SACW - 3-4 Nov 2018 | Sri Lanka: Back to old days? / Rohingya at Risk / Pakistan: Blasphemy Screaming Mullah’s Go Berserk / India: Rising Hate / Brazil: Pinochet-style fix / Italy: Rossana Rossanda

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Sat Nov 3 05:06:02 EDT 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 3-4 November 2018 - No. 3005 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. Pakistan: Tied to the river - a court ruling has suddenly set rivers free for bonded fishers | Asad Farooq 
2. After the Aasia Bibi verdict, a longer battle: Public statement by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
3. India - News from Social Movements
 - Land Grab in the name of industrial development in Tamilnadu
 - Statement by Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group on the Arrest of Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj
 - A national convention organised by Joint Forum for Movement on Education
4. Gender gap in mobile phone adoption in India - A Study by Harvard Kennedy School of Government
5. Protect news media professionals against trolling - A study from Sweden
6. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 - India: Editorial, The Hindu - Ending impunity: on Hashimpura massacre (November 01, 2018)
 - India: Right Wing blabbermouth Arnab Goswami among new appointees at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library
 - Canada: Consul General of India in Toronto Delivers Keynote at Hindutva Event organised by International arm of RSS
 - Netaji Bose, Patel, Nehru and anti-colonial struggle
 - India - Malegaon Terrorism Case 2008: Lt Col Purohit, Sadhvi Pragya Among 7 Hindutva Activists Charged
 - India: American Hindutva Activist Rajiv Malhotra Gets Appointed as Visiting Prof at Centre for Media Studies, JNU

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7. Back to the bad old days - Sri Lanka’s president installs his arch-enemy as prime minister
8. Myanmar/Bangladesh: Plan Puts Rohingya at Risk
9. Bangladesh: HC finds inconsistencies between allegations against Shahidul Alam and what he actually said
10. Pakistan acquits Asia Bibi: But The Blasphemy Screaming Mullah’s Go Berserk
11. India: BJP Has Shown That Curbs on Freedom Come in Many Guises | Zoya Hasan
12. India: Select Editorials
13. Rising Hate in India | Annie Gowen and Manas Sharma
14. India: The proposed citizenship amendment bill may turn out to be the beginning of a major shift in India’s refugee policy | Sanjib Baruah
+ The NRC Process and the Spectre of Statelessness in India | Ranabir Samaddar 
15. India: A decade on, only 40% of FRA claims approved | Ishan Kukreti
16. A pan-India Dalit assertion | G. Sampath
17. India: After cancelling FCRA licences of over 18,000 NGOs, Centre asks states to track 'anti-national' NGOs
18. Book Review: Is this Azaadi? review: Lived realities | Mogallan Bharti
19. Bolton Hails Bolsonaro as Welcome Ally in Crushing Latin American Left | Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
20. Brazil’s new finance minister eyes Pinochet-style fix for economy | Andres Schipani and Joe Leahy
21. Italy: Rossana Rossanda: ‘The left has lost its electorate’

by Asad Farooq
    Many years ago a similar Sath was held in which the adivasi fishers had decided to assert their right to fish freely. Then the contractors and the state wielded the threat of a violent assertion of legal right and so the fishers caught fish only to release it back into the river, disarming the State functionaries and symbolic of their non-violent approach to struggle. This year, the Sath culminated in a yatra and a manooti, a pilgrimage and a pledge, to the river, and then they fished.

Lahore, 1 November 2018. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has greatly welcomed the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement acquitting 47-year-old Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to death.

The major issues raised by local committee members were that they have already lost much of their land under the SIPCOT scheme of industrial development. Whatever land is remaining with us is being polluted by release of effluents. Ground water has also got polluted and its colour has changed. Pollution is rampant and the inaction by local pollution control board and other responsible agencies.

The Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group and Collective strongly condemns and mourns the incidents of arrest and police remand of Advocate, friend, mentor, and colleague Sudha Bharadwaj and calls upon a collective expression of solidarity and strength from all activists, students, lawyers, democratic rights and civil liberty communities, friends and the general public.

The JOINT FORUM FOR MOVEMENT ON EDUCATION successfully organised a Mass National Convention of all national organisations of teachers, students and parents who are active in elementary, primary, secondary and tertiary levels of Education in India. The well-attended Convention took place at the Mavalankar Auditorium in New Delhi today, October 29, 2018.

Today in India, 71% of men own mobile phones, but only 38% of women do.

Fojo Media Institute report describes and analyses how online propaganda against journalists across the world

 - India: Editorial, The Hindu - Ending impunity: on Hashimpura massacre (November 01, 2018)
 - India: Right Wing blabbermouth Arnab Goswami among new appointees by the Modi Govt at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library
 - Canada: Consul General of India in Toronto Delivers Keynote Speech at Hindu Nationalist Event organised by International arm of RSS
 - Netaji Bose, Patel, Nehru and anti-colonial struggle
 - India - Malegaon Terrorism Case 2008: Lt Col Purohit, Sadhvi Pragya Among 7 Hindutva Activists Charged
 - India: American Hindutva Activist Rajiv Malhotra Gets Appointed as Visiting Prof at Centre for Media Studies, JNU

 -> available via:
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The Economist

Nov 1st 2018 | COLOMBO

FIRST TO GO was the navy honour guard, in crisp uniforms with brass buttons. Then the maintenance staff departed, followed by the cooks and gardeners and cleaners. The next day no drivers showed up, marooning a fleet of fancy cars in the compound’s garage. By the third day all but a token ten out of a normal complement of 1,008 dedicated security personnel—round-the-clock shifts of police, watchmen, bodyguards and the like—had abandoned Temple Trees, the stately official residence of the prime minister of Sri Lanka.

Its sole inhabitant, Ranil Wickremesinghe, insists for now on staying. The suave 69-year-old, a four-time prime minister, says he will only leave when it is clear that he is no longer constitutionally entitled to the residence. To his supporters, who have crowded Temple Trees to protect him from eviction, this means when he is no longer able to command a majority in the 225-seat parliament.

Perplexingly for this mildly prosperous island-state of 21m people, it is not clear whether Mr Wickremesinghe can or not. Since October 26th the country has been locked in a constitutional crisis. That evening, without any warning, Maithripala Sirisena, the president, took three shocking steps. He withdrew his party from the ruling coalition, dismissed Mr Wickremesinghe and swore in a replacement. He then “prorogued” or suspended parliament, blocking any debate of all this.

The biggest shock was his choice of prime minister: Mahinda Rajapaksa (pictured), a charismatic strongman who was president from 2005 to 2015. Mr Sirisena loyally served him as a party official and cabinet minister before betraying him by joining Mr Wickremesinghe in a successful bid to unseat him. For the past three years Mr Sirisena has blasted Mr Rajapaksa for alleged nepotism, corruption and human-rights abuses. Now, suddenly, the two have been beaming before the cameras and gleefully blaming all the country’s woes not on each other, but on Mr Wickremesinghe.

Power couple

The president is not popular, but constitutionally wields important powers over the army, judiciary and administration. Mr Rajapaksa, by contrast, remains a hero to many among the island’s 70% Sinhala-speaking, Buddhist majority; his populist rule brought a ruinous quarter-century-long civil war to a brutal close. Earlier this year his new political party won crushingly in local elections. It has been widely predicted to sweep the polls in the next parliamentary election, scheduled for 2020. That, in turn, would almost certainly have brought Mr Rajapaksa back as prime minister by the usual route.

Instead, Mr Rajapaksa has become prime minister in a legally dubious manner. No one disputes that Mr Sirisena has a constitutional right, under Sri Lanka’s hybrid presidential-parliamentary system, to give legislators a holiday. And no one challenges his right to choose any MP who looks likely to muster sufficient votes in parliament as prime minister. But a constitutional amendment introduced in 2015, which was intended to dilute the executive powers that Mr Rajapaksa was widely condemned for abusing, stripped the president of the right to sack the prime minister. Only parliament can do that.

At the time of his dismissal, Mr Wickremesinghe, despite the fading popularity of his government and even after the withdrawal of MPs allied to the president, still controlled the most seats in parliament. He could muster 106 compared with Mr Rajapaksa’s 95. Although that is short of the 113 needed for a majority, in event of a showdown he could probably count on a further 22, from ethnic Tamil and leftist parties loth to see Mr Rajapaksa’s return.

So why, then, did Mr Sirisena suddenly embark on a legally risky course, and Mr Rajapaksa jump to seize a prize that in just a few months’ time he would likely have won by acclamation in any case? It was no secret that the suspicious, earthy president and the polished, aloof Mr Wickremesinghe had grown to detest each other. It was also clear that the prime minister’s camp was moving to accelerate legal challenges to Mr Rajapaksa’s wider family, which has been entangled in a range of lawsuits. Mr Sirisena may also have calculated that, with his term expiring in a year’s time, he would be wiser to win points now with Mr Rajapaksa, than to wait until he had little to offer the likely future prime minister.

Both the president and his newfound ally may have reckoned that they could bluster through any legal challenges to what many have labelled a constitutional coup. In the meantime, by suspending parliament, Mr Sirisena gave the conspirators time to suborn or shanghai enough defectors from Mr Wickremesinghe’s camp to reach the magic 113 MPs. This, in fact, is what has happened. As Mr Wickremesinghe demands a parliamentary vote, his opponents have begun poaching his MPs with offers of cabinet posts and other inducements. Several have joined Mr Rajapaksa’s camp. The president has called a parliamentary session on November 5th, which suggests he has found enough votes.

Mr Rajapaksa’s swift re-emergence, following an abrupt exit only three years ago, has left the country sharply polarised. The large Tamil and Muslim minorities fear a resurgence of Sinhalese nationalism, and an end to already hesitant efforts at post-war national reconciliation. Civil-rights activists fear curbs on free speech and human rights. Businessmen worry that Mr Wickremesinghe’s painstaking but thankless efforts to straighten out the economy may be undone by more populist policies. (Mr Rajapaksa’s profligacy in office has helped push public debt to almost 80% of GDP.) And Sri Lanka’s Western allies and closer neighbours, chief among them India, are concerned that Mr Rajapaksa will steer the country back to a closer embrace of China, his favoured partner in the past.

But it is the president who has earned the most opprobrium. Thinking back to the heady days when Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickremesinghe conspired to unseat Mr Rajapaksa, a minister in the dismissed cabinet shakes his head at the president’s mix of treachery and tenacity. “We thought we were getting a Mandela as president. Instead we got a Mugabe.”
This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline "Back to the bad old days"

UN Not Consulted; Refugees Reject Returns Without Security, Citizenship
Human Rights Watch
November 2, 2018

(New York) – The Myanmar and Bangladesh governments should immediately suspend the proposed repatriation of Rohingya refugees set for mid-November, Human Rights Watch said today. The expedited plan, announced on October 30, 2018, would return refugees to dire conditions in Myanmar where their lives and liberty are at risk.

“Myanmar’s government keeps talking about returns, but it has done nothing to allay the Rohingya’s fears of being returned to the same violence and oppression they fled,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director. “If Bangladesh moves forward on repatriations without the UN, it will squander the international goodwill it has accrued over the past year as a host to Rohingya refugees.”

Bangladesh and Myanmar officials met in Dhaka on October 30 and 31, the third meeting of a joint working group to carry out a bilateral repatriation agreement signed in November 2017. Following the meeting, representatives announced they had developed a “very concrete plan” to begin repatriations in mid-November, with the first round to include 2,260 Rohingya from 485 families. According to Myanmar officials, starting on November 15, 150 refugees would be received each week at the Nga Khu Ya reception center before being transferred to the Hla Poe Kaung transit camp. The government of Bangladesh appears anxious to begin repatriations in advance of upcoming national elections.

The 2,000 Rohingya identified to take part in the initial returns were selected from a list of 8,032 refugees that Bangladesh presented to Myanmar in February, about 4,600 of whom Myanmar has said it verified. Bangladesh culled the names at random from its registration rolls, without consulting the refugees to confirm their willingness to return or to have their names and other details shared with Myanmar officials. “The names on the list we prepared were not chosen because they particularly wanted to go back,” Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner, told Human Rights Watch. Bangladesh officials said they provided Myanmar with a second list for verification of more than 22,000 refugee names and addresses.

In June, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and UN Development Programme signed a memorandum of understanding with Myanmar to facilitate returns. They have since begun limited assessments in Rakhine State. Yet Bangladesh and Myanmar officials did not consult with UNHCR or Rohingya refugees on the list of names being presented for repatriation before making their announcement. The UN has opposed the proposal as “rushed and premature.”

A UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, told Voice of America: “Because we consider that conditions in Rakhine state are not yet conducive for voluntary return in the conditions of safety, dignity and sustainability, UNHCR will not, at this stage, facilitate any refugee returns to Rakhine state.” The refugee agency reported this week that it “was not involved in preparation, transmission or receipt of this list nor in the verification and clearing that was reportedly carried out by the government of Myanmar.” Bangladesh should provide Rohingya refugees with legal refugee status and documents and give UNHCR the lead role in coordinating the humanitarian response and any voluntary repatriation operations.

More than 730,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh over the past year to escape the Myanmar military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. They joined about 200,000 refugees who had fled previous waves of violence and persecution. A UN fact-finding mission found “sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw [armed forces] on charges of genocide.”

The Myanmar government has claimed since January that it is ready to accept repatriated refugees, yet has done nothing to create conditions for safe and dignified returns or address the root causes of the crisis, including systematic persecution and violence, statelessness, and military impunity for grave violations.

Recent Rohingya arrivals in Bangladesh have reported killings, burnings, enforced disappearances, extortion, and severe restrictions on movement. Myanmar authorities have detained and tortured Rohingya who returned from Bangladesh in the past year. As Marzuki Darusman, chair of the UN fact-finding mission, told the UN Security Council at an October briefing on the Rohingya: “Returning them in this context is tantamount to condemning them to life as sub-humans and further mass killing.”

In central Rakhine State, more than 124,000 Rohingya have been confined to open-air detention camps for six years, since being displaced by violence in 2012. They are arbitrarily deprived of liberty, forced to live in conditions described as “beyond the dignity of any people” by the UN deputy relief chief after an April visit. The “reception centers” and “transit camp” Myanmar built this year to process and house returnees are surrounded by barbed-wire perimeter fences and security outposts, similar to the physical confinement structures in the central Rakhine camps. The Hla Poe Kaung reception center was built on land where Rohingya had been living, before security forces burned and the government bulldozed the area.

Although Bangladesh is not a party to the UN Refugee Convention, it is bound under customary international law not to forcibly return refugees to a place where they would face persecution, torture, ill-treatment, or death. At the Security Council in October, Bangladesh’s representative to the UN said that before Rohingya could return, Myanmar’s government needed to abolish discriminatory laws, policies, and practices; address the root causes of their flight; guarantee protection, rights, and pathways to citizenship for all; and bring accountability and justice to prevent atrocity crimes. This was the “minimum requirement for creating a situation that could be considered favorable to the Rohingya’s sustainable return to Myanmar.”

The repatriation plan was developed without consultation and consent from Rohingya refugees, in contravention of international standards. To have a genuinely free, fully informed choice, refugees should be consulted and provided with objective, up-to-date, and accurate information about conditions in areas of return, including security conditions, assistance, and protection to reintegrate.

Many of the hundreds of Rohingya refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they want to go home, but only if their security, access to land and livelihoods, freedom of movement, citizenship rights, and self-identification could be ensured. A Rohingya group gave a letter to the Myanmar-Bangladesh delegation that visited the camps on October 31, outlining their conditions for return regarding citizenship, security, and justice. The letter states: “We demand to see evidence of your political commitment to treat us as equal citizens and human beings. We hereby inform you that we will not agree to be repatriated from Bangladesh to Myanmar until we see evidence of our above demands being fulfilled.”

“This repatriation plan is just Myanmar’s latest attempt to deflect international criticism from its brutal ethnic cleansing campaign for which no one has been brought to justice,” Frelick said. “Donors should be clear that they will not fund this dangerous plan, which threatens Rohingya refugees’ rights to dignity, security, and liberty.”

Staff Correspondent, New Age
New Age [Bangladesh]
November 2, 2018

The High Court Division on Thursday found inconsistencies between the allegation made by the Detective Branch against acclaimed photographer and right activist Shahidul Alam quoting his statements in the interview with Al Jazeera and Facebook’s live and what he actually said.
The inconsistencies became clear to the court after the case investigation of ficer showed the video footage time and again until the court was satisfied.
A bench of Justice AKM Asaduzzaman and Justice SM Mozibur Rahman, however, excluded Shahidul Alam’s bail application from day’s cause list and advised his lawyers to move it in another bench.
The inconsistencies was detected by the bench after seeing the transcript of Shahidul Alam’s interview with Al Jazeera and what he said on Facebook live during the school children’s peaceful movement for road safety.
The case investigation officer and DB inspector Arman Ali logged in Shahidul Alam’s Facebook account and showed to the bench all the postings he had made during the schoolchildren road safety movement.
The bench asked the DB officer to explain why the allegations made against Shahidul Alam in the first information report were quite different from what he said actually said, the DB officer replied that the inconsistencies occurred as he had presented Shahidul Alam’s remarks in ‘concise form.’
After a two-hour hearing when the bench asked Shahidul Alam’s lawyers to take the matter to another bench, Barrister Sara Hossain in her reaction said, ‘Where he would get justice if you can’t give the decision after seeing the inconsistencies between the FIR account and what her client had actually said in the interview with Al Jazeera and Facebook live.’
She said, ‘It’s not at all fair not to give a decision after keeping us waiting for three weeks for giving time to the attorney general on various excuses.’
Sara called it unprecedented for a bench to drop a bail application from the cause list after issuing ruling and hearing the ruling for days together.
And there is no precedence for the attorney general not to reply to the ruling, submitted Sara.
She said that there was no precedence to detain a citizen for 88 days on the basis of concocted allegation of the police which again failed to make any progress in investigations for obvious reasons.
All this, she said, tarnished the image of Bangladesh across the world.
At this point, attorney general Mahbubey Alam shouted at Sara Hossain demanding to know why she was defending a man like Shahidul Alam who committed sedition by telling a foreign TV that the government would be overthrown.
Neither the transcript nor Facebook live show that Shahidul Alam never said that the government would be overthrown.
The Supreme Court’s IT experts were called to the courtroom to help the DB investigation officer to play the transcripts of Shahidul Alam’s statements.
The bench scolded the investigation officer for his failure to play the video of the interview with Al Jazeera and the link on Facebook live for an hour.
‘What are you showing? Show us what you alleged in the case,’ the bench told him angrily.
Earlier, two other benches declined to hear Shahidul Alam’s bail application since August 27.



Daily O

Countless brave Pakistanis have suffered, fought against, prayed for and died because of the country’s blasphemy laws.
Farahnaz Ispahani

Wednesday has been a groundbreaking day for the millions of people both within and outside Pakistan who have worked and prayed for the release of Asia Bibi.

Asia Bibi has become an icon of justice and rights in Pakistan.Asia Bibi has become an icon of justice and rights in Pakistan. (Photo: Reuters)

Bibi, an illiterate berry picker, was accused and then convicted for allegedly defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed. Her Muslim neighbors objected to her drinking water from the same glass as them because she was Christian. Under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, her alleged comment is punishable by death. In 2010, Bibi, at age 45, was sentenced to hang — but just a few hours ago, her sealed judgement was released by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The judgement had been announced a few days earlier but it was kept sealed until today.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, on Wednesday, acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death over blasphemy allegations. Asia Bibi was cleared of all blasphemy charges and the court ordered her immediate release.

Many people have lost their lives to the mere allegation of blasphemy in Pakistan — my very dear friends and colleagues, former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, and Shahbaz Bhatti, former Minister for Minority Affairs, were murdered. Shot in cold blood for speaking in defense of Asia Bibi and for speaking against the blasphemy laws.

Voices of courage, killed for speaking up.  Voices of courage, killed for speaking up.  (Photos: Reuters)

A three-judge special bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel heard Bibi's 2014 appeal against her conviction and death sentence under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). 

The chief justice wrote that it was a “well settled principal of law that the one who makes an assertion has to prove it. Thus, the onus rests on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt throughout the trial. The presumption of innocence remains throughout the case until such time the prosecution on the evidence satisfies the court beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the offence alleged against him.”

“The judgments of the High Court as well as the Trial Court are reversed. Consequently, the conviction as also the sentence of death awarded to the appellant is set aside and she is acquitted of the charge. She should be released from jail forthwith, if not required in any other criminal case.”

Justice Khosa’s opinion added, “Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of the appellant’s religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixing truth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was also not short of being blasphemous.”

“It is ironical that in the Arabic language the appellant’s name Asia means ‘sinful’ but in the circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare’s King Leare, ‘more sinned against than sinning’”, Justice Khosa’s opinion read.

Pakistan owes much of its blasphemy trouble to Zia Ul-Haq.Pakistan owes much of its blasphemy trouble to Zia Ul-Haq. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Pakistan’s laws on blasphemy date back to the military dictatorship of Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. In 1980, making a derogatory remark against any Islamic personage was defined as a crime under Pakistan’s Penal Code Section 295, punishable by three years in prison. In 1982, another clause was added that prescribed life imprisonment for “willful desecration of the Quran” and, in 1986, a separate clause was added to punish blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed with “death, or imprisonment for life.” 

Bibi’s case illustrated how blasphemy laws are used to persecute the weakest of the weak among Pakistan's religious minorities. 

As a poor Christian from a low caste, Bibi was among the most vulnerable and susceptible to discrimination. And the legal system — which, in theory, should be designed to protect the innocent — failed her in every way.

However, Bibi’s case isn’t the first in which Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been used to punish minority groups. Since Zia ul Haq imposed the laws, their application has unleashed extremist religious frenzy. Lawyers who dare to represent someone accused of blasphemy have also been killed. In 2014, Rashid Rehman, a distinguished human rights lawyer brave enough to represent those most vulnerable to blasphemy charges — women and children of religious minorities, people with mental disabilities, and the weak and impoverished — was killed in his office by two unidentified gunmen. 

Brave lawyer Rashid Rehman was killed for protecting the most vulnerable victims of the blasphemy law.Brave lawyer Rashid Rehman was killed for protecting the most vulnerable victims of the blasphemy law. (Photo: Reuters)

Judges who have dared to acquit an alleged blasphemer, or convict the killer of an alleged blasphemer, have either been forced to leave the country — or face death.

We must never forget the brave Pakistanis who have suffered, fought against, prayed for and died because of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.  

We must keep Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, Rashid Rehman, Mashal Khan, Salamat Masih, Manzoor Masih, Rehmat Masih, Ayub Masih, Bishop John Joseph,Younis Sheikh, Samuel Masih, Anwar Masih and many more innocent victims of this pernicious law in our thoughts and prayers.

This is one huge victory but the laws remain. Much work remains to be done for their amendment — or repeal.

As with her previous trials and appeals, large crowds gathered outside the court in Islamabad on Wednesday demanding her conviction be upheld and the execution carried out. In messages being sent to the media, Tehreek e Labbaik, Pakistan, an extreme religious party, is openly threatening the three judges. Tehreek e Labbaik’s Afzal Qadri has also asked soldiers to rebel against Army Chief in the aftermath of Asia Bibi's acquittal as the military is presumed to be behind this bold judgement. 

Tehreek e Labbaik chief Afzal Qadri is demanding death for Asia Bibi.Tehreek e Labbaik chief Afzal Qadri is demanding death for Asia Bibi. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)

As Pakistan gets increasingly isolated internationally, the military may feel the need to relieve some pressure on Pakistan’s image in the world. The Jamaat e Islami party, which, like Tehreek e Labbaik, has a very strong street presence, has asked its members to come out in Islamabad to demand this judgement be repealed. 

In this climate of uncertainty and possible violence, the governments of Sindh and Punjab province have imposed Section 144 in light of the “constant threat alerts regarding possible terrorist activities”. Carrying arms, gatherings of more than four persons, pillion riding, and taking out rallies are some of the acts prohibited under Section 144. 

Meanwhile, the national media, especially electronic, has gone totally silent on Asia Bibi’s release, as they too are under threat from the baying mobs.

Asia Bibi has been offered asylum by several countries and is expected to leave the country. The family said they feared for their safety and would likely have to leave Pakistan. Mobs are already baying for her blood. After years spent in jail on a mere allegation, Asia Bibi will now have to leave her home along with her family merely to be able to live her life.


Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of Pakistan’s National Assembly. She is Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC and the author of Purifying the Land of the the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities.

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The Guardian
31 Oct 2018


Pakistani woman who spent eight years in solitary confinement faces death threats from fundamentalists

Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent

Asia Bibi, a Christian farm labourer, will almost certainly have to start a new life abroad with her husband and children. Photograph: Bibi family handout/EPA

She may have been freed, but she’s never likely to be free.

Asia Bibi, a Christian farm labourer who has spent the past eight years in solitary confinement after being convicted of blasphemy, will almost certainly have to start a new life with her husband and children outside Pakistan, perhaps with new identities. She will spend the rest of her days looking over her shoulder in fear of an international assassin.

And not just Bibi and her family. The lives of the three judges, who apparently made the decision to overturn her conviction three weeks ago but held back from announcing it for fear of the consequences, are also at risk from fundamentalists intent on revenge.

Within hours of the supreme court judgment, Afzal Qadri of Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a political party dedicated to punishing blasphemy, said the judges faced death.

There is precedent. In January 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who had lobbied for a presidential pardon for Bibi and urged reform of the blasphemy laws, was shot in the back by one of his bodyguards, Mumtaz Qadri. The bodyguard was found guilty of murder and executed; tens of thousands of people attended his funeral in March 2016.

Protesters hold placards reading: ‘Hang Asia Bibi’ after the supreme court acquitted her. Photograph: Nadeem Khawer/EPA

A few weeks later, more than 70 Christians were killed in a suicide bombing at a church in Lahore on Easter Sunday.

A month after Taseer was killed, Pakistan’s religious minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian who spoke out against the blasphemy law, was shot dead in Islamabad.

On Wednesday, TLP supporters took to the streets to protest against the supreme court decision in cities including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, with major roads blocked. Officials urged people to stay inside.

Many of Bibi’s supporters have been afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals. Amnesty International accused the Pakistani government of failing to take “effective measures to curb the campaign of hate and violence incited by certain groups in the country following [Bibi’s] conviction”. The state had shown “immense tolerance for the narratives of hate”, a researcher, Rabia Mehmood, told CNN.

In July, campaigners for religious freedom were dismayed when Imran Khan defended Pakistan’s blasphemy laws in the run-up to the country’s general election.

Critics accused Khan – now prime minister - of using the issue to win support from religious rightwingers. “Imran Khan is a coward; he is supporting murderers and mob violence. This law is persecuting people, it is not respecting our prophet,” Shahbaz Taseer, the son of the murdered Punjab governor, told the Guardian.

According to Open Doors, which monitors Christian persecution around the world, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws “target Christians in particular”.

It says: “The abuses of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are some of the starkest examples of persecution in Pakistan. They have been devastating for minorities, including Christians, who must always act with caution in case an allegation of blasphemy is raised to settle a personal score. This year, a blasphemy case was brought against a boy for simply responding to a cartoon about Islam on social media.”

Pakistan is number five on Open Doors’ league table of countries in which Christians are at risk.

On Wednesday, advocates for religious freedom and Christian organisations welcomed the supreme court’s decision.

Kelsey Zorzi of ADF International, which promotes religious freedom, said: “Blasphemy laws criminalise the exercise of fundamental human rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

“Blasphemy laws directly violate international law. All people have the right to freely choose, and live out, their faith. We, therefore, urge all governments to uphold this right by ceasing enforcement and initiating repeal of their blasphemy laws.”

Neville Kyrke-Smith of Aid to the Church in Need said: “Today is like the dawn of new hope for oppressed minorities.”

He saluted the courage of the judges in acquitting Bibi, saying: “It is important that justice is not just seen to be done but is done.”

There are fewer than 4 million Christians in Pakistan out of a total population of 197 million. The vast majority of the population is Muslim, with Hindus the biggest religious minority.

Most Christians live in or near the southern city of Karachi, the Punjab region and around Peshawar. Many are poor and do menial jobs, although there are more affluent Christian families in Karachi.

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by Mohammed Hanif

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Zoya Hasan
The Wire
2 November 2018

Top leaders of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) never fail to caution citizens against the trauma of the Emergency, but the last four years have witnessed a steady hollowing of public institutions.

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with BJP president Amit Shah and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley at BJP headquarters in New Delhi. Credit: PTI

It is quite common for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders to remind the public that the Congress had declared the Emergency. Top leaders of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) never fail to caution citizens against the trauma of the Emergency and the abuse of power that occurred more than 40 years ago and the curbs on political freedom imposed by Indira Gandhi between 1975 and 1977. Undoubtedly, the Emergency was the first clear evidence of the danger that democracy faced from the turn to authoritarianism purportedly in the national interest.

The Emergency suspended political freedoms and set off nearly two years of widespread arrests, censorship of the press, severe curtailment of civil liberties and limited the power of the judiciary to review and check the executive’s actions. Opposition leaders were rounded up in midnight raids, arrested and jailed. For the 21 months that the Emergency lasted, it seemed that India was going to follow the political fate of many of its neighbours and newly independent states as its democratic ambitions were rudely shaken. But in 1977, Indira Gandhi called elections and suffered a major defeat, signalling mass opposition to authoritarian rule. Democracy was not only restored. It took stronger roots.

The Emergency’s aftermath gave legitimacy to new forms of dissent. It witnessed an upsurge of political activism, most notably the birth of the civil liberties movement which made a significant contribution to the restoration of democracy. Mass protests enlarged the political arena and expanded the field of political democracy. Jana Sangh was in the forefront of these protests, in fact, the BJP itself, was formed in the heat of the anti-Congress protests. The greatest beneficiary of the new atmosphere of freedom has been the Hindu right.

Four decades later, the right-wing establishment stormed to power in 2014 by winning a majority on the back of the anti-corruption movement (2010-11). But now that the BJP is in power, the party regards protests and dissent as anti-national and against the nation. But with job famine, banks in trouble, rising petrol prices, falling rupee, the NDA government is having difficulty in convincing voters that “acche din” will arrive any time soon. Despite attempts to curtail dissent, public protests have rocked India against economic policies, agrarian distress, caste tension and mob violence.

Top leaders of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) never fail to caution citizens against the trauma of the Emergency and the abuse of power that occurred more than 40 years ago. Credit: PTI

Curbs on freedom come in different guises

Recent political events indicate that curbs on freedom come in different guises and forms. In this regard, historian Gyan Prakash notes the differences between the political trajectories of Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi; Indira Gandhi acquired absolute power during the Emergency, but the decision to impose it wasn’t purely political, it was shrouded in a constitutional framework. At the other end of the spectrum, Modi’s climb to authoritarian power is political; he enjoys untrammeled power without a formal declaration of Emergency or press censorship or arrest of opposition leaders.

Unlike Indira Gandhi, Modi is powered by the surge of Hindu nationalism and mobilisation by the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadres.

Unlike Indira Gandhi, he is powered by the surge of Hindu nationalism and mobilisation by the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadres. One thing is clear: Emergency is not the only method available to contain anti-regime opposition. There are other strategies such as the national/anti-national labeling to corner critics or the “development” slogan to vanquish opponents. It is a well thought out strategy – speak against the government and you’re anti-national and anti-development. Hence, those who highlight government failures or speak against the excesses of the government are silenced or arrested. Targeting of dissent on such a large scale has not been witnessed since the Emergency.

It is no wonder that the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the BJP president Amit Shah and finance minister Arun Jaitley have denigrated mass actions from below and attacked recalcitrant institutions in the name of “nation is above institutions”. None of their arguments are entirely new but the political weight of majoritarian ideology has reinvigorated them in recent weeks. Jaitley warned against the dangers of popular politics and assertions of independence by “non-accountable institutions”, while Shah took up cudgels on behalf of Ayyappa devotees who are mostly BJP workers and sympathisers doubling up as devotees.

A false binary

At the India Foundation’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture, Jaitley wondered, “Are we weakening the authority of the elected and creating a power shift in favour of non-accountables?” He claimed he was not providing any answer to the vexed questions, but the answer is obvious: the binary between the elected and the unelected is false. To project the former and disparage the latter as anti-national is unmistakably undemocratic. Oddly enough, by pitting an elected government against existing institutions, Jaitley seems to suggest that you can have one or the other and not both.

Significantly, Jaitley’s statement comes close on the heels of his party president ticking off the Supreme Court for passing what he deems an unenforceable order allowing women in the age group of 10 to 50 to enter the Sabarimala temple, while threatening to uproot the Kerala government if it persisted in enforcing it. Shah’s statement that the Supreme Court should only come out with orders that can be followed sends the message that the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution are not to be implemented.

Politicians in India know only too well that elected majorities are not permanent. Democratic politics shouldn’t be about the dominance of numbers. Those who believe so tend to ride roughshod over the opposition and trample dissent. This binary rests on another false assumption that permanent majorities exist from the start, and are fixed forever. This notion is based on a conflation of ethno-religious majority with a political majority as both are invariably treated as the same.

What is more, the BJP’s political majority is not nearly as impressive if you consider the party’s vote share. The party has 31% of the national vote. But under the first-past-the-post-system it translated into an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. Importantly, electoral majorities are contingent and don’t endure. For example, the Mandal (caste) interregnum of the early nineties upstaged Hindutva politics which had been catapulted to centre stage by the Ayodhya movement. A major consequence of this power shift was that the Hindu right could not consolidate its popular mandate. In 2014, the BJP won a majority. But numbers change and what now appears to be an invincible majority may slip when the tide turns.

At the India Foundation’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture, Jaitley wondered, “Are we weakening the authority of the elected and creating a power shift in favour of non-accountables?” Credit: PTI

India’s democracy has stood the test of time

Despite the good and bad times, India’s democracy has stood the test of time, it has proved resilient and stable in large part because of its institutional structures – an independent judiciary, election commission, and the central bank – have helped democracy to grow and take deep roots in India. Also, one might add regular institutional innovations such as the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments (the panchayati raj amendments), which came into effect in 1993, and creation of new institutions such as the Central Information Commission which came into effect in 2005, has helped the consolidation of democracy.

The Modi government’s uneasiness with institutional autonomy is understandable because it weakens their authoritarian claims to power, especially as several institutions have begun to guard their turf against government interference. The latest in the line is the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), whose deputy governor Viral Acharya warned that undermining a central bank’s independence could be “potentially catastrophic”. This statement came in the context of the ongoing conflict between the government and the RBI with the former invoking never before used powers under the RBI Act that allow it to issue directions to the central bank governor on so-called matters of public interest.

There’s no question that Congress has played its part in weakening institutions. Indira Gandhi was responsible for centralisation, de-institutionalisation and politicisation of institutions including the bureaucracy, judiciary, parliament and the presidency. But this has not changed. Rather, the shadow of authoritarianism and fascism (with Indian characteristics) is hanging over our democracy like never before.

The autonomy of important institutions such as the Election Commission, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Central Vigilance Commission and he Union Public Service Commission has been compromised. The demand for a law to build a grand temple in Ayodhya even when the matter is sub-judice is a way to run down the Supreme Court as an institution. The environment in universities has been vitiated and dissent stifled to a point of choking critical inquiry.

Overall, the last four-and-a-half years have witnessed a steady hollowing of public institutions with leaders of the BJP and the government leading the charge against constitutionally mandated rights and against the autonomy of institutions to serve the interests of the ruling party and the supreme leader.

Zoya Hasan is professor emerita, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The Times of India
October 30, 2018

An attempt to commit suicide by a 22-year-old woman in Jodhpur, owing to coercion from a local panchayat to marry a man to whom she was betrothed when she was just three, is a pointer to multiple and contradictory realities in India. First there is the woman who overcame such archaic practices to study and become a chartered accountant. Then there is her family which consigned an infant to such a horrific custom but then recognised her potential and stood with her, despite alleged harassment from the panchayat.
We also have the panchayat, empowered by the Constitution of India to deliver governance at the grassroots, acting antithetical to individual freedoms. Then there is the police, who the victim had to reportedly approach thrice to file an FIR, and who failed subsequently to probe the case, forcing her to consume poison at a police station itself. In one case, we see multiple trajectories of India’s evolution: of progress and regression.
Every day in India we read and hear of women who achieve big things when they receive encouragement from families. But those women who do not receive such backing despite their potential become the untold story of India’s demographic disaster. Just as India has a liberal elite, it also has a conservative elite in its smaller towns and villages who rule by patriarchal diktats and kangaroo courts against young people wishing to escape rigid social norms. When courts warn against social morality and the need to uphold constitutional morality this is a textbook case of social fatwas against citizens.
Far more damning is the police collusion with such regressive elements, an indicator of their power in society. The Rajasthan government and high court must take note of this case and ensure exemplary action against those who forced this young woman into an attempt to end her life.

Read story: Engaged at three, chartered accountant ‘forced’ by panchayat to consume poision

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The Telegraph
12 October 2018


A contrived sense of difference perpetuates hatred, and hateful practices have trickled down into quasi-official policy
By The Editorial Board

The ‘trickle-down effect’, it seems, seldom works for the good things. Yet it operates most efficiently when the urge is to divide and hurt. A primary school in Wazirabad village in Delhi has been separating its Hindu and Muslim pupils into different sections. The school falls under the aegis of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, which has promised to look into the matter after being informed of this by a group of teachers. While the bright spot in the induced darkness is the fact that the teachers complained, it is an indication of the successful spread of fear that they wished to remain anonymous. The decision to segregate pupils, reportedly, came from the teacher-in-charge, C.B. Singh Sehrawat, who was installed in place of the previous principal in July. According to this gentleman — he has now been suspended — the reshuffling of sections was a management decision, routinely done to preserve peace, discipline and a good learning environment. Apparently children were ‘squabbling’, not exactly over religion but over food — that is, some were ‘vegetarian’.

The implications of Mr Sehrawat’s comments are clear. Dividing up religious communities on the basis of food assumes that vegetarian food is ‘pure’ and eaters of flesh ‘impure’. Surveys have shown that the strident insistence of the party in power at the Centre and its right-wing siblings that most of India is vegetarian is just a vociferous lie. The championing of vegetarianism is not only discriminatory from the point of view of faith, but is also casteist and region-specific. But it forms the basis of the drive against the trade in beef and leather, to the disadvantage of particular communities and castes. To indoctrinate children in primary school, even by indirect means such as classroom segregation, with this contrived sense of difference is to perpetuate hatred through future citizens. Such hate-based practices have ‘trickled down’ into quasi-official policy, too, where discrimination is more aggressive. Reportedly, applications for registration under the Special Marriage Act, needed for interfaith unions, are being routinely refused in Uttar Pradesh. One such couple had to get married in Calcutta because the registrar in UP had simply not allowed them to apply. The couple are now scared of their future as they return to work. Why are the founding principles of the republic being allowed to be subverted so easily?

Reports of hate-crime cases, many involving “cow vigilantes,” have spiked since Narendra Modi’s party came to power in 2014.
By Annie Gowen and Manas Sharma 
The Washington Post
Oct. 31, 2018

Alimuddin Ansari, a van driver, knew the risks. Smuggling beef in India, where the slaughter of cows is illegal in some states, is dangerous work, and Ansari eventually attracted the notice of Hindu extremists in Jharkhand.

One hot day in June 2017, they tracked him to a crowded market. When he arrived with a van full of beef, the lynch mob was waiting.

Reports of religious-based hate-crime cases have spiked in India since the pro-Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, according to new data from IndiaSpend, which tracks reports of violence in English-language media. The data shows that Muslims are overwhelmingly the victims and Hindus the perpetrators of the cases reported.

The government of India does not record religious-based hate crimes as separate offenses and so does not provide data on the category. The government does monitor incidents of communal violence — such as riots between religious communities — and has data that shows such incidents rose 28 percent between 2014 and 2017.
Some of the violence in the reported cases centers on cows because Hindus — nearly 80 percent of India’s population — believe the animals are sacred, and many states have laws that protect them from slaughter. Violent “cow vigilante” groups patrol the roads, beating and killing those suspected of smuggling beef.

Modi has said that state governments should punish these vigilantes and that his administration is committed to upholding the law, but critics say his party has emboldened Hindu extremists across the country. And the data supports that trend: More than half of the cases reported this year through October came from three states in northern India — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand — where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, enjoys strong support.

BJP spokesman Sudhanshu Trivedi said the government acts promptly if tensions occur between groups. He noted that India has suffered only “minor incidents” in the last four years, and there were no large-scale religious riots.

“Our objection is that the political class and a certain section of media want to highlight the [religious] angle in order to malign the image of government,” he said. “This is not happening for the first time. It has been happening for years.”


by Sanjib Baruah
Via: Indian Express
November 2, 2018

When it comes to trade relations with its immediate neighbours, India is strikingly different from other regionally-dominant major countries. Despite being the region’s largest and fastest growing economy, India absorbs as little as 1.7 per cent of Bangladesh’s exports, and accounts for only 14 per cent of its imports. Economist Ashok V Desai, who has pointed this out recently (The Telegraph, October 16), contrasts India’s trade profile with that of other regionally dominant countries such as the US vis-à-vis Canada and Mexico, the European Union vis-à-vis Poland and the Netherlands, and South Africa vis-à-vis Namibia and Mozambique. In order for India to achieve a similar trading position as those countries, Desai would like to see India take the initiative to free the movement of goods and people between India and Bangladesh. It not only makes eminent economic sense, he believes, it is quite practical. After all, India treats Bangladeshis as foreigners and has an “extremely costly infrastructure to prevent illegal immigration” from there. But Indian policy vis-à-vis another regional neighbour is not as economically dysfunctional: Nepalis are treated as “permissible aliens”.

How has the legal status of Nepalis and Bangladeshis come to be so different in post-colonial India? One would not necessarily have predicted this from past history. It hardly needs to be stated that the ties between present-day Bangladesh (eastern Bengal) and India in British colonial times were closer than those between India and Nepal. After all, both were part of the same political entity. Moreover, the district of Sylhet in Bangladesh was a part of the province of Assam; and for a brief period from 1905 to 1911, Eastern Bengal and Assam constituted a single province. But Nepal was not a part of British India. However, like the neighbouring Himalayan kingdoms of Bhutan and Sikkim, it was part of Britain’s informal empire.

During the British colonial period, migration across this entire region — whether from Bengal to Assam or from Nepal to India — was not only unrestricted, it was actively encouraged. Thus the ethnic Nepali population of Darjeeling district in West Bengal, Sikkim, parts of Northeast India as well as Bhutan is a legacy of the informal empire.

Decolonisation created a new territorial order in the region and it tried to bring a period of extraordinary mobility to an end. The illegality regimes created by newly-independent countries made the status of many people in the region — most importantly in India — suddenly more vulnerable.

There is nothing predetermined about the fact that the legal status of Nepalis in post-colonial India would be different from that of Bangladeshis. Ethnic Nepalis have had to struggle for this status; and in certain parts of India, they continue to feel quite vulnerable. Indeed, ethnic Nepali political mobilisation in the entire transnational region has been an effort to assert citizenship rights in response to a growing sense of post-colonial vulnerability. After all, nearly 1, 00,000 ethnic Nepalis of Bhutan or the Lhotshampas — southern Bhutanese in the Dzongkha language — were expelled from Bhutan in the 1990s.

Ethnic Nepalis form the social basis of the Gorkhaland movement in Darjeeling. Indeed, the use of the term Gorkha is itself a way of making claims to Indian citizenship, since it avoids confusion between citizens of Nepal and ethnic Nepali citizens of independent India inherent in the term Nepali.

But what are the chances of India making policies vis-à-vis Bangladeshis that are in India’s economic interest? The expectation that the NRC process would lead to a resolution of Assam’s long-festering citizenship crisis has now faded. The confrontational atmosphere building in Assam around the Citizenship Amendment Bill has eerie similarities with the Assam of the early 1980s. A group of Mumbai-based activists now describes the NRC updating process as the NRC crisis since it has led to 30 suicides so far.

Whatever else one can say about the Citizenship Amendment Bill, it is hard to argue that it will promote greater economic integration between India and Bangladesh. The distinction between Hindus and Muslims in India’s citizenship laws that the bill will introduce — albeit through the backdoor — would only make the situation worse for “Bangladeshis in Bangalore”, who in economist Desai’s words, “are treated as illegal immigrants and hounded”.

The proposed bill may turn out to be the beginning of a major shift in India’s refugee policy. Its closest international analogue may be the Cold-War era refugee policy of the US. From 1952 to 1980, the Cold War shaped the very definition of a refugee in US law. A refugee was defined as a person fleeing “from a Communist-dominated country or area”. Cubans became the biggest beneficiary of this policy because of the island nation’s proximity to the US.

Not unlike India’s Citizenship Amendment Bill, Cuban immigrants according to the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 could not be treated as illegal in the US. They qualified for US residency within a year of being in the US and were eligible for citizenship five years later, no matter how they entered the country. Since they were admitted for humanitarian reasons — allegedly for fleeing communist oppression — Cubans quickly became a significant immigrant group in the US. Within a decade after the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Cuban population in the US grew by six-fold.

If the proposed amendment to India’s citizenship law is passed, it could stimulate a similar wave of emigration of Hindus from Bangladesh, perhaps from Pakistan and Afghanistan as well. The proposed amendment will, of course, limit refugee status and the road to citizenship, to those already in the country. But the history of immigration from the communist countries to the US during the Cold War suggests that signals are always very important in pushing modern emigration.

Former BJP leader Jaswant Singh, known for his strategic thinking, once said that “in considering the totality of national security, economic security is the pivot: Its vitality, growth and dynamism becomes the principal security imperative”. If one follows his insight, Desai’s recommendations should be very high on the ruling party’s policy agenda. But unfortunately, while the BJP-led government proclaims a foreign policy of “neighbourhood first”, the ruling party is also presided over by a president who talks of Bangladeshis as “termites” that are “eating the grain that should go to our poor and they are taking our jobs”.

The major reason why India cannot make the “vitality, growth and dynamism” of its economy a priority in its policy-making has to do with the country’s internal weaknesses and the ideological predilections of its ruling elite. India does not have the domestic political constituencies to back the kind of policies that Desai proposes. Nor is there willingness on the part of the ruling elites to invest in creating potential constituencies to make its immigration and refugee policies compatible with India’s economic aspirations.

India in recent years has displayed an ample supply of national self-confidence, pride, and perhaps even some hubris. Unfortunately, there is no straight-line between self-confidence and good public policy.
The writer is Professor of Political Studies in Bard College, New York.

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by Ranabir Samaddar

The latest status report of the FRA says most claims were rejected by either gram sabhas or district committees
by Ishan Kukreti
Down To Earth
02 November 2018

Only 6.67 per cent forest land has been recognised till the end of August this year.  Credit: Getty Images

In the last decade, tribal communities across the country have filed 4.21 million claims to acquire forest land under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA). But, just 40 per cent or 1.74 million of them have been approved, says a status report compiled by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA).

The report, which has looked at data on land titles till August 31, says the highest number of claims were rejected or sent back either by the gram sabha or the district-level committee.

Under FRA, a claim, which is made by an individual or a community living in the forest, has to first go through the gram sabha, then a sub-divisional level committee and finally through the district-level committee. Once the district-level committee approves it, the title deeds are distributed.

Experts have criticised the performance of MoTA in implementing FRA. “Only 7,504.32 sq km of forest land has been recognised, while total forest land under occupation prior to 2005 was 1.12 lakh sq km. Only 6.67 per cent forest land has been recognised till the end of August this year against the countrywide potential of land rights recognition under FRA. MoTA has failed in executing its own responsibility for effective implementation of the Act, except issuance of the letters,” says Giri Rao of Vasundhara, a Bhubaneswar-based non-profit that works with tribal communities. 

He also says that the ministry has failed to provide segregated information of Community Rights and Community Forest Resources rights under Section 3 (1) and Section 3(1)(i). “There is no information on conversion of forest villages into revenue villages. On July 31 last year, Jaswantsinh Bhabhor, Minister of State, MoTA, told Parliament that there are 4,526 forest villages. Expect few, most of the states are yet to identify and follow the process as provided in the FRA to turn them into revenue villages,” he said.

Keywords: Forest Rights Act, Land rights, tribal rights, Union Ministry ofForests. India

G. Sampath
The Hindu
September 24, 2018

Bhim Sena supporters hold a photo of BR Ambedkar as they raise slogans demanding immediate release of their chief Chandrasekhar Azad during the Bahujan Sankalp Mahasabha, at Parliament Street in New Delhi on August 19, 2018.

Bhim Sena supporters hold a photo of BR Ambedkar as they raise slogans demanding immediate release of their chief Chandrasekhar Azad during the Bahujan Sankalp Mahasabha, at Parliament Street in New Delhi on August 19, 2018.   | Photo Credit: PTi
The story of the Bhim Army of western U.P. is a lens to understand the Dalit challenge to the Hindu Right

In a move that took many by surprise, the Uttar Pradesh government recently released Chandrasekhar Azad, the founder of the Bhim Army Bharat Ekta Mission, from jail. It was unexpected for many reasons. For starters, he had been arrested last year following clashes between Dalits and Thakurs in Saharanpur in western U.P. In November 2017, when the Allahabad High Court granted him bail, it observed that the charges against him seemed “politically motivated”.
Why now?

Notwithstanding the bail order, the U.P. government had invoked the National Security Act (NSA) to arrest him again. It kept him in jail — without trial and without any charge sheet being filed — for more than 15 months. He was not due for release until November 2. So why did the Yogi Adityanath government suddenly change its mind and release him two months early?

The official explanation is that the decision was taken in response to a request from Mr. Azad’s mother. But that doesn’t explain why her request remained unheeded for so many months.

It is likely that the real reasons involve a combination of two factors. First, the petition filed in the Supreme Court challenging his detention. Dalit groups have claimed that the petition was up for hearing soon, and that the government wanted to avoid a reprimand from the apex court, as it would have given the Opposition a fresh opening to paint the BJP as ‘anti-Dalit’.

The other reason is that the Dalits in U.P. have been getting increasingly restive over Mr. Azad’s continued incarceration. The campaign for his release was becoming a tool for uniting Dalits across the country. A national-level mobilisation of Dalits for the release of an Ambedkarite leader jailed by a BJP government would not only bust the claims of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of upholding B.R. Ambedkar’s legacy but also put Dalit leaders within the Sangh Parivar under immense pressure, as it indeed already has. Besides, Dalit unity and political awareness were precisely what Mr. Azad had been working towards, and continuing to keep him in jail made no sense if the very fact of his detention was catalysing the achievement of these objectives.

In other words, to borrow a metaphor from chess, the Bhim Army chief’s early release was what one might call a ‘forced move’. It not only represents a moral victory for the Dalit community but is also part of a larger pattern of Dalit assertion that is gathering steam across the country. It is a phenomenon that the ruling dispensation views as a threat, but it is a threat to which it has no coherent response. Its inability to come up with one is not accidental. It is unable to do so because this threat is a manifestation of the contradiction at the heart of their political project, the creation of a Hindu Rashtra.
Different from before

The singular contradiction that is steadily unravelling the Hindutva project even as it seems to be making progress is the same element that is fuelling Dalit assertion in India today: caste society. Ironically, it was the demon of caste that necessitated the ideology of Hindutva in the first place. It is an ideology that seeks to bury this demon by propping up another in its place: the demon of hatred towards the Other. While the default Other of Hindutva is the Muslim, the communal demon is broad-minded enough to consider other minorities as well on a need-to-hate basis.

Rendering the fault lines of caste invisible in a fog of communal paranoia has only one objective: the creation of a nation of Hindus. This brings us to the second contradiction in the Hindutva project: a nation, by definition, is a community of (notional) equals. But a community whose nationhood is predicated solely on the religious and cultural identity of being Hindu can never be a community of equals, for as Ambedkar elucidates with breathtaking clarity in Annihilation of Caste, Hindu religious belief and cultural practice are marked by the graded inequality of caste at their very core.

This is the kernel of Ambedkarite insight that the Bhim Army has been planting in young Dalit minds through its hundreds of tuition centres in western U.P. Much like its founder, who used to be a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the Bhim Army’s ranks are filled with people who have dallied with the Hindu Right. Their disillusionment with the Sangh Parivar was almost always triggered by the refusal of their saffron brothers to back them in inter-caste clashes. This proved to be a moment of truth that set in sharp relief the moral and other kinds of support that they had received when their antagonists happened to be a religious minority instead of upper-caste Hindus. In other words, their experience in the Parivar had primed them into ideal subjects ready to imbibe what the Bhim Army had to say.

The Bhim Army, emblematic of the current phase of Dalit assertion, is different from earlier mobilisations in one important respect — its recognition that social unity is more important than political unity. So much so that loyalty to the Dalit community precedes every other affiliation, including that to political parties.

If the current wave of Dalit assertion, which seems to have taken to heart Ambedkar’s slogan of “Educate, Agitate, Organise”, were to succeed in its project of invoking Dalit pride as a common factor to knit the thousands of Dalit-Bahujan sub-castes across the country into a singular political community, it could mark the beginning of the end for the Hindu Right, whose ‘foot-soldiers’, in many cases of targeted communal violence, have historically been Dalits. The very condition of possibility for a Hindu Rashtra requires that Scheduled Caste communities remain invested in the social identity proffered by their respective sub-castes while continuing to identify politically as Hindus. Activists or outfits focussed on educating Dalits and propagating an Ambedkarite self-respect are naturally inimical to this project.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the ruling dispensation is panicking at the spread of a Dalit political consciousness. And panic is not the best frame of mind in which to initiate counter-measures. So, first came a judicial manoeuvre to dilute the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act — a move that backfired. It backfired so badly that the Union Cabinet scrambled to quickly pass an amendment nullifying the Supreme Court judgment.

Next was the arrest of five social activists for their alleged involvement with the Bhima-Koregaon event on January 1, 2018, an annual programme whose very objective is to celebrate Dalit pride. The term used by the police to describe the detainees, “urban naxals”, is already gaining currency among Dalits as the state’s vindictive label for people who fight for Dalit empowerment.
Clues in nomenclature

And most recently, the Central government, citing a High Court order, issued an advisory asking the media to stop using the word ‘Dalit’ altogether and stick to the term ‘Scheduled Caste’. While it remains unclear why a self-proclaimed ‘pro-Dalit’ regime would want to eliminate the very term from usage, the move has managed to further alienate Dalits from the BJP.

Interestingly, the first thing Mr. Azad said after being released is that he would work hard to ensure the BJP’s defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. He also squelched any speculation that he might serve as a counter-weight to Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, by swearing loyalty to her. What remains to be seen is whether this rare convergence of Dalit political assertion and social unity acquires a fully pan-Indian character, and how it plays out in the electoral arena.

Nov 02, 2018

India FP Staff 

Continuing with its crackdown on Non-governmental organisations which receive foreign funding, the central government has asked states and Union territories to "monitor" and take "urgent action" against organisations which are "involved in anti-national activities".

Stating that it has noticed "some NGOs and organisations are involved in anti-national activities", the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in an advisory urged all states/Union territories to instruct the police to "monitor the activities and funding of such NGOs and other organisations," the Indian Express reported.

The directive is a result of the government's rising concern over the role of NGOs in "anti-national" and "anti-development" activities. Citing the protest at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu in May which led to the loss of 11 lives, the MHA also said that involvement of NGOs in such incidents will also be discussed during the DGP-IGP conference in December.

Most recently, the role of a Leftist organisation also came under the scanner in the Bhima Koregaon violence in January.

Foreign funding of NGOs has been a matter of concern for the BJP-led NDA as well as the previous Congress-led UPA governments, but the Modi government has received a lot of criticism for its actions especially after NGOs of international reputation such as Greenpeace, Ford Foundation as well as those involved in human rights violations cases came on the line of fire.

Between 2011 and 2017, the government cancelled the licence of 18,868 NGOs for violation of various provisions of FCRA, 2010, and Foreign Contribution (Regulation) rules, 2011, Minister of State Kiren Rijiju had told the Parliament in December 2017. In 2017 alone, the Home Ministry cancelled registration of 4,842 NGOs for failing to submit annual returns in compliance with the FCRA rules, Rijiju had said, according to IANS.

In July this year, in a closed-door, high-level meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked top security officials to work with the state police to monitor how NGOs and groups suspected to be involved in anti-national activities are funded. Sources had then said that the MHA will soon engage with states to deal with the matter.

Most recently, ED officials raided the India office of Amnesty International Amnesty International in Bengaluru for remittances from abroad allegedly in violation of FDI guidelines. As Firstpost had reported, Amnesty's Indian arm came under the scanner for alleged violation of Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) after security agencies learnt to have detected that Amnesty International (UK) has been remitting huge amount of foreign contribution through its four Indian entities, which did not have either license or prior permission to receive foreign contributions.

The security agencies alleged that modus operandi of using FDI route to funnel the foreign fund was carried out in a bid to evade the FCRA. The human rights watchdog, however, alleged that the government is instilling fear among civil society organisations by conducting such raids. "...We reiterate, our structure is compliant with Indian laws," Amnesty India said in a tweet.

The government has also announced several steps to monitor foreign funding received by NGOs. In June this year, the Centre launched a web-based analytical tool to closely monitor the flow and utilisation of foreign contributions received by different organisations registered or permitted under the FCRA. The tool conducts big data mining and data exploration, and is integrated with the bank accounts of FCRA-registered entities through the Public Financial Management System for updation of transactional data on a real-time basis.

In 2017, the Union Home Minister had directed that existing NGOs, registered under the FCRA, and those which were seeking registration or prior permission or accepting foreign contributions, were required to register with the DARPAN portal.

With inputs from IANS

Updated Date: Nov 02, 2018 16:12 PM

18. Reviews
Mogallan Bharti
The Hindu
October 27, 2018
A moving document of Dalit struggles in rural Bihar

Sociologist Anand Chakravarti’s work, Is this Azaadi? — Everyday Lives of Dalit Agricultural Labourers in a Bihar Village, besides being a documentation of Dalit struggles in rural Bihar, is a personal journey of the author committed to understand the depth of India’s social hierarchy and how it influences the political economy.

The work is a moving document of Dalit lives in Muktidih village in southwest Bihar and underlines the presence of ubiquitous ‘structural conditions’ that keeps the landlessness among the lower castes unscathed, despite years of India’s independence and the subsequent constitutional safeguards in place for them.

The book traverses through the lives of the most subjugated of India’s people and highlights their living conditions, that ‘fall below’ the ‘threshold of well-being’ — an obvious lived reality of India’s Dalits, i.e. lack of basic access to livelihood, health, education and a life of dignity.

The study analyses the lives of Dalit agricultural labourers in two parts, following the author's field experience from 2001 till 2015 in a sporadic manner.

The core of the research lies in the poignant description of the lived reality of Dalit landless agricultural labourers. Their food habits, clothing, access to health and housing is a sobering read for those tantalised by India’s development success and champions of the politics of social justice.

The pervasive wretchedness of Dalits reminds us of Joothan by Omprakash Valmiki. Just as Valmiki illustrates the everyday horrors faced by a semi-urban Dalit household, Chakravarti’s works details the ordeals of Dalit labourers stuck in endless debt, compelling them to live a life devoid of dignity.

He underscores the significance of education among the poor, as it brings a possible decent employment and hence an opportunity to come out of their economic destitution, and emphasises the factors responsible for the prevalence of an ‘education deficit’ among Dalit labourers of Muktidih.

However, the otherwise meticulous dossier of everyday hardships misses the woods for the trees when it locates Dalits’ vulnerability in the failure of the state in upholding constitutional guidelines.

Holding the state responsible for the miseries of Dalits, while overtly true, is rather simplistic and evades from the real subject of caste Hindus’ grip on the state apparatus deployed to maintain caste hierarchies.

It is on this aspect of India’s eternal social reality of graded caste hierarchy that this excellent work appears wanting, as it lacks the analysis of Brahmanism in perpetuating social inequalities.

However, it is an incisive micro study of rural Bihar that enables one’s understanding of the region’s caste dynamics and how it affects the socio-political reality.

Is this Azaadi?; Anand Chakravarti, Tulika Books, ₹750.

by Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
November 2, 2018

Declaring not just sympathy but outright admiration for a fascist who has threatened violence against his leftist political opponents, celebrated the use of torture, and promised to give the police free rein to murder at will, US national security adviser John Bolton on Thursday praised Brazil’s newly elected strongman President Jair Bolsonaro as a “like-minded” partner who shares the Trump administration’s commitment to so-called “free market principles.”

“The recent elections of like-minded leaders in key countries, including Ivan Duque in Colombia, and last weekend Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, are positive signs for the future of the region, and demonstrate a growing regional commitment to free-market principles, and open, transparent, and accountable governance,” Bolton said during a speech at Miami-Dade College.

“[T]oday, in this hemisphere, we are also confronted once again with the destructive forces of oppression, socialism, totalitarianism,” Bolton added.

But Bolton went on to proclaim that with the rise of Bolsonaro, “the Troika of Tyranny in this hemisphere — Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua — has finally met its match,” coining a phrase that immediately drew comparisons to former President George W. Bush’s infamous “Axis of Evil” line, which was used repeatedly to justify America’s disastrous invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Vox’s Alex Ward described Bolton’s remarks as a “modern-day ‘Axis of Evil’ speech.”

Intensifying fears that the Trump administration could be considering military action against Latin American nations it has deemed enemies, Bolton announced that the White House plans to take “direct action against” Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua “to defend the rule of law, liberty, and basic human decency in our region.”

Shortly after celebrating the ascent of Bolsonaro — whose promise to pry open Brazilian markets, accelerate the corporate plunder of the Amazon rainforest, and privatize his nation’s public services has also been met with unabashed giddiness by the global business community — Bolton righteously proclaimed that the United States “will not reward firing squads, torturers, and murderers,” despite its long and gruesome history of doing precisely that.

Completely ignoring Bolsonaro’s enthusiastic praise of Brazil’s 21-year military dictatorship — which came to power after a US-backed coup in 1964 — Bolton concluded that America will not “appease dictators and despots near our shores in this hemisphere.”

While Bolton’s effusive praise for Bolsonaro was met with revulsion by analysts and commentators, one former State Department official noted that his remarks are hardly cause for surprise.

“It is not surprising that Bolton and the US government would see the president-elect of Brazil as an ally,” Jana Nelson, a Brazil desk officer at the State Department from 2010 to 2015, told Vox. “Jair Bolsonaro is an open admirer of Trump.”

Andres Schipani and Joe Leahy
Financial Times
November 1, 2018

For Brazil’s new finance minister Paulo Guedes, the government of far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro could represent a “Pinochet” moment for Latin America’s largest economy.  

Mr Bolsonaro, who won elections last Sunday, ending almost 15 years of leftwing rule, will take over a moribund economy burdened by a bloated public sector when he assumes office on January 1.  

Chile’s late dictator General Augusto Pinochet came to power in Chile in 1973 after overthrowing socialist president Salvador Allende in a military coup, at a difficult time for the economy, when the country was suffering high inflation and fiscal deficits.  

The Chilean dictator’s solution was a dose of Milton Friedman-style free market economics from University of Chicago-trained academics. Mr Bolsonaro is considering the same medicine in the form of Mr Guedes, who has a doctorate from Chicago and taught at the University of Chile in 1980 when Pinochet was in power.  

“The Chicago boys saved Chile, fixed Chile, fixed the mess,” Mr Guedes told the Financial Times during a wide-ranging five-hour interview at his beachside office in Rio de Janeiro.  

If Mr Bolsonaro, known for his nostalgia for Brazil’s military dictatorship, represents for many voters an extreme but necessary solution to end the country’s long flirtation with the left, Mr Guedes is his counterpart in the world of economics and finance.  

Under Workers’ party governments from 2002, Brazil’s public sector spent as much as a European social welfare state without the same quality of services. Interest rates are among the highest in the world, public debt is soaring, corruption is endemic and the economy is still struggling to emerge from years of recession.  

For supporters of Mr Bolsonaro, the 69-year-old Mr Guedes’ uncompromisingly free market view of the world is the only answer. “Liberals know how to do it,” Mr Guedes once said.  

The gruff-speaking investor from Rio de Janeiro was hitherto little known outside academic and business circles. After returning from Chile in the early 1980s, he co-founded Banco Pactual in 1983, which later became BTG Pactual, once Brazil’s biggest homegrown independent investment banks. He then joined asset-management firm JGP before running his own investment fund Bozano Investimentos.  

Mr Guedes sourly recollected that on his return from Chile in the 1980s, he was “discriminated against because of my association with Chicago and Pinochet. I was attacked as a radical liberal”.  

One senior Brazilian economist who knows Mr Guedes said fellow academics never respected him, seeing him as a “gambler” from the banking world.  

However, former Brazilian central bank governor Carlos Langoni, who was Mr Guedes’ professor at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV), the Brazilian academic institution and think-tank, said he was the top student of his class. “We have for the first time in many, many years someone with the right vision for Brazil,” Mr Langoni said.  

Like the Pinochet plan, Mr Guedes — who first considered joining Mr Bolsonaro’s campaign only last year — has repeatedly said his priority is to end Brazil’s 7 per cent fiscal deficit through privatisations of the country’s 147 state-owned enterprises. Latin America’s largest economy wastes the equivalent of a Marshall Plan each year in servicing its huge debt, he said.  

“There are no sacred cows,” he said of the privatisations. The challenge will be to convince Mr Bolsonaro, who analysts believe is a nationalist at heart and has already ruled out the full sales of important state-owned companies such as oil producer Petrobras, electricity generator Eletrobras and state lender Banco do Brasil.  

Without those, warned Zeina Latif, chief economist at brokerage XP Investimentos, “talking about privatisations gets complicated”. Investors are far less interested in the smaller, less profitable companies.  

Mr Guedes’ other plans include a radical simplification of Brazil’s tax system, one of the world’s most convoluted, and reforming the country’s costly pension system, which is threatening to overwhelm the budget.  

Some fear the irascible Mr Guedes is ill-suited to public life. On Sunday, pressed by an Argentine reporter about Brazil’s role in the regional trading bloc, Mercosur, he lost his temper: “You see there’s a style that matches that of the president, because we speak the truth. We’re not worried about pleasing you.”  

He later apologised. But Rodrigo Constantino, an economist, who worked under him and considers him a mentor said it was “inevitable there will be some kind of heavy friction” between the minister and his boss, Mr Bolsonaro.  

Oliver Stuenkel, a professor at FGV, said Mr Guedes would retain one “powerful weapon” that he could use to impose his will: the right to resign. “He knows that the minute he resigns, markets will tank big time,” he said.  

The hope will be that he fares better than Pinochet’s Chicago boys. While they shrank the fiscal deficit, liberalised trade and privatised state companies, they established a fixed exchange rate that went bust after the region’s debt crisis of 1982.  

A much-lauded reform to introduce a private pension system is also today facing problems, with retirees complaining that payments are too small.  

But Mr Guedes’ supporters are optimistic. “This is the right timing to do things,” said Mr Langoni. “There is now a unique chance to implement this liberal shock because of the fiscal price of the public sector in Brazil.”  

As for Mr Guedes himself, he referred to the slogan emblazoned on Brazil's flag, Order and Progress. “Order is meeting progress — order is Bolsonaro, progress are the liberal ideas,” he said.

written by Diego Bianchi
Il Manifesto
October 30, 2018

Interview. ‘The 5 Star Movement is nothing at all. The Italians want this kind of formless, generic thing, and they like to be told stories. With the Lega, they are seeking an evil form of identity. That’s what Salvini is about. Di Maio doesn’t stand for anything bad, he just doesn’t stand for anything.’

On Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, on Propaganda Live, a program on the Italian network La7, Diego Bianchi broadcast his interview with Rossana Rossanda, a co-founder of il manifesto. The full-length show can be found here. Rossanda’s interview starts around the 1:55 mark. We publish the transcript below, with the generous permission of the author of the interview.

In the Sunday edition of il manifesto, we published a second article by Rossanda, after her piece on abortion of a few days earlier.

You’ve just returned from France, and you told me you didn’t think you’d find Italy in such a condition. What did you mean by that?

I have been away from Italy for 15 years, and I thought I’d find a country in economic trouble, at a political low point—but not a country that has slipped to the point where it is now, with this constant fighting. No one seems acutely aware of the problem of explaining just how we got to this point, how it’s possible that today we hear things being said out loud that seemed to be unthinkable after the Second World War. The left, which has lost millions of votes, doesn’t seem to be asking itself about this—or, if it is, it’s not telling us.

Before, it used to ponder such questions.

Of course. Nowadays, I don’t know if the Democratic Party, or whatever it’s called nowadays, would be able to organize a Congress.

Those beautiful Congresses we had once.

They weren’t “beautiful.” They were even a bit tedious. But they were addressing the problem of saying where we are, what is happening on a global scale and on the scale of Italy, and what we are proposing. These are basic things, because a political force has to ask itself about what kind of world it exists in, what kind of country it’s in, and what it would do if it were in government.

Let’s make a little Congress here, just by ourselves. Have you found an answer, a reason for what is happening? On an international scale, for example, the far right is winning in Brazil. [Jair Bolsonaro was elected president on Sunday.]

It’s happening everywhere. One hypothesis is that this is because of the disappointment that has come from the left, both in places where it got to govern and in places where it didn’t. There is disappointment now. The workers are no longer voting.

They aren’t voting left anymore?

They aren’t voting anymore. The left has lost its electorate.

Are you optimistic about anything in the short term?

No. The left of the Democratic Party has not actually proposed anything very different from what the right is doing, so why should it keep its electorate?

Are you referring to something in particular?

Immigration is a unique issue because it is a new phenomenon. Of course, it was unimaginable before that one could pass something like Salvini’s latest decree, and even have it signed by the President of the Republic. The same rights that we want for ourselves, we can’t grant them to migrants. It’s just unbearable, don’t you think?

This is one of the reasons why the Democratic Party has been criticized from the left.

But what left? The left is not being represented. Indeed, the largest party is the party of non-voters. Many on the left abstained from voting, as they didn’t find any political option that could persuade them. I think it’s a mistake to abstain. When you don’t have representation, you have to work to rebuild it.

And what do you think?

I am a leftist. I was expelled from the Communist Party because I was too far left. A mild-mannered person like me was considered an extremist. I think nowadays even Bergoglio would be less likely to excommunicate me.

It was just today that Bergoglio started pontificating about abortion.

It’s a delicate issue. Better him than the Verona cabal that voted against abortion. I’d like an Italian politician who said the same things as the Pope, for example on migrants. If Minniti were a bishop, Bergoglio would have had him caned.

There is much talk about this right-wing government, about the return of fascism, of racism. I’m asking you, as you lived through fascism.

I’m not going to say it’s like we’re back in the ‘30s. I’m worried, although I don’t think the country would accept an explicit return to fascism. There are the seeds planted by half a century of democracy. But Salvini’s ridiculous “Italians First” is something intolerable. Why “Italians first”? What have they really done better than others? What does that have to do with the ideas that have made Italy what it is? The fact that the Italian left didn’t have the courage to vote for the ius soli is really unbearable. It’s not enough to be born here to be Italian? What would be enough then? I don’t want to go looking, I’m sure I’d find someone talking about Aryan and non-Aryan faces. I smell something rotten here—something very old.

You were in charge of the Communist Party’s cultural politics. Who gave you this role?


And what do you think, is there any cultural politics nowadays?

I don’t think so. Culture means values, the things you fight for. Nowadays, the Democratic Party isn’t fighting anymore, not even for equality for migrants. I have not seen the PD in the lead, or even as an ally, on women’s issues. Law 194 was passed in the ‘70s. Today, maybe they wouldn’t even vote for it.

So, being a figure from the last century can become something of a boast?

Yes, absolutely. I am from the 20th century, and I’ll defend it. It was the first century in which the people spoke out everywhere. And where they managed to do this, they did so with the support of the left.

The question that many are asking themselves, including on the left, is how to communicate. Do you use social media?

No. Zero. I have always been poor, but I wouldn’t help Zuckerberg make even 50 cents more. It’s largely because of him that we are in the current situation.

But these communication tools exist now—even, and especially, in politics.

I don’t know if this is real communication. Communicating means talking to someone you consider to have the same intrinsic dignity as you.

How can one appeal to reason and not just to appetite? The left seems to be tone deaf when it comes to either. Is it not able to express itself, or does it not know what to say?

It’s because it no longer believes. It’s not able to. If the left speaks the language of the right—or what passes for the right nowadays—it can’t get the votes of the workers. The left has to speak to the weakest part of Italy, which has the least powerful voice. On the other hand, voting for something like the Jobs Act weakens the workers’ defenses even more. You can keep calling it a contract with increasing protections, but the truth is that it has hurt the working class.

What do you think about the 5 Star Movement?

The 5 Star Movement is nothing at all. The Italians want this kind of formless, generic thing, and they like to be told stories. With the Lega, they are seeking an evil form of identity. That’s what Salvini is about. Di Maio doesn’t stand for anything bad, he just doesn’t stand for anything.

Thank you, comrade Rossanda.

Dear comrade… of course, it’s difficult to use this word nowadays. They don’t understand the meaning we gave to it. It’s a beautiful word, and it describes a beautiful relationship between comrades. It’s something similar to being friends, but at the same time different. ‘Friends’ is something more intimate, while ‘comrades’ also includes the public and social projection of a relationship where you might not be friends, but you want to work together. And this is important, in my opinion.

Diego Bianchi

Originally published in Italian on October 28, 2018


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