SACW - 27 April 2018 | Sri Lanka: Anti-muslim violence / Myanmar: hate speech / Pakistan: Madeeha Gauhar; Displaced Pashtuns / India: Misogyny; xenophobia / British Far Right / Chernobyl / Armenia protests

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Thu Apr 26 21:14:59 EDT 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 27 April 2018 - No. 2986 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. Pakistan: Selected Tributes to Madeeha Gauhar
2. Kathua and Unnao Rapes: Letter from academics to India’s Prime Minister
3. The Body and Dress Code In the Political Discourse in India | Sumanta Banerjee
4. Is the Indo-Japan rail project a boondoggle? | Sentaku Magazine in The Japan Times
5. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 - “Countries of Particular Concern” in U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2018 Annual Report
 - India: BJP and the slow saffronisation of India | Snigdha Jain
 - Kerala youths were drawn into violent protests over the Kathua case by anonymous WhatsApp calls

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6. Sri Lanka: Recurring Violence Against Muslims: What Is It All About? |  Mohamed R. M. Farook
7. In Myanmar, hate speech runs deeper than Facebook | Myo Win Nyunt
8. Pakistan: Displaced Pashtuns Return to Find Homes “Teeming” with Landmines | Zofeen Ebrahim
9. India: A Muslim and a Hindu thought they could be a couple. Then came the ‘love jihad’ hit list | Annie Gowen
10. Toxic labels: India needs to learn to communicate with substance | Ruchir Joshi 
11. India: Aadhaar in welfare is pain without gain | Reetika Khera
12. The Nowhere People: Rohingyas in India | Neeta Lal
13. ‘Caste is all around us … we have a moral imperative to address it so that it ends in our lifetime’
14. Book Review: Rule By Aesthetics - World-Class City Making in Delhi by Asher Ghertner
15. Book Review: ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Us’: The British Far Right since 1967 edited by Nigel Copsey and Matthew Worley
16. 32 years after Chernobyl, next up, a Chernobyl on ice? | Jan Haverkamp and Rashid Alimov
17. Armenia is having a 'color revolution.' So why is Russia so calm? | Fred Weir
18. Why we all belong to a shared community | Tom Whyman

Madeeha Gauhar’s passing is not just the end of what will probably be considered the golden age of Pakistani theatre, it is a great loss for progressive, pro-peace voices in this country.

We are academics and independent scholars from India and abroad, writing to express solidarity with, and to endorse the sentiments expressed by, forty-nine retired civil servants in their open letter to you of April 16th 2018

by Sumanta Banerjee
The exchange of banters between the outgoing veteran Congress MP Renuka Chaudhury and India’s Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu in the Rajya Sabha, during the ceremony to bid farewell to her and other retiring MPs , has taken an ugly turn. In her farewell speech Renuka Chaudhury while addressing Naidu (who is also the Rajya Sabha Chairman), in a self-deprecating humorous vein poked fun at her own girth saying: “Sir, many people worry about my weight, but in this job (of politics), you need to throw your weight around.” To this, Naidu replied: “…reduce your weight and make efforts to increase the weight of your party.” Now, if this banter between the two – both of whom having known each other for many years despite their political differences – took place in the private surroundings of a lunch or dinner party in the capital, where such slanging jests are quite common, it would have been laughed off, and ignored by the media.
But once such a badinage is transported to the public arena of Parliament, or political rallies, it assumes a different dimension, particularly from the viewpoint of women, who quite understandably feel insulted by the misogynist comments and anti-women slurs made by ministers, MPs, political leaders (irrespective of their ideological beliefs) on the floors of the Lok Sabha, as well as in mass meetings.

4. IS THE INDO-JAPAN RAIL PROJECT A BOONDOGGLE? | Sentaku Magazine in The Japan Times
The construction of a new high-speed railway line in India is scheduled to officially get underway this year, connecting the commercial capital of Mumbai and the industrial city of Ahmedabad in the western part of the country. The project to build the line fashioned after Japan’s shinkansen system is a product of an agreement between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, in their December 2015 summit.
Yet anxiety is already rising due to soaring costs brought about by haphazard policies of the Indian government, leading both the Japanese government and Japanese firms to start getting bogged down.
 - “Countries of Particular Concern” in U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2018 Annual Report
 - India: BJP and the slow saffronisation of India | Snigdha Jain
 - Kerala youths were drawn into violent protests over the Kathua case by anonymous WhatsApp calls

 -> available via:
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by Mohamed R. M. Farook
Colombo Telegraph
April 25, 2018

Peace is more important today than any of the earlier eras because of the positively advantageous characteristics in the post-modern world with its attendant advancement in technology, socio-political vibrancy and religious freedom. Yet violence erupts mainly either on political or religious issues. Violence is the antithesis of peace. If we desire peace, harmony and peaceful coexistence among communities then violence has no place and should be abhorred. Yes, the vast majority of people from all communities in Sri Lanka – Buddhists, Muslims and Tamils – are not inclined towards violence of any type or form. They love peaceful coexistence which is openly visible to everybody from their daily interactions among one another on an individual and collective scale in their personalized transactions in their neighbourhood, routine, social, purchasing / marketing / selling activities throughout Sri Lanka. What else we need to be inclusive and like / love and be kind to one another? Yet violence ‘exists’ and has emerged in recent times, particularly against Muslims, in different locations starting from Aluthgama (2014), Gintota (2017), Ampara, Digana, Teldeniya and few other areas in Kandy (2018). Can one find the causes / reasons for this sporadic ‘attacks’ on Muslims and their properties – homes and businesses? The answer is ‘YES’ and also ‘NO’. 

The world has changed from a religiously and culturally based internalized communities to high tech societies banging on the concept of Global Village and with that human thinking too has changed from human and humanely based thinking to technology- directed thinking which has given rise to self-seeking pursuits devoid of empathy and wellbeing of others within one’s own community and other communities. This is the scourge of the present day behavioural pattern particularly in the South Asian regions. The outcome (or output) of this phenomenon is that a large number of people from every community lacks the essential fundamental knowledge of their own religion and practise only rituals and thereby do not know the important aspects of treating / respecting the followers of other religions. Similarly the present generation does not know the cultural / traditional aspects that had transcended through years within the three communities that respected each other and was the cornerstone for peaceful living. Thus conflict leading to ad hoc chaos. We, for that matter any analyst / researcher, may not be able to identify all the reasons / causes of the violence or may miss out the vital ones as some of them may be known only to the perpetrators themselves. Yet we can point out some leading events that definitely could have contributed towards the unwanted calamity that got unfolded. 

A few years ago some Sinhala Buddhists (SB), for reasons known to them only, propagated the ‘false notion’ that Sri Lankan Muslims (M) will overtake the SB population by about 30 to 35 years in time due to SB families having lesser number of children than M families. With the official statistics of 70% SB and 09% M in a total Sri Lankan population of 21 Million, and assuming that the reproduction processes of SB and M are, say, two (2) and five (5) per family respectively, even by one hundred years from now, the Muslims will not be able to overtake the Sinhala Buddhists through population growth. Forget overtaking, the Muslims will not be able to reach even 12% of the population say within hundred years. It is the Sinhalese peasants who had a larger number of children per family than the Muslims. The one, two or three children per Sinhalese families are confined to their educated and elite class and never to their rural population. With the present day complex lifestyles, high cost of living, woes of bringing up children, the hassles of schooling and living as nuclear family, everybody, irrespective of race or ethnicity, is going for small – two / three – children families. The myth of Muslim population expansion gets exposed.

After this canard they started the Halaal issue and from stage to stage from Colombo, through Kandy, Kurunegala and other places, Buddhist monks indoctrinated the Buddhist audience present with falsehood against Islam and Muslims. While some would have believed in what these monks said, a reasonable majority of the SB rejected such propaganda and in fact were questioning the behaviour of the monks as per the teachings of Buddhism. Next came the interference in and incitement at Muslim businesses that got culminated in Aluthgama violence (in2014) followed by Gintota (2017), Ampara, Digana, Teldeniya and other areas in Kandy recently – a sad spectacle for the otherwise hospitable, helpful and kindhearted Sri Lankans in general and especially the Sinhala population in particular.

What all these show is that a very small minority of Buddhist monks has influenced a group of Buddhists (youth) to their (monks’) ways of thinking of initiating and developing hatred against Muslims – an unnecessary and uncalled for endeavour by this minority group of Buddhists. This goes on and is an unhealthy and dangerous social behaviour that affects not only the Muslims but also the perpetrators themselves, the Sinhala Buddhists at large, others and finally the Sri Lanka as a country in the long run. What have the Muslims done for you (the Buddhists) to go against them? They are in business because they could not get employed in the state sector or in established commercial enterprises as they did not have educational qualifications due to either their (or parental) neglect on school education or their inability to get admission to leading schools – and finally became drop-outs through de-motivation and / or frustration. 

Whereas the majority in a country especially in the South East Asian region are somewhat complacent with their strengths in their numbers, enjoy official / state patronage and have a perceived self-confidence in their livelihood, the minorities get into the notion that they have to be hardworking to survive economically / financially. This is the story everywhere in the world be it Britain, Belgium, America, Philippine, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, or Sri Lanka – minorities are hardworking and their business activities, small, medium or large have invariably helped the people and the economy of the respective countries – a plus point for any minority in any part of the world. Why be jealous of the Muslims of Sri Lanka? Benchmark them for your progress in your personal life as well as in business. Thereby together the Sinhalese, the Muslims and the Tamils can rise up morally and economically for the benefit and progress of all concerned! This may appear as a Utopian suggestion – yet let us give a try shunning violence and stretching the hands of friendship. 

The ground realities may not be conducive to our suggestions above. In that case let us look at the ground realities which are many and varied from utter dislike / hatred towards the Muslims for no faults of their own except the faulty perception by the misdirected tiny minority hate mongering Buddhist youth backed by misguided Buddhist monks. Their dislike for, the anger they nursed along, and the brutal harm they planned and unleashed on the Muslims variously got projected, for / against, in social media and through the mouths of trouble makers and rumour mongers. One suggestion for a solution for this is for the Muslims, affected and others, to call them (the ‘empowered’ Sinhala youth and the monks) through all available means immediately to initiate discussions to resolve the issues of both sides – The Sinhalese and The Muslims.  It may be difficult at the beginning, but let us start it as soon as possible for the sake of progress of all communities and the forward march of our country – Sri Lanka. If there are other ways of addressing this issue of ‘misunderstanding’ and / or ‘misconception’ let us go into those too. All suggestions must be welcome and no stone left unturned to resolve this issue of violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka. 

Be that as it may, let’s look into the livelihood patterns of each of the three ethnic / racial groups. Each of the three main communities in Sri Lanka had and still continue to have distinct liking at specific sectoral / educational / vocational involvement for their livelihood. The Sinhalese aspire for the public sector employment, get into the positions and thereby are the decision makers, general administrators and political rulers in Sri Lanka. The Tamils (Jaffna) have taken the path of education seriously and do well in their careers within Sri Lanka or overseas provided opportunities come in their way. The Muslim community traditionally had been in trading / commercial activities and they continue and new businesses spring up too. Further, due to various encouraging factors such as better social status and also the glamour of being in business today (with the attendant risk involved notwithstanding), freedom of being independent earner, better earning potential than wage employment and importantly governmental support and incentives for self-employment, people from all three communities have ventured into businesses of various types which we see throughout Sri Lanka. Thus the past notion (may be a reality then) that Muslims are / were the dominant group in business does not prevail now. Yet Muslim businesses (retail) are conspicuous in their traditionally held Muslim towns such as Akurana, Beruwala, Mawanella, Thihariya, Kalmunai, (to name a few) and had expanded within these towns. Muslim businesses do not exist in the new towns such as Ampara, Nugegoda, Maharagama, Homagama, Kiribathgoda, Embilipitiya etc. Thus it is the Sinhalese who are more in businesses today than the Muslims (or even the Tamils) – this is what it should be and what it is as the Sinhalese constitute the majority. This situation must be clearly understood to erase the myth that Muslims are the dominating group in business and thus create unwanted confusion in the minds of the Sinhalese.

Whatever their religious / ethic group, all business persons (except a very few who committedly practise their religious commands in business ethics) today are of a mind-set to make quick financial gains, disproportionate profits and look out for opportunistic situations to exploit the customer whoever they may be. This is in all trades from greengrocers, grocers, farm producers and all other businesses. This opportunistic exploitation has nothing to do with market mechanism of supply and demand. This is based on the business persons’ greedy outlook combined with the exploitation of the trust the innocent customers have in the business persons along with exploitation of lack of knowledge on the part of customers on quality, prices, availability of the same or substitute goods at other places, and finally the level of anxiety of the customers in their purchasing process – all these combined give the businesses, irrespective of their (businesses’) ethnic / racial orientation, the strengths to exploit their customers whoever they may be. Therefore it is wrong and dangerous too to arouse the feelings of the Sinhala Buddhists to the warped and twisted notion that Muslims are the dominant group in business and they exploit their customers – all businesses at various levels and degrees exploit their customers. 

Having said of the many issues that could have been the reasons for the violence against Muslims without any normative inputs, up to this point, from this write-up, it is important to focus on the unfounded and unprovable advocacy by the lead Sinhala Buddhist political figures and some other Buddhist personalities that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhala Buddhists. There is no truth in this statement. Of course the Sinhala Buddhists are the majority in Sri Lanka. This notion is advocated essentially for the purpose of gaining political advantage from the Sinhala Buddhists vote base and nothing else – and also may be based on chauvinism in the minds of such Buddhists. This notion must be countered and abandoned to seek a way forward approach to the multi-ethno-racial pluralistic Sri Lanka that is what we are today and had come through ages in order that Sri Lanka would march forward as a nation in all aspects internally and globally through genuine and committed cooperation of all her communities with the motto that Sri Lanka belongs to all its citizens – Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Muslims. 

Another important matter is the role of the State in safeguarding every community, whether minority or majority, to any form of danger that may emerge through propaganda, incitement or violence. The state’s re-active approaches of paying compensation to the damaged properties and the slow apprehension of the middle-rung culprits who committed the violence / crime leaving the masterminds to live with impunity are no solutions to the said issues by a democratic government. The government should always be pro-active and have standby controlling mechanisms to prevent communal violence among its multi-racial and multi-ethnic society in whichever part that violence may emerge, round up the perpetrators and take legal actions against them. All governments of the day had been slack and people witnessed one-way communal violence on Tamils in 1956 and 1983 and on the Muslims in 2014, 2017 and 2018. In these series of violence every community was a looser and there is no one to be said as the winner. We all must learn lessons from these nasty events and thus abhor violence. Although the Constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees the freedom of religion to every religious group, the Constitution should be strengthened further through an additional clause guaranteeing every community from violence of any sort. 

Finally, to get a better understanding of the violence against the Muslims, we also must look into the Muslims’ overall behaviour as an individual, as a collective or community, as business people, as political figures and clergy-based organizations – all these could individually and in concert send various signals that could be interpreted in different ways by the Sinhalese which could be detrimental towards the Muslims. Muslims in their individual capacity have good relationships with the Sinhalese (also Tamils) in their personal interactions. Their dresses of head scarfs, Shalwars, Abaayas (full body cloaks) and even the face-cover (Niqaab) have been in existence for long time and has become accepted dress code by others and there seem to be no repulsion or repugnance by the individual Sinhalese. It is the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) which created a fuss about Muslim women’s dresses going to the level of calling the Muslim women wearing the long cloak as ‘goni billas’. Every person, irrespective of their religion, has the freedom to wear whatever they wish provided the dresses do not reflect public nuisance through indecency. It is surprising to note that BBS does not say a word about the mini shorts (skirts) worn by young girls exposing greater part of their thighs and also wearing tops that expose unnecessarily the female breasts and the cleavage. What is the logic? Decent ways of dresses should be ‘insulted’ and indecency accepted in the name of fashion for the perverted desires of the onlookers!

The behaviour of the Muslims as a community is different from their individual behaviour. This is because the community is unnecessarily controlled by leaders of the Mosques (trustees), other religious (Islamic) organizations and also by socio-political associations among many others. Each of these entities has their own agendas and work on them without looking into the consequences on implementing the agendas. They stress or emphasize on the rights of the Muslims without looking into the responsibilities of the Muslim community towards the other communities. This is where any problem would start. For example, there is no issue in making use of the public address system (loud speakers) by mosques in their call for prayers in predominantly Muslim areas but have to restrict its use in areas where other communities also live. Further the members (elected, nominated or otherwise hold official positions based on the criteria of their respective constitutions) of the governing body of these mosques and religious associations do not in many instances discharge their duties as per the true Islamic guidelines as the mosques and all the associations are divided on the basis of different sects (forming into sects is against the teachings of Islam) and propagate their own ‘corrupted’ versions and the congregation is divided and are in most cases unable to raise their individual voice even as a minority collective which version might be the correct one to do. Most of the socio-political Muslim organizations exist to serve the purpose of political parties and / or other entities, local or foreign, which may support them in various ways including financial help. Thus by looking at these Muslim organizations including the Mosques, it will not be a surprise if the Sinhalese and also the BBS see the Muslim community as an inward looking community without compassion and empathy towards others.

As we have stated above, almost all businesses are exploitative towards the customers and Muslim businesses are no exception. Business persons have their religions and every religion does teach their adherents of doing business in the right manner (Business Ethics). Muslims have the Islamic guidelines in businesses and have to follow them if they are to be in the fold of Islam. Though a vast majority of Muslim businesses do adhere to their Islamic guidelines to the level as they perceive as possible and may by necessity resort to some harmless tactics or gimmickry in closing business transactions, Muslim businesses also have a quota of black sheep among them who have brought the bad image to the Muslim businesses thus making others stereotype all Muslim businesses in the black sheep category. Whereas Muslims, approximately up to the mid twentieth century, were upheld positively on single or very few positive interactive criteria (halo effect), today it is stereotyping from the few ‘bad’ Muslims to the entire community. This is one factor that makes Muslims face hate speech and violence. 

Many of the Muslim political personalities and politicians have shown themselves as greedy for ministerial portfolios and jump from one regime to another for the sake of financial gains and show no concern for the Muslim community. Thus the Muslim community is leaderless and helpless and are susceptible to all types of danger from within their own and also from hate mongers and perpetrators of violence. The main clergy based Muslim organizations are more concerned with the religious works they are performing and are conspicuously uninvolved in finding solutions for the violence against Muslims. But they are helping the affected Muslims by collecting donations and dispatching same to the affected areas – this is the ‘need of the hour’ measure and in no way would alleviate the emotional distress of the victims. 

Let the proponents and perpetrators of hatred and violence, re-think and reflect on their mission against Muslims and see that whether that mission of theirs could help the Sinhala Buddhist and Buddhism to be better or worse off tomorrow! Think seriously, reflect positively, and resort to non-violent ways of addressing the issues concerned so that all communities in Sri Lanka would live in an atmosphere of Sri Lankan brotherhood – and, God Willing (Insha Allah), this ought to be possible. 

M. R. M. Farook – Chartered Engineer

by Myo Win Nyunt
Asia Times, 
April 25, 2018

April has been a stressful month for many, but particularly for Facebook founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg. His frantic facial expressions and gloomy voices during his 10-hour-long, two-day congressional testimony proved that he is in a tough position.

But the good news for him was that he became a little bit richer after spending a few arduous days in Washington, DC, as his shares at Facebook jumped during the hearings.

In addition to plans to solve the current issues and allegations that his billion-dollar company is facing, he also stressed the important steps his company is taking to tackle hate speech, particularly in Myanmar.

On the first day of the testimony, Senator Patrick Leahy raised the Rohingya issue and asked Zuckerberg whether or not Facebook was able to take down a hate-speech post within 24 hours. In response, Zuckerberg explained three areas in which his company is working specifically for Myanmar.
First area

“One is we’re hiring dozens of more Burmese-language content reviewers because hate speech is very language-specific. It’s hard to do it without people who speak the local language, and we need to ramp up our effort there dramatically.”

Zuckerberg acknowledges that understanding the local language is vital to addressing the hate-speech issue in Myanmar. However, what he might not understand is that Burmese is only one of the many languages spoken in Myanmar. There are hundreds of different languages spoken by indigenous people and local ethnic groups.

Thus, though it is sensible to work with Burmese speakers to tackle hate speech, it will not fully resolve the issue. This is not to say that working with Burmese speakers will be entirely in vain. Rather, this is a good first step and, in fact, Facebook’s Dublin office recently opened a recruitment program to hire a few staffers from Myanmar to initiate the aforementioned first area.

But Facebook needs a more meaningful approach than this to get a clear picture of the scope of the hate-speech issue.

Throughout the hearings, every time he was asked about hate speech, Zuckerberg struggled to define what hate speech is. His struggle was absolutely understandable, as different societies interpret hate speech differently. And it is clear that Facebook cannot censor every time somebody reports something from Myanmar, as it takes time to review the content and to decide whether it is, in fact, hate speech.
Second area

“Second is we’re working with civil society in Myanmar to identify specific hate figures so we can take down their accounts, rather than specific pieces of content.”

    There is no doubt that Facebook has contributed to the spread of hate speech in Myanmar. However, the important question is, is Facebook the main cause of hate speech in Myanmar?

Myanmar is blessed with strong civil-society organizations (CSOs) that are trying to stop hate speech to some degree. Prior to his testimony, Zuckerberg responded to an open letter that was sent to him by a group of civil-society organizations in Myanmar, saying that he acknowledged the important roles Myanmar CSOs are playing to address issues such as hate speech.

It is a paramount achievement for Myanmar CSOs that they have finally received the close attention of the Facebook CEO. Zuckerberg should maintain this momentous relationship with Myanmar CSOs, whose resources could prove beneficial for Facebook in order to get a clear picture of the local context.
Third area

“And third is we’re standing up a product team to do specific product changes in Myanmar and other countries that may have similar issues in the future to prevent this from happening.”

Zuckerberg told senators that he was also developing artificial-intelligence tools that would be able to detect hate speech. He also said it would take five to 10 years or more to develop these anti-hate speech tools.

In a way, Zuckerberg was implying that the issue of hate speech was so fathomless that it would take years of effort to resolve fully. He also seems to believe that it is possible to address hate speech with advanced AI tools without relying much on human effort.

There is no doubt that Facebook has contributed to the spread of hate speech in Myanmar. However, the important question is, is Facebook the main cause of hate speech in Myanmar?
Myanmar’s lost pluralistic society

It now seems a myth that Myanmar was a leading example of a pluralistic society in its heyday. On the surface, it seems that Myanmar is far from becoming what the late American moral and political philosopher John Rawls called a “well-ordered society.” But if one dives deep into the very heart of Myanmar society, one can witness many sanguine characteristics of a pluralistic society.

Take downtown Yangon as an example. Within a small area, different religious sites such as the Shwedagon Pagoda, the Sule Pagoda, Immanuel Baptist Church, Saint Mary’s Cathedral,  Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Bengali Sunni Jameh Mosque, the Moghul Shia Masjid and dozens of Hindu temples such as the Shri Satyanarayan are standing side by side.

Less than 10 kilometers from the Sule area, there is the University of Yangon, which was (as Rangoon University) considered one of the best in Southeast Asia throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Students from across Asia traveled to this area to get a fine education that would enable them to land their dream jobs in emerging post-colonial markets in Asia.

The bitter truth is that the decades-long military rule wiped out Myanmar’s pluralistic society together with many other things. The junta shut down almost all of the social-science subjects that had helped students learn to think critically.

After several decades of being misguided by an impoverished and underdeveloped education system, people cannot think rationally anymore. Though the post-military governments have reintroduced social-science disciplines such as a political-science undergraduate degree program at Yangon University, Myanmar has lost a pluralistic society in which people of different faiths tolerated and respected one another. A shared value was lost and it has become a nation of intolerance.  

The role of Facebook in Myanmar can be seen as a contributing factor rather than as the main cause of spreading hate speech. And the three areas that Zuckerberg discussed during his testimony would definitely help Myanmar deter hate speech to some extent.

This is not to say, however, that Facebook alone can solve anti-religious sentiments in Myanmar. To have a greater impact, it is vital that the main causes of the hate speech are fully realized by Myanmar stakeholders themselves.

The government and the people of Myanmar should put significant effort into restoring the pluralistic society that they once celebrated. Meanwhile, there is no better time to remember what Nelson Mandela taught the world by saying, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Asia Times is not responsible for the opinions, facts or any media content presented by contributors. In case of abuse, click here to report.
Myo Win Nyunt is doing graduate work in international political economy at Charles University in Prague. He was previously based in Yangon, Myanmar, where he worked as an independent contractor for four years with a Washington-based international organization. He has traveled extensively throughout Asia and has been involved in various academic programs in China, the United States, Cambodia and Vietnam.

by Zofeen Ebrahim
Inter Press Service

Manzoor Pashteen, a leader of the the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, addresses a rally in Lahore on April 22, 2018. Credit: Khalid Mahmood/IPS

KARACHI, Apr 26 2018 (IPS) - “If I’m assured that my home and my village has been de-mined, I’d be the first to return with my family,” says 54-year old Mohammad Mumtaz Khan.

Khan lived in the mountainous village of Patwelai in South Waziristan, a rugged territory in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) near the Afghan border, one of the world’s most important geopolitical regions. In 2008, he shifted to Dera Ismail Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province with his wife and six children.

They had to leave Patwelai hurriedly, “with just the clothes on our backs”, after the Pakistan army decided to launch a major ground-air offensive to cleanse the entire area of the Taliban.
Mumtaz Khan lost his foot to a landmine in his home. Credit: Khan family

Mumtaz Khan lost his foot to a landmine in his home. Credit: Khan family

Since then, the military carried out a series of intermittent operations across FATA till 2016, when they claimed they had destroyed the Pakistani Taliban’s infrastructure in the country.

That same year, in 2016, the army gave the internally displaced persons (IDPs) — over half a million — a clean chit to return to their homes. Feeling lucky, Khan and a few dozen men decided to visit their village and assess the situation before returning with their families.

It was while he was entering his home through a window that he accidentally stepped on a landmine. “There was a boom and before I could fathom what had happened, I saw my bloodied left foot,” Khan said.

“I am lucky that I got away with a small injury. It may not be so the next time around,” he said, adding that the mountains and valleys are “teeming” with improvised explosive devices (IED) and explosive remnants of war (ERW).

“Despite having cleared the area of militants, it is not possible for many to move about freely as the place remains infested with landmines,” agreed Raza Shah, who heads the Sustainable Peace and Development Organization (SPADO), an active member of the global Control Arms Coalition and International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). Since 2010, SPADO has been blocked from working in FATA.

After the demand by the Pashtuns earlier this year during their long march to Islamabad, the authorities promised they would start de-mining the area.
"Ghost Towns"

The murder of 27-year old Naqeebullah Mehsud, a young Pashtun shopkeeper from South Waziristan living in Karachi, by the police in a "fake encounter" opened up the floodgates of resentment and anger of the Pashtuns at their treatment by the state that has been pent up for decades, spurring what is today known as the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement.

Gohar Mehsud, a journalist from South Waziristan, said it was a sad indictment of the Pakistani leadership that the
Pashtuns had to travel in the thousands to Islamabad to lodge their complaints. "The conversation that took place in whispers among themselves is now out in the open. For far too long they had been too scared to accost or even speak out against the high handedness and atrocities committed by the army officials and the political agent posted in their areas by the federal government," he said.

For the first time, said Mona Naseer, co-founder of the Khor Network of tribal women, the long march movement gave a new face to FATA and showed "there is more to this region than drones, militants and militancy; it's given voice to the miseries faced by the tribespeople," she said. 

Mumtaz Khan, the schoolteacher from the South Waziristan village of Patwelai, recalled when he first re-entered his village, cutting through tall wild grass and wild shrubs, "it was like I had come to a ghost town hounded by wild boar." Khan said the road to the village was broken down and they had to walk a good couple of hours to get to their village.

"Not one house was intact -- either the walls had collapsed or the roof had given way. Our homes had been looted and ransacked. Cupboards and chests opened crockery heartlessly thrown with broken pieces, dust was strewn all over the place," he said, adding that it was painful to see the cruelty and disdain with which their homes had been ransacked. 

The tribesmen say that the military operation has left their land poisoned. "The land has become infertile. The apple tree either does not give fruit and when it does, it is attacked by pests, the walnuts on the walnut trees is much smaller and not as sweeter," Mehsud said.

In addition, he said, many of the IDPs who have returned live in tents outside their homes as the houses are in a collapsed state and unsafe to live in.

The state had promised compensation of Rs 400,000 for homes that had been completely annihilated and Rs 150,000 for those partially damaged, but that is clearly not enough. "It costs Rs 5 to 6 million to build very basic homes!" said Mehsud.

Due to the remoteness of the area, he said, "The policy makers and the top government officials, who can make a difference, never visit the place to find out why the Pashtuns are angry. Even the media is not there to report the ground reality. The local administration and the army officials are their point of contact and whatever they tell them is what they know. The latter rule over the tribesmen as kings!"

But the youth of the area decided they had had enough. Two months in, the movement remains unwavering, as peaceful and stronger as ever with more young people -- students and professionals -- joining in. They even run a Facebook group called "Justice for Pashtuns." Nobel Laureate Malala Yusafzai showed her "solidarity" with group and "appealed to the prime minister, the army and the chief justice of Pakistan to take notice of the "genuine demands" of the people of FATA and Pakhtunkhwa.

Not everyone is convinced, especially since the accidents continue. “It is not just a daunting task, but a painstaking, expensive, and risky one and the government is neither equipped with the technology nor does it have the huge human resources needed to comb the vast area,” said Gohar Mehsud, a journalist from the area who has covered the issues of the FATA extensively.

“The military should have cleared the area of mines before letting the tribes return,” said Mohsin Dawar, one of the people behind the newly formed Pashtun Tahafuz Movement which is day by day gaining strength. He pointed out that among their demands was to ask the military to send more teams of bomb disposal units to comb the area and clear the place.

Recalling his tragedy, Khan narrated that he was carried down the mountain to the main road on his nephew’s back for a good two hours, all while bleeding profusely. Once they reached the road, he was tied onto a motorbike and taken to the nearest health centre where he was administered basic first aid. “All I remember was the excruciating pain I felt throughout the journey that seemed never-ending,” he said.

Meanwhile, another cousin had arranged a car to take him to the nearest hospital in D.I. Khan. All in all, the journey took a good nine hours before he reached the hospital.

His injury, like those faced every day by countless others residing in the area, highlights a problem that this conflict has left behind. It also shows an utter disregard for civilian life. Dawar calls it nothing but “criminal negligence” on the part of the Pakistani army.

According to Mehsud, the bombs may have been laid during the conflict by both the army and the terrorists. He discovered a landmine in his house a couple of years back after his family returned to their village in South Waziristan.

“We have been after the army personnel to send someone to defuse the bomb but so far nothing has been done,” he said. For now they have placed stones around it and continually remind their family members not to step anywhere near it.

According to a SPADO spokesperson, the area along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan is heavily mined. “But that area is also heavily fenced with no civilian access; it is marked too.”

The scattered cases of injuries and casualties have occurred only because the mines may have slipped from their position due to rain. On the other hand, in FATA, the landmines are used as an offensive not a defensive weapon by both the military and the militants and are therefore unmarked. “They are even found inside school compounds, homes, and agriculture fields,” said Shah of SPADO.

“I don’t care who planted these bombs; the military carried out the operation in our territory and I hold them responsible for clearing it,” said Dawar.

Shah agreed that mine clearance was the responsibility of the military corps of engineers. He fails to understand why, if the bomb disposal units were so good and sent on missions abroad to clear mines, why not make their own country safe first.

He added that if the military initiated a full-throttle de-mining, it would be the easiest way to win the hearts and mind of the tribal people. “They will gain confidence that the army is there to protect their children,” he said.

“The army has started to cover some ground in South Waziristan, but it needs to be more proactive and engaged and begin this in earnest in the rest of the agencies,” said Mona Naseer, co-founder of Khor Network of tribal women, who belongs to Orakzai agency where a kid was recently injured by stepping on a mine and fatally injured.

These injuries come with a life-long economic cost. For the last two years, Khan has undertaken cumbersome travel  from D.I. Khan to bigger cities like Peshawar and even down to Rawalpindi, in the Punjab province, from one doctor to another, each giving their own opinions. “I have spent over one million rupees on my leg, but still walk with the help of crutches,” he points out helplessly.

Along with losing his limb, his job, and his home, Khan has lost the purpose of his existence. His life, he said, has changed completely. “I’m now a  cripple, imprisoned at home and dependent on others for help. I cannot ride a motorbike, cannot go to the market, have to ask others to help me in the bathroom…everything that I should be doing myself.” Khan doubted he would ever manage to go back to his village given the rugged mountainous terrain that it is located in. The former school teacher is now limited to tutoring students at home.

Pakistan is not the only country facing a landmine problem. While it is impossible to get an accurate number of the total global area contaminated by landmines due to lack of data, landmine watch groups estimate that there could be 110 million landmines in the ground and an equal number in stockpiles waiting to be planted or destroyed. The cost to remove them all is 50 to 100 billion dollars.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines network, more than 4,200 people, of whom 42 per cent are children, fall victim to landmines and ERWs annually in many of the countries affected by war or in post-conflict situations around the world.

A global Mine Ban Treaty known as the Ottawa Convention (which became international law in 1999) has been signed and ratified by 162 countries. It prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines (APLs). Sadly, Pakistan is among the countries (United States, China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Russia) that have have not signed the treaty and is among both the producers and users of landmines.

In  2016, the Landmine Monitor report placed India as the third biggest stockpiler of APLs in 2015 after Russia and Pakistan.

Last year, Sri Lanka acceded to the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Convention and set a deadline to be free of landmines by 2020. “Sri Lanka’s accession should spur other nations that haven’t joined the landmine treaty to take another look at why they want to be associated with such an obsolete, abhorrent weapon,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines – the group effort behind the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.

But Shah said that unless India agreed to accede, Pakistan will not take the first step. “Perhaps the way to go about it is to bring the issue on the agenda during peace negotiations and when talks around confidence building measures take place between the two countries,” he said.

SPADO is also the official contact point of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC). It openly advocates for the universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Along with FATA, accidents due to landmines are happening in other places in Pakistan. In 2017, according to SPADO, among the 316 injuries and 153 deaths in total, Pakistan-administered Kashmir recorded seven; Balochistan province 171; FATA 230; and KPK 61.

A majority of the injured and dead were men who were found either driving, fetching water, taking livestock for grazing, rescuing others who had stepped on a bomb, passing by etc. Children were usually playing outside when they chanced upon a shiny object, like a “disc-shaped shoe polish box” hidden in the grass which they attempted to pick  up.

“The figures that SPADO has collected  includes only those that were reported in the media and are just the tip of the iceberg,” Shah emphasized.

He said there was an urgent need for a national registry where such a record is kept and a more comprehensive rehabilitation programme is instituted.

“Taking care of the injured and maimed is expensive and long term,” he said, noting that when the victim is a child, for example, he or she will grow and require new prosthetic limbs. “While the army takes care of its own, unfortunately, there are very few institutes where civilians can go and seek help,” he said.

by Annie Gowen
Washington Post
April 26, 2018

Ramiz and Lisa, who asked that their last names not be used because of a Facebook threat against Muslim and Hindu couples in India, are an interfaith couple in India’s eastern city of Kolkata. (Annie Gowen/The Washington Post)

KOLKATA, India — The 21-year-old Hindu college student was having a quiet breakfast with her mother when her phone pinged with a terrifying message. Her name was on a hit list.

She and her Muslim boyfriend had been targeted publicly on Facebook along with about 100 interfaith couples — each of them Muslim men and their Hindu girlfriends. She immediately called her boyfriend to warn him.

The Facebook post included instructions: “This is a list of girls who have become victims of love jihad. We urge all Hindu lions to find and hunt down all the men mentioned here.” At least two followers heeded the call.

The phrase “love jihad” is meant to inflame dark fears that Muslim men who woo Hindu women might be trying to convert them to Islam — a prejudice that the Hindu right has tried to stoke for nearly a decade. But use of the term has spread on social media with the rise of the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at a time when religious hatred is growing on Facebook in India, its largest market.

Facebook is facing rampant criticism that hate speech spread on the platform has fueled ethnic and religious violence in Asia, in places such as Burma and Sri Lanka.

During his appearances before Congress April 10-11, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the company was “working” on a way to remove hate speech within 24 hours of its appearance and adding dozens of new Burmese-language content monitors.

“It’s clear now we didn’t do enough” to prevent the platform from being “used for harm,” Zuckerberg said in his statement.

But the company has said little about its prevention efforts in India, its largest market of more than 240 million users.

The list of Hindu-Muslim couples was posted by Satish Mylavarapu, a mild-looking sales and marketing manager in Bangalore who propagates militant Hinduism to thousands of followers in Facebook groups and elsewhere.

“It’s a matter of Muslims taking over our blood and taking over our wombs — the wombs that would give Hindu children,” he said.

Highly motivated Hindu extremist “volunteers” across India assembled the list by meticulously plotting the locations of mosques and girls schools and colleges around the country and combing young women’s profiles for photos or posts that would link them with Muslim men.

“You cannot defend such a sick love,” Mylavarapu said. “This too is a kind of terrorism.”

'This has never happened'

The young couple’s romance began in the online space that would be its unraveling. They met in 2016 through a student Facebook group for the Communist Party, which is active in some parts of India. He was immediately enchanted by her blue eyes — contact lenses — and her earrings — silver circles with a likeness of Che Guevara that she made herself.

Their relationship soon blossomed in real life, and they met in Kolkata’s tea stalls or along its lovers’ riverbank promenade, Prinsep Ghat, holding hands and even kissing.

“We don’t believe in religion. We believe in humanity,” said Ramiz, a 26-year-old English honors student, sitting in a coffee shop with his girlfriend at his side. “So there is no question of conversion.” Because of the threat, Ramiz asked to be identified by only his first name and his girlfriend by her family nickname, Lisa.

Yet tension was unavoidable in a deeply traditional society riven by caste and religion. His parents, a clerk and a social worker, grudgingly accepted their relationship, although they made it clear they prefer a Muslim daughter-in-law; Lisa’s mother lent her support only if Ramiz gets a good job.

Meanwhile, conservative Hindu groups supporting Modi’s powerful Bharatiya Janata Party began pushing into areas in India’s east and south traditionally dominated by other languages and regional parties, including the couple’s home state of West Bengal.

In recent days, West Bengal has been roiled by riots between Hindus and Muslims that followed sword-waving devotees marching in honor of Lord Ram — a Hindu deity who is not normally worshiped in the region. At least four people died.

The couple, upset over the perceived threat that the Facebook hit list posed to India’s secular ideals, filed a complaint with the Kolkata police’s cyber division in February, saying they had been subjected to death threats.

“This has never happened in West Bengal,” Ramiz said. “Bengal is very beautiful — our society, our culture. This is the place of poets. We don’t believe in this kind of thing.”

Facebook took down Mylavarapu’s threat page a few days after his Jan. 28 post caused an uproar on social media, but took longer to track and remove hundreds of duplicate versions posted by others.

Civil society groups have charged that Facebook has not acted quickly enough in such instances to curb the hate speech that inflamed tensions throughout Asia, including Muslim-Buddhist riots in Sri Lanka and Burma’s exodus of more than 850,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh. Facebook was dubbed the “beast” in that crisis by a United Nations monitor.

In India, a March study by the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank based in New Delhi, showed that religion is increasingly used as a basis of hate speech on Facebook, a jump of 19 to 30 percent between 2016 and 2017.

“I don’t think Facebook has a clue how to monitor hate speech,” said Maya Mirchandani, a senior fellow who co-wrote the study. She said that more proactive text monitoring systems are not in place, including among its rapidly growing non-English speaking audiences.

“Maintaining a safe community for people to connect and share on Facebook is absolutely critical to us,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. “We have policies that prohibit hate speech and credible threats of harm, and we will remove this content when we’re made aware of it.”

Fringe group's mission

About two weeks after they filed the police report, Ramiz said he was coming home in the evening when two men grabbed him, roughed him up and tore his shirt collar. “Why did you report us?” they hissed, he said. And, “why are you dating a Hindu girl?”

Ironically, the couple have been dealing with relationship problems in the new year; Lisa, who works part time at an event management company, wanted Ramiz to get a job, saying he was spending too much time smoking and talking politics with his friends.

“She wants somebody perfect, perfect, and I am not,” he said.

“We’re still very good friends,” Lisa said. “I’m not sure if we’re in a relationship at the moment.”

This was the type of tension that Mylavarapu had hoped to provoke when he posted the list of names. He has been using Facebook to promote an extremist Hindu agenda since 2012, according to the Indian data and fact-checking website Boom Live.

Before Mylavarapu was banned from Facebook “indefinitely” in February, he was the administrator of at least two Facebook pages, including “Extreme Hinduism — The Only Way of Survival” (11,000 members), and a member of “Rearming Hinduism” (156,000 members), the Boom analysis showed. He remains active on Twitter.

He said in one post his favorite boots are made of “pure sunni skin,” a reference to the Sunni branch of Islam. In another, he urged Hindus to keep swords in their homes for protection and practice killing goats and chickens to get used to the sight of blood.

He warns of “love jihad,” which until recently had been generally thought of as fearmongering and given little credence by police and courts.

But the idea that Muslims may be actively working to convert Hindus figured prominently in the recent debate over the case of a woman in the southern state of Kerala who converted to Islam and married a Muslim over the objections of her family.

On March 8, India’s Supreme Court upheld the woman’s right to choose her faith and partner. But India’s National Investigation Agency, which investigates and prosecutes terrorism, is continuing its investigation into the case, saying it has seen an “organized effort” by Muslim activists linked to the Islamic State to convert Hindus, a spokesman said.

Mylavarapu is associated with a fringe Hindu group called Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, whose members revere the assassin of Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, whom they blame for the bloody 1947 partition that created the nations of India and Pakistan.

“He’s a staunch Hindu and he’s functioning because of our support,” said the group’s state president, N. Subramanya Raju. “If there is any threat from a jihadi, we will protect his life.”

Mylavarapu said volunteers are continuing their online research into Hindu-Muslim couples — and will hold on to the data they find until the next good opportunity. He said many of those on the original list have already split up.

Mylavarapu said he relishes the demise of these relationships.

“We succeeded,” he said in a tweet. “Their deceptive love could not withstand the pressure we created.”

Kalpana Pradhan in Kolkata and Swati Gupta in Bangalore contributed to this report.

Annie Gowen is The Washington Post’s India bureau chief and has reported for The Post throughout South Asia and the Middle East since 2013. Before going to India, she was a member of The Post's social issues team covering wealth and inequality.

Ruchir Joshi 
The Telegraph
April 24, 2018

In the 1980s, when I was in my twenties, I made no secret of the fact that I found the state's CPI(M) government to be culturally reactionary and Stalinist to the core (Stalinism, in my book, being a strong, pejorative term and not, as some people still use it, a label of praise). Being even more unwise than I am now, I didn't particularly care who knew my political opinions; I said what I had to say and even put it into my reviews and journalism, primarily for this newspaper. Years later, an academic friend told me that a respected theatre and film critic close to the Left Front rulership dismissed my documentary film and newspaper work with the sentence 'Oh, him! He's completely pro-American. You know he's probably in the pay of the CIA.' When I heard this I laughed out loud. The delusion that the Central Intelligence Agency would find the Calcutta of the 1980s to be of any interest had balanced on top of it the lunatic notion that the suits in Langley, Virginia, were also concerned about the city's cultural affairs (the only sphere I knew anything about), and on top of this teetered the hallucinatory drug-filled cherry, that a minor, struggling freelancer would be able to draw on the Agency's coffers in return for State secrets to do with water-colour exhibitions at the Academy of Fine Arts or the latest Brecht production at Max Mueller Bhavan. Nor did it seem to matter that I made no secret of my utter loathing for Ronald Reagan (the then POTUS) and his lieutenant, George Bush (the next POTUS). All that counted was the label someone who didn't like my views on art and cinema could stick on me, even momentarily.

Many years later, visiting Ahmedabad, I attended a family lunch. Sad to have to admit it but most of my family in that city are hardcore fans of Narendra Modi. So when I brought up the horrors of what had happened just a year earlier, in 2002, and asked my relatives about what they felt about the targeted massacre and rape of poor Gujarati Muslims under their ' bhagwan', Narendrabhai, they didn't like it one bit. A long argument ensued, with me on one side and four of them on the other. Finally, one of them let me have it with the worst abuse he could muster: 'Oh! But what can one even say to you! After all you're a communist!' Sorry, but why exactly was I a communist? Because I was from Calcutta, anti-Modi and, therefore, anti-business, QED. I shook my head in wonder - if only someone from Alimuddin Street could have heard this.

If I thought things were bad at the time, they were going to get worse. From the time of the Gujarat bloodshed, many, many of us columnists and journalists (among us at least three Gujaratis I can think of), have minced no words about the horror and disgust generated in us by those killings and their planners, perpetrators and apologists. The standard response of the Modi defenders has been to accuse us of being puppets of the Congress. At the same time, during the Sonia-Manmohan period, whenever we asked why the United Progressive Alliance government wasn't imposing president's rule in Gujarat, removing Modi and carrying out proper, unfettered investigations into the alleged role played by Modi, Amit Shah, Togadia et al, we were accused by the Congress media henchpeople of being elitists who didn't understand how real politics and realpolitik work in this country. Well, now we all understand how that works.

In any case, all of us kept writing, kept asking questions about Gujarat, kept reminding readers about the crimes committed by those in power, both in February-March '02 and afterwards, and we kept doing this regardless of who was in power - UPA-1, UPA-2, UPA-Sunset, Modi-Coming, NDA-here. In the meantime, during the 2011 West Bengal assembly elections, crazy labels began to be attached again. If one pointed out that the Communist Party of India (Marxist)'s harmad bahini were murderous thugs, one was clearly, blatantly pro-Mamata; if one pointed out that a lot of the Trinamul Congress's foot soldiers seemed to take their inspiration from the Congress goondas of the Emergency, one was clearly a lackey of the Buddha regime. For me the funniest moment came during the run-up to the 2016 state elections here. The famously loud and verbally unstable English-speaking spokesman of the TMC was in a talk show with me and a senior journalist from The Telegraph on a national television channel. At the time, the TMC was worried about the alliance formed between the CPI(M) and the Congress, and panic was clearly causing all sorts of wires to become entangled. At one point the TMC spokes-chappie, (he whose name rhymes with 'loose cannon') started shouting at me and the journalist, 'You're both working for the BJP! You've sold out to the BJP!' The man making the accusation was clearly familiar with my writing and my politics; there was no way he could not have known my opinion of Messrs Modi-Shah and the RSS-BJP; yet truth didn't matter a jot to our friend - as he clearly saw it, his job was to become a whirling, mud-flinging machine, and to see if some of it stuck somewhere, even if for a brief moment.

So aggressive whataboutery, simplistic or false labels, machine-gunned accusations, authorless, whatsapped insinuations, fake Facebook and Twitter accounts, fake-flag media operations, all of these now form the heavy ordinance of political and social warfare but they've been tried out in lighter, smaller, more limited forms for a long time. Before the advent of digital media you couldn't spread a false rumour or fake accusation too quickly but you could trigger the murmuring, letting it domino from ear to ear, hoping it would soon attain critical Chinese Whisper mass and inflict the intended damage to someone's reputation. Now you just have to say something on Twitter or WhatsApp. These channels can also be used for brazen denials and fake assertions: 'There was no rape! There was, in fact, no child! This is an anti-national conspiracy by (fill in the blanks with one of the following) terrorists/leftists/Rohingyas/police officers from the minority community!' In an argument that you're losing, if you can turn the opponent into something you deem wrong, bad or evil, better still if you can dehumanize them, then all the opponent's substantive points can be buried under some label: traitor/Maoist/ jholawalla/anti-business/LGBT/savarna/low-caste/missionary/ jihadi/beef-eater. If you can shout down the other person on TV or switch off their microphone, then they become a voiceless, visual punching-bag for you - 'Look he's here but he's refusing to answer my question! He's refusing to answer a question the nation is asking!'

There is a question all sorts of different people ask me, people who just 'love' the current dispensation, people who are dismayed by what is happening in the country, cynics and pessimists who've hated every government that's ever been in power in India or Bengal: 'Do you imagine everything will suddenly become alright once this Modi government goes?' The answer is obviously a no. On certain dark days the answer has been 'no, I think things could even get worse'. But on most days, the answer would be, 'no, but perhaps we could start climbing out of the deep hole in which we currently find ourselves.' One crucial component of this climbing out will have to be the reversal of this toxicity in the way we speak to each other and about each other. This does not mean that we don't state hard, bitter truths and facts to each other, but the stress will have to be on the 'truth' part, on the 'fact' part, which, of course, leads to the 'nuance' part, which means having debates and arguments where both or all sides can actually have their say based on truths and facts. We have never been good at this as a nation or as a society and we are going to have to learn how to achieve this. No matter when this government goes and which group of parties replaces it, we are going to have to learn how to communicate with each other using substance rather than emotion, using truth rather than ingrained or expedient belief. It's a deep hole we are in, many parties have helped dig it, and the climb out of it will be long and arduous.

Reetika Khera
Hindustan Times
April 24, 2018

There are no benefits from Aadhaar that cannot be achieved through other technologies. Beneficiaries of welfare should be ‘freed’ from its clutches first as they have suffered its tyranny the worst and longest

The technology is unreliable: high rates of biometric failure; bugs reported by hackers; data-security and -protection issues and worse have been in the news regularly since 2017(AFP)

It has become impossible to have an intelligent discussion with the government on Aadhaar.

The charge sheet against Aadhaar is endless.

The rule of law appears to not apply: after the Supreme Court issued interim orders in 2015 restraining the use of Aadhaar to a handful of schemes, these orders were violated routinely — and with impunity. Again, if your data is compromised, you have no right to initiate direct legal action; it must be through the UIDAI.

The parliamentary process has been undermined: when worries mounted about the lack of a legal framework regulating the Aadhaar project, the government passed the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill to bypass the Rajya Sabha, where it lacks majority. The informed legal consensus on this is that the Aadhaar Act does not qualify as a Money Bill.

The technology is unreliable: high rates of biometric failure; bugs reported by hackers; data-security and -protection issues and worse have been in the news regularly since 2017. When these reports come in, the government’s response has bordered on the ridiculous: e.g., citing the thickness of the brick walls of the data centre that apparently ‘protect’ digital information.

The government’s response has also been inconsistent, even contradictory. When the Aadhaar Act was violated by public and private implementation agencies (e.g., by publicly displaying Aadhaar numbers), media whistleblowers and reporters responsible were rewarded with legal action. Meanwhile, the government also claimed there was nothing wrong with displaying Aadhaar numbers!

The government (almost) deliberately misinterprets the charge or ducks the real issue. For instance, the UIDAI CEO argued that the Aadhaar numbers did not ‘leak’ from UIDAI servers but from the Indane website or the Jharkhand government website. For the person whose data has been compromised, it hardly matters whether the thief came in through the door or a window.

Banal, even dangerous, analogies are drawn to justify Aadhaar: e.g., proliferation in the use of the Social Security Number (SSN) in the US. This line of argument conveniently ignores the data breaches (most recently, the massive Equifax SSN data breach in 2017) and its consequences for ordinary citizens or how hard it has been to hold companies like Equifax accountable. Instead of learning from others’ mistakes, we are goaded on to repeat them.

Denial is the other response of the government. For months, the government has denied that there is any problem with the use of Aadhaar in delivering welfare benefits (such as PDS rations and pensions). Even today, it is only because the Supreme Court judges have understood the scale of the exclusion problem that the government has begun to grudgingly accept it in court (only).

An important message that has yet to sink in is that Aadhaar in welfare is pain without gain. At least two studies on the use of Aadhaar for PDS supplies in Jharkhand suggest this. Technology failures (lack of Internet connectivity or failed biometrics) result in inconvenience (repeated trips) and exclusion (denial of food rations). If things work smoothly, people are left exactly where they were before the introduction of this technology. Both studies find little evidence of ‘duplicates’ or ‘ghosts’, a problem Aadhaar could potentially solve.

The government submits that welfare cannot be administered efficiently without Aadhaar. It claims Aadhaar plays a constructive role in guaranteeing the Right to Life. It relies on discredited World Bank estimates to project savings through Aadhaar. The reality is that when names are struck off pension or ration lists because they could not or did not link Aadhaar, the reduction in expenditure from ‘exclusion’ is passed off as ‘savings’.

Those who recommend the use of alternative technologies (e.g., smart cards) are projected as stooges of companies. Meanwhile, former UIDAI functionaries are building businesses using the Aadhaar platform and have pleaded with the Supreme Court to save Aadhaar.

The writing is on the wall: there is no point throwing good money after bad. There are no benefits from Aadhaar that cannot be achieved through other technologies. Beneficiaries of welfare should be freed from its clutches first as they have suffered its tyranny the worst and longest. If Aadhaar stays at all, it should be voluntary with a simple opt-out, which should be guaranteed when exercised.

Reetika Khera is associate professor (economics) at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

by Neeta Lal
Inter Press Service

NEW DELHI, Apr 25 2018 (IPS) - A devastating fire in a shanty at Kalindi Kunj, a New Delhi suburb, that gutted the homes of 226 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, including 100 women and 50 children, has trained a spotlight on India’s ad hoc policy on international migrants.

Already persecuted in their country of origin, Rohingyas — the largest stateless population in the world at three million — have found shelter across vast swathes of Asia including in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh alone, who now face the onset of the monsoon season in flimsy shelters.
"As a big regional player, the refugee crisis presents India with a unique opportunity to set an example and work out a long-term resolution to this humanitarian crisis." --Dr. Ranjan Biswas

Demographers note that the Rohingyas’ displacement, while on a particularly dramatic scale, is illustrative of a larger global trend. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the world is witnessing the highest level of displacement on record with 22.5 million refugees, over half of them under 18, languishing in different parts of the world in search of a normal life.

Often referred to as the boat people – because they journey in packed boats to escape their homeland — around 40,000 Rohingyas have trickled into India over the past three years to cities like New Delhi, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Jammu where their population is the largest. Some had settled in the Kalindi Kunj camp that was set up in 2012 by a non-profit on a 150-odd square metre plot that it owns.

The camp’s occupants worked as daily wage labourers or were employed with private companies. A few even ran kirana (grocery) kiosks near the camp. Most of these refugees had landed in Delhi after failed stints in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh or Jammu (a northern Indian city), where they were repeatedly targeted by radical Hindu groups.

Nurudddin, 56, who lost all his belongings and papers in the Kalindi Kunj fire, told IPS that he has been living like a vagabond since he fled Myanmar with his wife and four children in 2016. “We left Myanmar to go to Bangladesh but we faced a lot of hardships there too. I couldn’t get a job, there was no proper food or accommodation. We arrived in Delhi last year with a lot of hope but so far things haven’t been going too well here either,” said the frail man with a grey beard.

Following the Kalindi Kunj fire, and public complaints about the government’s neglect of Rohingya camps, the Supreme Court intervened. On April 9, the apex court asked the Centre to file a comprehensive status report in four weeks on the civic amenities at two Rohingya camps in Delhi and Haryana, following allegations that basic facilities like drinking water and toilets were missing from these settlements.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the Rohingyas told the court that the refugees were being subjected to discrimination with regard to basic amenities. However, this was refuted by Additional Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta who, appearing for the Centre said there was no discrimination against the Rohingyas. The court will again take up the matter on May 9.

A Rohingya campsite in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The Rohingya issue entered mainstream public discourse last August when the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party government abruptly asked the country’s 29 states to identify illegal immigrants for deportation –  including, the guidance said, Rohingya Muslims who had fled Myanmar.

“As per available estimates there are around 40,000 Rohingyas living illegally in the country,” India’s junior home minister Kiren Rijiju then told Parliament: “The government has issued detailed instructions for deportation of illegal foreign nationals including Rohingyas.”

In its affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the Centre claimed that Rohingya refugees posed a “serious national security threat” and that their deportation was in the “larger interest” of the country. It also asked the court to “decline its interference” in the matter.

The Centre’s decision to deport the Rohingyas attracted domestic as well as global opprobrium. “It is both unprecedented and impractical,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told “It is unprecedented because India has never been unwelcoming of refugees, let alone conducting such mass deportation,” she said. “And I would call it impractical because where would they [the Indian government] send these people? They have no passports and the Myanmar government is not going to accept them as legitimate citizens.”

Some critics also pointed out that the Rohingyas were being targeted by the ruling Hindu Bhartiya Janata Party government because they were Muslims, an allegation the Centre has refuted.

Parallels have also been drawn with refugees from other countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan who have comfortably made India their home over the years. However, to keep a strict vigil against the Rohingyas’ influx, the Indian government has specially stationed 6,000 soldiers on the India-Bangladesh border.

Activists say that despite thousands of refugees and asylum seekers (204,600 in 2011 as per the Central government) already living in India, refugees’ rights are a grey area. An overarching feeling is that refugees pose a security threat and create demographic imbalances. A domestic legal framework to extend basic rights to refugees is also missing.

Since the government’s crackdown, Rohingya groups have been lobbying to thwart their deportation to their native land. In a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India titled Mohammed Salimullah vs Union of India (Writ Petition no. 793 of 2017), they have demanded that they be allowed to stay on in India.

However, the government has contented that the plea of the petitioner is untenable, on grounds that India is not a signatory to the UN Convention of 1951. The convention relates to the status of refugees, and the Protocol of 1967, under the principle of non-refoulement. This principle states that refugees will not be deported to a country where they face threat of persecution. The matter is now in the Supreme Court of India which is saddled with the onerous task of balancing national security with the human rights of the refugees.

However, as Shubha Goswami, a senior advocate with the High Court points out, while India may not have signed the refugee convention, it is still co-signatory to many other important international conventions like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the principle of non-refoulement, and it is legally binding that India provide for the Rohingyas.

There’s growing public opinion as well that the government should embrace and empower these hapless people.

“Rather than resent their presence, India should accept the Rohingyas as it has other migrants,” elaborates Dr. Ranjan Biswas, ex-professor sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. “As a big regional player, the refugee crisis presents India with a unique opportunity to set an example and work out a long-term resolution to this humanitarian crisis which will usher in peace and stability in the region.”

The Times of India
April 25
The Interviews Blog 

Friction over versions of Indian history in school texts has split the diaspora in the US. Following a dispute in California, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a Dalit transmedia artist, along with her associate Maari Zwick-Maitreyi released a study on caste in the US. She discusses the issue with  Himanshi Dhawan:

Caste as a factor has been part of books and academic work in the US. Did the need for a new study come from personal or shared experiences?

The report came from both personal and shared experiences. In our personal lives we have fielded caste discrimination in the US. But what really was the straw that broke the camel’s back was that during the California textbook battles where Dalits and other caste-oppressed migrants were fighting to keep the teaching of Dalit, caste, and a proper history of Islam in the textbooks, dominant caste Hindu fundamentalist families testified that caste did not exist in the US and was minimal in India. The Hindu American Foundation even attempted to erase the word Dalit.

We knew that was patently false. We saw then that we had to have data to back up our lived experiences or dominant caste Hindus would continue to build networks of impunity in the US. We then launched this study to create a platform for evidence based data that could prove quantitatively and qualitatively that caste existed.

What were the main takeaways from the study?

The most significant takeaway is that structural caste discrimination exists in the US and it affects all diasporic institutions that South Asians are part of. Data points are quite striking: three out of four Dalits experienced workplace discrimination on the basis of caste, one in four faced verbal or physical assault, and one experienced discrimination. These are serious findings that call for self-reflection and change.

Your study finds that even children are not spared.

40% of Dalit students report facing discrimination in educational institutions in the diaspora.

One of the criticisms of the study has been the representativeness of the sample. Does it adequately represent South Asian diaspora in the US?

These critics are not familiar with the standard of sample sizes for statistical study. For the US it is common for a sample size of 1,000 to 1,500 respondents for surveys for the entire country. There are over 3.4 million South Asians in the US and our sample size is more than sufficient.

Can you elaborate on some of the experiences shared by the respondents on being discriminated against?

Many of our respondents complained that when they work in fields where there are a lot of South Asians present, then there will be discrimination in the workplace by dominant caste Hindus. This can include being passed over for promotions, exclusion from social networks, and even caste slurs. Dalits and other caste-oppressed migrants are at a loss in how to deal with this because many HR departments are not aware of caste.

The study puts into question the narrative of the US as the land of opportunity. Do you feel that caste discrimination is not discussed enough even by the Dalit community?

We have to reframe this question. Caste is not just a Dalit problem, it is everyone’s problem. We must not only document the consequences of caste but also interrogate the networks of privilege that silence the discourse around it. So we have to go beyond thinking of America as a meritocracy and speak to it as it is. Indian Americans are settler colonialists whose caste privileges allow them to migrate. Many then begin to define their identity as the good immigrant in opposition to other black and brown immigrant communities, as the casteist mindset fits nicely into a racist mindset. Caste is all around us and we have a moral imperative to address it head on so that it ends in our lifetime.

In the current context, there have been a spate of incidents of Dalit assertion in India. What is your view?

As long as there has been caste apartheid there has been Bahujan assertion to fight it. From Ambedkar, Sri Guru Ravidass, Savitribai Phule, Phoolan Devi, to Rohith Vemula we will keep on fighting for freedom from caste violence.  I would say that there is more coverage of the caste violence because more Dalits are online and we are pushing media outlets to cover not just the violence but the impunity of the dominant castes. Caste could not continue if not for the violence and the culture of impunity that abets this violence. Under the current administration right wing forces are emboldened to attack all minorities be they Dalit, Muslim, Christian or Buddhist. But it is also being met with an unprecedented movement of Dalit-Bahujan assertion all around the country.

Society and Space
24 April 2018


Asher Ghertner, Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2015, 272 pp., $26.95 (paper), ISBN: 9780199385577

Geographical fieldwork with philosophers and elsewheres

Asher Ghertner continues his work as a creative and profound scholar with his first monograph, Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi. This book is a great read yet also manages to be impressively detailed in its data and textured in its ethnographic feel. Ghertner proves particularly agile in his movement among sites in Delhi as well as among concepts and modes of academic engagement, shifting from exposition and explication to conceptual development and back again. There is a masterful sense of a very locally specific framework and argument that simultaneously hold broad utility for a range of settings. I would like to focus on a few features of this book that I find especially worth thinking about in terms of Ghertner’s larger contributions, as well as some aspects that got me stuck thinking—both in terms of elsewheres, or other sites, where we might see these phenomena happening, and other conceptual engagements that we might consider in light of this.

Among the many accomplishments of the book, it excels in dissecting the world-class city from new angles. Ghertner breathes new life into this concept, moving above and beyond the pivotal, now classic critique by Jennifer Robinson (2002) about global and world cities as a “regulating fiction.” Ghertner advances our understanding here by showing how this idea of the world-class city—this image, this aesthetic—is cultivated through both statistical wizardry and discursive innovation, as part of cultural domination. But he also shows how this reaches various groups: not just those who benefit from it directly, or who are seen as some kind of favored audience ready to buy into its fantasy by buying up luxury flats, but also how this fantasy becomes something that those most persecuted by it absorb, admire, and obey. Ghertner shows how disadvantaged urban populations find ways to make sense of their own unbelonging in schemes of remaking the city to match some kind of world-class aspiration.

In another example of his oblique, innovative interventions in influential debates in urban geography, Ghertner grapples with the gentrification literature by finding ways to shore up its utility for the institutional and political context of Indian cities (see also Ghertner, 2014). While some recent contributions advocate the “planetary” sweep of gentrification analyses (e.g., Lees, Shin, and López-Morales, 2016; Slater, 2017), Ghertner takes prudent steps both toward deeper empirical embeddedness and outward to wider considerations than is the norm for these swirling discussions among a small set of commentators who remind us that gentrification is everywhere. Indeed, the revalorization of devalorized space—an axiomatic understanding of gentrification from the late Neil Smith (1996)—can be witnessed across much of the globe. Ghertner has no interest in naysaying that observation. Rather, he argues that displacement and the remaking of urban terrain happens through different mechanisms, with differently pitched dynamics and differently inflected deplorable outcomes across planetary space, which has quite a lot to do with local political histories, longstanding socioeconomic structures, and both the design and enforcement of regulatory frameworks in any given state. Drawing on his longitudinal positioning in Delhi, he shows how processes of displacement obtain through a number of “extra-economic” means (i.e., beyond the most standard ambit of gentrification explanations), including governance tactics and the impunity of brute force. Ghertner’s focus is specifically on the Indian context, but this kind of insight pertains to a number of other settings where property and residential rights draw on a different inheritance of norms—and repertoire of practices—than in the wealthy postindustrial countries where gentrification frameworks emerged. This is where Ghertner also takes a step outward, by considering how other broad frameworks—such as Henri Lefebvre’s (2003) understanding of urban revolution, and David Harvey’s (2003) accumulation by dispossession—could prove more amenable to a variety of settings, and indeed more adaptable to their specific features and how locally embedded scholars have understood them, than the standard gentrification story.

Rather than abandoning gentrification as a phenomenon to analyze, Ghertner shows us how to do this more incisively so that we might yield better-informed strategies for denouncing and resisting it. If, instead, we start to see all kinds of urban change as gentrification, we are shorn of our ability to understand its nuances and make more effective interventions. Recently, even Saskia Sassen (2015)—sometimes criticized for the overstretch of her own concepts—claimed that “calling a phenomenon gentrification is like an invitation not to think,” in her effort to convey the need for more tailored yet still critical theorizations and analyses of urban change. Ghertner, in richly textured ways, meets and exceeds this intellectual demand to offer us new ways to think about gentrification as well as the limits of what we can describe and analyze as gentrification in this book. He points usefully, for example, to “the gentrification of the state,” elucidating how various processes of governance can be powerfully shifted along a class gradient.

Among the many other thought-provoking facets of Rule by Aesthetics, two features pushed me to think about possible influences or extensions that could be rooted in this work. First, the book is quite philosophically omnivorous. Ghertner engages with philosophers in his geographical fieldwork with aplomb: whether Foucault, Rancière, Barthes, Kristeva, or others, there is much in philosophy (or among the philosophically minded) that Ghertner incorporates into his explanatory repertoire, for how to make sense of what is happening in Delhi with world-class urbanism and this rule by aesthetics. But I was left wondering at several points what this was doing for the book’s reception more broadly—both within geography and beyond. In human geography, there is somewhat of a disciplinary penchant for cherrypicking philosophical frameworks or following vogue theories—obviously not every geographer does this, but it happens often in the discipline, where an idea that is not necessarily relevant, and a thinker who may be extremely clever but has no (or no pertinent) empirical foundation, are invoked in almost scriptural fashion to make sense of a very empirical geographical phenomenon, as if somehow inherently legitimate or beyond question. This is not Ghertner’s game. To the contrary, his command of different philosophical frameworks is erudite and nimble, his use of them sensible and indeed grounded and reflexive, which are key shifts that are all too uncommon. This made me wonder how other geographers might then follow this example, how this could be a model for doing geographical fieldwork with philosophy but without resorting to flavor-of-the-month genuflection or hand-waving.

Beyond geography, the book’s philosophical engagement may well be surprising, especially in disciplines such as sociology where scholars are very accustomed to the struggle of bringing together complicated theoretical frameworks with a rich local context. In particular I kept asking myself what would the analysis in Rule by Aesthetics have been like if Pierre Bourdieu had been utilized more directly and abundantly. Bourdieu is there, but he is not there extensively. Bourdieu as a sociologist was famous for his “fieldwork in philosophy” (Bourdieu, 1990: 3-33), as he himself exemplified this practice of bringing philosophical concepts into the empirical fray to test and recalibrate them. I wondered then—especially around issues of judgment, taste, habitus, etc, that do show up in this book, and are key elements in Bourdieu’s repertoire—what would it have been like to engage with a philosophically minded scholar who is much more empirical, like Bourdieu? He certainly has his own critics, not least among geographers (see Cresswell, 2002), so I am not claiming Ghertner’s book would have been necessarily better for working more extensively with Bourdieu; instead, it is an open question about what could happen with some of the analysis here if there were greater engagement with others like Bourdieu who have also been committed to empirical fieldwork with philosophy.

Second, this book may be about Delhi but it made me think constantly about a variety of elsewheres. I was of course led to reflect on some of my own fieldwork—not on the same specific topics but grappling with some similar broad issues. For example, with the idea of rule by aesthetics, one of Ghertner’s assertions is that we must analyze an aesthetic from multiple perspectives because it does not necessarily have a clear ideology embedded within it. An aesthetic can serve as a form of rule, but it is open to being filled by an array of charged contents. An aesthetic can also be contested, and recast, either by those who suffer from its rule, or by others who pose alternative agendas of power. This made me mull over my work in Turkey, in Istanbul, with regard to the imperial motifs and references in politics, architecture, and popular media in recent years that have been called “neo-Ottomanism,” or even “Ottomania” (see Danforth, 2016), to refer to the spreading fascination with the height of the Ottoman Empire’s power, and representations associated with it. This could be analyzed as having implications on a number of empirical scales, including for Turkey’s currently shifting regional role, but if we focus on the turbulent urban landscape, on Istanbul as Turkey’s economic center and the former Ottoman capital, then we can detect this Ottomania as embodying a sort of aesthetic to remake the city. We could analyze this aesthetic as being wielded to justify or legitimate certain kinds of ruling practices by the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi –Turkey’s current ruling party, also in power at the metropolitan level in Istanbul), and a variety of development initiatives in the city that it has supported, with major displacements as a consequence. At first blush, pondering this case made me reject Ghertner’s assertion about the openness of an aesthetic: how could these sultan-infused moves be anything other than authoritarian and capricious? But on further reflection, I realized my inability to see other ways for Ottomania to be reworked from below, from the side, etc., could very well be due to the success of its rule by aesthetics so far. Still, other angles into this aesthetic could be exploited for challenging the nature of this rule on its own terms, as well as providing different approaches to its analysis.

Another familiar issue that kept pushing my thinking toward elsewheres was the importance of the middle class, which is enormous in the book. Ghertner shows how the middle class has been “conjured” as a key player in creating a world-class city in Delhi and a new kind of imagined future for India. This resonated with my research in Argentina and Brazil, especially, but also to some extent in Turkey and South Africa, where there has been a recent expansion of the middle class in statistical terms. Some observers recognize, however, that in fact we are not talking about a homogeneous class but very socially (and often economically) heterogeneous groups that get clustered into the same, broad statistical category of “middle class.” Some may be much richer or poorer, some may be new to this designation while others may have been described in this way, and seen themselves in this light, for generations; there could be racial differences, quite significant political differences, and so forth (Centner, 2013). We could even imagine many of the political tensions in Brazil and Turkey, building since 2013, as connected to fissures among this increasingly broad, diverse middle class. While the achievement of a sizeable middle class has traditionally figured as a cornerstone of “success” and political stability in development scholarship (Davis, 2010: 245-249), perhaps we now can discern middle-class diversification as fertile ground for the quarrelsome unmaking of democracy among factions of the middle class when development encounters economic turbulence, and the privileges of different middle-class groups begin to be threatened or called into question. With this conjecture in mind, it struck me that the middle class in the Delhi case is not likely to be so unitary either, and that some of the statistical work predicting a kind of “middleclassification” of India, which Ghertner (2015: 29-44) critiques, may point to different kinds of middle classes numerically, despite a homogenizing gloss. In the ethnography, however, I do not get as much of a sense of this heterogeneity of middle classes, with diverse forms of middle-class anxiety. But in thinking about Rule by Aesthetics with and through these elsewheres, I had to wonder about Delhi: was its middle class merely “conjured,” or were parts of it more self-consciously middle-class than others? Do some segments of the Delhi middle class consider themselves more deserving of privilege in the city than those they may see as their middle-class others (whether in terms of religion, party, regional background, occupation, language fluency, taste, etc)? Perhaps exploring some of the differences of vision across social divisions within the statistical middle class—so evident in the cities of middle-income elsewheres—is an avenue for pushing this kind of revealing fieldwork on conjuring and its effects even further.

From its unusual but enticing interventions in grinding geographical debates, to its vivid evocations of changing landscapes and their complicated human dimensions, Ghertner’s book is an excellent contribution that does much more than make me think about philosophers and elsewheres. Indeed its many strengths and arresting aspects will not go unnoticed by readers. But these facets inspired insights I had not expected when I started reading; even long after putting the book down, they keep inspiring me to think about ways of engaging with geographical fieldwork anew.


Bourdieu P (1990) In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Centner R (2013) Distinguishing the Right Kind of City: Contentious Urban Middle Classes in Argentina, Brazil, and Turkey. In: Samara TR, He S, and Chen G (eds) Locating Right to the City in the Global South, UK: Routledge.
Cresswell T (2002) Bourdieu’s geographies. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 20(4): 379-382.
Danforth N (2016) The Ottoman Empire from 1923 to Today: In Search of a Usable Past. Mediterranean Quarterly 27(2): 5-27.
Davis D (2010) The Sociospatial Reconfiguration of Middle Classes and their Impact on Politics and Development in the Global South: Preliminary Ideas for Future Research.  Political Power & Social Theory 21: 241-267.
Ghertner A (2014) India’s Urban Revolution: Geographies of Displacement beyond Gentrification. Environment and Planning A 46(7): 1554-1571.
Harvey D (2003) The New Imperialism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Lees L, Shin HB, and López-Morales E (2016) Planetary Gentrification. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Lefebvre H (2003) The Urban Revolution. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Robinson J (2002) Global and World Cities: A View from off the Map. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 26(3): 531-554.
Sassen S (2015) The Politics of Equity: Who Owns the City? Presentation at Urban Age 10: Global Debates. 25 November.
Slater T (2017) Planetary Rent Gaps. Antipode 49(S1): 114-137.
Smith N (1996) The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City. New York, NY: Routledge.
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Ryan Centner is Assistant Professor of Urban Geography at the London School of Economics, and currently Chair of the Urban Geography Research Group of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers). His work has mostly focused on the social and spatial transformation of cities, particularly redevelopment and neighborhood change, particularly in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Istanbul, Cape Town, and Johannesburg—key urban showcases of large middle-income countries. He has also recently studied the shifting landscapes and everyday uses of space in central-city areas of Caracas and Havana as nexuses of political and economic change.

LSE REview of Books
25 April 2018

‘Tomorrow Belong to Us’: The British Far Right since 1967, edited by Nigel Copsey and Matthew Worley, offers an interdisciplinary collection that explores the development of the British far right since the formation of the National Front in 1967, covering topics including Holocaust denial, gender, activist mobilisation and ideology. Katherine Williams recommends this insightful and dynamic volume, which shows the importance of new approaches and methodologies when it comes to examining the rise of the far right in Britain. 

‘Tomorrow Belongs to Us’: The British Far Right since 1967. Nigel Copsey and Matthew Worley (eds). Routledge. 2017.  

Part of Routledge’s Fascism and Far Right series, ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Us’: The British Far Right since 1967, edited by Nigel Copsey and Matthew Worley, has its finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary debates surrounding the development of the far right in Britain, which have gained particular currency once more following the Brexit referendum of 2016.

As the editors note in the introductory section, the rise of neo-nationalist or nativist populism has become increasingly difficult to ignore, particularly given radical right mobilisation across Europe and the election of political outlier Donald Trump to the US presidency. To make sense of present-day events, they posit that an understanding of the past is essential to contextualise the British far right today. Thus, 1967 is a particularly significant moment with which to begin the discussion: the National Front (NF) was formed in this year, marking the first time since Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) that far-right groups in Britain came together under one united ‘front’.

While the NF today presents no tangible threat in terms of electoral politics – it has no elected representatives at any level of government – it enjoyed considerable success in 1977 when it won a quarter of a million votes in the Greater London council elections. Following this precedent, 33 years later, the British National Party (BNP) stood 338 candidates and amassed half a million votes in the 2010 General Election. However, despite the relative successes of the NF and BNP at the ballot box, the volume is concerned with the establishment of a ‘new way’ of viewing the far right. The editors aim to move beyond the methodological approaches of ‘hard politics’, eschewing the statistical analysis typifying the field more generally. Thus, the topics discussed in this volume are approached from diverse, interdisciplinary epistemological and methodological perspectives, including scholars in history, cultural studies and behavioural studies, to name but a few.

The ultimate aim of the volume is to bridge gaps in the existing literature, and take analyses of the far right in directions that have yet to be explored or are currently underexplored. The volume is comprised of twelve principal chapters, including an extensive bibliographic survey of primary and secondary source materials pertaining to the British far right. The chapters themselves discuss a variety of topics ranging from homophobia in the BNP, the impact of Greece’s Golden Dawn on British far right parties as well as far right and punk youth culture during the 1970s, illustrating the interdisciplinary nature of the collection.

Image Credit: National Front March, Yorkshire, UK, 1970s (White Flight CC BY SA 3.0)

In the first chapter, Mark Hobbs asserts that, alongside 1967, 1945 is also of utmost significance when it comes to examining the link between Holocaust denial and the subsequent development of far-right ideology. While Holocaust denial presents something of a barrier to the political legitimacy groups like the NF were seeking, it contributed to the construction of what Hobbs terms a ‘false history’. According to this view, the failure of far-right movements to attain legitimacy is blamed on Jewish conspiracies, of which the Holocaust itself is considered one such example, and further ‘evidence’ of Jewish ‘interference’ in global politics. The many crimes of the Nazi regime are, of course, conveniently ignored.

Holocaust denial had no ‘official’ place within the NF, but influential members, such as John Tyndall, held different views; he was not afraid to ‘retract’ these beliefs publically in order to secure power and influence within the movement before becoming party leader in 1972. The publication of Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard Verrall in 1974 saw the far right attempt a bid for legitimacy that went beyond the ballot box. Hobbs notes that this infamous tract was meant to imbibe far-right propaganda with scholarly credentials: the authorship was attributed to an academic institution, and the text was presented with footnotes, references and a bibliography. This was designed to lend further credence to the idea that Holocaust denial could be a ‘viable’ form of historical revisionism. This tradition was continued by the revisionist Journal of Historical Review, and cast into the public eye by libel cases brought against prominent figures in the movement like Ernst Zündel and David Irving.

It is far too easy to fall into the trap of suggesting that Holocaust deniers and proponents of far-right ideology are ‘mad’ or stupid. As Hobbs asserts, ignoring these views is to overlook the serious danger posed by both the ideology itself and the violence it facilitates. Similarly, we cannot underestimate the danger posed by ‘alt right’ groups today, despite their academic veneer – Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute being a case in point – and seemingly inconspicuous stylings (for readers interested in this particular subject, Chapter Seven, by Ana Raposo and Roger Smith, offers a wealth of discussion on far-right visual cultures as they pertain to British movements). Hobbs effectively demonstrates that Holocaust denial is an essential part of the inner workings of far-right ideologies that not only sustain epistemological ‘grand narratives’ of a Jewish conspiracy, but continue to ‘unify’ like-minded individuals, as events in Charlottesville last year have shown.

This ‘unification’ is also facilitated through the proliferation of far-right ideology on social media sites, despite recent ‘purges’ by platforms such as Twitter. Consequently, far-right groups are able to reach out to potential members, as well as altogether different types of audiences, from the comfort of their own homes. In Chapter Nine, Hannah Bows discusses the relative lack of research undertaken on one particular potential audience: women. Despite the rise in academic interest in the far right, the author notes that studies have been dominated by ‘salient’ images of angry, white, working-class men, often absenting women from the discussion altogether. As Bows reiterates, we therefore know ‘painfully little’ about women in the British far right, historical studies notwithstanding. Subsequently, the chapter aims to provide a theoretical overview of the relatively small pool of research that exists.

Bows discusses research, both qualitative and quantitative, that attempts to unpack why a ‘gender gap’ in discussions of women’s participation may exist. Four key strands of thought emerge: men dominate manual occupations and are more likely to be affected by a lack of employment opportunities; women may be more religious than men and find the far right antithetical to their personal beliefs; the diffusion of feminism has seen women turn their backs on the far right; and, finally, society’s rigid adherence to gendered binaries has seen both men and women socialised into ‘knowing their place’. Whilst this may offer researchers insight into some of the reasons behind women’s alleged non-involvement, Bows argues such studies are limited not only by small sample sizes and altogether different methodological approaches, but also the difficulty in predicting levels of female participation due to the secretive and non-formal membership processes of far-right groups.

Although the far right is dominated by men, we know that women are active in the movement both at home and beyond – Britain First’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen and Germany’s Beate Zschäpe are high-profile examples. Influential studies undertaken by sociologist Kathleen Blee have also attempted to shed some light on women’s involvement in neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan (KKK)-affiliated groups in a US context. Bows posits that as well as an innate ‘paucity’ of empirical research, there is an almost total lack of theoretical engagement: dominant theories inevitably centre men’s experiences and cannot simply be transferred to women. The author opines that while feminist scholars in particular may have trouble reconciling far-right agendas with feminism’s core tenets of agency and equality, the rise of far-right movements and their gender-specific appeal are hugely important to feminist theories and activism. Ultimately, what we need, and what Bows advocates, is empirical research that engages directly with women in far-right groups in order to effectively unpack dominant socio-cultural narratives surrounding their involvement.

‘Tomorrow Belongs to Us’ offers readers a dynamic insight into the development of the British far right since 1967, and reminds us that despite its various peaks and troughs, the movement continues to have the ability to incite hatred and undermine democracy, as recent events have also shown. Contributors to this excellent volume advocate a new way of looking at the far right in Britain, and demonstrate a range of means through which intersectional engagement can be achieved, all the while encouraging researchers to look beyond the statistical methods of the ‘hard’ sciences for ‘answers’ regarding the subject matter at hand. The book is a must-read for researchers and general readers alike.

Katherine Williams is an ESRC-funded PhD candidate at Cardiff University. Her research interests include the role of women in far-right groups, feminist methodologies and political theory and gender in IR. You can follow her on Twitter: @phdkat.
by Jan Haverkamp and Rashid Alimov
Greenpeace International
26 April 2018

32 years ago, the world’s largest civil nuclear accident contaminated large swaths of Europe.

This generation may no longer remember that for a few months spinach and other green vegetables had to be destroyed in countries like the Netherlands and Germany, that cows all over Europe needed to be kept in stables and milk taken out of consumption — and that for more than two decades, reindeer in Lapland, sheep in the English Lake District and wild boar in the German Schwarzwald had to be slaughtered because of  high radioactive contamination.

In the countries that took the biggest hit — Belarus, Ukraine and Russia — hundreds of square kilometres are still too polluted for people to return, and several million people in a wider circle continue to have to accept radioactive contamination as a daily risk. At the site of the catastrophe, the international community only last year sufficiently covered the exploded reactor to enable the start of clean-up work — which requires technology we do not yet have. Since the 26th of April, 1986, we know from direct experience that there are severe risks attached to nuclear power.
No to Floating Nuclear Power Station in St. Petersburg © Nicolai Gontar / Greenpeace

No to Floating Nuclear Power Station in St. Petersburg © Nicolai Gontar / Greenpeace

A floating nuclear plant? Seriously?

In the coming weeks, Russian nuclear moloch Rosatom plans to move the world’s first designated floating nuclear power plant, the ‘Akademik Lomonosov’, from St. Petersburg through the Baltic Sea and around Norway to Murmansk. In Murmansk, it will be loaded with nuclear fuel and tested at a few kilometres distance from nearly 300-thousand inhabitants.

Originally, Rosatom planned to load fuel and test the ‘Akademik Lomonosov’ in the very centre of St. Petersburg, 2.3 kilometres from the famous St. Isaac Cathedral.  

What could possibly go wrong?

This caused a plaintive whine from the Russian nuclear regulator, Rostechnadzor, but because of a hole in Russian nuclear law, inspectors still don’t have full access or a mandate to criticise the Lomonosov. Only a petition by twelve-thousand St.Petersburg citizens, questions in the city’s legislative assembly and major concerns from Baltic Sea countries about transporting two reactors filled with irradiated fuel, without its own propulsion, along their rocky coasts, caused Rosatom to use some common sense and shift loading plans to a less densely populated area.

Once loaded with fuel and tested, the ‘Akademik Lomonosov’ will be towed next year 5000 kilometres along the — because of climate change, now ice-free — Northern Sea Route to the tiny port of Pevek in the far North-Eastern region of Chukotka. There, it will provide the 5000 strong population and its port and coal mines with 70 MW of electricity.

© Denis Lopatin / Greenpeace

The ‘Akademik Lomonosov’ is to be the first of a fleet of floating nuclear power stations to be stationed in the Russian Arctic. Rosatom recently received the mandate to manage all shipping and development along the Northern Sea Route. These floating nuclear plants need to deliver the energy to dig for more climate-destroying fossil fuels.

And from there, dystopian science-fiction knows no borders. In 1995, Rosatom engineers proposed floating nuclear power stations for electricity production and desalination in other parts of the world as well. Think remote islands in Indonesia and the Philippines.

If this development is not stopped, the next nuclear catastrophe could well be a Chernobyl on ice or a Chernobyl on-the-rocks. Share this blog to show the world you know that this is a bad idea.

Jan Haverkamp is the expert consultant on nuclear energy for Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe.

Rashid Alimov is the coordinator of the Greenpeace Russia anti-nuclear project.

 Fred Weir
The Christian Science Monitor

Unlike post-Soviet revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, and elsewhere, the current protests in Armenia have not alarmed the Kremlin, even though they look set to bring greater democracy. That is likely due to the lack of geopolitical stakes involved.	
April 26, 2018 | Moscow—It looks like the typical “color revolution.”

Pro-democracy crowds take to the streets in the capital of some post-Soviet republic to peacefully protest the political manipulations of their Moscow-friendly ruling elite and demand sweeping reforms to the corrupt, oligarchic economic system they've grown to despise.

That's what's happening right now in Armenia. For over two weeks, huge, mostly youthful crowds have been holding rolling demonstrations in the center of Yerevan and other Armenian cities, reacting to an attempt by two-term President Serzh Sargsyan to extend his grip on power. Most previous “color revolutions” in the former Soviet Union have been similarly triggered by fraudulent elections or other duplicitous abuses of power.

But unlike those previous cases, the massive popular upsurge in Armenia went almost unnoticed in Western capitals for 10 days, until Mr. Sargsyan suddenly bowed to the street and stepped aside last Monday. Moreover, Russia, which is home to more than 2 million Armenians and has been obsessed with the supposedly dire threat of “color revolutions” for years, was more alert but surprisingly calm.

Things are still up in the air on the streets of Yerevan, and the tense drama may well end up striking a major blow for democracy and the power of civil society. But there are few, if any, geopolitical stakes in Armenia. While the government might become more democratic, Armenia's reliance on Russia for trade and security will not change. And that is the main reason for the almost disinterested shrugs on all sides.
Sochi, Soviets, and czars: How much do you know about Russia?

“We may await wide-scale changes in domestic policies. New people may come to the top, with a whole new attitude,” says Alexander Iskandaryan, director of the independent Caucasus Institute in Yerevan. “But this revolution has an entirely internal genesis. Foreign policy isn't even a subject for discussion.”
'Russia will not intervene'

The tiny, landlocked republic of Armenia is a traditional Russian ally, a member of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union and military Collective Security Treaty Organization, and wedged between its long-standing enemies Turkey and Azerbaijan. So, it depends heavily on Russia for its national security.

Though chronically poor by Western standards, over half of Armenians have post-secondary education. Large numbers go abroad for permanent or temporary employment. There are huge Armenian diasporas in Russia, North America, and Europe, and contacts are intense. The country of around 3 million people has enjoyed about 7 percent annual growth in recent years, but its GDP of around 11 billion is modest and heavily dependent on around $500 million in annual remittances from Armenians working abroad, mostly in Russia.

The recent street revolt came in response to Sargsyan's attempt to “pull a Putin” by changing the constitution to vest the lion's share of authority in the parliament, then getting his ruling Republican party to name him prime minister. Though his party did appoint him prime minister, he only lasted six days before resigning under popular pressure.

The largely spontaneous eruption ended up with Nikol Pashinyan, whose Civil Contract party holds just 8 percent of the seats in the parliament, as its leading symbol and most likely beneficiary. He is demanding that the parliament choose a “people's candidate” who is not from the ruling Republican Party when it meets to decide on a new prime minister on May 1. Beyond that, he demands new elections and sweeping political reforms.

He hasn't suggested any changes to Armenia's complex relations with Russia. “I had a meeting with an official from Moscow and got reassurance that Russia would not intervene in Armenia's internal affairs,” Mr. Pashinyan told a rally in central Yerevan earlier this week.

That's a marked break from the Russian reaction to similar events which unfolded over the past decade and a half in Georgia, twice in Ukraine, and even twice in distant Kyrgyzstan. But in this case, the Kremlin has indeed repeatedly insisted that there is no cause for alarm. The fiery Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, even took to her Facebook page to declare “Armenia, Russia always stands with you!”

But in fact, Russia has not shown much interest in blocking Armenia's dalliances with democracy, including those with the European Union. In 2017, without any apparent objection from Moscow, Armenia signed a revised Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the EU, and announced its intentions to keep developing its relations with both Russia and the EU, even though its main trading partner is Russia.
Armenia needs Russia

That boils down in large part, analysts say, to the immutability of Armenia's security needs – even if it becomes more democratic.

“Armenia is in a complicated geopolitical situation, but the bottom line is that it doesn't have many alternatives,” says Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Institute for the Commonwealth of Independent States, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “It is very connected with its diaspora around the world, who are very influential. It always has maintained good relations with both Russia and the West. But, given that it is locked in [a frozen] war with Azerbaijan over [the Armenian-populated territory of] Nagorno-Karabakh, and has NATO member Turkey on its other border, it needs Russia and is not likely to change its geopolitical position no matter who comes to power.”
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As a sharp example of a post-Soviet country whose population chafes at Russian-style “managed democracy” and corrupt crony-oriented economic policies, Armenia's pro-democracy revolt seems another in a familiar series rocking the Putin-era ex-Soviet region. But as a Moscow vassal tearing itself free and rushing into the West's embrace, not so much.

“It bears all the hallmarks of a 'colored revolution,' but it's completely driven by domestic politics,” says Sergei Strokan, foreign affairs columnist for the Moscow business daily Kommersant. “Armenia's agreement with the EU is mostly symbolic, since it remains highly dependent on Russian loans, arms, and trade. Indeed, there's very little the West could offer Armenia, even if there was a Ukrainian-style mood to change sides on the streets in Yerevan today. But there isn't. And I doubt the events in Armenia even register very much on US or European agendas at all as these very dramatic events unfold.”

Tom Whyman
New Internationalist
1 April 2018

It is not rationality that unites us, but the fragility of our physical bodies. Tom Whyman finds a germ of optimism in the philosophy of the Frankfurt School

Cosmopolitanism – the belief that all human beings belong to a shared community – is most commonly associated with Enlightenment thinkers such as Immanuel Kant. The German philosopher believed that human beings shared an innate capacity for reason that would naturally lead us towards a ‘universal civil society’.

Kant believed that just as conflict between individuals leads to the formation of nation-states, governed by a constitution, clashes between nation-states will, in time, lead to the formation of a perfect supranational state. The resulting world-citizenship would make us more human than we currently are; it would be the realization of humanity’s purpose or telos.
Kant’s 1784 essay ‘Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View’ does, to a certain extent, read like a gospel for an anaemic, globalizing liberalism

But there were drawbacks to his vision. The 1784 essay ‘Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View’ does, to a certain extent, read like a gospel for an anaemic, globalizing liberalism, where the ultimate aim of the human species is to form nothing more exciting than the European Union (or the UN).

Early anti-Enlightenment nationalist thinkers such as Johann Hamann and Johann von Herder took Kant to task on this, making a passionate case for the familiar and the local, over the impersonally global.

Later, the Frankfurt School of critical theory would offer a deeper reimagining. Marxist-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin launched a powerful attack on the ‘universal history’ associated with Kant, in his final essay ‘On the Concept of History’, written shortly before his suicide while trying to flee the Nazis.

For Benjamin, Kant’s rational ‘progress’ is experienced by a substantial proportion of humanity as a ‘catastrophe’, a ‘storm’, piling up ‘wreckage upon wreckage’. Consider the ‘discovery’ of Australia from the perspective of its indigenous inhabitants, say, or the advent of industrial capitalism from the perspective of the newly minted working classes.

In words that can just as easily be directed against distressed liberals responding to Trump’s latest outrage, Benjamin wrote that it should come as no surprise that 20th century horrors were ‘still’ possible. Rather, the experience of the oppressed throughout history teaches us that the ‘state of emergency in which we live’ today is ‘not the exception but the rule’.

But Benjamin’s take-down of Enlightenment rationalism need not cause us to abandon wholesale any idea of universal humanity – quite the opposite. For his closest Frankfurt School collaborator, Theodor Adorno, the rise of fascism – and, in particular, the Holocaust – ought to lead us to form a new sort of universalism, based on our shared capacity for suffering.

Citizenship of the oppressed

Could Theodor Adorno’s variant of universal history be something worth raising as our banner today?

Adorno puts this point most starkly in Negative Dialectics, where he declares that Hitler has imposed a ‘categorical imperative’ upon human beings ‘to arrange their thoughts and actions so that Auschwitz will not repeat itself, so that nothing similar will happen’.

For Adorno, the horrors of the Holocaust were amplified by a profound sense that they were the result of a pathology rooted deep within Enlightenment rationality. By way of a tonic, Adorno sought to articulate a ‘critical’ rationality, checked at the most basic level by our ‘practical abhorrence of the unbearable physical agony’ to which individuals – both ourselves and others – can be exposed. What we feel when witnessing, for instance, an image of the mass graves at Auschwitz, or more recently, the tiny body of refugee Alan Kurdi, lying on the beach so horribly and irreversibly dead.

Time, then, to forge a new sort of cosmopolitanism: the universal citizenship of the oppressed. Before we can possess any sort of local or national identity, we possess a physical body, a fragile thing that can be caused by events to suffer and die. We are thus, all of us, fellow-sufferers.

When we consider the wider horrors of the world today – from the wars in Syria and Yemen or the devastating effects of right-wing domestic policies in the US or Britain – we would do well to remember this brute material fact, which irreducibly unites us, even if all else divides.

Tom Whyman is a freelance writer and teaches philosophy at the University of Warwick.


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