
of his college friends, had recently chosen Islam as his sole religion.
The Police Department's hate crimes unit is investigating whether the
threats took place, whether they would constitute aggravated
harassment, and whether they qualify as bias crimes, which carry
tougher penalties, a spokesman for the department said. No charges
have been filed.
What is not in doubt is that the episode is a source of
consternation, from the Queens neighborhoods where Mr. Reja's parents
live and work to their native Bangladesh, one of the world's most
populous Muslim countries, where it has been national news.
The dispute has especially swept up several bustling blocks in
Jackson Heights, where dozens of businesses are Bengali. It had
business owners on edge during the busy shopping season before this
week's Id al-Fitr festival. The festival marks the end of the Muslim
holy month of Ramadan and brings throngs of shoppers to dine and to
buy jewelry and sparkling traditional dresses.
The neighborhood is a place where business rivalries and family
arguments often intersect with disputes over Bangladesh politics,
especially in the case of Mrs. Reja, a prominent property owner and
outspoken advocate of the rights of Bangladesh's religious
minorities. Her 1999 self-published book, "God on Trial," angered
some Muslims in the neighborhood with its critique of Islamic
The cremation dispute goes to the heart of a debate among Muslims in
America about what makes someone a Muslim — to some of the critics,
the fact that Shafayet Reja listed Islam as his religion on Facebook
is enough — and how to reconcile this country's freedom of religion
with what some Muslims see as a communal obligation to uphold
But to the family, the dispute is a frightening imposition that they
say violates their civil rights.
"We have freedom of religion, and we have the Constitution," said the
Rejas' son Mishal, 19, who studies at Washington University in St.
Louis. "Why would they bother us? It's none of their business. Even
if he was the most hard-core Muslim."
To some Muslims, the fact that Shafayet Reja prayed and attended
mosques trumps his family's wishes.
"It was the community's business because the community knew he was a
Muslim," said Junnun Choudhury, secretary of the Jamaica Muslim
Center, one of several mosques around the city whose worshipers came
to the funeral to plead with the family. "It is our job to bury him
in the Muslim way."
Neither he nor any other mosque leader has been accused of making
threats, and there have been no further protests.
Abu Zafar Mahmood, an adviser to the Jackson Heights Bangladeshi
Business Association, said he was disturbed by the cremation but was
urging people not to confront Mrs. Reja. "It would be harmful," he
said. "We have a multicultural community."
Mrs. Reja said she brought up her children by attending both Hindu
temples and Muslim mosques. "Humanism is what I taught my children,"
she said. "I want to see my son as a perfect human being, and not as
a perfect religious person."
Whether or not her son was beginning to move closer to Islam is
another thread in the tangle of hurt feelings and disagreements.
Shafayet Reja, 22, graduated from the State University of New York at
Stony Brook in 2007. He was living with his parents in Richmond Hill,
studying to be a licensed insurance broker.
He was also spending a lot of time at the Long Island home of Dr.
Khondeker Masud Rahman — who was eventually accused of threatening
his parents — and Dr. Rahman's daughter, Farah, a friend from Stony
Farah Rahman said that he had begun praying more often and talking to
Dr. Rahman about Islam, and that he had quarreled with his mother,
saying she blamed the religion unfairly for the mistakes of some of
its followers. He had even, she said in an interview, mentioned that
he wanted a Muslim burial. His family members and childhood friends
say he would have wanted his mother to choose.
On Sept. 2, Shafayet Reja broke the daily Ramadan fast with friends
at Stony Brook's Muslim Students Association. Afterward, Farah Rahman
was in the car behind his when he lost control on a wet road. He was
hospitalized, and died on Sept. 10 without regaining consciousness.
When word spread that the family would hold both Muslim and Hindu
rites for their son and then have him cremated, the Rahmans and
others were upset. Father and daughter both asked the family to give
him a Muslim burial. They said the conversations were polite; the
Rejas said they were hostile.
Several dozen people, including the imams of the Jamaica Muslim
Center and other mosques, came to the funeral home in Richmond Hill
on Sept. 12, to attend the Muslim rite and express objections to the
cremation. The Rejas say people crowded around them to press their
case as they wept beside their son's body. "I was having my last
moment with my son," Mrs. Reja said. "What gave them the guts to do
The funeral staff called the police in part because the Rejas feared
the crowd would try to block the hearse going to the crematorium.
Mishal Reja stood in the door of the funeral home, asked the group to
leave the family in peace, and promised he would try to get the
cremation canceled — just to get them to leave, he said. The crowd
Later that day, Dr. Rahman, an anesthesiologist at Elmhurst Hospital
Center in Jackson Heights, spoke to a group of people breaking the
daily Ramadan fast at a restaurant across the street from the
family's Bangladesh Plaza mall.
According to the Rejas, and a report in a local Bengali-language
newspaper, he called for a boycott of the mall and for shop owners
there to stop paying rent, though he denied that in an interview.
Afterward, some of the people from the restaurant gathered outside
the mall, waving their sandals in an insulting gesture and
threatening to boycott the mall, according to two men who run shops
there, who did not want to be quoted by name for fear of damaging
business relationships. One said that at least one person in the
crowd threatened to burn the building.
In the crowd, according to the merchants, was the secretary of the
Jackson Heights Bangladeshi Business Association, Zakaria Masud. Mr.
Masud, too, denied calling for a boycott, but said that protesting
the cremation was "a social obligation and a religious obligation."
The next day, Mina Reja held a press conference at the mall, at which
she denounced the critics and asked for privacy.
Afterward, according to complaints the Rejas made to the police, Dr.
Rahman told Mishal Reja, "We will bomb your building," and Giash
Ahmed, a real estate broker and former Republican candidate for state
senator, told Farhad Reja it would be burned.
Dr. Rahman and Mr. Ahmed said in interviews that they never
threatened anyone and were not even at the mall that day. Mr. Ahmed
said Mrs. Reja's decision was her business.
Dr. Rahman said expressions of anger at Mrs. Reja should wait: "She
should have a time of healing." He accused her of orchestrating the
scandal and fabricating the threat.
Meanwhile, under the neon signs and rainbow lights of Bangladesh
Plaza, shopkeepers worry that a boycott even by part of the community
will hurt their holiday business.
"Why should they involve people who are not involved? How will we
survive?" one of the shop owners said. Another said of the cremation:
"It's a family matter. The parents, they decide."
Toby Lyles contributed research.
Join us for the opening of "The Road to Happiness" featuring the work
of Hawra Harianawalla
Launch Date: 5th Oct 2008 | Time: 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Hawra, a Peshawar native, trained at NCA Lahore, and started her
career in Toronto. This body of work is a collection of mindscapes
that recount her tumultuous adjustment to Karachi, where she now
makes her home.
Surrealist in style, Hawra's work is the result of an expedition into
the subconscious mind - and the awe, enigma and infuriation that
follow - emotions that the artist so enjoys. This progression is
continual. Hawra's canvases develop in layers - each one helps her
discover something new about herself, each canvas holds a clue to the
next one …
Date: Sunday, 5th October 2008
Time: 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Venue: The Second Floor (T2F)
6-C, Prime Point Building, Phase 7, Khayaban-e-Ittehad, DHA, Karachi
538-9273 | 0300-823-0276 | info at t2f.biz
As part of its 20th year anniversary, SAHMAT presents the second
event in its series
Reflections on Culture: of Resonance and Resistance
Sufi Music....Travelling Margins
Madan Gopal Singh
Madan Gopal Singh will perform and speak on the history, language,
and musical traditions which shaped Sufi poetry in its 800 year
journey across India. The songs of Amir Khusro, Bulle Shah, Baba
Farid, Sultan Bahu, Shah Abdul Latif, Sachal Sarmast and so many
others which live in the hearts of millions will be discussed in
their cultural and historical context. Sahmat had presented the
landmark Anhad Garje Sufi-Bhakti performance in 1993 in the immediate
aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition. Madan Gopal was a key
conceiver of that incredible gathering of poetry and musicians from
across India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Please Join Us
In Defence of Our Secular Tradition
Speaker’s Hall, VP House,
Rafi Marg, New Delhi
Asia Society India Centre invite you to
Sustainable Communications Technology in India's villages
A presentation by Lee Thorn, Chairman, Jhai Foundation
followed by a conversation with
Vickram Crishna, Founder, Radiophony
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 6:00 pm
Registration will commence at 5:30pm
The American Center Auditorium, 4 New Marine Lines, Churchgate, Mumbai
(opposite Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work)
RSVP: programs at asiasociety.org.in / +91-22-6615-4103
What are the elements of a sustainable Information Communications
Technology for Development (ICT4D) solution for India's schools,
clinics and community centres? Lee Thorn believes that nurturing
participatory development practices are critical for the eventual
success of innovative and flexible software solutions in a low power,
low cost and low bandwidth context.
Lee Thorn is Chairman, Jhai Foundation, and a Stockholm award winner.
Thorn has worked as a strategist in three movements (war veterans
working for peace, disabled people working for rights and livelihood,
and rural poor people using ICT to better their health and
education). He co-founded Jhai Foundation a 10-year old, sustainable
ICT4D NGO with offices in Vientiane, Lao PDR, and San Francisco, USA.
Vickram Crishna co-founded Radiophony with Arun Mehta, after more
than three decades in business, the media and technology development.
Radiophony developed eLocutor, a software solution for persons with
near total motor disability, and helped set up India's first village-
run radio station.
Buzz for secularism, on the dangers of fundamentalism(s), 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: http://sacw.net/pipermail/sacw_insaf.net/
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