SACW | Dec 22-23, 2009 / Buddhist-Sinhala rhetoric / Moral Policing / Violence Right and Left / Animal as class enemies? / Militarisation / Regimented Democracy / Bradford Ghettos
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Tue Dec 22 21:15:52 CST 2009
South Asia Citizens Wire | December 22-23, 2009 | Dispatch No. 2678 -
Year 12 running
[ SACW Dispatches for 2009-2010 are dedicated to the memory of Dr.
Sudarshan Punhani (1933-2009), husband of Professor Tamara Zakon and
a comrade and friend of Daya Varma ]
 Sri Lanka: A test of sincerity prior to elections (Jehan Perera)
- Buddhism hijacked? (Junction Talk Column in Daily Mirror)
 Reports on Moral Policing in Bangladesh and India
- Bangladesh: Morals Police vs 3d Person Singular Number (Unheard
- Unnithan Episode And The Moralistic Mobocracy in Kerala
(Venugopalan K M)
- India: Sinning or Sinned against? [Shiv Sena or CPM - spot the
- India: The Rose Petals (Anuradha Raman)
 Pakistan: Jamaat's real sustenance (Mosharraf Zaidi)
 Pakistan - India: Violent Movements of the Right and the Left:
reports and reflections
- Taliban Attacks on schools in Pakistan
- Children in Bihar appeal to Maoists not to target schools
- [Animals Are Class Enemies Now] Maoists attack Bengal zoo; kill
scores of birds, 2 deer (Sukumar Mahato)
- Radical Resistance and Political Violence Today (Nivedita Menon)
- Social Banditry - Rereading Hobsbawm to understand the Indian
Maoists (Ramachandra Guha)
 India - Militarisation:
- Institutionalising injustice (Editorial, Kashmir Times)
- Q&A: Armed Forces Special Powers Act responsible for many
killings' (K S Subramanian)
 India: what is meant by strengthening democracy?
- Right To Say No (Editorial, The Telegraph)
- A 'Disciplined' Democracy? (Umair Ahmed Muhajir)
 India: Resources For Secular Activists
(i) A chronicle of anti-Sikh riots (Bhupendra Yadav)
(ii) Rights of Muslim women (Seema Mustafa)
(iii) Shah Bano to Shabana Bano (Flavia Agnes)
- UK: Segregation in Bradford (Samia Rahman)
- South Asia Movement Building and Human Rights Institute
(Kathmandu, 8 - 13 February 2010)
 Sri Lanka:
The Island, 22 December 2009
A TEST OF SINCERITY PRIOR TO ELECTIONS
by Jehan Perera
Who will the Tamil people vote for has become an important question
at the forthcoming Presidential elections. The departure of former
Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, and worse still his joining
the opposition, has deprived the government leadership of its
monopoly regarding credit for the war victory over the LTTE. This
has meant that President Mahinda Rajapaksa can no longer appeal to
the majority Sinhalese electorate for their vote of gratitude to
himself alone. A recent visit to the Southern Province suggested
that the President retains the affection of most southern Sinhalese
which will be hard to ever dent. But General Fonseka is making a
claim for his share of the credit, both as a southerner and the
victorious army commander.
The entry of General Fonseka into the ranks of the opposition has
also rejuvenated it, particularly the UNP which was unable to face up
to the President’s war victories and appeal to the ethos of the
Sinhalese electorate. The role of the UNP leadership, in particular
Ranil Wickremesinghe with his cosmopolitan outlook and anti war
position, could not attract the ethnic majority vote, which became a
virtual fiefdom for the President. Many traditional UNP voters from
the Sinhalese ethnic majority began to vote either for the
President’s party or for other Sinhalese nationalist parties. With
General Fonseka becoming the common opposition candidate there is a
strong likelihood of these renegade UNP voters returning to the fold.
In these circumstances, the ethnic majority vote is likely to
divide on traditional party lines. With the vote banks being roughly
of similar size, this suggests that the Sinhalese vote will be more
or less evenly split. The advantage that accrues to President
Rajapaksa on account of being the incumbent president will be offset
by the JVP vote that will go to General Fonseka as the common
opposition candidate. Unlike at past elections, President Rajapaksa
can no longer be confident of obtaining a decisive majority of
Sinhalese votes that would enable him to ignore the ethnic minority
vote. The President will be hoping that his unparalleled political
skills and his access to the powers and resources of the presidency
will help him to pull ahead as the campaign goes on. But at the
present time, the odds are even.
The ethnic minority vote becomes important in the context of a split
in the Sinhalese vote. The ethnic minorities account for about 25
percent of the electorate and their vote can be decisive in
determining which candidate will prevail at the Presidential
elections. This is what happened at the 2005 elections when the
LTTE’s enforced boycott of Tamil voters in the north and east, which
kept out at least half a million voters, helped to give President
Rajapaksa a narrow victory by 180,000 votes. On the other hand,
while the ethnic minority vote can be decisive in getting a
presidential candidate elected, like the rest of the electorate they
have no control over a candidate once he or she is elected. The
unfortunate reality in Sri Lanka is that once presidents are elected,
they are free to act as they will, and break any or all of their
promises if they are so inclined.
Both presidential candidates have been bidding for the ethnic
minority vote. As the largest ethnic minority, the Tamil vote is
particularly important and its direction is unsure. There is doubt
whether the Tamil people will wish to vote at all. Some of them,
especially those who have been displaced due to the war, may not even
be in a position to vote at all as they have no identity documents.
Unless these people are encouraged to register to vote, many of them
may not bother to do so, as it is an effort that they may deem is not
worth the benefit to them. On the other hand, as head of the
government, President Rajapaksa is clearly at an advantage when it
comes to delivering benefits to them.
In the past several weeks, the government has been acting in a
constructive manner to address the problems of the war affected Tamil
people. The most welcome of these actions was the decision to
release all IDPs from the welfare centres to which they had been
confined, and to give them the option of either staying within the
welfare centres or going elsewhere. The most recent concession by
the government has been to remove all restrictions on free movement
on the A9 highway that connects the northern capital of Jaffna to the
rest of the country. A few weeks ago the government also removed the
restrictions on Jaffna residents traveling out of the peninsula,
which required that they get a military exit permit for travel outside.
While these concessions are certain to be welcomed by Tamil voters,
they are likely to see them as merely a regaining of lost rights.
The government may have to do more than restore rights that the Tamil
people feel were unfairly taken away from them in the first place.
Even the President’s ally in the north, Minister Douglas Devananda
who heads the EPDP, has called on the President to commit himself to
a ten point plan that includes several aspects of what most in the
Tamil community consider as the rights they are entitled to. In this
context the visit to India by a high powered government delegation
headed by the President’s younger brother Basil Rajapaksa and the
pledge of implementing a progressive political solution to the ethnic
conflict may be important in winning the hearts and minds of the
Tamil people and thereby influencing the vote of the Tamil electorate.
However, the major problem that the government will face is to
convince the Tamil people that it is sincere and will keep to its
promises. The government has been making the promise of coming up
with a political solution for the past three or more years, but
without delivering on it. It is not only with regard to the ethnic
conflict that the President has failed to keep his promises. He has
also failed to deliver on his promise made to the JVP during the 2005
presidential election campaign that he would abolish the institution
of the executive presidency should he win, and he also failed to work
with the UNP in a bipartisan manner despite signing an agreement with
it in 2006. The disappointing track record of the President in
keeping to his promises suggests that further promises will not
suffice, only concrete actions will.
Indeed, if the President so desires, there are political reforms
that could assuage Tamil sentiment that he can put into effect
without too much delay. But he will need to be prepared to convince
his nationalist Sinhalese electorate that such reforms will not
jeopardize the national interest, which he is better equipped to do
than any other political leader. For the past two years, one of the
most responsible members of his government, Prof. Tissa Vitarana has
been chairing the All Party’s Representatives Committee on a
political solution to the ethnic conflict, which has generated report
after report as to what can be done in terms of political reforms
that would address the ethnic conflict. There are undoubtedly many
proposals in it that can be made law and implemented immediately with
the help of the simple majority that the President currently enjoys
in Parliament. The President only needs to request Minister Vitarana
to prepare such legislation and have it passed into law in Parliament
as a first step.
o o o
Daily Mirror, 22 December 2009
Sri Lanka is touted as being a great Buddhist nation. Driving around
Sri Lanka the only markers surpassing the sites of all the temples
and dagobas are the posters of the president. Every “patriot” sees
the need to prove their credentials by showing that they are the only
true Sinhala Buddhists.
At the junction some of us were reminiscing about the days of our
youth, when relative peace, harmony and coexistence reigned in our
resplendent island. As youth, we excitedly awaited each religious
festival and the celebrations that followed, no matter which religion.
At Vesak, not only Buddhists, but Hindus, Christians, and Muslims
poured into the streets and walked for hours enjoying the many
pandals, dansalas, and other adornments, and marveled at the many
stories of the Lord Buddha and his teachings. At Ramadan, we were
assured of platters of buriyani, and other delicacies delivered to
our door by neighbours, while we admired and respected the 40 day
fast all Muslims honoured prior to this day of feasting. Thai pongal
was celebrated with a sense of peace and harmony, and everyone arose
at dawn to join their Hindu neighbours lighting of the fire and the
sweet smell of chakra pongal cooking on the open hearth, where kids
tried hard not to step on the drawings made on the floor around the
fire by the family the previous day. At Christmas, we all celebrated,
handing each other gifts, kids looking forward to a visit by Santa
Claus, the beautifully adorned Christmas trees even in Buddhist
households, the chiming of the bells at midnight and all the fire
crackers going off well into the nights.
So who spoilt all this fun, peace and harmony among all Sri Lankans?
Who are the troublemakers, and perpetrators of this crime of
disturbing the peace, like the gringe who stole Christmas?
The general consensus at the junction is that none other than our
dastardly politicians backed by a few Buddhists are responsible for
this. It is they who should be taken to task for destroying the peace
in our country by injecting their vile and often disturbing rhetoric
about protecting the dhamma from the rest of us. Starting with SWRD
we have gone down a path of no return.
All these politicians, backed by trouble making priests led the
people astray with their extreme Buddhist/Sinhala rhetoric. We
remember the days when the pious Buddhist clergy walked to get their
midday danne wearing no slippers, head shaved in humbleness, carrying
a makeshift umbrella, clutching the paatheray. So where have they all
Today’s Buddhist priests have grown hair and ride in Pajero’s.
They are too busy politicizing everything, and hand in hand with the
politicians they prey on the people with disturbing radicalism. Has
anyone driven past the university and noticed the “look” of the
day of the priests attending school? What is even more disturbing is
that the Nayake Thero’s and other leaders of this peaceful dhamma
have and do remain silent. One priest even turned up at an
acupuncture clinic to have treatment.
Then we have Buddhist priests on television and radio, backing the
president, asking the people to vote for this government, actually
daring to state that this government is an honest government and that
there is no corruption or intimidation. How could they lie so
blatantly, how could they look people in the face and pretend that
the people are better off? These priests are distorting the truth.
There are even priests with darker records. How come we never hear of
the Sangha issuing statements calling for the priests to be disrobed?
On December 6th a Catholic Church, Our Lady Rosa Mystica in Croos
Watta, Ja Ela was attacked and the priest’s car was burned. Again no
At the junction we decided that as Sri Lankans we want Buddhist
priests to get out of politics and to stop giving Buddhism and other
Buddhists a bad name. Priests should also follow the Dhamma. Those
priests who disregard the basic guidelines and engage in business,
crime, misconduct or fomenting communal hatred should be dealt with.
Anti-conversion laws should not be imposed, rather we should allow
people to choose their own religion, faith is not something that can
In our humble opinion, even Christians, Hindus and other religious
people could also be called Buddhists if they live as decent peace
loving, charitable people. After all Buddhism is and should be a way
of life. The Lord Buddha preached on how we should conduct ourselves
from day to day.
So hand Buddhism back to the peaceful and humble priests in the
aramayas, the priests who take the Lord Buddha’s words seriously and
preach the basic precepts of Budhism. Hand it back to the true
devotees who actually live according to the teachings of the Buddha.
Most of all, hand the country back to those who believe in peace and
harmony and equality and freedom for ALL.
 Moral Policing: Bangladesh and India
BANGLADESH: MORALS POLICE VS 3D PERSON SINGULAR NUMBER
(Unheard Voice, 22 December 2009)
Amar Desh claims that there are protests against Mostafa Sarwar
Farooki’s hit film 3D PERSON SINGULAR NUMBER for “promoting
cultural anarchy, live-together situations“. Amar Desh alleges
“the film maybe recalled by the censor board, this feeling has been
expressed by more than one board member.” But AD has given no source
for this claim, and [...]
UNNITHAN EPISODE AND THE MORALISTIC MOBOCRACY IN KERALA
by Venugopalan K M
INDIA: SINNING OR SINNED AGAINST? [SHIV SENA OR CPM - SPOT THE
INDIA: THE ROSE PETALS
by Anuradha Raman
The News, 22 December 2009
JAMAAT'S REAL SUSTENANCE
by Mosharraf Zaidi
In the 2002 elections, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) scored what
was by all accounts a surprise victory in NWFP and parts of
Balochistan. For a gang of unkempt exploiters of the tender religious
sentiments of Pakistanis who had never been successful in electoral
politics, winning the entire NWFP province was a bonanza unlike
anything they'd previously experienced.
Too often, the MMA victory in NWFP is explained by the strategic
rigging that Gen Musharraf and his supporters allegedly oversaw in
that election. The massive success of the religious parties was not
just a numerical surprise. It was a cultural anomaly too. Mullah
politics in Pakistan had always been seen until that point as an
issue-based phenomenon. The theory was that mullahs could mobilise
thousands to rampage on the streets over Satanic Verses, or the
apostasy of Ahmedis, but hardly manage even a few dozen to vote for
them. That traditional and conventional wisdom was turned on its head
in the 2002 election.
Of course, the truth, as always, is a bit of a casualty of our
obsession with the truths we fashion. Three factors that are less
sexy, and therefore less frequently mentioned in the analysis of the
2002 MMA surprise, may help explain what happened to NWFP back then,
and what is happening to Pakistan now, in the closing days of 2009.
First, the MMA was a unified force of the major religious parties in
the country. Their unity, regardless of how it was orchestrated,
demonstrated for the electorate a trait that they had come to long
for but never quite been presented with. The MMA coalition, by very
virtue of coming together, presented a solid reason for religiously-
oriented voters to consider voting for them.
Second, by virtue of the banishment of the party leaderships, the PPP
and the PML-N were almost entirely shut out of the electoral process.
This meant that the traditional four-way split of the NWFP vote
(across the PPP, PML-N, ANP and the religious parties) became,
instead, a two-way split (across the ANP and the MMA, with a marginal
spattering of PML-Q votes). The PPP voter in NWFP is decidedly more
conservative than the ANP voter, or the PPP voter in Punjab or Sindh.
A PPP-less election in NWFP therefore was a boon to the MMA.
Finally, perhaps the most significant factor in the MMA victory in
NWFP -- notwithstanding the substantial vote-rigging and -engineering
that allegedly took place -- was anti-Americanism. Operation Enduring
Freedom in Afghanistan began on Oct 7, 2001. The election was held
almost exactly a year later, on Oct 10, 2002. The MMA had a full year
in which to help create, deepen and sustain an anti-American strain
within NWFP. This anti-Americanism was rooted in the same language
that Taliban opposition to the US presence in Afghanistan is rooted
in. The short version is simple: Pakhtuns don't like to be occupied.
What the MMA was able to do very successfully (and what American
public diplomacy has failed in countering so miserably) is marrying
anti-Americanism with Islam, and concurrently, marrying the American
presence in Afghanistan as a vast conspiracy of the kuffar (infidels)
to take over Muslim land.
Why is any of this relevant to a post-NRO Pakistan? Mostly it is
relevant because in the past several weeks the Jamaat-e-Islami seems
to have been given an injection of adrenalin. It may be hazardous to
speculate where the energy is coming from in terms of financing and
other logistical support. What is entirely transparent, however, is
where the energy is coming from in terms of political substance.
It is coming from an anti-Americanism that has grown far beyond NWFP,
and far beyond the mullah's narrow and restricted space in Pakistani
society. The Jamaat is finding it easier to get onto the front page
because the only faith it preaches, anti-Americanism, just happens to
be the fastest growing faith in Pakistan.
This is an unmitigated disaster in the making. The MMA's sudden good
fortune in 2002 is not so long ago as to have faded from memory. The
disastrous impact of five years of MMA rule over NWFP is also not
such a distant memory.
If the Jamaat is allowed an uncontested monopoly over anti-
Americanism, then it will almost certainly enjoy resurgent popularity
that is not only wholly undeserved, but also potentially calamitous
for the hopes that have been pinned on the fragile equilibrium of
Pakistan's emerging urban middle class.
Some evidence of what we should fear was filed in this paper
yesterday in a story by Muhammad Anis, and featuring the increasingly
recognisable face of Jamaat boss Munawwar Hasan. It was titled "JI to
go all out to defend SC." In it, Munawwar Hasan vows to "protect the
supremacy of the Supreme Court and enforce its decision against the
The supremacy of the Supreme Court is given to it by the
Constitution, not by the learned elders of the Jamaat. The
enforcement of the Supreme Court's decisions is the responsibility of
law enforcement, and whatever units of the executive that are
instructed to action by the court. Munawwar Hasan is probably not
entirely unfamiliar with these facts. But for the first time since
2002, the Jamaat can see daylight.
Why would it not steal something that doesn't belong to it (political
momentum)? Since the Jamaat is incapable of winning an election in
Pakistan fair and square, it will revel in the fact that its unique
brand of cynical and conspiratorial poison has become the national
dish of choice.
In August 2008, I wrote in a column titled "Measuring the Jamaat's
descent" that the Jamaat is the only "unsalvageable wreck" within
Pakistan's broken politics, and that "the Jamaat's political savvy is
outrageously overstated." I don't mind admitting a mistake. But in
this case, I made no mistake. The Jamaat is an outrageously
unsalvageable wreck. Its election of Munawwar Hasan, rather than that
of a younger leader, and its consistent dependence on the US
government and Pakistani elite for its talking points offer a
limitless supply of proof that it is more an opportunistic clash-of-
civilisations gang than it is a viable political force.
Since the Jamaat is unsalvageable, the only control we can exert on
the situation is through understanding the factors that are allowing
it this undeserved relevance.
At least some of the responsibility for increased anti-Americanism
(and therefore increased relevance for the Jamaat) has to be pinned
on Uncle Sam himself. There seems to be no appreciation in Washington
DC to the legitimacy of questions about the use of mercenaries, or
the impact of increased drone attacks, or US support for leaders
widely perceived to be corrupt.
Finally, whatever we may think of it, the dominance of anti-American
sentiment on Main Street, and its absence from the language of the
major political parties should tell us much about who butters the
Pakistani elite's bread. The danger in this situation, of course, is
that, as mainstream political parties neglect anti-Americanism, they
allow the Jamaat (and the perpetually out of touch Imran Khan) a
monopoly over articulating this important and popular mainstream
The best indicator of how serious America's image problem in Pakistan
is becoming is that, despite not being unified with other religious
parties and despite being crowded out by mainstream parties, the
Jamaat is finding life in its anti-American rhetoric.
The best indicator of how serious Pakistan's anti-Americanism problem
is becoming is that, despite its offering nothing but old and
hackneyed cynicism, people don't mind watching the Jamaat spew its
conspiracy theories on prime-time television.
The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He
can be reached through his website www.mosharrafzaidi .com
 Violence of the Right and the Left: Attacks on schools / On
Zoo's - reports and reflections
The News, 22 December 2009
Editorial: ATTACKS ON SCHOOLS
A private school has been damaged by a bomb blast in Peshawar and a
government school has been similarly targeted in the Kurram Agency.
Previously too, over the last few weeks, schools have been blown up
in Bara, the Khyber Agency and other places. The onslaught against
education, which led to a closure of scores of schools, in particular
those for girls, continues. While claims continue to come in of
victory against militants, there must be some doubt as to what kinds
of gains are being made. It seems evident that in many parts of the
northern areas, it remains unsafe to go to school. Even in Peshawar
attacks on buildings continue. Threats to schoolchildren meanwhile
mean that parents remain quite naturally reluctant to send their
children to classes.
Ways need to be found to counter the mindsets behind such assaults.
Local mosques offer one route to this. Imams must be made allies and
persuaded to use their influence and their weekly sermons to promote
education. Others with standing in their communities must be urged to
do the same. The message for education is strongly delivered in
Islam. This must be projected and used as a means to ensure every
child has access to learning. In some areas this right has been
denied by militants for months or even years. Alongside the
continuing military operation, we need to open up new fronts against
militancy and ensure that the obscurantist ideas of the Taliban are
effectively challenged. The majority of people in the north seek
education for their children. Authorities must find means to make
this available and to act against those engaged in blowing up schools
or acting in other ways against the interests of communities.
o o o
CHILDREN IN BIHAR APPEAL TO MAOISTS NOT TO TARGET SCHOOLS
Indo-Asian News Service
Patna, December 21, 2009
Hundreds of poor school children in Bihar's Aurangabad district have
appealed to Maoist guerrillas not to damage or target their schools
as it impacts their education badly.
In an open letter to Maoists, the school children urged Maoists not
to deprive them of education by damaging and blowing up the school
"Maoist uncle, what is our mistake that you blow up schools and
deprive us of education? You may have problems with the police but we
fail to understand why are we your enemy? What is our mistake that
our schools have become a soft target for you," school children wrote
in their letter to Maoist guerrillas.
After railways and mobile towers, schools in rural areas have
become the soft target of Maoist guerrillas in Bihar, a senior police
official here told IANS.
"Maoists have been targeting school buildings fearing that these
buildings would be used by central para-military forces," the police
According to police sources, more than 20 school buildings have been
blown up by Maoists in different districts in the state. At least ten
school buildings were blown up or badly damaged in Aurangabad, Gaya,
Rohtas and Jehanabad districts which are the worst Maoist-affected
o o o
The Times of India
MAOISTS ATTACK BENGAL ZOO; KILL SCORES OF BIRDS, 2 DEER
Sukumar Mahato, TNN 21 December 2009
JHARGRAM: Maoists launched a brutal assault on a zoo in Jhargram town
on Saturday night, firing indiscriminately into deer and black buck
enclosures, setting fire to animal cages, burning hundreds of birds
and beating the beat officer and forest guards. The actual toll is
still being assessed, but two black bucks are confirmed dead and
hundreds of birds burnt to ashes.
Forest department officials are now scrambling to save an elephant
herd that is headed in the direction. The attack on the zoo, just 2km
from Jhargram, could be a strategic move because it connects the town
with Jharkhand via Banstala and Manikpara. Once Maoists have access
to it, they can easily reach Jharkhand. Jhargram is now surrounded by
rebel strongholds. The attack, which took everyone by shock, is
indicative of lawlessness in Maoist-hit Jangalmahal. It was followed
by murder of two CPM leaders at Laudhiadham, just 6km away. Both were
shot execution style with a bullet to the back of the head.
The mindless massacre of animals indicates that the Maoists and PCPA
may not have control over elements within the outfit. The tribal
upsurge is rapidly turning into an uncontrolled reign of terror in
Jangalmahal. PCPA president Santosh Patra could not explain the
attack on the Jhargram Mini Zoo. He admitted that the mob which
stormed into the sanctuary ‘‘was not under their control’’.
The zoo in West Midnapore, about 220km from Kolkata, houses many
endangered species, among them the gharial, sloth bear, and
crocodiles. The only two black bucks were riddled with bullets and
the carcasses taken away. A huge aquarium was smashed to bits.
When TOI reached the zoo at 10pm, just half an hour after the attack,
a huge bonfire was raging in front of the gate. Several trees could
be seen blazing inside. Charred foliage, burnt branches and heaps of
concrete — remains of the boundary wall that was pulled down by
rebels — were strewn over a 300-metre area. Even 12 hours after the
attack, wisps of smoke curled up from the ravaged cages.
o o o
The Economic and Political Weekly, December 18, 2009
RADICAL RESISTANCE AND POLITICAL VIOLENCE TODAY
by Nivedita Menon
This article critiques the Maoist strategy of systematic armed
struggle against the state with the aim of replacing it with a
socialist state. The Maoists do not expand the democratic space
available for mass movements but rather mirror the repressive
structures of the very state they are fighting. Genuine resistance to
exploitation and oppression has come from radical mass movements
which have built diverse coalitions on the ground and which have
experimented with alternatives to the state. Anarchist is not an
abuse which can be hurled at the Maoists, rather it is a resource for
people fighting power structures.
o o o
The Telegraph, 22 December 2009
SOCIAL BANDITRY - Rereading Hobsbawm to understand the Indian Maoists
by Ramachandra Guha
The novelist and critic, C.S. Lewis, said he had no time for those
who thought that since they had read a book once, they had no need to
read it again. The great works of literature were to read again and
again. The urge to go back to a book was prompted sometimes by
aesthetics, the desire to savour once more its artful or elegant
prose; and, at other times, by the sense that one would learn
something new on a second reading. Thus, it is said that War and
Peace makes one kind of impression when read while young, quite
another when read in middle age.
My own tastes run in the direction of non-fiction, but at least in
this sphere I think I am exempt from C.S. Lewis’s strictures. Among
the books I go back to are autobiographies, such as those written by
Neville Cardus, G.H. Hardy, Mahatma Gandhi, Verrier Elwin, Salim Ali
and Leonard Woolf. I have also read Tagore’s tract on nationalism
three or four times, and C.L.R. James’s Beyond a Boundary at least
once every other year.
These return journeys have chiefly been undertaken for pleasure.
However, I recently reread a book for instruction. Like some other
Indians, I have been thinking a great deal recently about the rise of
the Maoist movement in the country. Who or what are these Maoists?
Are they, as the home ministry tells us, a bunch of thugs and
murderers, or are they, as some left-wing intellectuals claim,
idealistic and high-minded revolutionaries who shall create a society
free of evil and exploitation?
In search of answers, I went back to a book I had first read 25 years
ago. In the 1980s, while writing a doctoral thesis on peasant
resistance in the Uttarakhand Himalaya, I had read the works of
British social historians who had written about lower-class protest
in early modern England. Within that vast and once very influential
literature, I thought that one study in particular might help clarify
my ideas about the Maoists now active in central and in eastern
India. This was E.J. Hobsbawm’s book, Bandits.
And so I read that book again. I learnt (or learnt afresh) that there
is an important distinction to be made between the ordinary criminal
and what Hobsbawm calls the “social bandit”. Whereas the former is
despised by poor and rich equally, the latter “never cease[s] to be
part of society in the eyes of the peasants (whatever the authorities
say)”. “The point about social bandits,” writes Hobsbawm, “is
that they are peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as
criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered
by their people as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps
even leaders for liberation, and in any case as men to be admired,
helped and supported.”
Hobsbawm was writing about another continent and another century.
Still, his book does seem to speak somewhat to the India of the
present. In an evocative passage, he writes of social bandits in
medieval Europe that “they lived their wild, free lives in the
forest, the mountain caves, or on the wide steppes, armed with the
‘rifle as tall as the man’, the pair of pistols at the belt…,
their tunics laced, gilded and criss-crossed by bandoleers, their
moustaches bristling, conscious that fame was their reward among
enemies and friends.”
This description, with a word or phrase changed or modified, could
fit the current bête noire of the West Bengal state government, the
Maoist leader who uses the nom de plume, Kishenji. To be sure, he
wears a cloth mask rather than a moustache, while, to broadcast his
fame (and notoriety), he uses those very modern devices, the cell-
phone and the television camera. However, the way he speaks and the
manner he affects bring to mind the swagger and self-regard of the
medieval social bandit. Like that character, Kishenji will be wild,
and he will be free — and he thinks the police will never catch him.
Hobsbawm observes that in several countries and historical epochs (as
for example, early-20th-century Mexico), bandits had joined
revolutionary political struggles, “not because they understood the
complexities of democratic, socialist or even anarchist theory…, but
because the cause of the people and the poor was self-evidently just,
and the revolutionaries demonstrated their trustworthiness by
unselfishness, self-sacrifice and devotion — in other words by their
personal behaviour”. Then, he continues, “That is why military
service and jail, the places where bandits and modern revolutionaries
are most likely to meet in conditions of equality and mutual trust,
have seen many political conversions.”
Once more, the parallels with the current crop of Naxalites are not
hard to detect. What they have going for them is their lifestyle —
they can live with, and more crucially, live like the poor peasant
and tribal, eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, eschewing
the comforts and seductions of the city. In this readiness to
identify with the oppressed, they are in contrast to the bureaucrat,
the politician and the police officer. And to take Hobsbawm’s other
point, from the late 1960s onwards, the jail has indeed been a
crucial site for the transmission of Maoist ideology in India.
Historical comparisons are never exact. In some respects, the Indian
Maoists are like the social bandits of early modern Europe. They too
emerged in response to inequalities in society and the manifest
corruptions of the State. With the government indifferent to the
needs of the poor, a band of motivated individuals have come forward
to identify with their interests. Here, the parallels break down. For
the Maoists seek not justice for a single individual or village, but
a wholesale re-ordering of society. Their ambitions are far larger
than, for example, those of the late Koose Muniswamy Veerappan, he of
the bristling (and outsize) moustache. Whereas the gang of that Tamil
Robin Hood operated in a single hill range, the Maoists have a
network stretching across several states.
Hobsbawm wrote of the bandits he studied that “they are not
activists and not ideologists or prophets from whom novel visions or
plans of social and political organization are to be expected”. The
Maoists, on the other hand, see themselves as ideologists and even
prophets, although it must be said that their vision and plan are not
novel but wholly derivative. They hope that, in time, they will
prevail by the force of arms over the Indian State, thus to capture
power in New Delhi much as their revered hero, Mao Zedong, had
captured power in Beijing 60 years ago. This larger aim marks them
out from the likes of Veerappan, as, of course, does their access to
more deadly weapons such as AK47s, dynamite and land mines, not to
speak of their practice of a virtual cult of violence which takes
pleasure in blasting transmission lines and railway stations and
beheading policemen and alleged informers.
As it happens, however, the revolutionary dreams of the Maoists are a
fantasy. The Indian State is far more powerful today than the Chinese
State was back in the 1940s. And in spite of all its manifest faults
and failures, most Indians prefer our current, multi-party democracy
to a one-party state to be run by the Maoists. For these, and other,
reasons, we must withhold from them their own preferred appellation,
that of “revolutionaries”. They are considerably less than that,
but also far more than ordinary criminals. Should we then see them as
social bandits for a post-modern age, capable, like their medieval
counterparts, of irritating the hell out of the government of the
day, if ultimately incapable of overcoming or replacing it?
 India - Militarisation Everyday
Kashmir Times, 22 December 2009
Editorial : INSTITUTIONALISING INJUSTICE: Making forces habitual to a
culture of brutality and impunity
The Shopian rapes and murders case is a grim pointer to a very bleak
reality - that the process of institutionalising not just human
rights abuse but also denial of justice is fully complete. This is
amply demonstrated by the consistent effort by one investigating
agency after the other to muddle up truth and fabricate evidence to
hush up the case in an obvious bid to shield the guilty. The Shopian
case becomes significant for the fact that it is not simply about
denial of justice to the two victims and obfuscating truth. It is
illustrative of how legal instruments and agencies of the State are
misused in pursuit of institutionalising injustice. Had it not been
for the very persistent and peaceful struggle of the people of
Shopian, this process may never have become so evidentally clear. The
series of investigations have pointed to an obvious bid to hush up
the case rather than revealing the truth. The real picture has been
obfuscated totally with too many distorted stories and rumours right
from the very beginning. The latest CBI chargesheet which is also
unable to explain why the police has not recorded any evidence in the
first place or made attempts to fudge evidence, or given a detailed
account of how and why the doctors in the first and second post
mortems could have floated and circulated so many different post
mortem reports, has only made wild assumptions which can be easily
challenged. In the light of such distortions and contradictory
stories freely flowing around, it maybe difficult at the moment to
establish rape with concrete evidence. But there is enough evidence
to suggest that the two women did not drown or did not die a natural
death. But the clear negation of the same suggests that there is an
obvious bid to shield the obvious - men in uniform.
In fact the Shopian investigations reveal the systematic patterns of
denial of justice in the manner of fudging evidence and post mortem
reports. Looking back, there are a series of cases of human rights
abuse at the hands of security men that are littered with stories of
fabricated evidence or of post mortem reports that were either fudged
or never made public. Everything points out to a policy at the Centre
to give unlimited and unaccountable powers to the men in uniform.
Whether this is being done by design or sheer miscalculation, the
fact remains that the centre is in no mood to rein in the powers of
the security forces and the police which too has been involved in
counter insurgency operation for the last one and a half decades.
This clearly indicates how the agencies of the State are getting an
upper hand on issues pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir. This has
ominously dangerous portents. Not only would such a policy ensure a
perpetuation of violence in Jammu and Kashmir, eclipsing all chances
of dialogue, peace, justice and normalcy in this state. In a bid to
ensure that the security forces are not demoralised or embarrassed in
any way, the government has clearly tread on the path of ensuring
that security forces are encouraged to carry on with repressive acts
and brutality as also curbing the civil liberties and democratic
rights of the citizen. This also does not augur well for any
democratic country and the sustenance and stability of democracy. A
sizeable chunk of the armed forces and other central para-military
forces are operating in Jammu and Kashmir. Making such a major chunk
of the forces habitual to a culture of brutality, impunity and
unaccountable powers that cannot even be questioned by the Executive
carries the perils of such a culture spilling out to other parts of
the country. The areas of naxal-related violence, where stories from
Kashmir, have started echoing may just be the tip of the ice-berg.
These can spread out easily and quickly elsewhere also, threatening
the very democratic fabric of the country, whose fragility is
imminent if the forces continue to operate with unbridled and
unreined freedom or unquestioned powers.
o o o
The Times of India, 21 December 2009
Q&A: ARMED FORCES SPECIAL POWERS ACT RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY KILLINGS'
An independent citizens' fact-finding mission to Manipur to assess
and report on the extrajudicial killings by security forces presented
its report in New Delhi recently. One of the team members, K S
Subramanian , a retired IPS officer and the author of Political
Violence and the Police in India, spoke to Amrith Lal :
What is wrong with the law and order situation in Manipur?
Since July this year when a pregnant young woman and a young man were
killed in an unjustified police shoot-out in the heart of Imphal in
public view, the situation in Manipur has deteriorated. The
enforcement of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the
state since 1980 has led to a large number of such killings (260 in
2009 alone). The public unrest in the state over the last 10 years
and more is symbolised in the heroic and unprecedented indefinite
fast by Irom Sharmila Chanu. The state has a deployment of 26
battalions of Assam Rifles, 10 battalions of the army, 12 battalions
of central paramilitary forces and 12 battalions of Manipur Rifles
and India Reserve battalions. The need for such a large deployment in
a tiny state with a population of only 2.6 million was not obvious to
us. It was causing public dissatisfaction and militancy rather than
imparting a sense of increased public safety.
The state government and the civil society groups have completely
different versions of almost every violent incident. Why is this so?
The main source of official information is the police force, which
feel obliged to present such incidents as arising from a threat to
national security. The civil society gets information directly from
reliable public sources. Security personnel operating under the AFSPA
are tempted to indulge in fake encounters for rewards and medals.
Manipur heads the list of police gallantry medal awardees during the
As elsewhere, the AFSPA is a bone of contention in Manipur also. Is
this Act essential to fight militancy?
The Jeevan Reddy committee (2005) reviewed the working of the AFSPA
and admitted that the Act had become "an object of hate and an
instrument of discrimination and high-handedness" and recommended
that it be repealed "without losing sight of the overwhelming desire"
of the local people that the army should remain. This means that the
AFSPA was not considered essential to fight the insurgency in the
region. The large number of fake encounters in Manipur appears to be
a direct outcome of the impunity conferred on the security forces by
the AFSPA. The CrPC, Section 176 was amended in 2006 to provide for
mandatory judicial enquiries in all cases of custodial deaths and
rapes. The procedure has not been followed. A sessions judge who
carried out enquiries into several such incidents had found all of
them to be fake encounter killings. His reports were not made public.
 India: what is meant by strengthening democracy?
The Telegraph, 22 December 2009
Editorial: RIGHT TO SAY NO
Appearances are often deceptive. Narendra Modi’s decision to make
voting compulsory in civic polls might appear, on the face of it, a
welcome and radical move. It forces people to participate in the
democratic process. The word ‘forces’ in the previous sentence is
used advisedly. Embedded in the idea of democracy is the notion of
freedom. Indeed, freedom is the driving force of democracy. One
implication of the association of freedom with democracy is the
empowerment of individuals through choice. Individuals, when they
decide to vote, choose one candidate over the many others who are
contesting the polls. Choice also means the freedom not to take part
in the polls by not voting. There could be any number of reasons for
not choosing to vote, including the absence of belief in democracy
itself. Democracy has within it space enough to include people who do
not believe in democracy. Mr Modi’s new law is thus undemocratic for
two reasons. First and foremost, by introducing an element of
coercion it takes away the freedom that is central to democracy.
Following from the above, the new law reduces room for dissent within
There is another ancillary point that needs to be made in this
context. Elections in India no longer give voters the option of not
supporting any of the candidates contesting the polls. Before the
introduction of the electronic voting machine, it was possible for a
voter to cancel his vote by stamping on two places or not stamping on
any of the symbols. The electronic voting machine has taken away this
option. It does not permit a voter to cancel his vote and thereby
express his refusal to choose from the candidates who have stood for
elections. Thus there is already an element of the reduction of
choice built into the prevailing voting system. Mr Modi is reducing
this further by saying that it will be compulsory for everyone to
vote in the civic polls. His intentions might be noble: he probably
wants all adults to participate in the election of the person who
will represent a given ward in the civic body. Such noble intentions,
however, run counter to one of the basic principles of democracy. It
is clear that for reasons best known to Mr Modi, he has not thought
this matter through and has sought to curtail the choice that is
available to citizens. This is an ominous development. What Indians
need is an expansion of choice and freedom, not their reduction.
o o o
outlookindia.com / Web only feature, 20 December 2009
A 'DISCIPLINED' DEMOCRACY?
So Gujarat has enacted legislation making voting compulsory in local
body polls. 'Defaulter voters' will face consequences. As the
Stalinists used to say, punishment is necessary...
by Umair Ahmed Muhajir
I woke Saturday morning to the news that the Gujarat assembly had
enacted legislation making voting compulsory in local body polls. At
least one aspect of The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment)
Bill, 2009 -- the provision allowing for a “negative” vote
expressing dissatisfaction with all the options on offer -- was
welcome, representing as it does, a broadening of the choices on
offer to the voter. However, what the Modi dispensation giveth with
one hand it taketh away with the other: voter choice has been
broadened, but in the context of a new, coercive regime whereby, “if
a voter fails to vote for the reasons other than prescribed in the
rules, he may be declared a ‘defaulter voter’ and would face
consequences for which rules will be framed and placed before the
assembly for its approval later.”
This is astounding: one would have thought that the one thing the
post-colonial state inherited from the British did not lack is
bureaucratic intrusion into the lives of its citizens. One might
have also thought that a political party so keen on deregulation
where big business and industry are concerned might have had second
thoughts about adding to that inheritance by pushing through such a
law (one might have; but mindful of the BJP’s enthusiasm for
policies like state-sponsored hostility to religious conversions, I
did not). Evidently, however, non-voters need to be “discipline
[d]” for the good of democracy. Or, as the Stalinists used to say,
punishment is necessary.
It is obvious that the the new bill will increase turnout; and I
disagree with those who see in this bill a move to strengthen the
BJP. (On the contrary, to the extent that more marginalized segments
of the electorate -- not necessarily mainstays of the BJP vote-bank
-- are more likely to vote due to fear of penalties, the bill could
potentially hurt the ruling party’s candidates in some measure;
although, potentially selective application of the penalties
associated with being a “defaulter voter” raise a whole host of
troubling questions.) But to believe that this bill will strengthen
democracy is to equate the health of a democracy with voter turnout
-- without any consideration of how the voter turnout is achieved.
Even in the abstract, it is hardly self-evident that a higher turnout
in itself says anything meaningful about the quality of a democracy.
Simply put, those who do not vote are likely to be the least
interested, least informed, and least engaged voters. Forcing such
people, many of whom have been failed by a system that has left them
with too little of a stake in it for them to bother voting; and
others of whom are fortunate enough to be able to secede, secure in
the knowledge that their privilege will be undisturbed by any
electoral outcome, is futile.
Well, not really. In speaking to CNN-IBN, Modi resorted to the last,
often-sought refuge of the bankrupt (or the once-colonized): other
countries have compulsory voting laws too, including -- ever quick to
remind us that he is not a man big enough to resist the temptation of
a cheap shot, to let some resentments go, and that he will never stop
appealing to others of similar bent -- Italy; surely the protesting
Congress should be aware of Italian laws at least? The profusion of
such laws (not just Italy but Belgium and Australia, Bolivia and
Greece, Singapore and Peru, France and Turkey, and many more besides)
simply underscores that what we are confronted with is not an Indian
problem; Modi, in short, is correct as to one thing: the malaise is
by now global. In fact, a very important purpose is achieved by
forcing people to show up and vote: the fig leaf of a high turnout to
cover the nakedness of the embarrassingly low turnouts the world’s
democracies routinely live with.
If “we” -- in democracies, more or less liberal, all over the
world -- were really interested in covering that nakedness, in
strengthening democracy, we would be making efforts to educate,
interest, and engage with the people who could vote and do not do
so. More importantly, we would conceive of democracy as something
other than mere electioneering; re-imagine political participation as
something other than mere statecraft or attempts to bend the state’s
machinery to our will; and dream of democracy in terms of fairness,
not merely seek the imprimatur of a certain kind of process. In
India (and in many other countries, for that matter), inducements by
way of free liquor or food, or fixers who “escort” one to the
polls, are not unheard of; now we can add the long arm of the law to
the mix. If this is what is meant by strengthening democracy, I’ll
have mine feeble.
 India: Resources For Secular Activists
(i) Book Review / The Hindu, December 22, 2009
A CHRONICLE OF ANTI-SIKH RIOTS
by Bhupendra Yadav
The book meanders through the “murder of Sikhs” “what the state
was doing” and the “men behind the violence”
I ACCUSE… — The Anti-Sikh Violence of 1984: Jarnail Singh; Penguin
Books India Pvt. Limited, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New
Delhi-110017. Rs. 350.
On December 14, 2008, U.S. President George Bush Jr was in Baghdad.
Two shoes were hurled at him by Muntadar al-Zaidi, a journalist.
Muntadar was sentenced to a year in prison. On April 7, 2009, Jarnail
Singh hurled a shoe at Union Minister P. Chidambaram to express his
frustration at continued inaction against anti-Sikh rioters of 1984.
Jarnail Singh, a reporter, was not prosecuted but he lost his job.
The book under review is Singh’s account of the incident, its ba
ckground and consequences.
Democracy in India has got soaked in blood many times. Class violence
apart, there have been cases of group/mob violence before 1984 and
after. Assam’s Nellie massacre in 1983 was worse than the 1984 anti-
Sikh violence. Post-Babri Masjid demolition, there was group violence
in Mumbai in 1992, about which we have a report by the Srikrishna
Commission of Inquiry. Then, in 2002, came the Gujarat pogrom, the
cases related to which are still under investigation. Six years on,
Orissa was the scene of murderous attacks on members of the Christian
community. In all these incidents, mobs were successful in committing
unspeakable atrocities on hapless victims. Worse, most culprits are
roaming free, with impunity.
The anti-Sikh violence of 1984, which resulted in the death of around
2,500 people, has many chroniclers, and Jarnail Singh is the latest.
Among the chroniclers, some are of the sectarian ‘Khalistan
Zindabad’ variety and some are of the non-sectarian, democratic,
human rights type.
Punjab was not just the land of economic plenty. It also became the
land of ecological nightmares, social disparity, and cultural
distortion. Men from the dominant caste, say keen observers of
Punjabi culture, are given to boasting on three counts — that they
are enterprising Singhs, unlike ‘bhaiyas’; martial, not sissy; and
Jats, not Dalits. Such a mindset inevitably courts collision with
the ‘others’ of different hues.
And the movement for Khalistan was built around supremacist delusions
born out of it. The Khalistan agitation consumed its own offsprings,
although the saga has its home-grown panegyrists. Between 1981 and
1993, it claimed the lives of 11,694 people, of whom 7,139 (61 per
cent) were Sikhs, says K.P.S. Gill in The Knights of Falsehood (1997).
In the non-sectarian category, Uma Chakravarti and Nandita Haksar got
together to record the horrific events from a secular viewpoint. The
Delhi Riots: Three Days in the Life of a Nation (1987) was the
outcome of their joint venture.
The police did some good work in securing peace for Punjab but then
they were guilty of unconscionable excesses too. The human rights
perspective is available in the work of Ram Narayan Kumar
(1953-2009). Kumar, who hailed from Andhra Pradesh, co-founded the
Committee for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab and co-
authored Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab
(2003), which provided a wealth of information on 600 cases of human
rights violation. Taking cognisance of that information, the National
Human Rights Commission initiated follow-up action and trials are on
in some cases.
Twists and turns
Jarnail Singh’s book is a 165-page ‘quickie’ containing six
chapters. Beginning with October 31, 1984 — the day Indira Gandhi
was assassinated — it meanders through the “murder of Sikhs,”
“what the state was doing,” and the “men behind the violence”
before reaching the climax, the shoe-throwing episode.
Born to a migrant carpenter, the author grew up in a ‘refugee’
colony in Delhi with seven siblings. On becoming a journalist, Singh
closely followed the twists and turns in the investigations/cases of
Delhi anti-Sikh riots. At a Press conference when he could not take
the “technical” responses to his questions anymore, he hurled a
shoe at Mr. Chidambaram.
It is a matter of satisfaction for Singh that, after all, the wheels
of law has turned, howsoever little or late! The foreword by
Khushwant Singh is uncharacteristically dull. The publishers have
rushed to publish it without an index. The book is non-sectarian and
it might sell. But is it the best work in this genre?
Express Buzz, 21 Dec 2009
RIGHTS OF MUSLIM WOMEN
by Seema Mustafa
In a little noticed case, the Supreme Court has again intervened in
support of maintenance for a divorced Muslim woman. Instead of
Shahbano, this time it is Shabano Bano who approached the courts for
maintenance, appealing against a lower courts decision that a
divorced Muslim woman was entitled to maintenance only during the
iddat period to ensure she is not pregnant. The apex court has ruled
that a divorced Muslim woman is entitled to receive maintenance from
her husband as long as she does not remarry, in what is yet another
path breaking decision.
Shabano Bano was married to an Imran Khan in Gwalior on November 26,
2001. She filed a petition under Section 125 of the Criminal
Procedure Code in the family court, Gwalior. Imran challenged this,
saying that under the provisions of the Muslim Women (Protection of
Rights on Divorce) Act 1986 she was not entitled to any maintenance
after the expiry of iddat. It might be recalled that Shahbano had won
a right to maintenance from the Supreme Court, but following howls of
protests from the Muslim conservatives, the then Rajiv Gandhi
government intervened to reverse the decision through a legislation
that sought to put the Muslim woman out of the purview of Section 125
of the CrPC.
The Gwalior family court ruled in favour of Imran Khan, after which
Shabano Bano approached the high court that dismissed her petition.
Almost following the footsteps of Shahbano, this courageous woman
moved the Supreme Court. A two-judge bench of Justice B Sudershan
Reddy and Justice Deepak Verma ruled: “It is held that if a Muslim
woman has been divorced, she would be entitled to claim maintenance
from her husband even after the expiry of iddat, as long as she does
not remarry under Section 125 of the CrPC.” The apex court set aside
the order passed by the Gwalior Bench of the High Court of Madhya
Pradesh and remanded the matter to the family court of Gwalior to
decide it on merit. The judges further said, “it would make it
crystal clear that even a divorced Muslim woman would be entitled to
claim maintenance from her ex-husband as long as she does not
remarry. This being a beneficial piece of legislation, the benefit
must accrue to divorced Muslim women too.”
The Supreme Court clearly found a loophole in the regressive
legislation, to rule in favour of dependent divorced Muslim women who
face destitution without maintenance. It is time that the self-
appointed custodians of the Muslim law, most of them housed in the
Muslim Personal Law Board spent time in a progressive interpretation
of the law insofar as gender rights and protection is concerned.
Unfortunately even the women appointed to the Board from time to time
are regressive in their outlook, and believe in the status quo where
the legitimate rights of women are denied in the name of religion.
There is sufficient flexibility in the religion for ensuring that the
divorced Muslim woman receives maintenance from her husband, not just
during the iddat period but also for the rest of her life. Of course,
as in all laws this will come to an end if she remarries at any
stage. During the debate surrounding the Supreme Court decision in
the Shahbano case, it had been clarified by scholars that mehr, the
money fixed at the time of the marriage ceremony that the husband has
to pay his wife, was not at all the compensation paid at the time of
divorce. Instead, mehr is the money to be paid by the husband to his
wife during the life of their marriage, either in one go or in
instalments depending on what was mutually agreed and economically
Unfortunately, in the majority of cases the families of the bride are
forced to fix the mehr at absurd amounts, ranging from Rs 1 to Rs
100. To ensure that this was not legitimised, and that the bride and
her relatives were able to fight off the pressure, women groups
across the country succeeded in bringing out an acceptable, standard
nikahnama (marriage document) where the mehr was calculated according
to the husband’s income, and a decent amount was stipulated for
payment to the wife at some point in the marriage. Other provisions
to safeguard the interests of the bride, and give her equal rights in
the marriage, were also included in the nikahnama that was being
circulated in the cities after consultations with clerics. The
Gujarat violence and the subsequent insecurity amongst the minorities
came as a major setback to this process of reform from within, and
the Muslim clerics backed out completely. It has not been started
since, with Muslim men exploiting their women in the name of religion.
Any number of women have fallen prey to the interpretation of
religion in a manner where the Muslim man believes he can marry any
number of times without providing for his earlier wife and children.
The districts are full of cases where a woman has found herself on
the streets with her children, after her husband moved off to marry
again and yet again. She has little choice but to try and find work,
even though she is uneducated and has led a sheltered life. Or to
face destitution like Shahbano and now Shabano who did manage to move
the courts for their rights. This provision in the personal law has
to be restricted in definitive terms. All this talk about Islam
stipulating that a man cannot marry again without asking permission
from his first wife, etc is meaningless in reality, as it presupposes
the non-existent ‘goodness of man’. If Islam makes it difficult
for the man to marry again, then it is time this is translated into
law so that the man cannot marry again without seeking the wife’s
permission in the courts. This is the minimal requirement that must
be introduced into Muslim personal law, so that consent is not verbal
but documented by an authority that is impartial and legal. The wife
then has the protection necessary to give or withhold her consent, as
she so wishes. In other words, she is an equal partner, an individual
whose rights are recognised and respected.
The Supreme Court must be commended for its verdict, despite the
restrictive legislation passed by the Congress government two decades
ago. It gives a ray of hope again to the women deserted by their
husbands who were till now exploiting the personal law to first marry
four times if they so wanted, and do so without bothering to pay
alimony. They were supported by the Muslim organisations and the
Muslim Personal Law Board, male bodies that use the ‘our religion
under threat’ argument to consolidate themselves under the banner of
exploitation, as soon as they even get a sniff that women might be
getting their due. This has to stop now, and one can only hope that
the ruling by the apex court does not get drawn into orchestrated
controversy, and goes a long way in providing sustenance to the
divorced Muslim woman.
Seema Mustafa is a commentator on political affairs
o o o
Indian Express, December 15, 2009
SHAH BANO TO SHABANA BANO
by Flavia Agnes
After the furore created by the Supreme Court ruling in 1985 which
upheld the rights of divorced Muslim women for maintenance under
Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), and the subsequent
enactment of the Muslim Women’s Act of 1986, the idea gained ground
that a divorced Muslim woman’s rights had been extinguished. The
popular notion which prevailed at the time, that a Muslim woman is
stripped of all rights against her husband beyond the iddat period
(three months after the divorce), continues despite several rulings
to the contrary. This is because the myriad and unpredictable ways in
which the economic rights of Muslim women were reaffirmed during the
last quarter-century have not received the attention that they deserved.
The latest in this series is the Supreme Court verdict pronounced by
Justices Deepak Verma and Sudarshan Reddy on 4th December, 2009.
Shabana Bano approached the court for maintenance of Rs 3000 per
month; her plea was that when she was pregnant, her husband left her
in her natal home with a warning that she would not be allowed to
return after her delivery unless his demands for dowry were met.
Hence she was constrained to file a petition for maintenance under
Section 125 in the family court at Gwalior. Since the husband pleaded
that he had divorced Shabana and hence he is not entitled to pay her
maintenance, the court awarded her Rs 2000 per month for the four
months between her petition and her divorce. The MP high court
dismissed her appeal. It is against this background that the SC
upheld her rights.
The gains of this ruling are twofold: it upheld the rights of
divorced Muslim women for maintenance under Section 125 and it also
upheld the jurisdiction of family courts over maintenance issues of
divorced Muslim women. Where social legislations enacted to secure
the rights of needy women are concerned, the Supreme Court commented
that adherence to rigid rules of procedure and evidence should be
avoided. The judges relied upon two earlier rulings: the historic
constitutional bench ruling in Daniel Latifi in 2001 and the more
recent Iqbal Bano in 2007.
The Daniel Latifi ruling upheld the divorced Muslim woman’s right to
a fair and reasonable settlement as per Islamic principles — which
would entitle her to claim a lump sum at the time of her divorce.
After this ruling, every Muslim woman became entitled to a lump sum
at her divorce. The judgment in turn validated several rulings of
various high courts which awarded lump sum amounts ranging from Rs
50,000 to Rs 5,00,000 to divorced Muslim women in the intervening
years — after MWA was enacted in 1986, till the verdict was
pronounced in 2001.
It also relied upon the Iqbal Bano ruling of 2007, which held that
proceedings under Section 125 are civil in nature. Hence even after
the divorce, the woman would be entitled to claim maintenance under
Section 125, considering the beneficial nature of the legislation.
Reading these three Supreme Court rulings together, one can surmise
the following: first, a divorced Muslim woman’s right to maintenance
(or economic settlement) from her husband is not extinguished upon
divorce; second, she has dual claims — under Section 125 for
recurring main-tenance, or for a lump sum settlement under MWA.
Third, while the jurisdiction for MWA is in magistrates’ courts,
where family courts have been set up, divorced Muslim women are
entitled to claim maintenance in family courts.
While these are significant rulings capable of a far-reaching
impact, unless they are used in trial court litigation and are used
to change social norms within communities they will remain merely
ornamental snippets in law journals. Unless all those who are
committed or are statutorily bound to protect the rights of Muslim
women — lawyers, women’s groups and social workers — are aware
of these gains, the judicial pronouncements will cease to have an
impact upon their lives, as was the case with Shabana Bano.
Rather ironically, Shabana was married in 2001, after the Daniel
Latifi ruling. She had filed for maintenance in March 2004. But
sadly, both the family court of Gwalior and the high court did not
apply the principles laid down in Daniel Latifi to her case. This
resulted in grave economic hardship, and delay in accessing her basic
right of maintenance. If ignorance of law is no defence for an
ordinary citizen against commitment of a crime, ignorance of accurate
legal provisions protecting the rights of the vulnerable and
marginalised cannot be a defence for lawyers, judges and conciliators
who are duty bound to protect their rights.
The writer is director of Majlis, a legal centre for women, located
The Guardian, 21 December 2009
SEGREGATION IN BRADFORD
Returning to my home town after 25 years away, I found a sad lack of
political will to tackle racial and religious segregation
by Samia Rahman
It's been a few weeks since I swapped my cosmopolitan London home for
Bradford. Despite the fact that I was born here, I can't deny
harbouring prejudices built up during a 25-year absence. Perhaps I
even bought into the Bradistan mythology that envelops this northern
industrial city, notorious for polarised Asian, predominantly Muslim,
and white communities living in what is a bi-cultural rather than
Couple this with a patriarchal system of biraderi, which describes a
system of allegiance determined by familial ties, practised by the
Pakistani community. This unique social make-up has often made
Bradford a ripe target for critics of multiculturalism who
concentrate their concerns on the city's Muslim Asian population
numbering 16%, seen as an insular immigrant community unwilling to
It came as no surprise to discover that the reality is far more
complex, and my reference points somewhat outdated. When my family
became the first Muslims to buy a house on a street in the relatively
affluent part of Bradford called Heaton in the 1980s, a For Sale sign
immediately went up next door. The owner explained that she had
planned to move anyway in a few years but decided to bring her
relocation forward before more Muslims moved in, heralding an
expected fall in house prices.
White flight, as this phenomenon became known, did much to shape the
ethnic landscape of Bradford. Immigrants from the Asian sub-
continent, specifically Muslims from Mirpur, were drawn to the low-
cost housing stock of inner-city areas from the 1950s onward, with
white families selling up and moving out as rapidly as the Asian
families moved in. The overwhelming majority of the newcomers were
Muslim, a fact not distinguished in the catch-all Asian label used
for anyone with a brown skin. 9/11 and 7/7 did much to change that,
giving birth to a divisive rhetoric now focused on faith.
I was curious to find out how relevant the concept of white flight
remains today. Many Muslim residents I spoke to were vocal about
their frustration at being accused of refusing to integrate. Jamil
was interested to hear that I had lived in Heaton as a child, saying
that now you only get Muslims moving into Heaton as the middle-class
white residents that once considered the area desirable with good
schools now saw it as too Asian. He said: "They go on about us not
mixing up but the truth be known white people don't want to integrate
I met Tariq, a man in his 40s who had lived in Bradford all his life
and had recently moved from a predominantly Pakistani area to a
relatively white area nearby because he wanted his young children to
grow up in a more mixed community. He introduced me to a white lady
who lived on his street who explained sweetly that she sent her
daughter to a mainly-white primary school that was some distance away
despite there being two schools with good reputations that were
nearer. The only difference was that the closer schools had a sizable
and growing number of Muslim pupils from the subcontinent.
She said she intended to move as the area had changed far too much
for her liking, adding that the Muslims that had moved in didn't look
after their homes and when they spoke in their own language, for
example when she went to her newsagent and was the only non-Asian, it
made her feel intimidated.
White flight is one factor responsible for the segregation that
exists in Bradford and is hardly a new trend. There are some, both
Muslim and white who feel that it is less of an issue now. Shahid, a
young professional of Pakistani origin, told me he thought the racial
segregation debate in Bradford was a shallow one, overplayed and
unhelpful. He explained that economics is the main consideration when
people decide whether or not they wish to move, pointing out that the
housing market does not offer the same flexibility to relocate on a
whim that it used to. As far as he was concerned, Heaton is
considered more desirable among upwardly-mobile Muslims looking to
move out of the inner city all-Pakistani areas in pursuit of better
schools and a better quality of life. It wasn't the case that white
families did not wish to move here, he argued, rather that there were
far more Muslims vying to move in.
The theory that Bradford's racial make-up is influenced more by
economics than white flight was illustrated by a young white couple I
spoke to who moved to Heaton over three years ago. They had thought
nothing of buying their first home there, explaining that race was
not a live issue for them although they were certainly aware that
Bradford as a city has its problems with race. The same economic
factors that preoccupy most people looking to get on the first rung
of the property ladder, such as affordability and transport links,
were their over-riding concerns. However, their expectation and hope
that they would engage with the Muslim community they live alongside
has proved a disappointment as they have found that an opportunity to
do so just hasn't arisen.
One aspect of racial segregation in Bradford that provoked huge
concern across all communities was that of segregated secondary
schools. Examples of a school being all-Asian while the school down
the road was mostly white were depressingly common. Muslim parents
wanting to send their children to ethnically mixed schools said that
white parents would see a school with growing Asian pupil numbers as
signifying falling standards and send their children elsewhere.
On the other hand one white parent I spoke to had chosen to send her
child to the local comprehensive that was approximately 98% Asian out
of principle, not wishing to imitate the other white parents who went
to great lengths to send their child to a majority-white school some
distance away. However, her child was so seriously bullied by
Pakistani pupils who had spent their entire schooling life in an all-
Asian environment, she was forced to pull him out and send him
In its hey-day, white flight helped to entrench the ethnic
polarisation of society in Bradford, but class, economics and
education are now the main players. However Muslims and white
residents alike doubt the existence of any political will to address
the insidious effects of segregation.
(i) From: CREA <crea(at)vsnl.net>
SOUTH ASIA MOVEMENT BUILDING AND HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTE
8 - 13 February 2010
Application form is attached. For brochure with complete information
on resource persons, visit http://web.creaworld.org/home.asp.
Applications are due on or before 26 December 2009.
The South Asia Movement Building and Human Rights Institute is an
annual weeklong residential training program designed by CREA
(Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action). This Institute is
designed for women working in NGOs in South Asia in mid-level
leadership positions, and aims to build the conceptual clarity of
participants on gender, feminism and movement building and their link
to human rights in the South Asian context. The Institute also aims
to build the skills of participants for mobilizing oppressed /
marginalized women to claim their rights.
This Institute offers mid-level women leaders in NGOs an opportunity
to enhance their conceptual understanding as well as build their
skills to do effective activism and advocacy on human rights. The
Institute will build:
i. Conceptual understanding of participants on gender, feminism and
movement building and their link to human rights.
ii. Strategic skills by looking at and analyzing some social
movements and successful advocacy campaigns in South Asia.
iii. Communication skills that will enable participants to prepare
effective written communication material, social messaging in videos
and documentaries and use ICTs for human rights work.
Activists and academics from the global South will teach the course
using classroom instruction, group work, case studies, simulation
exercises and films. Resource persons include Srilatha Batliwala
(India), Ayesha Khan (Pakistan), Bishakha Datta (India), Cheekay
Cinco (Philippines), Kaushalya Perera (Sri Lanka), Maheen Sultan
(Bangladesh) and Sunita Kujur (India).
CREA (Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action) is a feminist
human rights organization based in New Delhi, India, and led by women
from the global South. CREA promotes, protects, and advances women's
human rights and the sexual rights of all people by building
leadership capacities; strengthening organizations and social
movements; creating new information, knowledge, and resources; and
influencing social and policy environments.
Women working in NGOs in South Asia, in mid-level leadership
positions, and committed to human rights work are eligible. Twenty
five participants will be selected based on their application form.
Participants are required to stay for the duration of the course.
The Institute is supported by the Ford Foundation, allowing CREA to
cover tuition, boarding and lodging costs for all participants.
Participants must cover their own travel expenses. A limited number
of travel scholarships from CREA are available on a need basis.
The South Asia Movement Building and Human Rights Institute will be
held in Kathmandu, Nepal, from 8 - 13 February 2010.
Applications are due on or before 26 December 2009. Application
received after the due date will not be considered.
Please send your applications to Sushma Luthra:
Email: sluthra at creaworld.org
Fax: +91 11 2437 7708
Post: 7 Mathura Road, 2nd Floor, Jangpura B, New Delhi - 110014. India.
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/
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