South Asia Citizens Wire | November 29 - December 2, 2008 | Dispatch
No. 2587 - Year 11 running
 Democracy in the US and Sri Lanka (Rohini Hensman)
+ Sri Lanka's 'White Van Syndrome' (Roland Buerk)
 Bangladesh: Secular forces must organise against bigots (New Age)
+ Islamists arrested for attacking sculptures seen as idols
 India: Mumbai bloodbath - a joint statement by concerned citizens
of Pakistan and India
 India/Pakistan: Pleas For Sanity as Sabres Rattle Over Mumbai
Mayhem (Beena Sarwar)
 India: What They Hate About Mumbai (Suketu Mehta)
 India: Mumbai rekindles debate about Muslims, their beard and so
on (Jawed Naqvi)
 India: Tolerating Terrorism (Ram Puniyani)
(i) Panel 'Accounting for Justice' in Kashmir (New York, 2 December
(ii) Public Forum : Orissa - Another Hindutva Laboratory? (London, 5
(iii) Say No To Terror! Say No To Violence!" - Human Chain" in South
Mumbai, (Bombay, 10 December, 2008)
 Sri Lanka:
DEMOCRACY IN THE US AND SRI LANKA
by Rohini Hensman
o o o
SRI LANKA'S 'WHITE VAN SYNDROME'
by Roland Buerk
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents
The Sri Lankan government claims to be on the verge of delivering a
knockout blow to the Tamil Tigers. But in its pursuit of victory, has
the government lost the chance of lasting peace?
New Age, December 1, 2008
SECULAR FORCES MUST ORGANISE AGAINST BIGOTS
THE attempted destruction of the Balaka sculpture in Dhaka’s
Dilkhusha area on Saturday night by a radical Islamist group adds to
concerns over the growing impunity with which religious extremists
are attacking political, cultural and social freedoms in our society.
Just over a month ago, a group of bigots tore down a monument to
commemorate mystic and folk philosopher Lalon Shah, claiming that
representations of living beings is forbidden in their medieval
interpretation of Islam. The following day, the military-controlled
interim government decided to remove the monument that it itself had
commissioned. The government has refused to reverse its decision
since, despite widespread popular demands for restoration of the
sculpture. Its refusal to stand up to religious bigotry may very well
have emboldened the obscurantist forces to launch an attack on
another sculpture in the city.
The law-enforcement agencies did act to prevent the destruction of
the Balaka sculpture and some of the perpetrators were arrested, so
reported the national media on Sunday. However, the interim
government’s apparent policy of political religious hardliners,
accentuated earlier this year by its backtracking on the women’s
development policy in the face of week after week of protests by
obscurantist forces and more recently by its inaction with regard to
the assault on a freedom-fighter by some Jamaat-e-Islami activists at
a so-called freedom fighters’ convention, makes this a case of too
little too late. The incumbents’ tendency to use kid gloves to deal
with the religious hardliners was also apparent in the immunity that
the figureheads of the Jamaat-e-Islami have enjoyed during the
corruption investigations that the government has carried out in the
past two years.
The destruction of the Baul monument and the latest attack on the
Balaka monument could be signs that the Islamist radicals may be
convinced of their political impunity. While the targets are cultural
representations of Bengali history and tradition, the ultimate aim of
the bigots seems to be to invade the political sphere and block the
freedoms that a secular society inherently enjoys. This latest
incident should be a wake-up call for all democratic and secular
sections of society to rally in a broad resistance of the medieval
dogma that these radicals preach. At the heart of this resistance
must be a political movement to protect democratic freedoms, bringing
to bear popular pressure on the major political parties to either
embrace secular thinking or be rejected by the masses.
o o o
The Daily Star
December 01, 2008
ISLAMISTS ARRESTED FOR ATTACKING SCULPTURES SEEN AS IDOLS
Dhaka: Police in Dhaka arrested eight Islamists after they attacked a
sculpture depicting a group of white storks, in a continuing campaign
against statues and artwork they say are forbidden by Islam.
"We detained eight members of a fanatic Islamist group for damaging
the sculptures at Dhaka's Motijheel commercial area around midnight
on Saturday," police officer Fazlul Haq told Reuters on Sunday.
Witnesses said nearly 400 Ulama Anjumane Al Baiyanat activists
gathered around the sculptures with shovels and hammers, chanting
slogans calling for the demolition of all stoneworks, which some
hardliners consider to be idols.
Clash with police
First they tried to pull down the 13-metre high sculptures by putting
ropes around the necks of the storks. Unable to do this, the group
attacked the base with hammers and other tools, the witnesses told
reporters, before clashing with police trying to disperse them.
Various Islamist groups, including the Al Baiyanat, have been
vandalising sculptures in Muslim-majority Bangladesh in recent months.
They destroyed a huge statue of mystic poet Lalon Shah outside the
Dhaka international airport in October, triggering a national protest.
"These are attacks on Bengali culture and a state of impunity has
encouraged them to carry out such acts," said Mrinal Haque, who
sculpted both Lalon and the storks.
 Pakistan / India:
This Joint Statement is being released to the press simultaneously in
Pakistan and India today, 29th November 2008.
We are deeply shocked and horrified at the bloody mayhem in Mumbai,
which has claimed more than a hundred and twenty five lives and
caused grievous injuries to several hundred people, besides sending a
wave of panic and terror across South Asia and beyond. We convey our
profound feelings of sorrow and sympathies to the grieving families
of the unfortunate victims of this heinous crime and express our
solidarity with them.
As usual, all sorts of speculations are circulating about the
identity of the perpetrators of this act of barbarism. The truth
about who are directly involved in this brutal incident and who could
be the culprits behind the scene is yet to come out and we do not
wish to indulge in any guesswork or blame game at this point.
However, one is intrigued at its timing. Can it be termed a
coincidence that it has happened on the day the Home Secretaries of
the two countries concluded their talks in Islamabad and announced
several concrete steps to move forward in the peace process, such as
the opening of several land routes for trade – Kargil, Wagah-Attari,
Khokhropar etc –, relaxation in the visa regime, a soft and liberal
policy on the issue of release of prisoners and joint efforts to
fight terrorism? Again, is it just a coincidence that on this fateful
day the Foreign Minister of Pakistan was in the Indian capital
holding very useful and productive talks with his Indian
counterpart? One thing looks crystal clear. The enemies of peace and
friendship between the two countries, whatever be the label under
which they operate, are un-nerved by these healthy developments and
are hell bent on torpedoing them.
We are of the considered opinion that the continued absence of peace
in South Asia - peace between and within states - particularly in
relation to India and Pakistan, is one of the root causes of most of
the miseries the people of the region are made to endure. It is the
major reason why our abundantly resource-rich subcontinent is
wallowing in poverty, unemployment, disease, and ignorance and why
militarism, religious and sectarian violence and political, economic
and social injustice are eating into the very vitals of our
societies, even after more than six decades of independence from
At this moment of unmitigated tragedy, the first thing we call upon
the Governments of India and Pakistan to do is to acknowledge the
fact that the overwhelming majority of the people of India and
Pakistan ardently desire peace and, therefore, the peace process must
be pursued with redoubled speed and determination on both sides. The
sooner the ruling establishments of India and Pakistan acknowledge
this fact and push ahead with concrete steps towards lasting peace
and harmony in the subcontinent, the better it will be not only for
the people of our two countries but also for the whole of South Asia
and the world. While the immediate responsibility for unmasking the
culprits of Mumbai and taking them to task surely rests with the
Government of India, all of us in South Asia have an obligation to
join hands and go into the root causes of why and how such forces of
evil are motivated and emboldened to resort to such acts of anti-
It is extremely important to remind the leaderships of Pakistan and
India that issuing statements and signing agreements and
declarations will have meaning only when they are translated into
action and implemented honestly, in letter and spirit and without any
further loss of time. It assumes added urgency in the prevailing
conditions in South Asia, with the possibility that so many different
forces prone to religious, sectarian and other forms of intolerance
and violence may be looking for ways to arm themselves with more and
more sophisticated weapons of mass murder and destruction. The
bloodbath in Mumbai must open the eyes of our governments, if it has
not already happened.
We urge upon the governments of India and Pakistan to immediately
take the following steps:
1. Cessation of all hostile propaganda against each other;
2. Joint action to curb religious extremism of all shades in both
3. Continue and intensify normalization of relations and peaceful
resolution of all conflicts between the two countries;
4. Facilitation of trade and cooperation between the two
countries and in all of South Asia. We welcome the fact that the
Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawlakot borders have been opened
for trade and that the opening of the road between Kargil and Skardu
is in the pipeline.
5. Immediate abolition of the current practice of issuing city-
specific and police reporting visa and issue country-valid visa
without restrictions at arrival point, simultaneously initiating
necessary steps to introduce as early as possible a visa-free travel
regime, to encourage friendship between the peoples of both countries;
6. Declaration by India and Pakistan of No First Use of atomic
7. Concrete measures towards making South Asia nuclear-free;
8. Radical reduction in military spending and end to militarisation.
1. Mr. Iqbal Haider, Co-Chairman, Human Rights Commission
Pakistan and former federal Minister of Pakistan
2. Dr. Tipu Sultan, President, Pakistan Doctors for Peace &
3. Dr. Tariq Sohail, Dean, Jinnah Medical & Dental University,
4. Dr. A. H. Nayyar, President, Pakistan Peace Coalition, Islamabad
5. Justice (Retd) Rasheed A. Razvi, President, Sindh High Court
6. Mr. B.M.Kutty, Secretary General, Pakistan Peace Coalition,
7. Mr. Karamat Ali, Director, PILER, Karachi, Founding member,
8. Mr. Fareed Awan, General Secretary, Pakistan Workers
9. Mr. Muhammad Ali Shah, Chairman, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum,
10. Mr. Zulfiqar Halepoto, Secretary, Sindh Democratic Front,
11. Professor Dr. Sarfraz Khan, Area Studies Centre ( Central
Asia), Peshawar University
12. Syed Khadim Ali Shah, Former Member National Assembly, Mirpur
13. Mr. Muhammad Tahseen, Director, South Asia Partnership (PAK),
14. Mrs. Saleha Athar, Network for Women’s Rights, Karachi
15. Ms. Sheema Kermani, Tehreek-e-Niswan, Karachi
16. Ms. Saeeda Diep, President, Institute of Secular Studies, Lahore
17. Dr. Aly Ercelan, Pakistan Labour Trust, Karachi
18. Mr. Suleiman G. Abro, Director, Sindh Agricultural & Forestry
Workers Organisation, Hyderabad
19. Mr. Sharafat Ali, PILER, Karachi
20. Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, PILER, Karachi
21. Mr. Ayub Qureshi, Information Secretary, Pakistan Trade Union
22. Ms. Sheen Farrukh, Director, Interpress Communication
23. Mr. Zafar Malik, PIPFPD, Lahore
24. Mr. Adam Malik, Action-Aid Pakistan, Karachi
25. Mr. Qamarul Hasan, International Union of Food Workers (IUF),
26. Prof. Muhammad Nauman, NED University, Karachi
27. Mr. Mirza Maqsood, General Secretary, Mazdoor Mahaz-e-Amal
28. Ms. Shaista Bukhari, Women Rights Association, Multan
1. Kuldip Nayar, journalist, former Indian High Commissioner,
2. S P Shukla, retired Finance Secretary, former Member, Planning
3. PEACE MUMBAI network of 15 organisations, Mumbai
4. Seema Mustafa, Journalist, Delhi
5. Manisha Gupte, MASUM, Pune
6. Dr. Ramesh Awasthi, PUCL, Maharashtra
7. Jatin Desai, journalist, Mumbai
8. Prof. Ritu Dewan, University of Mumbai
9. Prabir Purkayashta, DSF, Delhi
10. Prof. Pushpa Bhave , Mumbai
11. Paromita Vohra, filmmaker, Mumbai
12. Achin Vanaik, CNDP, Delhi
13. Meena Menon, Focus on the Global South, Mumbai
14. Romar Correa Professor of Economics, University of Mumbai
15. Anjum Rajabally, film writer, Mumbai
16. Anand Patwardhan, filmmaker, Mumbai
17. Kamla Bhasin, SANGAT, Delhi
18. Dr. Padmini Swaminathan, MIDS, Chennai
19. Sumit Bali, CEO, Kotak Mahindra Prime Limited
20. Dr Walter Fernandes, Director, North Eastern Social Research
21. Rabia, Lahore Chitrkar
22. Rakesh Sharma, filmmaker, Mumbai
23. Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, JNU, Delhi
24. Prof. Anuradha Chenoy, JNU, Delhi
25. P K Das, architect, Mumbai
26. Neera Adarkar, architect, Mumbai
27. Datta Iswalkar, Secretary, Textile Workers Action Committee,
28. Madhusree Dutta, filmmaker, Majlis, Mumbai
29. Amrita Chhachhi, Founding member, PIPFPD
Inter Press Service,
December 1, 2008
INDIA/PAKISTAN: PLEAS FOR SANITY AS SABRES RATTLE OVER MUMBAI MAYHEM
by Beena Sarwar
KARACHI, Dec 1 (IPS) - The pattern is all too familiar. Every time
India and Pakistan head towards dialogue and detente, something
explosive happens that pushes peace to the backburner and drags them
back to the familiar old tense relationship, worsened by sabre-
rattling war cries from both sides.
The relationship between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours
has been marked by tentative ups and plunging downs, particularly
over the past decade. This decade is also marked by increasingly
vocal voices for peace on both sides of the border who openly
criticise their countries’ political and security establishments.
The fallout from the Mumbai mayhem is no different, if all the more
ominous for having taken place in the midst of the global ‘war on
terror’ with its ‘us versus them’ rhetoric that has contributed to
escalated violence around the world and pushed fence-sitters onto one
or other side.
On Wednesday a ten-man squad of Islamist warriors armed with assault
rifles and hand grenades landed in the port city Mumbai and, after
going on shooting spree, seized control of two of its finest luxury
hotels and a Jewish centre. By the time commandos neutralised the
attackers and lifted the sieges Friday, 200 people lay dead —
including 22 foreign hostages.
Pakistan and India are part of the Indian sub-continent. They share a
landmass, mountain ranges, rivers and seas, ancient cultures,
history, languages and religions. Yet they have fought three wars
since gaining independence from the British in 1947, after the bloody
partition of the sub-continent into two countries — largely Hindu
India and Islamic Pakistan.
The fourth major conflict between the two countries was the Kargil
conflict of 1999 that the political leadership on both sides referred
to as a ‘war-like situation’. The nuclear threat that underlined this
situation drew the world’s attention to India-Pakistan relations, and
the festering issue of the disputed state of Kashmir, as never before.
A year earlier, India and Pakistan’s nuclear tests of May 1998 had
plunged the region into an unprecedented state of tension. The
governments celebrated their nuclear capability, feeding rivalry,
jingoism and nationalism on both sides that the media played up.
There was far less coverage of those who condemned the tests and the
governments’ encouragement of reactionary forces that equated
religion with nationhood.
Those who protested were swimming against the tide, labelled as
traitors and anti-nationals, and ‘agents’ of the other country, like
Islamabad-based physicist A.H. Nayyar who has been active in the
Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy since the
organisation was launched in 1995.
As Nayyar and pro-peace activists addressed a press conference
condemning the nuclearisation of the region, charged-up young men who
supported Pakistan’s nuclear tests physically attacked them with chairs.
Now, expressing his shock at the "mindless, horrible event" in
Mumbai, he told IPS: "There are people in both countries who don’t
like efforts towards rapprochement. They take the first opportunity
to start blowing the bugles of war and instigate hostility."
The nuclear tests were followed by the historic Lahore Declaration of
Feb. 1999, when Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif invited his
Indian counterpart A. B. Vajpayee to Lahore.
Two months later, the Kargil conflict dashed all hopes for
rapprochement as it transpired that while the governments talked
peace, infiltrators from Pakistan were busy grabbing positions in
Kargil on the Indian-administered side of the disputed state of Kashmir.
Sharif denied knowledge of the operation, but his army chief Pervez
Musharraf insisted that Sharif had been briefed. It took the
intervention of then U.S. president Bill Clinton to de-escalate the
tension and comple the Pakistani army into making the infiltrators
withdraw by July 1999, pulling the countries back from the brink of a
In October, Musharraf ousted Sharif in a military coup. The present
composite dialogue process began in 2004 during the Musharraf regime,
but India is now dealing with a democratically elected government for
the first time in a decade, note observers. They also point out that
it is for the first time that a Pakistani government appears to be
genuinely attempting to undo the damage done by past policies.
These policies, linked to Washington’s need to pull down the former
Soviet Union and drive the Soviet army out of Afghanistan, nurtured
religious extremism and armed militancy. Later, these armed,
indoctrinated forces, supported by the Pakistani establishment,
fuelled the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir and led to the
worst sectarian violence in Pakistan.
The third phase came after ‘9/11’ when Pakistan officially rejected
these ‘Islamic warriors’.
As the Pakistan government now tries to formulate new security
paradigms while also combating the terror menace at home, it needs
support, say observers. "For the first time, it feels like we are at
war," says a Karachi-based analyst asking not to be named. "Under
Musharraf, it was a game to show the Americans that we are taking
action but actually continuing to nurture some militant elements
"With the threat of global communism gone, and the need for Middle
East energy primary, America suddenly recognises India as an ally
against Islamism, and Pakistan becomes a buffer to be squeezed
relentlessly," commented Vithal Rajan in Hyderabad, India who works
with several civil society organizations. "The Indian government in
relief at winning American friendship has fallen in with this ploy,
further distancing itself from the fledgling democracy of Pakistan,
and leaving no real solution in sight."
Mumbai was still burning when Rajan wrote to civil society activists
in Pakistan and India on Nov. 28 urging them not to "just be reactive
like the popular press" but take a more thoughtful view of the
Angry condemnations "lead us nowhere; political demands (may) make
vote-catching politicians rethink strategies, but these might remain
ineffectual. (We) should create space… to think things out in the
"...[Lal Krishna] Advani has called this attack in Mumbai by a few
terrorists as ‘a war.’ This is dangerous stuff and nonsense. A war is
fought between sovereign countries, not between the police and
criminals. It is in India’s interest and in Pakistan’s interest to
have stable, progressive governments."
Advani, who is opposition leader in Indian parliament and represents
the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has repeatedly accused
the ruling Congress party, which professes to be secular, of allowing
India to turn into a ‘soft state’ in the face of a series of deadly
bombings in Indian cities, this year, that have been attributed to
Pakistan’s new civilian government has, however, been making attempts
to step out of the familiar well-worn grooves, note observers.
President Asif Ali Zardari, for example, has signalled major policy
shifts by terming the militants in Kashmir as "terrorists", stating
that India is not Pakistan’s enemy, and then declaring that Pakistan
had adopted a "no first use" policy on nuclear weapons.
Participating via satellite link in the prestigious ‘Leadership
Summit’ conducted by India’s prestigious ‘Hindustan Times’ newspaper,
on Nov. 22, four days before the attack on Mumbai, Zardari quoted his
late wife Benazir Bhutto to say that there is a ‘’little bit of India
in every Pakistani and a little bit of Pakistan in every Indian’’.
Bhutto was assassinated by suicide bombers, last year, while on
The religious right in Pakistan — and its supporters within the
establishment — is clearly unhappy at Zardari’s peace overtures
towards India. Militants involved in fighting the state on Pakistan’s
north-west border have announced a stepping up of efforts to
assassinate Pakistan’s political leadership.
Pakistan and India’s fights against extremism "will founder if fought
alone," noted the young Britain-based Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid
in a recent op-ed in the Guardian, London, warning that India’s rush
to implicate Pakistan is a "dangerous mistake". "The impulse to
implicate Pakistan is of course understandable: the past is replete
with examples of Pakistani and Indian intelligence agencies working
to destabilise the historical enemy across the border."
Many analysts believe it is too soon to pin the blame on anyone. "To
take on the government of a country of 1.2 billion just like that is
unbelievably stupid," says Nayyar in Islamabad, referring to the
handful of youngsters who held Mumbai hostage for three days. "If it
is the work of a fringe group then it is very alarming that the
states are getting worked up to this extent.
"But if the perpetrators were part of an organised group, then it is
also very alarming. We need to sit down and do our homework all over
again and see how such groups can be contained, or we will all perish."
Beyond India and Pakistan, the global activist group Avaaz.org is
launching a message calling for unity following the attacks in
Mumbai, to be published in newspapers across India and Pakistan and
delivered to political leaders within one week.
"The message is that these tactics have failed and we are more united
than ever. And we are determined to work together to stop violent
extremism, and call on our political and religious leaders to so the
same. If these attacks cause us to turn on each other in hatred and
conflict, the terrorists will have won."
New York Times
November 28, 2008
WHAT THEY HATE ABOUT MUMBAI
by Suketu Mehta
MY bleeding city. My poor great bleeding heart of a city. Why do they
go after Mumbai? There’s something about this island-state that
appalls religious extremists, Hindus and Muslims alike. Perhaps
because Mumbai stands for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate
Mumbai is all about dhandha, or transaction. From the street food
vendor squatting on a sidewalk, fiercely guarding his little
business, to the tycoons and their dreams of acquiring Hollywood,
this city understands money and has no guilt about the getting and
spending of it. I once asked a Muslim man living in a shack without
indoor plumbing what kept him in the city. “Mumbai is a golden
songbird,” he said. It flies quick and sly, and you’ll have to work
hard to catch it, but if you do, a fabulous fortune will open up for
you. The executives who congregated in the Taj Mahal hotel were
chasing this golden songbird. The terrorists want to kill the songbird.
Just as cinema is a mass dream of the audience, Mumbai is a mass
dream of the peoples of South Asia. Bollywood movies are the most
popular form of entertainment across the subcontinent. Through them,
every Pakistani and Bangladeshi is familiar with the wedding-cake
architecture of the Taj and the arc of the Gateway of India, symbols
of the city that gives the industry its name. It is no wonder that
one of the first things the Taliban did upon entering Kabul was to
shut down the Bollywood video rental stores. The Taliban also banned,
wouldn’t you know it, the keeping of songbirds.
Bollywood dream-makers are shaken. “I am ashamed to say this,”
Amitabh Bachchan, superstar of a hundred action movies, wrote on his
blog. “As the events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me, I
did something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever
to be in a situation to do. Before retiring for the night, I pulled
out my licensed .32 revolver, loaded it and put it under my pillow.”
Mumbai is a “soft target,” the terrorism analysts say. Anybody can
walk into the hotels, the hospitals, the train stations, and start
spraying with a machine gun. Where are the metal detectors, the
random bag checks? In Mumbai, it’s impossible to control the crowd.
In other cities, if there’s an explosion, people run away from it. In
Mumbai, people run toward it — to help. Greater Mumbai takes in a
million new residents a year. This is the problem, say the nativists.
The city is just too hospitable. You let them in, and they break your
In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal
eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by
which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet.
In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues
want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one
another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to
war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get
out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.
And now it looks as if the latest terrorists were our neighbors,
young men dressed not in Afghan tunics but in blue jeans and designer
T-shirts. Being South Asian, they would have grown up watching the
painted lady that is Mumbai in the movies: a city of flashy cars and
flashier women. A pleasure-loving city, a sensual city. Everything
that preachers of every religion thunder against. It is, as a monk of
the pacifist Jain religion explained to me, “paap-ni-bhoomi”: the
In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets — for the
crime of being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered
people in front of their families — for the crime of visiting Mumbai.
They attacked the luxury businessmen’s hotels. They attacked the open-
air Cafe Leopold, where backpackers of the world refresh themselves
with cheap beer out of three-foot-high towers before heading out into
India. Their drunken revelry, their shameless flirting, must have
offended the righteous believers in the jihad. They attacked the
train station everyone calls V.T., the terminus for runaways and
dreamers from all across India. And in the attack on the Chabad
house, for the first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in
The terrorists’ message was clear: Stay away from Mumbai or you will
get killed. Cricket matches with visiting English and Australian
teams have been shelved. Japanese and Western companies have closed
their Mumbai offices and prohibited their employees from visiting the
city. Tour groups are canceling long-planned trips.
But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even
more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good
home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel
rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah
Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better
toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name
but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and
dance; work hard and party harder.
If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run toward the
explosion. It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are
you going to be safe? New York? London? Madrid?
So I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the
Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and
watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn’t have to be
Suketu Mehta, a professor of journalism at New York University, is
the author of “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.”
More Articles in Opinion » A version of this article appeared in
print on November 29, 2008, on page A23 of the New York edition.
December 1, 2008
MUMBAI REKINDLES DEBATE ABOUT MUSLIMS, THEIR BEARD AND SO ON
By Jawed Naqvi
WHAT else could one do to cope with relentless grief? So I joined an
impromptu candlelight vigil held by a dozen friends at India Gate,
where we paid our silent tribute to the fallen brave of Mumbai.
Scores of men, women and children were visiting there anyway, eating
ice creams or buying dinky toys. They were ordinary citizens having a
holiday due to the Delhi assembly elections. Some of them also joined
us in lighting candles.
There was no speech, no slogan, just a silent tribute. I grabbed the
balloons from a boy vending them and gave him a candle to light. He
hesitated, not believing that he was being urged to join the nation’s
grief. Later he said thank you. I am not sure if it was relief at
being returned the balloons or for being given a candle to light
along with a class of people for many of whom he was no more than a
pest. Two other boys in tattered sweaters were walking around the
colonial war memorial selling hot coffee. I gave them candles too as
I looked after their steaming kettles.
I handed out candles to a group of evidently upper class women. A
friend, a woman journalist who doesn’t normally have patience with
communal gossip, overheard their conversation. She whispered to me
that the women were suspicious of me. She thought it had something to
do with my beard and the Afghan cap I wear on cold evenings. Only
when I introduced myself and declared that India needed a dictator
did they look relaxed. I said Narendra Modi was my hero, even though
he sports a different kind of beard. This was a ploy that works when
there’s no scope for serious discussion. The women said the country
needed Modi as prime minister. I endorsed the view so that they could
sleep peacefully that night. We parted on this cordial note.
On the way back, my friend and I discussed how beards had become
particularly suspect since the advent of Osama bin Laden. And here,
the Mumbai terrorists who themselves were probably clean-shaven pub-
crawling college kids, had deepened mistrust that was not just rooted
in facial hair. They had succeeded in their mission to drive a deeper
wedge among Indians as evident at India Gate.
It didn’t seem to matter to the women that the Jewish rabbi who was
killed in Mumbai with his wife also sported a beard. It was
irrelevant that Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the revered icon of the
RSS wore a mullah-like beard as did the troika of Marx, Engels and
Lenin. If anything Hitler and Stalin were always neatly shaved. But
that’s not the point. Today in India it has become difficult to say
exactly where and how prejudices are given shape such as the kind the
The next day, on Sunday, I attended Sabina Sehgal Saikai’s simple
funeral at an electric crematorium near the Nizamuddin Aulia’s
shrine. She was charred when they found her in the bombed out room at
the Taj Mahal Hotel from where one of her last messages from her
mobile phone, as she hid under the bed, said: “They have entered my
bathroom.” Why the terrorists bombed her room is not known. But it is
fair to surmise that reckless TV journalists gave her location to
them with the TRP-linked live coverage. Sabina was a journalist at
Times of India and we shared a common interest in Indian classical
music. She learnt singing from an Ustaad of the Dagar family. The
funeral brought many of her friends together. They ranged from the
left to the right of the political spectrum. But she was a singularly
liberal intellectual who joined causes such as the defence of artist
M.F. Husain against religious fanatics.
Given the range of her friends and the grief Sabina left them with,
the funeral became a platform to exchange the dominant theme of the
occasion: What was to be done? Film actress Nandita Das was among the
mourners that broke into a dozen groups or more, each more worried
than the other about what was happening to India. Nandita has just
made a film about the social isolation of Muslims in Gujarat. She
told me some of her close friends had wondered why she was
sympathetic to Muslims, and one of them even asked if she had a
Muslim boyfriend. What I know is that she has a Gujarati mother.
Let me share a bit of an email Nandita sent to her friends the day
before the funeral. It said: “It hadn’t hit me hard enough till
Thursday morning…I have to say, it had very little effect on me. My
predictable response was, not again...more people will die, more
fear, more prejudice and more hatred. But at some level the response
was instant and cerebral. But this morning when I got up things felt
different. Got a message from an unknown no: “See what your friends
have done.” Strangely a close friend of mine got a similar message
last night, but from an acquaintance. Just because Firaaq, my film,
deals with how Muslims ‘also’ get affected by violence, the
terrorists are supposed to be my friends!
“Today a common young Muslim man around town is probably the most
vulnerable. I got many messages from my Muslim friends who feel the
need to condemn it more than anyone else, who feel the need to prove
their national allegiance in every possible way. They are begging to
be not clubbed with the terrorists, a fear not unfounded. Then of
course there were tons of messages from well-wishers across the world
who asked about me and my loved ones’ safety. I too did the same. And
strangely that was when tears started rolling down my cheek, almost
involuntarily. Guess the thought that if our loved ones were fine,
it’s all ok, seemed like a bizarre way to feel. When will our souls
ache when anyone is hurt, even those that we have never seen and will
never see? The more I wrote back in sms’s and emails that I was ok,
the more miserable I was feeling.”
Nandita’s torment may not be unrelated to the way our democracy has
evolved. Here you are an unprecedented terror attack by any global
standards, which begins with the elections in BJP-ruled Madhya
Pradesh and ends with polls in Congress-ruled Delhi. The outcome will
not be known till next week. The BJP doesn’t need Muslim votes but it
doesn’t want the Congress to benefit from this indifference either.
So it mounts pressure on the Congress, accusing it of being soft on
terror (forgetting that it was the BJP government that had freed the
man who went on to kill Daniel Pearl).
A newspaper declared on Sunday that the government had been finally
jolted from its sleep. How did the newspaper know? The evidence was
there for all to see, it said. The government had put back on the
table the hanging of Afzal Guru, the Kashmiri convict, sentenced to
die for plotting to blow up the 2001 parliament, it says. Will that
go an inch in curbing terrorism? The killers of Mumbai seemed quite
prepared to die. Guru himself wants to be hanged. So what’s the logic
in hastening his death ahead of others who have been languishing on
the death row for much longer than him? Some years ago they had
hanged Maqbool Butt who became a Kashmiri hero. You can’t have
vendetta or prejudice for state policy. It’s a mercy that the women
at India Gate are not running the government. Or aren’t they?
by Ram Puniyani
Things have been changing by the day on the issue of terrorism
investigation since the proof of Sadhvi Prgya Singh Thakur’s
involvement in the Malegaon blast has come to the surface. So far the
word Islamic terrorism has been in the air in the post 9/11 phase
when the US administration ensured that media takes up this new word
and propagates it. The social common sense that ‘all terrorists are
Muslims’ went to such a pass that many a lawyers taking up the cases
of terror suspects were not only beaten up but also some of the Bar
Associations passed the resolutions, contrary to their own
professional ethics, that they will not take up the cases of the
terror suspects. The basic adage that one is innocent till proved
guilty was turned upside down. The legal aid to many of these
suspects was meager if at all.
Matters change with Sadhvi being arrested by the Maharashtra ATS. The
RSS associates, VHP, Shiv Sena rushed to put together the team of
lawyers to stand for the terror accused. The Shiv Sena is calling a
bandh in support of Pragya and Co. We are hearing strange arguments;
Hindus can’t be terrorists as it is not in their genes. This
statement also subtly hinted that terrorism is in the genes of ‘some’
other community. But lets be clear terrorism is not a genetic
problem, it is due to social, political and economic reasons.
It was stated that Maharashtra Government is doing all this at the
behest of the Government, reducing all investigations to being merely
politically motivated one. Not that these things don’t happen but one
has also to see that in the prevailing situation where the social
mind set accepts the formulation that ‘all terrorists are Muslims’,
to suspect a non Muslim will require more than a mere grain of truth
to venture and touch any non Muslim and that too one with divine robe
adorning on one’s body or the one wearing the green fatigues of army
with its holy cow image. Logically no officer in the right frame of
mind can even dare think of such a move unless impeccable evidence is
In pre-Sadhvi period of terrorism RSS affiliates accused the Congress
of being soft on terrorism, in turn encouraging terrorism. They came
up with the formulation that they will provide a Government with Zero
tolerance for terrorism, meaning a total high handed ness in case of
terror accused. Now the matters stand turned upside down and no
question of zero tolerance for terror accused, special efforts are
being made to ensure that popular pressure is built up to save the
likes of Sadhvi, Acharya or Lt Col. Not only that, the issue is being
communalized and many right wing political parties are offering the
accused the tickets for the forthcoming elections. At the same time
propaganda is launched that the holy person like sadhvi is being
targeted for political reasons or that the noble institution of army
is being sullied by the Congress Government. Both these are baseless
as the investigation seems to be proceeding with extreme caution and
the leads provided by Sadhvi’s motor cycle, used in Malegaon blasts
is being pursued meticulously.
Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and the Lt Col. Prasad Purohit have
alleged that they were tortured in the police custody. A major
morning newspaper reports that the training camp conducted by Abhinav
Bharat, instructed the trainees that in order to deflect the
investigation, all should be done to implicate the investigation
authorities themselves. So one does not know whether they were
tortured or they have been tutored to say so. One waits with baited
breath for the real truth to come out. It goes without saying that
torture of accused in police custody is not a matter of surprise, it
must be condemned and there is no place for compromising with the
human rights of accused, who so ever one is. One will condemn the
authorities if the torture of Sadhvi and company has taken place.
So far no one from RSS affiliates talked of human rights of accused.
Now this section is talking that the terror accused are being
tortured and that their human rights are being violated. One must
ensure the truth behind this. While police is capable of using its
usual arms twisting methods to extort confession, one will doubt if
the police can dare touch a saffron robed sadhvi or green uniformed
Lt Col. Let the inquiry decide, whether it is a genuine complaint or
a ploy to deflect the investigation.
One interesting aside to the investigation of acts of terror is that
so far during last few years, the Muslim youth were caught hold of
after every terror attack, for a couple of days the media was abuzz
with the same news and then once they were produced in the court for
the lack of evidence many of them were quietly let off. This part was
generally not in the news. While a wrong person is accused, that
person does suffer all the humiliation etc, the additional point is
that because of this the real culprit merrily keeps planning the
further things. And that seems to be the case. As despite the leads
provided by Nanded blasts, where two Bajrang Dal workers were killed
while making bomb. Despite this the other acts of terror were not
investigated on this line, so one after the other the tragedy kept
happening. Hopefully with this the further blasts will be arrested in
Overall the logic of the events as unfolding makes it clear that the
RSS affiliates have been caught with their pants down. How so ever
much they deny the ideological and organizational difference, it
seems that there is lot of proof to point the finger towards the
Abhinav Bharat and ex workers of ABVP as a part of the plot of
Malegaon blasts, Ajmer blasts and Samjhauta express blasts. The
proximity of the accused to many a top brass of the organizations is
being reported day in and day out.
To deflect from the issue a campaign has been started to defame the
ATS, the Mahrashtra Government and even the Sonia Gandhi. Rumors are
being spread that these are the one’s who are framing and torturing
the accused. One is amazed at the double standards of those saying
this. Till yesterday when the police was blindly apprehending the
Muslim youth for all these crimes, especially police was being
cheered for the investigation. In the aftermath of Ahmedabad blasts
and the series of bombs found in Surat, hanging on trees and all
that, Modi took the credit for showing the way to deal with
terrorism. Now with his own ideological associates accused in the
acts of terror, another type of offensive has been launched to
wriggle out of the situation. One hopes that truth alone will prevail
and guilty, irrespective of their religion, holiness, and military
uniform are given punishment for the suffering they have inflicted on
Issues in Secular Politics
November, 2008 III
(i) A panel on
'Accounting for Justice'
Contemporary Kashmir through international frameworks
Tuesday, December 02, 6.00-8.00 pm, 2008
Sponsored by NYU's Law Students for Human Rights
New York University School of Law
Address: 110 West Third Street, New York, NY 10012
Venue: Lipton Hall
Betsy Apple, Former Director, Crimes Against Humanity Program, Human
Rights First and Adjunct Professor, School of International and
Public Affairs, Columbia University.
Dr. Angana Chatterji, Co-convener, International People's Tribunal on
Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir and Associate
Professor, Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies.
Nusrat Durrani, Senior Vice President and General Manager of MTV
World, envisioning an advocacy campaign on Kashmir.
Accompanied by an exhibit by photojournalist, Robert Nickelsberg, who
has documented Kashmir since 1989. His work has appeared in TIME,
Newsweek, The New York Times, Getty Images, and Human Rights Watch.
Chaired by Dr. Mridu Rai, Associate Professor, History, Yale University.
Introduced by Mohsin Mohi-Ud-Din, Fulbright Scholar and Program
Assistant, Crimes Against Humanity Program, Human Rights First.
Free and open to the public
Event coordinated by Krista Minteer
For further information - Phone: 212.845.5207; E-mail:
- - -
SOLIDARITY MEETING FOR MUMBAI AND INDIA
Trocadero, Thursday, 4th december, 6.30pm
The recent events of Mumbai have left us all in a state of shock. The
indiscriminate killing of people by the terrorists - in hotels, at
Railway stations and on the roads - were an attack on India, on that
very founding idea of India, which has stood, with all its
weaknesses, for a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-
linguistic democracy. Leaving the hows and whys of such acts to be
debated tomorrow, let us get together to express our sorrow at the
loss of life in Mumbai and to stand for a world of peace, harmony and
It might be appropriate for everyone to bring a candle to light on
this occasion in memory of those who died or suffered in Mumbai, and
for anyone who has suffered at the hands of a mindless violence.
Indians, India-sympathisers and advocates of a better tomorrow,
regardless of their nationality, are requested to assemble at the
Parvis des Droits de l’Homme, Place du Trocadéro (Metro: Trocadéro)
on Thursday, 4th December 2008 at 6.30 pm.
Pour plus d’information:
Fédération des Associations Franco-Indiennes
Tel : 01 42 53 03 12 Email : dassaradan@...
- - -
(ii) ORISSA: ANOTHER HINDUTVA LABORATORY?
An Awaaz – South Asia Watch Public Forum
On the eve of the 16th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri
Masjid in Ayodhya, Awaaz South Asia Watch invites you to a public
meeting on the anti-Christian violence in Orissa and in other parts
5 December 2008, 6.00pm – 8.00pm
Room B111, School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS)
University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London, WC1H
Nearest tube: Goodge Street / Russell Sq
Attendance is free
Baroness Caroline Cox (recently visited Orissa)
Ramesh Gopalakrishnan (Amnesty International)
Bipin Jojo (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai)
Merely six years after the Gujarat massacres of Muslim citizens,
Christians in Orissa and elsewhere in India are facing attacks from
Hindutva groups. Numerous Christian men and women have been killed,
injured or raped; several thousand churches have been destroyed, and
more than 50,000 people have been rendered homeless in Orissa alone.
What explains this latest and ongoing outbreak of violence against
another religious minority in India?
What has been the role of the police and state governments in these
episodes of violence?
Is the Hindu Right (specifically the Sangh Parivar) renewing its
project of Hindutva by creating new objects of hate?
The meeting will be chaired by Rosemary Morris and Dr. Rashmi Varma
of Awaaz-South Asia Watch
More info: www.awaazsaw.org
- - -
Calling all Citizens of Mumbai!
Join "Human Chain" in South Mumbai, afternoon 1 pm on December 10th,
2008 International Human Rights Day!
SAY NO TO TERROR! SAY NO TO VIOLENCE!
We, the people of Mumbai, from all walks of life, of all faiths, all
linguistic groups, all ages, will express our commitment to peace,
and our condemnation of terror and violence in any form, by coming
out on the streets on the day when the world will be commemorating
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948. The theme
for 2008, which is "Dignity and justice" has a poignant resonance for
the people of Mumbai, traumatized and fearful after the attack on its
spirit by criminals who are without a shred of humanity or conscience.
1. Government must take responsibility and map out long term and
short term strategies, and take action on them.
2. Joint action between India and Pakistan governments to curb
religious extremism of all shades in both countries.
3. Better coordination amongst various security and intelligence
agencies to deal with terror; and sharing of intelligence and
4. Punishment of those responsible for attacks on minorities,
which are also an attack on the majority and the multi-cultural body
politic of India.
5. Swift, transparent and credible trial and punishment for all
those involved in terror, whatever the religion they may profess,
6. A comprehensive Communal Violence Bill in place of the one
pending in Parliament.
7. Immediate implementation of Police reforms, providing
equipment and training, basic service conditions to police personnel
and state security forces. Active facilitation of community
participation in security and intelligence gathering.
8. Ensuring moderation and sensitivity in media reporting of
violence whether terrorist or any other form, through self-regulation
9. Evolve a policy for legal action against hate speech and
demonization of any religion or community.
NO MORE SILENCE! WE MUST SPEAK OUT!
MUMBAI FOR PEACE: a campaign of Mumbai based organizations.
Enquires: Dolphy: 9820226227, Datta: 9224197954, Jatin: 9322255812,
Buzz for secularism, on the dangers of fundamentalism(s), on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. SACW is an independent & non-profit
citizens wire service run since 1998 by South
Asia Citizens Web: www.sacw.net/
SACW archive is available at: http://sacw.net/pipermail/sacw_insaf.net/
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed in materials carried in the posts do not
necessarily reflect the views of SACW compilers.