SACW | April 17-21, 2009 / Secular Democracy or Suicide
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Tue Apr 21 04:27:47 CDT 2009
South Asia Citizens Wire | April-17-21, 2009 | Dispatch No. 2617 -
Year 11 running
 Sri Lanka: LTTE Is No Excuse For Killing Vanni Civilians
(University Teachers for Human Rights)
 Bangladesh: Syeda Rizwana Hasan Awarded the 2009 Goldman
 Pakistan: The price of moral cowardice (Ardeshir Cowasjee)
- Islamabad in frontline of Pakistan struggle with Islamic militants
- Pakistan: Children of the Taliban - A Television Documentary by
- Life in Swat after the peace deal (Farhat Taj)
- Swallowing up Pakistan (Zafar Hilaly)
- Sufi Muhammad shows true colours (Editorial, Daily Times)
 India's Elections:
(i) India's Polls and South Asian Peace (J. Sri Raman)
(ii) In an election for the masses the rich will be the winners
 India - The Daily Assault of Communalism
- Muslims Find Bias Growing In Mumbai's Rental Market (Emily Wax)
- Forgetting slaughter (Harsh Mander)
- Gujarat: Assault on Anhad and Aman Samudaya activists in
- Shock Value (Editorial, The Telegraph)
- Enter, Hindu Ayatollahs (Neelabh Mishra)
 India: Tributes to Ahilya Rangnekar (1922-2009)
(i) Book Launch "Roots Of Tolerance In Pakistan And
India" (Karachi, 24 April 2009)
(ii) Film Screening: Yi As Akh Padshah Bai [There was a Queen…]
Directed by Kavita Pai, Hansa Thapliyal (Bombay, 27 April 2009)
 Sri Lanka:
LTTE IS NO EXCUSE FOR KILLING VANNI CIVILIANS
by University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), 17 April 2009
UTHR(J) Information Bulletin No. 47
THE GOLDMAN PRIZE 2009 RECIPIENT FOR ASIA
Working to reduce the impact of Bangladesh’s exploitative and
environmentally-devastating ship breaking industry, leading
environmental attorney Syeda Rizwana Hasan spearheaded a legal battle
resulting in increased government regulation and heightened public
awareness about the dangers of ship breaking.
19 April, 2009
THE PRICE OF MORAL COWARDICE
by Ardeshir Cowasjee
Pervert form of religion has been legally sanctified to terrorise the
state: Ardesh Cowasjee. — APP
AUGUST 11, 1947, in the constituent assembly of Pakistan at Karachi:
“You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing
to do with the business of the state.” — Founder and maker of
Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
February 19, 1948, a broadcast to the people of Australia: “But make
no mistake: Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it.” — Jinnah.
Later in February 1948, a broadcast to the people of the US: “In any
case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state — to be ruled by
priests with a divine mission.” — Jinnah.
Deliverance into the hands of the theocrats came a mere six months
after the death of Jinnah, the delivery made by the man who had
succeeded him as the leader of his nation. The Objectives Resolution
was adopted on March 12, 1949 by the constituent assembly of
Pakistan, proposed by the prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan. It
clearly and unambiguously declared that religion had much to do with
the business of the state. There could be no recovery, as history has
proven over the past 60 years.
Now, with the resolution passed in the National Assembly of Pakistan
on April 13, 2009, a perverted form of religion has been legally
sanctified to terrorise the state, to threaten the nation, to widen
the already alarming internal divide, and to spread alarm and
despondency amongst those who still had hope that one day the creed
of Jinnah would prevail.
The Nizam-i-Adl resolution, unanimously passed by the political
parties present in the assembly on that disgraceful Monday in April
is pure and simple appeasement by a weak government, by parties who
have abandoned their principles, by other parties imbued with the
bleakness of fundamentalism, all backed to the hilt by an army of
over half a million men who were routed by a band of brainwashed
To those of us who remember our history the signing of the regulation
by the president of the Republic is akin to Great Britain’s Prime
Minister Neville Chamberlain’s gesture on his return to London from
Munich at the end of September 1938, when he waved a piece of paper
in the air and declared that there would be “peace in our time,” thus
setting in place preparations for a long and bloody war.
Appeasement is, to put it mildly, a naïve policy denoting weakness.
It is a yielding of compromise and sacrificial offerings. More
bluntly, it is moral cowardice exhibited by pathetic men and women
who offer concessions at the expense of others. Appeasement is doing
deals with men who have insatiable territorial appetites with the
wish to impose their own brand of false theological practices and
beliefs. It is an indulgence in wishful thinking — peace in our time
— at the price of surrender.
But all was not lost. The Chaudhry of Chakwal, brave and true to
himself, spoke up when all were silent. My friend and co-columnist
Ayaz Amir salvaged some of the disgrace when he told his fellow
parliamentarians just what is what when it comes to dealing with the
Taliban, when it comes to giving in to them, and when it comes to
appeasement. He was rightly harsh on the government for its moral
cowardice, and on the army in which he once served for having
crumbled, for the abandonment of its pride. His warnings were valid,
but have gone unheeded. He and the many whose heads are not in the
sand are now at the mercy of a ragtag and bobble band of maniacal
‘students’ of a cruelly false religion.
Reservations are many about the MQM. We cannot forget the early
1990s, nor May 12, 2007. The party cannot be absolved of its past
sins and crimes and its ‘cult’ image is somewhat off-putting. But
last Monday it went far to redeem itself when Farooq Sattar, minister
of this government and parliamentary leader of the party rose, prior
to Ayaz, and told the house that a wicked precedent was being set,
that the passing of the resolution will embolden all the militant
parties of the land — and they are more than sufficient unto the day
— that democratic and parliamentary norms were being violated, and
that this pernicious resolution may prove to be the last nail driven
into Jinnah’s Pakistan. He then led his party members out of the
house and later further addressed the press in the same tone.
And that was it — just two went out on a limb, two out of the horde
of parliamentarians, all of whom have vowed to uphold and honour the
constitution of Pakistan, which constitution makes no provision for
the passing of any such regulation as the Nizam-i-Adl, nor of the
setting up in the country of a parallel judicial system, nor of
ceding territory to dangerous fanatical outlaws.
The party in power claims to be a secular party as does the ANP of
which the less said the better. The PML-N does not openly admit to
secularism, its chief not being that way inclined as we know from his
attempted 15th Amendment, but it also does not lay claim to be
motivated by militant fervour. Those who let down the nation most
severely were all the women parliamentarians, the most affected, the
prime targets of the Taliban.
And where is ‘civil society’, where are the lawyers? They motor-
marched for the independence of the judiciary. Why are they comatose
when it comes to the imposition of a parallel judiciary by a supine
parliament? The fearsome Muslim Khan of the Taliban may have
threatened the lives of those who oppose the infamous Nizam-i-Adl,
but there should be some, other than Ayaz Amir and the MQM, who can
show a bit of spunk. The press, at least some portions of it, are
doing their bit and speaking up and out. Where is everyone else? The
army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, went to the rescue of the government
at Gujranwala in March, but now he and his army have succumbed to
Now, only the US and the rest of the world can step in — we, in
nuclear Pakistan, can do nothing but wait and see which way the cards
fall. We, including the legislators, are all helpless, they by
choice, we by default.
Footnote: Karachi is already feeling the Taliban pinch. Co-
educational schools in Defence, Clifton and Saddar areas are known to
have received visits and been threatened if they do not change,
others have been sent letters with the same message.
o o o
The Guardian, Saturday 18 April 2009
ISLAMABAD IN FRONTLINE OF PAKISTAN STRUGGLE WITH ISLAMIC MILITANTS
by Declan Walsh in Islamabad
Fortifications are springing up across Islamabad as foreigners
retreat from public view and Pakistanis worry about the possibility
of a Mumbai-style attack on shops, offices or even schoolchildren.
Twelve-metre (40ft) high sandbag walls, nests of gun-toting soldiers
and concrete blast walls have started to appear around the once
sleepy federal capital, where over the last year Taliban suicide
bombers have attacked a five-star hotel, the Danish embassy and
several army and police posts.
The most visible precautions have been taken at UN offices, most of
which now resemble facilities in war zones. "In terms of security
instability Pakistan has become as dangerous as Iraq and
Afghanistan," said a senior UN official.
Last week a Taliban commander, Mullah Nazir Ahmed from South
Waziristan, threatened to overrun the city. "The day is not far when
Islamabad will be in the hands of the mujahideen," he told al-Qaida's
media wing As-Sahab.
Few residents take that warning seriously, but there is a creeping
sense of menace fed by the march of extremist forces in neighbouring
North-West Frontier province. This week the government met Taliban
demands to impose Sharia law in Swat, 100 miles north-west of
Islamabad. On Thursday it released the firebrand cleric Abdul Aziz,
who led the bloody Red Mosque siege two years ago, on orders from the
Only four years ago Islamabad was considered one of the safest places
in Pakistan, a small city of wide boulevards and low crime, if a
muted social scene. Now it wears a tense face. Streets have been
sealed, five-star hotels are fortified like army bases and a heavily
protected area around parliament is known as the "red zone".
Convoys bristling with gunmen escort ministers to work, while western
ambassadors travel in bullet-proof limousines. The government is
urging foreign embassies to move into a diplomatic enclave that may
soon resemble Baghdad's green zone.
A spring ball at the British high commission, due to take place
tonight was cancelled yesterday over security concerns. Meanwhile
hardware stores have found a lucrative new product line: blast film.
"If a bomb goes off, it stops the glass from flying into your home,"
saleswoman Zahida Hashmi explained at the Ideal Home store.
But the most profound changes are being felt by Pakistanis, including
the well-heeled, who are starting to feel their city has moved to the
frontline of the war against militancy. Last weekend most English
language schools in the city closed, some for several days, amid
rumours of a commando-style gun attack on a school. One institution,
which caters to foreigners, remains shut, with classes continuing by
School owners said they were installing closed circuit television and
hiring armed guards, but admitted the precautions were insufficient
to stop a suicide bomber. "Privilege won't buy you security any
more," said one. "We are wondering how we can stay here if your kids
are not safe."
For others, the closure of a main road outside the anonymous-looking
headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) this week was a
measure of the seriousness of the threat.
It is also hitting business. At Sufi restaurant, a popular kebab
joint opposite a police building, sales are down 40%, said waiter
Muhammad Asfandyar. "People are afraid to come out these days," he
said, indicating a row of empty tables.
Some flag their resistance through culture. At the height of last
weekend's scare, theatregoers flocked to see a play about Bulleh
Shah, an 18th century Sufi mystic who defied the mullahs with a
message of love and tolerance.
The play sold out, said director Madeeha Gauhar. "Unfortunately a
minority seems to be winning this war of ideas through coercion. But
this sends a strong message that people want to live, to be
entertained, and to watch a play."
o o o
Pakistan: Children of the Taliban
A Television Documentary by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
o o o
April 13, 2009
Life in Swat after the peace deal
by Farhat Taj
On Feb 16 a peace agreement was signed between Sufi Mohammad, leader
of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) and the government
of the NWFP with complete blessing of the PPP-led federal government.
Sufi Mohammad reached Swat with a promise to convince his son-in-law,
Maulana Fazlullah, and his fighters to surrender weapons for the sake
of peace. Two months after the peace deal, how is life in Swat? What
is happening to people? Is the peace deal working?
‘The peace deal is not working and will fall sooner than later,’
veteran ANP politician Afzal Khan Lala tells me. He is the only
politician who is still standing up to the barbaric Taliban in Swat
despite several death threats and the demands of his old age — the
rest of the ANP leadership has fled the area. During a telephone
conversation, he elaborated: Ô’The peace deal has been made by non-
Swatis. People of Swat have not been taken into confidence on the
deal. Also, I was never consulted by the ANP government in making of
the peace deal.’
Day-to-day happenings in Swat clearly indicate that the apprehensions
of Afzal Khan Lala are not misplaced and the peace deal has been
strengthening the writ of the Taliban over Swat’s 5,337-square-
kilometre area. The Taliban have made the 1.7 million people of Swat
hostage, and the people continue to suffer. The government in Swat
seems helpless and paralysed. I will elaborate it with some examples.
Fazlullah, the leader of Swat Taliban, led the prayer at his home
village, Mamdirai on Friday, April 3. He was warmly received by his
followers, as well as military officials and officials of the
district administration. Those who prayed behind him were key
military and civil officers—including Brigadier Tahir Mubeen, Syed
Javed Hussain, the commissioner of Malakand region, Khushhal Khan,
the DCO of Swat, Danishwar Khan, Swat’s DPO and the man in charge of
Operation Rah-e-Haq. After the prayers Fazlullah gave an emotional
and threatening speech which was heard with zeal and respect by all,
including the military and civil officials, like obedient subjects.
How funny is it that key state functionaries are praying behind the
terrorist who killed soldiers of the Pakistani army, NWFP police
officers and civilians of the Valley. During the telephone
conversation with this writer Afzal Khan Lala said: ‘There cannot be
two swords in one sheathe. There cannot be two kings of one land. In
Swat one king is Fazlullah and the other the government.’ The conduct
of the state functionaries in Swat showed who the real king of Swat is.
The people of Swat owe an explanation from the Pakistani army and the
government of the NWFP. Would the army care to explain why its
commander in Swat was offering namaz behind the terrorists who killed
soldiers of the army and policemen? Would the ANP government care to
explain why its senior-level government servants pray behind a
terrorist who killed civilians in the very constituency that elected
the ANP to power? It is also pertinent to mention that police in Swat
have registered at least 60 cases related to suicide bombings,
kidnappings, attacks on civilians, police and armed forces and damage
to public and private property against Fazlullah.
Taliban have created their own income-generation sources in Swat.
They have taken over the possession of the famous Mingora emerald
mines. Mingora city is the district headquarters and a busy
commercial centre of the valley. The Shamozai emeraled mine, some 25
kilometres from Mingora and now the Gujaro Killay emerald mine in the
adjacent district of Shangla are also under the control of the Swat
Taliban. Mining is in progress in these mines and precious stones are
auctioned in the premises of the Mingora mine every Sunday, where the
dealers from all over Pakistan come for shopping. Federal and
provincial governments have kept silent over this looting and plunder
of State properties.
The Taliban are in league with the timber mafia. They are mercilessly
cutting the forests of Malamjaba, Fatehpur, Miandam and Lalko. They
also cut the fruit orchards of the landlord opponent to them. The
fruit orchards in Barabandi, on the main road and near to army check
post, have been cut down in broad daylight. Barabandi is some six
kilometres from Mingora.
The Taliban have plundered the Training Institute for Hotel
Management (Paitahm), a joint venture of Pakistan and Austria, and
the Malam Jaba tourist resort. The Taliban have carried away its
furniture, Computers and electric appliances, even its doors, windows
and ventilators. They have established a warehouse in Barabandai
where all these things are auctioned. The Taliban call it mal-e-
ghanimat (war booty). This is another of the income-generation
sources of the Taliban.
The Taliban militancy is spreading towards the lower part of
Malakand. The Taliban have banned women from markets and bazaars in
Batkhela and Thana towns in Malaknd. Thana’s Mina Bazaar, a famous
market popular with women, has been razed to the ground.
There are several new training camps in Swat where the Taliban train
teenage boys for militancy. The boys belong to the schools that have
been destroyed by the Taliban. Lack of occupation and the jihadi
preaching of the Taliban turn Swat’s young men to jihad. Their
schools are destroyed. The Taliban have banned TV and music and
playing of cricket. The young men have no activity and the Taliban
constantly invite them to jihad. Hundreds of boys have joined the
training camps, most of them without the permission of their parents.
According to the Taliban’s version of jihad, parents’ permission is
not needed at all. The helpless parents have nobody to ask for help
in order to stop their children from joining the Taliban. The Taliban
threatens parents who stop their children from joining the so-called
Some months down the road Pakistani right-wingers and so-called
liberal leftists obsessed with anti-Americanism will say that the
Taliban are popular in Swat and the proof is that their ranks have
grown. But today no one is paying attention to the plight of the
helpless parents who earnestly wish to stop their children joining
the ranks of the Taliban but have no one in the entire Pakistan to
The Swat Taliban sent 350 fighters to strengthen the Dir Taliban.
People in Dir have made a local people’s army against the Taliban. To
combat the local people’s army the Dir Taliban sent an SOS call to
the Swat Taliban, who sent armed Taliban to Dir to slaughter the
people of Dir.
More than a hundred Taliban crossed from Swat into the adjacent
district of Bunair on April 5. Arms clashes have been reported
between the militants and the armed lashkar. The army has vacated
many check posts on the demand of the militants in Swat. The Taliban
are not allowing the army to enter the areas that they were
occupying. Commenting on this situation Afzal Khan Lala said: ‘The
army will meet tough resistance and will suffer a great deal when
retaking the area because the Taliban have strengthened their
positions in Swat.’
o o o
SWALLOWING UP PAKISTAN
by Zafar Hilaly
April 16, 2009
The surrender of Swat politically was as humiliating as that of Dhaka
militarily. It doesn’t matter whether the Nizam-e-Adl regulation is
good or bad, barbaric or Islamic. Or whether the court judgements
will be super-quick or delayed. Or whether presiding officials are
called ‘qazis’ or ‘justices’. What matters is that the agreement was
extracted by force and specifically by the slaughter, amputations,
abductions, rape and terrorising of innocent citizens.
Again it doesn’t matter that once upon a time the laws and practices
under the Adl existed as part of the customary law of Swat. So did
Sati in India; infanticide in Arabia and karo-kari (honour killings)
in Pakistan. But they will never be enacted into law, notwithstanding
demands of locals or a parliamentary resolution. But it is
unconscionable that Swati women should be denied education and work
when even the Prophet permitted it in Islam.
Muslim Khan, the Taliban spokesman, announced that there would be
more executions, showing off a list of those the Taliban want to try
under the new Adl courts. His list included senior government
servants, a woman whose husband serves in the US military and many
others. Already Swat is full of Taliban militants, who in due course
will invite drone attacks. Yet, they’ll go about their deadly task.
In which case the Adl will bring death and destruction rather than
peace to Swat.
Within a day of the accord being announced, Khan said, contrary to
what was agreed, that the Taliban in Swat would not surrender their
weapons on the grounds that Islam permitted the carrying of weapons.
The Awami National Party (ANP) spokesman explained that what Khan
meant was that “personal weapons” would not be surrendered. Earlier,
Khan had made the Taliban forsaking weapons conditional on “the
enforcement of Sharia on the ground by the government” when no such
condition was included in the infamous agreement with the ANP.
With the acceptance of the Adl demand, the fear that extremism may
overwhelm Pakistan has been replaced by the certitude that it will.
Lives are being planned accordingly and so too are investments.
In moments of national stress, the people look up to their leaders
and in moments of peril to the armed forces. In Pakistan today
neither is evident. Of the national leadership, including that of the
Opposition, the less said the better. The stifling of debate on the
legislation in Parliament notwithstanding the historic nature of the
Adl law that virtually creates a State within a State; the decision
to forgo secret balloting meant that many, perhaps the majority of
the Members of National Assembly (MNAs) who opposed the law, were
silenced. Or was it that terrified by the Taliban threat to kill
those who did not support the legislation, the MNAs thought that
discretion was the better part of valour and opted for a voice vote?
Of the Army, public expectations were high and hence the
disappointment greater. If the truth be told, one of the largest
standing armies in the world, with nuclear weapons to boot, is in
headlong retreat. A rag-tag gang of killers has it on the run.
Pakistanis are waking up to the prospect that they have no one to
defend them but themselves. As one recently retired major,
discounting any opposition by the establishment to the seemingly
irresistible advances of the Taliban, said: “Oil your guns, Sir, and
keep the ammo handy. It is we, the public, who will have to do the
It seems that the crucial psychological moment when a people and a
society take destiny in their own hands is happening. By the time
this process, whether forced on them by circumstances or undertaken
by their own will, is completed, Pakistan would have changed, been
irretrievably transformed. One can only pray that the metamorphosis
that takes place will be for the better.
Zafar Hilaly is a former Pakistani Ambassador
Courtesy: The News
o o o
April 21, 2009
EDITORIAL: SUFI MUHAMMAD SHOWS TRUE COLOURS
Highly charged discussants who appeared on TV to defend the Nizam-e-
Adl of Sufi Muhammad in Swat must have been dismayed by the TNSM
boss’ latest statement in front of a mammoth gathering at Mingora:
“The country’s superior courts are un-Islamic and cannot not hear
appeals against decisions of the newly set up qazi courts”. He did
not leave it at that and told his audience that there was no room for
democracy in Islam and western democracy was a system of infidels
that had divided the clerics and the people of Pakistan into factions.
Defying another benign interpretation of the “harmless” text of Nizam-
e-Adl Law, he demanded that the government withdraw all judges from
the Malakand-Kohistan jurisdiction and appoint qazis for courts at
the district and tehsil levels. It goes without saying that he will
have the power to approve or disapprove the qazis as and when they
are appointed. This will be necessary to streamline the functioning
of the qazi courts, venturing into areas of adjudication where the
law is still uncodified. He has ended his statement with a warning
that tells us where the authority lies: “The government will be
responsible for all the consequences if our demands are not
The Deobandi ulema have already signalled their acceptance of Sufi
Muhammad’s Islam. One must however keep in mind that all madrassa-
linked clergy has been opposed to the sharia enforced under the
Constitution and has consistently insisted upon their own brand of
law which functions without the “polluting” presence of such British
Raj leftovers as the Penal Code. They also reject the fundamental
principle of the Constitution that any law which is not repugnant to
Islam should be acceptable as a part of the sharia system. Now, they
will have to reconcile to the edict of Sufi Muhammad that democracy
itself is repugnant to Islam.
If the religious parties — who not long ago functioned as MMA in
national politics — choose to look into this edict closely, they may
have much to adjust to. Maulana Samiul Haq of JUIS will have to
review his observation that Nizam-e-Adl has been a fulfilment of his
dreams. He will have to disband his party because taking part in
politics under a democratic system is un-Islamic in the eyes of the
Swat lawgiver. If the Islamic order of Sufi Muhammad rejects
democracy it must, like Iran, reject all political parties, and the
system of regular elections. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the most
pragmatic cleric of them all, will have to pull out of the federal
Sufi Muhammad is right in his own way when he says the jurisdiction
of the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court must be ousted. The
sharia his qazis are going to practise will not accept such “infidel”
accretions as the Family Law Ordinance that still guides an important
area of adjudication in Pakistan. The Sufi will be particularly
interested in ousting them so that they do not intervene to cancel
such punishments meted out by the qazis as the cutting of hands and
stoning to death. Pakistani sharia has these punishments on the
statute book but the superior judiciary has always held back their
execution under the Islamic concept of istehsan (benign approach in
light of circumstances).
The ANP will be upset too even if it doesn’t show it. The text of the
Nizam-e-Adl law was quite harmless. It thought that the provincial
judiciary will get to appoint the qazis and will then exercise some
supervisory role in the setting up of Darul Qaza appellate courts.
Its claim that the law will fulfil the long-standing desire of the
Swat people to reintroduce the sharia of the Wali of Swat will be
falsified soon after the courts start handing down punishments that
the Wali’s judicial system never did. The Wali’s system was cheap and
quick but it was not based on sharia as there were no hudood
punishments under it.
An Al Qaeda website in February this year lauded a Somali court run
by an armed militia called Shabab for sentencing to death a 55-year-
old politician for being guilty of “showing sympathy for
Christianity”. After being riddled with bullets, his corpse was
thrown into the infidels’ cemetery. And Somalia today is counted as a
“failed state”. *
 INDIA'S ELECTIONS:
truthout.org, 16 April 2009
INDIA'S POLLS AND SOUTH ASIAN PEACE
by J. Sri Raman
Women line up to vote in India's national elections.
Women line up to vote in India's national elections. (Photo: Ruth
Fremson / The New York Times)
"Just as the winds of change have swept across the United
States, I have no doubt that India too will witness change when the
next parliamentary elections take place in a few months."
Thus spoke, some time ago, Lal Krishna Advani, former deputy
prime minister of India and the far right's candidate for the
country's top political post. Seldom were more misleading words spoken.
India, indeed, embarks on an extensive democratic exercise on
April 16, 2009. The general election - in which some 714 million
people are scheduled to cast their votes in 543 constituencies across
35 States and smaller Union Territories in five phases until May 13 -
cannot but have giant consequences. The epic event will lead to far
more than the formation of a new Lok Sabha (the Lower House of
India's Parliament) and a new government (by the first week of June).
The election can unleash winds of change across not only India,
but South Asia as well. But it can bring change of the kind Barack
Obama represented for the American voter only if the people of India
reject and rout Advani and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
History will pronounce its verdict on whether Obama lives up to
the voters' hopes. There never was any doubt, however, about the
meaning of their mandate. Theirs was a vote against wars and one for
an all-inclusive American identity. Advani, the "shadow prime
minister" of the BJP, cannot cast himself as an Obama-like candidate
of pro-changers merely through an imitative media and Internet campaign.
A vote for Advani and his party will be one for wannabe
representatives of a religious majority with an agenda of rabid anti-
minorityism. It will also be a vote for reversal of the peace
processes and an escalation of the role of militarism in regional
relations. A pro-BJP and a pro-Advani vote will mean this all the
more for the particularly vicious campaign the party has chosen to
pursue this time. It has been searching for a single wining issue,
but in vain. No major corruption scandal, no manmade mega calamity of
the kind that can lead to a landslide victory for a wily opposition
has come its way. The BJP has made up for this lack by manufacturing
a series of state-level issues of religious communalism aimed at the
two major minorities - Muslims and Christians.
The party and the "'parivar" (as the far-right "family" calls
itself ) have combined their anti-minority violence with hate
campaigns aimed at polarizing voters on religious lines and
harvesting a Hindu vote that has never really been cast on a national
scale. The far right is hitting a new low this time with speeches
frothing with hate.
Young BJP leader Varun Gandhi (a nephew of former Prime Minister
Rajiv Gandhi) set a trend with a videotaped and widely circulated
tirade, where he is heard threatening violence against "circumcised"
traitors (with few nonparty takers for the theory about a "fake
tape"). Narendra Modi, who presided over the infamous Gujarat pogrom
of 2002, has been carrying the same divisive message across different
parts of the country as a rabble-rouser with an elevated party role.
Advani himself continues to insist on "cultural nationalism" as the
true import of the party's religious communalism, while strongly
defending Varun and Modi against the diatribes of "pseudo-secularists."
What is the likely fallout, in this context, of a far-right poll
victory for South Asia?
Pakistan-India relations should be the area of primary concern
on this count. Islamabad has repeatedly expressed the hope that the
strains between the nuclear-armed neighbors after the Mumbai
terrorist strike of November 2008 will start easing after the Indian
general elections are over. New Delhi, for its part, even while
denying any electoral politics behind its current toughness towards
Pakistan on terrorism, has suggested revival of the India-Pakistan
peace process after reassuring post-Mumbai action by Islamabad.
The BJP, however, is in no hurry to offer such a hope. In one of
his recent election rallies, in fact, Modi has virtually threatened a
Mumbai in Pakistan in India. "Response to terrorism should be given
in the language of terrorism," he declared. "Pakistan should be made
to understand in Pakistani language."
The BJP has not mentioned India's other Muslim neighbor,
Bangladesh, in connection with Mumbai, though Pakistan has done so.
This, however, does not mean that the party has decided to pursue a
policy of peace with Dhaka. The BJP has officially hailed the victory
of Sheikh Hasina Wajed's Awami League in the Bangladesh general
elections and her government's declared goal of a South Asian anti-
terrorist task force. It has been left to Modi to revive talk of
Bangladeshi "infiltrators" (never called either "migrants" or
"refugees") as part of the party's election rhetoric.
It is not only the minority in India's northeast, close to
Bangladesh, that has been left quivering by Modi. Migrants in Mumbai
and New Delhi, eking out a precarious existence in the most miserable
of slums, also have reason to fear a recrudescence of attacks on them
and their livelihood.
Hearts are not going to leap up with joy at any prospect of a
BJP victory in the Himalayan state of Nepal as well. The BJP has not
for a moment cared to conceal its disapproval of the dethronement of
a hated monarch there and the advent of a democracy under Maoist
leadership. The party is particularly upset at the re-born nation
ceasing to be a Hindu kingdom and turning into a secular republic.
Alone among India's political parties, the BJP described Nepal's
declaration as a "negative development." Senior BJP leader and former
External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh waxed emotional when he said,
"As an Indian and a believer in 'sanatan dharma' [Hinduism], I feel
diminished." In the event of the BJP's victory in the elections, the
rulers in Kathmandu cannot look forward to a smooth revision of an
old, unpopular and unequal Indo-Nepal treaty, as proposed some months
Sri Lanka, another neighbor, cannot be sanguine about the
prospect of a BJP return to power in New Delhi either. Officially, of
course, the party takes the stand that it is for Colombo to deal with
the terrorist problem of its own. Not many have noticed it at the
national level, but the ethnic issue of the emerald island is
becoming an electoral one for the party in one of the southern states.
In Tamilnadu, where the voters have a sense of ethnic solidarity
with the suffering Tamil minority of Sri Lanka, the BJP is trying to
include the issue in its ever-bloating religious-communal baggage.
Recently, a party unit in the state staged a protest over the
killings of "Tamil Hindus" in Sri Lanka and urged the Centre to take
into consideration the deaths of "Hindus along with the Tamils" in
that country. A local BJP leader said, "The BJP is taking it up as a
Hindu problem, to which the whole nation will respond. The Central
Government [in New Delhi] is not responding because they think of it
as a Tamil problem alone."
What the people of India, including common Hindus, can do in
order to promote peace within India and with its neighbors is clear
indeed. They can vote for this change by voting against the BJP.
o o o
The Guardian, Tuesday 21 April 2009
IN AN ELECTION FOR THE MASSES THE RICH WILL BE THE WINNERS
Identity, not economic need, is the prime mover as the great
democracy of India goes to the polls. The affluent can rest easy
by Praful Bidwai
India's general election, which began last week, is as full of
variety and dauntingly complicated as the country itself. The polling
spreads over five phases lasting a month, with 714 million voters
using more than 828,000 polling booths and 1.3m voting machines,
which demand 6.1 million civilian and security personnel.
This time the scale of the enterprise isn't matched by its political
content, with no grand issues at stake, no major ideological
contentions, and no fault lines. But there is unprecedented horse-
trading and political promiscuity. This is in contrast to the last
election, five years ago, which became a referendum on the communal
politics of the rightwing Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata party -
most horrifically expressed in Gujarat's anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 -
and its claim that India was "shining". The BJP lost in 23 of 28 states.
In earlier elections too major issues were at stake - the self-
assertion of previously voiceless underprivileged people, the decline
of the Congress party, the rise of regional parties, and the
mainstreaming of multiparty coalitions.
Today's electoral contention is multipolar, with two big blocs - the
Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and the BJP-led National
Democratic Alliance - and a still evolving Third Front comprising the
left plus some motley regional formations. Then there are the as yet
unaffiliated parties and individual entrepreneurs who would like to
join a winning coalition when one emerges.
Policies and programmes aren't central to the campaign, which has
been extraordinarily raucous and, in the first phase, violent. An
example of abusive campaigning was the venomous attack on Muslims by
Varun Gandhi, Nehru's great-grandson and the BJP's candidate in Uttar
Pradesh. Gandhi threatened to chop up Muslims, and demanded that
Muslim men be forcibly sterilised.
Logically, action against Gandhi should have come from India's
autonomous election commission, which condemned his comments as
pernicious and anti-democratic. But it cannot legally prevent Gandhi
from contesting the election. It can only disqualify candidates after
a court has sentenced them to two years or more. More than 3,000
people have been disqualified, but none during actual campaigning.
This institutional weakness is only one peculiarity of India's
democratic system. Another is the central role of identities in the
election bazaar - ethnic, caste, linguistic, regional and religious -
and, less so, economic. The BJP wants to exploit politicised
religious identities. Mayawati, the leader of the Dalits (fomerly
known as Untouchables), uses the caste as her fulcrum. Equally
significant are other identities, including low and middle castes
(OBCs - Other Backward Classes - in officialese), regional and sub-
regional, tribes and clans.
In the Hindi-speaking "cow belt" caste finds expression in parties
with strong OBC profiles. These parties spun off the Socialist
movement, which itself coalesced in the Janata party, the Congress's
nemesis, in the 1970s. The south's dominant parties are also based on
regional identities. Relatively large umbrella parties like the
Congress shelter disparate groups, without subsuming them under a
Strangely, identities based on economic status play a far smaller
role. Party manifestos don't directly address questions about acute
poverty, lack of healthcare, education, sanitation or malnutrition -
which affect half of India's children. Most parties don't even make
pledges on redistribution, preferring palliatives such as free
electricity, subsidised food, and even free TV sets.
Remarkably no party, not even on the left, demands that the rich be
taxed adequately to generate revenue that can finance public
services. The affluent in India pay among the world's lowest tax
rates, usually under 20%. Nor is there inheritance tax in this super-
hierarchical society where privilege at birth guarantees lifelong
The result is a disjuncture between what has been called the natural
centre of political gravity and its actual centre. The former lies
firmly on the left of the spectrum, reflecting the reality of
persistent deprivation, structurally rooted poverty, disgraceful
income disparities, and lack of equitable growth. But, given the
peculiarities of India's political culture, the actual centre is
diffuse and close to the centre-right.
Neither 150,000 farmers' suicides over a decade nor even the loss of
millions of jobs during the current economic slowdown have provoked a
strong policy-oriented response from most parties. In part this is
because free-market ideas remain fashionable within the elite, which
may represent only a tenth of society, but is vastly influential in
shaping policy discourse and media-led perceptions. It's also because
of India's sheer size. Each directly elected MP represents almost 2
million people. Small groups have virtually no voice in policy-
making. Working people are poorly organised and hence feebly
So don't expect this election to produce dramatic change - unless the
BJP wins. If a Congress-led coalition or a regional parties-plus-left
alliance wins, change will be modest.
• Praful Bidwai is the co-author of South Asia on a Short Fuse:
Nuclear Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament
 India - The Daily Assault by the Communalist Forces
The Washington Post
April 19, 2009
MUSLIMS FIND BIAS GROWING IN MUMBAI'S RENTAL MARKET
Recent Increase Is Blamed On Terrorist Attacks Last Fall
by Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Mumbai -- The sunny apartment had everything Palvisha Aslam, 22, a
Bollywood producer, wanted: a spacious bedroom and a kitchen that
overlooked a garden in a middle-class neighborhood that was a short
commute to Film City, where many of India's Hindi movies are shot.
She was about to sign the lease when the real estate broker noticed
her surname. He didn't realize that she was Muslim, he said. Then he
rejected her. It was just six weeks after the November Mumbai
terrorist attacks and Indian Muslims were being viewed with suspicion
across the country. He then showed her a grimy one-room tenement in a
Muslim-dominated ghetto. She felt sick to her stomach as she watched
the residents fight over water at a leaky tap in a dark alley.
"That night I cried a lot. I was still an outcast in my own country
-- even as a secular Muslim with a well-paid job in Bollywood," said
Aslam, who had similar experiences with five other brokers and three
months later is still crashing on friends' sofas. "I'm an Indian. I
love my country. Is it a crime now to be a Muslim in Mumbai?"
In the months after the brazen three-day Mumbai terrorist attacks,
stories like Aslam's are common, even among some of the country's
most beloved Bollywood actors, screenwriters and producers in India's
most cosmopolitan city. The accusations of discrimination highlight
the often simmering religious tensions in the world's biggest
democracy, where Muslim celebrities can be feted on the red carpet
one minute and locked out of quality housing the next.
The phenomenon has become known here as "renting while Muslim." It
raises questions that go to the heart of India's identity as a
secular democracy that is home to nearly every major religion on the
planet. Although India has a Hindu majority, it also has 150 million
Muslims, one of the largest Islamic communities in the world.
"The new generation wants a better India that isn't bogged down in
religious strife," said Junaid Memon, 34, a Muslim Bollywood director
who is trying to promote religious harmony through his films and his
Facebook site. "We shouldn't be an India that ghettoizes all Muslims
to apartments near a mosque. This is a real test for modern India."
With national elections across India that began Thursday and last a
month, some Muslim activists and Bollywood film directors are raising
the issue with political parties and trying to form a voting bloc.
"This election, we have to talk about housing discrimination against
Muslims," said Zulfi Sayed, a Muslim actor who is outspoken about the
issue and is courting Hindus who agree with him. "In a shining India,
this shouldn't be still such a common practice."
Muslims have long served as an important swing vote in India since
Hindus are increasingly divided among nearly 200 regional parties.
Historically, India's Congress party won elections with the help of
the Muslim vote by running on a platform of promoting religious
diversity. The opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party
has, at times, used anti-Muslim sentiment to court votes while
pledging to keep Hindu heritage alive.
India blames the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Lashkar-i-
Taiba for the November attack in which 10 gunmen left more than 170
people dead, including 40 Indian Muslims.
Many Muslims here feared the attacks would unleash cycles of revenge
killing of the sort that has been a recurring theme of India's modern
history, from the violence of partition between India and Pakistan in
1947 to the 1992 riots in Mumbai. In the days after November's Mumbai
attacks, Muslims from all corners of society united, holding
candlelight vigils with a message to protest terrorism and pledge
loyalty to India. In the end, there was no communal violence.
But across the country, reports of housing discrimination have
Afroz Alam Sahil, 21, a student activist at Jamia Millia Islamia
College in New Delhi, said that more than a dozen students from
states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar -- which have large Muslim
populations -- have been unable to find housing since the Mumbai
"Some Muslim friends have dropped out of college because they have
nowhere to stay," Sahil said. "There is intense suspicion. Sometimes
I ask myself why I was born Muslim."
Rana Afroz, a Muslim editor with the newspaper the Hindu, is
investigating the issue after spending three months unable to find a
landlord willing to rent to her and her husband.
"It is a ridiculous that I have to prove to non-Muslims that I am not
making bombs in my kitchen," she said. "Is this really the modern
India I live in?"
In India, Muslims are often segregated, and they experience high
poverty rates and low literacy. Although they make up nearly 14
percent of India's population, they hold fewer than 5 percent of
government posts and are just 4 percent of the student body in
India's elite universities, according to a 2006 government report.
But there are few issues more emotional than housing, especially in
Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, India's pulsating city of dreams
where aspiring farmers and filmmakers come from across the country to
seek fame and fortune.
"The ethos of Bombay is a city open to the world. The Muslims of this
city feel that way, too. But the real question is why do we as Indian
Muslims always have to be proving our loyalty?" asked Nawman Malik, a
popular Bollywood producer who spent months searching for an
apartment. "We have no problem with security screenings; in fact, we
prefer it. But to reject us outright for our religion is harassment."
Mumbai has always had tensions over what are known here as
"vegetarian buildings," where meat eaters are not allowed to live and
are thus seen as devices to keep out Muslims and lower-caste Hindus.
Those kinds of buildings have become more common in middle-class and
posh neighborhoods as more merchants and industrialists from the
neighboring state of Gujarat, where vegetarian Hinduism is the norm,
migrate to India's richest city.
Vegetarian-building managers say they don't want the smell of meat in
their hallways. But they often also explain their rules by saying
they are worried about security and want like-minded residents to
"Say you check one renter and they seem okay. But then they go to
mosque and bring back their bearded friends and those friends are
terrorists," said Raj Pathak, a vegetarian-building manager in
downtown Mumbai. "Why do we have to live with such fears?"
Muslims, who have seen housing discrimination and the number of
vegetarian buildings spike after every terrorist attack, see the
issue as blatant discrimination.
"Everyone knows the vegetarian-only restriction is code language for
'No Muslims,' " said Naved Khan, a Muslim real estate broker who is
trying to help Bollywood's Muslims find housing.
Muslim technicians, editors, cinematographers and writers are the
backbone of the film industry. Many of the country's top film stars
are also Muslim, including mega Hindi hero Shahrukh Khan, known as
King Khan. On a recent afternoon, Aslam, the producer, hung out at a
cafe, as she sometimes does so she doesn't get on the nerves of those
she is staying with. She wore jeans and a hooded sweat shirt. Her
khaki side bag was festooned with countercultural buttons. Until
January, she was living with a Hindu roommate. Then their lease
ended. Her roommate was getting married.
"So I thought I would get my own place as a successful adult," said
Aslam, who had come to Mumbai from Kolkata with dreams of landing a
Bollywood job. "My mom was really proud of me. Now she's really upset."
A broker recently showed her a house in a working-class neighborhood.
"It looked haunted. But I was denied even that," she said.
Another broker gave her advice: "Madam, live with a Hindu roommate.
Only then will you get a flat."
Special correspondent Ria Sen in New Delhi contributed to this report.
o o o
Forgetting slaughter-Harsh Mander/Barefoot-The Sunday Magazine/The
HIndu-March 22, 2009
by Harsh Mander
Seven years after the engineered communal hate and carnage, Gujarat
remains a bitterly divided society…
Only when there is remorse and healing, ‘they’ and ‘we’ will together
be able to authentically ‘move on’.
Seven years have lapsed since blood spilt on streets across Gujarat
and fires rose to the skies, in a terrifying inferno of engineered
communal hate. Wounds refuse to heal, people of diverse faiths live
side by side or in segregated ghettoes but in a n uneasy, brittle
truce, without the restoration of genuine trust and normal social and
economic intercourse. The State remains openly hostile to a segment
of citizens only because they belong to a different faith from the
majority. Muslim youth are picked up almost randomly on charges of
terrorism, and their deaths in so-called “encounters” or extra-
judicial killings are explained away by State authorities with rarely
even the façade of any credible evidence. An ominous subtext
characterises re-engineered social relations: new realities of
settled hate, settled fear and settled despair in all villages and
urban settlements that were torn apart by the gruesome mass violence
of 2002. Gujarat continues to be a society bitterly, and some now
grimly fear, permanently divided.
But, at the same time, many senior BJP leaders and police officers
are on the run, pursued by a special investigation team appointed by
the highest court of the land. It is often suggested that there is a
self-evident conflict or disconnect, some would suggest even a
contradiction, between the goals of justice (particularly legal
justice or justice delivered through the formal and impersonal
instruments of the modern State), and reconciliation. In the
aftermath of Gujarat 2002, there are many who argue that the efforts
of human rights groups (including those that I am engaged with) which
strive to secure justice for the survivors, are actually blocking
efforts at reconciliation, or the spaces for forgiveness. Such
enterprises are seen to be akin to scraping the scab off old wounds
and not letting these heal naturally: they are seen as not letting
the survivors forget their suffering. Those opposed to such efforts
dispute: “What is achieved by reviving memories of what is done and
over with? We should let the people affected by the admittedly
unfortunate mass violence move on, without being constantly pulled
into the quicksand of a painful past”.
What cost reconciliation?
It is significant that rarely do such suggestions emanate from those
affected by the violence themselves, or from those who belong to the
Muslim community and suffer intensely even if only vicariously from
the continuing injustice and persisting gruesome outrages like mass
graves and evidence of killings in false encounters in Gujarat. There
are some among the affected communities in Gujarat — usually traders
or better-off victims and mostly men — who choose not to fight for
legal justice, but this is not because they do not value justice or
because they suffer no anguish for the injustice and betrayal of the
past, but as a practical act of individual survival by surrender and
compromise, in a climate of persisting hate and fear. The suggestions
for hastily closing the past come mostly from people of the majority
community who have not suffered directly or even vicariously the
torment of the survivors of the carnage, or from persisting
insecurity and contested citizenship rights, or indeed from the
impact of a drift into a re-moulded majoritarian social and political
Of course as a nation and as a people, we need to move on, pushing
decisively behind us chapters of collective shame and tribulation,
such as what unfolded in the killing fields of Gujarat in 2002. But
the decision to impatiently surge ahead without looking back cannot
justly be imposed on women and men, boys and girls who live with not
only with the memories of the trauma of unspeakable loss and
violence, but the daily lived realities of continued persecution,
boycott, expulsion, fear and hate. They should not feel coerced into
a spurious amnesia, imposed on them by those who did not suffer and
by their absence of remorse and compassion. It is only when the
survivors are able to deal voluntarily with this painful past, and
when they are assisted to rebuild their homes, livelihoods and social
relations, that they will be able to look to the future with optimism
and confidence. Traditions like the annual ritualised mourning of
Moharram or the commemoration of the Holocaust in gut-wrenching
museums acknowledge the importance of remembering, even while
forgiving and letting go. Only when there is remorse and healing, it
is possible that hand in hand, “they” and “we” will together be able
to authentically “move on”. Else, as philosopher Santayana wisely
prophesised, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to
repeat it”. We have repeated the history of communal violence and
pogroms too many times already in India to risk its further
repetition through forgetting the unhealed wounds of our recent history.
A survivor of apartheid in South Africa famously and tellingly
reminded members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the
great imbalances of power that are implicit in alternate notions of
reconciliation and justice. “Reconciliation is only in the vocabulary
of those who can afford it”, he agonisingly countered them. “It is
non-existent to a person whose self-respect has been stripped away
and poverty is a festering wound that consumes his soul”. I have
found nothing in what members of the Commission said that adequately
responds to his anguished challenge.
Those who oppose post-violence human rights struggles also often
suggest that efforts for legal justice undertaken long after visible
violence has ceased on the streets, only revive enmities and cause
further unrest and tensions rather than encourage peace. These
threaten the fragile peace that is constructed with so much
difficulty in post-conflict societies. This argument reminds me again
and again of beliefs that a family in which a woman accepts repeated
violence in the hands of her spouse without complaint or resistance
is a peaceful one, and a household in which she is encouraged or
supported (or instigated?) to be emboldened enough to speak out is
one in which the peace and sanctity of family life is being
imperilled and destroyed.
Indeed the pleas for shrouding throbbing pasts in suffocating silence
are particularly unjust for women survivors of communal violence.
There are, even in normal times, enormous conspiracies of silence
that surround violence against women, whether in homes, workplaces or
on the streets. In all communal squalls, the bodies of women are
specially targeted. Women’s bodies are refashioned as the property of
the hated “other” and as symbols of their honour, therefore attacks
on these aim to humiliate the men who “own” them and help break their
spirit. Imposed consent for silence as forms of spurious
reconciliation are likely to muffle the unhealed agony of women
survivors most of all. It is hard for me as a man to even speculate
what reconciliation means to women who survived rape. And even more
so to those who continue to face the torments of their rapists, and
the shame of surviving rape in their own communities. Feminist
observers perceive a change in “rape cultures” in Gujarat following
the brutally gendered violence of 2002, even in relation to Hindu
women, and the increased trafficking of women and girls in marriage
and on the sex market. In the painful stoic or muffled silences of
the survivors, the questions still shout to be heard about whether
there is an impossibility of reconciliation for survivors of rape,
especially when the rapists and those who instigated them walk free?
Who can speak to them of finding spaces in their hearts for
forgiveness, and who indeed should? Do such paths exist at all for
the women who carry burdens of the pain and humiliation such as of
2002? If such paths exist, they must I believe traverse also the
daunting treacherous journey of justice.
In my interviews with hundreds of survivors of the Gujarat carnage of
2002, I learnt that the families of most had not suffered for the
first time in the carnage of 2002. Each had many agonising tales of
losing loved ones, and the looting and torching of their homes in
several successive riots. In fact, the saga of their lives seemed
like the spaces between various communal riots, often starting with
the cataclysmic upheavals of 1947. These spaces were almost stolen,
tragically fragile, insecure interludes during which they struggled
to lead full and happy lives before being overtaken and destroyed
once again by the persistent politics of hate. Whenever they reflect
on and talk of their futures, riots continue to dominate their
mindscape. They speak repeatedly of their plans of what they would do
for the protection of their families, not if a communal riot breaks
out again, but when it does. (Their plans were usually of finding
safety by shifting to Muslim ghettoes and sometimes by arming
themselves and very occasionally in fantasies of bloody retributive
violence). On such tragic and hopeless certainties of recurrence of
the trauma of periodically repeated profound loss and suffering in
violent communal upheavals, no enduring peaceful future can be built.
This, to my understanding is crucial, that all notions of authentic
reconciliation relate to a situation when the moment of atrocity can
be relegated to a past. But for the Gujarat survivors, the
persecution is repetitive: what can then be reconciliation in these
situations of sustained boycott, segregation and hate?
In these circumstances, what are the ethical ways of remembering the
past in order to forge a better, kinder, fairer shared future?
o o o
ATTACK ON ANHAD AND AMAN SAMUDAYA ACTIVISTS IN GANDHINAGAR, GUJARAT
20 April 2009
Anhad and Aman Samudaya activists were brutally beaten up today by
BJP/ VHP members at two different locations in Shastri Nagar,
Naranpura (Gandhi Nagar Constituency) while they were doing a door to
The activists were surrounded near Pallav 4 Rasta and in Arpit
Restaurant in Shastri Nagar abused, women activists were pushed
around . Sachin Pandya and Robin Soni were kicked, punched and beaten
with sticks. Using extremely filthy language the hoodlums threatened
the activists never to enter that area again or face dire consequences.
All this happened around 1:00 pm. A man on black activa having BJP
sticker on it, came and asked them to stop campaigning in the area.
He made several calls and soon sachin and robin were surrounded by
around 20-25hoodlums, who started beating them . Arpit restaurant
where volunteers of Anhad & Aman Samuday were sitting to have lunch
were also surrounded by BJP activists came on bikes and car (some of
the nos. of cars and bikes are – GJ 1 FM 5547, GJ 1 DF 7347, GJ 1 EL
2080, GJ 1 6931, GJ 1 FM 2993). In the mean time a lady named Geeta
and a man named Gautam, both BJP activist came in the fore front
started abusing with fowl language. Rasheeda and Shivani Singh were
pshed around and manhandled by the BJP hoodlums. They also ruffed up
The BJP goons took away all the campaign material.
We have complaind to the election commssion. We are in the process of
filing a complaint with the Police Commissioner.
Anhad demands an immediate arrest of the hoodlums who attacked the
This has happened in the ’PM in waiting’ Advani’s constituency. Is
this going to happen all over India if he becomes the PM?
o o o
21 April 2009
It is alarming that crucial decisions regarding something as
fundamental to human health and happiness as sexuality are taken by
leaders of the nation whose thinking on the matter is a dangerous mix
of bigotry and ignorance. The Committee on Petitions has recommended
that there should be no sex education in schools since this promotes
promiscuity and since India’s “social and cultural ethos are (sic)
such that sex education has absolutely no place in it”. Headed by the
Bharatiya Janata Party’s Venkaiah Naidu, the committee comprises nine
Rajya Sabha members from the entire party-political spectrum, and has
only one woman in it. The committee’s outrage is directed against the
human resource development ministry’s Adult Education Programme.
Launched in 2005 and backed by the National AIDS Control
Organization, the AEP had focused on safer sex, together with
adolescent physical and mental development, for the 14-18 age group.
Not only was the committee “highly embarrassed” by the HRD ministry’s
PowerPoint presentation on this curriculum, but it has also
recommended for this age group an alternative curriculum based on the
lives and teachings of saints, spiritual leaders, freedom fighters
and national heroes. This would endorse “national ideals and values”
and “neutralize the impact of cultural invasion from various sources”
with the help of naturopathy, Ayurveda, Unani, yoga and, of course,
Such a combination of conservatism, chauvinism and sheer
irrationality is disconcerting for several reasons. First, emanating
from the highest levels of the polity and uniting a diversity of
political positions, it shows the extent to which the lives and
bodies of some of the most vulnerable members of society remain in
the control of the limited understanding and unlimited powers of a
few. A blinkered and almost mythological understanding of the lives
and sexuality of growing children, generalized to the point of
absurdity, underpins such a mindset. The children themselves, as well
as the adults who are responsible for their well-being, remain
entirely deprived of agency in the making of these decisions and
Finally, the assumptions on which this mindset is founded, and the
terms in which they are publicly expressed, are equally frightening.
The committee upholds that pre-marital sexual exploration, together
with sex outside marriage, is “immoral, unethical and unhealthy”;
consensual sex before the age of 16 “amounts to rape”; sex education
promotes abusive behaviour in school, among students as well as
between teacher and student, and is detrimental to the stability of
the family. Perhaps the only hope lies in the fact that these are
just nine shockingly regressive individuals trying to control the
robustness of millions of sensible Indians.
o o o
Outlook Magazine, April 27, 2009
ENTER, HINDU AYATOLLAHS
Advani's missive to sadhus portends a turn towards darkness .........
by Neelabh Mishra
Be prepared to make some room for armchair economists. If elected
prime minister, L.K. Advani of the God's Own Party might like to
consult ash-smeared Naga Sadhus on how to fight the recession. And in
Advani's promised dispensation, the Shankaracharya's views on India's
foreign policy and strategic options would vie for the government's
attention with the advice of experts in these areas. Please do not
take this as the usual liberal hyperbole about the swinging Hindutva
bluster of the prime ministerial aspirant and his BJP.
This is because Advani has written to over 1,000 religious leaders,
most of them Vishwa Hindu Parishad-affiliated sadhus/sants, earnestly
assuring them: "It will be my endeavour (as prime minister) to seek
on a regular basis the guidance of spiritual leaders of all
denominations on major challenges and issues facing the nation. For
this, we shall evolve a suitable consultative mechanism."
In thus seeking the 'support' of assorted godmen for his campaign,
Advani has gone beyond just vague assurances of informal
consultations with the sadhu samaj, as some apologetic BJP
functionaries have tried to spin it so as not to alarm middle-class
opinions. In promising to "evolve a suitable consultative mechanism",
Advani has proposed an institutional arrangement, something like the
National Advisory Council set up by the UPA government under the
chairpersonship of Sonia Gandhi and later abandoned in the wake of
the Office of Profit controversy.
It is a pity that the party that had castigated a consultative
mechanism to seek expert non-governmental advice from qualified
activists and academics—some with long records of engagement with
development issues—has no qualms in proposing a parody like this.
Religious leaders, whatever else their accomplishments, simply have
unproven abilities on these complex issues. It is impossible to
divine who Advani is fooling—the VHP's sadhu-sant following, gullible
and devout voters or himself. The Congress and the Left have of
course criticised Advani's letter on the ground that it violates the
secular character of the Constitution by brazenly mixing religion and
While the criticism is valid, the BJP would hope to wish it away by
showing the disconnect between the secularists and a generally
religious India and exploit the gap to its political advantage. But
it forgets simple truths: even a deeply devout farmer does not
consult a priest or sadhu on which crops to sow or which fertiliser
or pesticide to use. And while an industrialist might consult an
astrologer for an auspicious date for launching a new venture, he or
she would never dream of soliciting advice on running the ebusiness
from the family priest. They necessarily operate on a clean
separation of categories. Thus even the average, religious Indian
voter might regard the BJP leader's proposal with some ridicule. It
was not for nothing that the most genuinely religious of Indian
leaders, Gandhi, had said he would have insisted on a secular
constitution even if there had been no religious minorities left in
As the election campaign has progressed, the BJP has increasingly
raised its Hindutva pitch, probably trying to humour its core RSS
support base. It defended the indefensible misdemeanour of Varun
Gandhi, and the party manifesto resurrected core Hindutva issues like
the Ram temple, Article 370 and the Ram Setu, which were earlier
denied prominence for fear of alienating the BJP's allies in the NDA.
While issues perpetuating a sectarian schism in the polity along
Hindu-Muslim or Hindu-Christian lines have been central to the BJP-
RSS ideology of Hindu nationhood, its use of religious symbolism for
political mobilisation was not unregulated.The RSS-BJP kept religious
and temporal issues under strict segregation: for instance,
corruption or national security would never be melded with, say, the
Ram temple. These would be used as separate nodes of mobilisation
altogether. But these days, the BJP seeks religious endorsement for
temporal issues. For instance, Baba Ramdev backed Advani's call to
retrieve Indian black money from Swiss banks, and religious leaders
can hope to be regularly consulted on other important issues. The
BJP's old goal of a sectarian nationhood has taken on a pronounced
theocratic hue, a retrogressive step from relative modernity to
While blatantly fortifying its extreme positions, the BJP no longer
cares about losing its allies or attracting new ones who lie outside
the Hindutva fold. Is it a disdain born of supreme political
confidence? Or a sense of deep resignation? In its attempted Hanuman
leap of Hindutva, the BJP should mind the political chasm before it.
 TRIBUTES TO AHILYA RANGNEKAR (1922-2009)
Comrade Ahilya Rangnekar
Ahilya Rangnekar fought for people’s causes
Pioneer in democratic women’s movement
The Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi cordially invites you to
attend a book launch of
ROOTS OF TOLERANCE IN PAKISTAN AND INDIA
Speakers: Dr Jaffer Ahmad, Chairperson Pakistan Studies Dept. Karachi
Mr. Ghazi Salauddin, Journalist, author, media personality
Mr. Owais Tauheed, Journalist, Media Activist
Dr. Fouzia Saeed, social activist, author of Taboo
Author: Dr. Kamran Ahmad
Date: 24th April, 2009
Venue: The Arts Council of Pakistan
M.R. Kiyani Road , Karachi
o o o
VIKALP @ PRITHVI
Is a collaboration between Vikalp: Films for Freedom and Prithvi
Theatre. We bring you a curated selection of short films, animation
films and documentary films on the last Monday of every month at
ON MONDAY, 27th APRIL, 2009
Starting 7 PM
Film screening followed by a session with filmmakers Kavita Pai and
Yi As Akh Padshah Bai
(There was a Queen…)
105 minutes, Documentary film
In Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi and English with English subtitles
Directed by Kavita Pai and Hansa Thapliyal |Produced by Other Media
Communications | Cameraperson Ranu Ghosh |Sound by Gissy Michael |
Editing by Gouri Patwardhan | Music by Manish J. Tipu
"Give us guns and we'll play our role!"
This is what Farhana had to say, less than a week after her sister
Farhana's sister Shahnaza, and her friend, Ulfat, victims of
'crossfire', were barely seventeen when they died - as old as the
tehreek that exploded into existence in 1989, shattering forever the
peace of the Valley, turning it into one of the most critical
conflict zones in the world.
Over these eighteen years, flashes of intensified conflict and bouts
of negotiations have followed one another with monotonous regularity
in Kashmir. Newspapers and television channels manufacture
predictable binary images of conflict – angry men and weeping women,
misguided innocents and fundamentalist separatists, victims and
aggressors. Over and above these is the image that erases all
differences – the Kashmiri as terrorist.
When we set out to make a film on peace initiatives by women in
Kashmir, the question uppermost in our minds was, do women really
want peace, as opposed to men? At what cost? Can 'peace' still the
turmoil at the heart of every Kashmiri? What are the conditions that
beget violence, that drive young men to take to the gun? What then,
are the conditions for peace?
It felt strange to speak to women, only women, ignoring the other
half. So we spoke to a few men – one a former militant, another who
had sent his son for training across the border with his blessings, a
third, a school master, who lost his son in a gun battle only to
realize he was a militant, a fourth, a school boy, whose brother was
killed in crossfire – we spoke to men and realized that while every
story in Kashmir has the power to shock and move, while the stories
of both men and women were compelling in their honesty, in their
rage, in their grief, in their helplessness, in their contempt, in
their fierce refusal to forget; the women's stories are markedly
different in their determination to survive, to nurture.
It is through these women – proud, strong, with an undying zest for
life – that we try to explore what peace means and how it can come
about in Kashmir.
* No Entry Fee. Limited Seating.
* Prithvi House, Opposite Prithvi Theatre, Janki Kutir, Juhu, Mumbai.
* The registration desk will be open between 6 pm to 6:45 pm only.
South Asia Citizens Wire
Buzz for secularism, on the dangers of fundamentalism(s), on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. An offshoot of South Asia Citizens Web: www.sacw.net/
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed in materials carried in the posts do not
necessarily reflect the views of SACW compilers.
More information about the SACW