South Asia Citizens Wire | January 1-8, 2009 | Dispatch No. 2596 -
Year 11 running
 Sri Lanka: Attack on broadcaster needs independent inquiry (CPJ)
+ "Spirited Tigers defeated" by Sri Lanka (Shanie)
 Living Traditions Exhibit Explores Art in War-torn Afghanistan
 Joint Signature Campaign by Citizens of India and Pakistan
Against Terrorism, War Posturing
 Statement by Pakistani human rights activists, feminists, labour
leaders on the between India and Pakistan.
 Independent Appeal - Sex workers dicing with death in Bangladesh
 South Asia: Courting the Devil (Harsh Mander)
 India - Interview: 'Don't allow fanatics to rule' Taslima Nasreen
 India - Freedom of Expression:
- Mumbai bookstore pulls Pak writers off its shelves (Anahita
- Letter to the Editor (Ram Puniyani)
- Banning Pakistani writers is hypocrisy (Neel Mukherjee)
 Pakistani theatre group plays a peace tune (Avneep Dhingra)
 India - Jammu and Kashmir?: BJP's Electoral Victory - Appearance
and reality (Rekha Chowdhary)
 International: Bombing of Gaza: statement by Communist Party of
(i) “The world after 9/11: Exploring alternatives to the ‘War on
Terror’” a talk by Mahmood Mamdani, (Bombay, 8 January 2009
(ii) Panel discussion on 'The Terrorist and the Citizen: How
Television Transforms Political Life' (New Delhi, 10 January 2009)
(iii) Play Sheema Kermani, (Lucknow, 14 January 2008)
 Sri Lanka
Committee to Protect Journalists
330 7th Avenue, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10001
ATTACK ON BROADCASTER NEEDS INDEPENDENT INQUIRY
New York, January 6, 2009--Following today's early morning assault by
about 15 masked gunmen on Maharaja TV's (MTV) studios outside the Sri
Lankan capital, Colombo, the Committee to Protect Journalists called
for an independent, nonpartisan parliamentary board of inquiry to
Attackers shot at and destroyed broadcast equipment, held staff at
gunpoint, and attempted to burn down the station's facilities,
according to local and international news reports. Three TV channels
and four radio stations of MTV's parent company, MBC, were off the
air for several hours. MTV's Web site is still unable to transmit due
to the attack. On Sunday, the station was hit with a gasoline bomb,
but there was little damage.
In a statement today, Mass Media and Information Minister Anura Yapa
condemned the attack and President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered a full
"Even with its condemnations, the government can longer be trusted to
act with impartiality when it comes to those who want to silence Sri
Lanka's media," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "Far
too often the government or its unofficial allies have been prime
suspects behind attacks on journalists and media organizations, and
this latest outrage must be fully and clearly explained in an
impartial and transparent parliamentary investigation."
In recent days, government-controlled media had accused the station
of "unpatriotic" coverage concerning the military's reported advances
against the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in
the north of the country. The LTTE's de facto capital of Kilinochchi
fell last Friday. Government troops have been reported to be
advancing on the strategic Elephant Pass that links the mainland to
the Jaffna peninsula, the LTTE's stronghold.
Government run-media had specifically criticized MTV for giving too
much coverage to a suicide bombing in Colombo on Friday, undermining
a victory speech by Rajapaksa after government troops took
Kilinochchi, local and international media reported.
o o o
3 January 2009
SPIRITED TIGERS DEFEATED BY SRI LANKA
The headline in a website this week read "Sri Lanka defeat spirited
Tigers". The reference was of course to the victory that the Sri
Lanka cricket team secured over Bangladesh in the First Test
concluded on Wednesday. Bangladesh is the minnow among the test-
playing nations and Sri Lanka were expected to have an easy win.
Early on the fourth day, it appeared so when Bangladesh, chasing 521
to win in the fourth innings, were reduced to 180 for 5. But the
Bangladeshi skipper Mahamed Ashraful and his tail-enders had other
ideas. Two century partnerships for the sixth and seventh wickets
took them to 403 for 6. The minnows had not only taken the match well
into the final day but were in a position to pull off a sensational
and record-breaking win. In the end, the Bangla (Bengal) ‘Tigers’,
despite a spirited performance, succumbed to a better-equipped
We do not know if the web editor coined the headline with tongue in
cheek but it is possible that the headline could apply at some future
date to the ongoing conflict in the Vanni. The predicted easy victory
for the security forces is not happening so easily and the war, like
the test match, is dragging on and being pushed to the wire. In the
cricket match, it was one tragic mistake by a tail-ender, who dragged
a ball well outside his off stump to his wicket, which both deprived
him of a well deserved century and also triggered the quick collapse
of the last four wickets. Can that happen to the Sri Lankan Tigers?
Only time will tell.
For the present, we can only watch with a mixture of admiration and
dismay. Admiration is for the performance of the Bangladeshis at
cricket and dismay is at the mounting loss of young lives in the
conflict at home. The sacrifice of these young men and women who are
being killed or maimed could have been avoided or at least minimized
to a great extent if only President Rajapaksa and the LTTE kept to
their promises to the people whom they claim to represent. The LTTE
has repeatedly failed to seize opportunities to secure an honourable
peace by spurning attempts, particularly by the Government of
Chandriika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, that sought to provide a
constitutional framework to address minority grievances. President
Rajapaksa promises justice to the minorities but has only rhetoric to
offer. He has had and continues to have opportunities to offer a
political solution to minority grievances but continues to spurn
every such opportunity.
His twisted logic that this will be done once the war is over rings
hollow. If, as his Government often says, the war is against the LTTE
and not the Tamils, why does the war against the LTTE prevent the
offer of a political package to the Tamils and Muslims? Indeed, if
the government were sincere about offering a political solution, the
war itself would have been rendered unnecessary. The LTTE would have
been marginalised among Tamil opinion makers had the LTTE opposed
such a solution worked out by consensus among the non-LTTE and non-
Sinhala chauvinist political parties and civil society/religious groups.
Losing the larger picture
But sadly, President Rajapaksa has opted not to take that line. He
seems unwilling or incapable of looking at the larger picture.
Instead, he is going along with, or at least turning a Nelsonian eye
to the lawless and reactionary actions of the obscurantist and
fascist forces that are part of his Government.
In the North, Anandasangaree is quite right with his complaint that
an armed group, seemingly enjoying the support of the security
forces, is engaging in abductions, extortions and extra-judicial
killings, replicating the actions of the LTTE in earlier years. The
armed groups of today are totally insensitive to the feelings of
civilians. Locals agree with Anandasangaree and say that people could
be increasingly turning to the LTTE for protection from this armed
fascist group. Civilians are being robbed in their homes by armed
gangs in the night during curfew hours. It is possible that in
addition to this armed group, lawless elements are also taking
advantage of the breakdown in the rule of law. But, since the
robberies are taking place during curfew hours, the armed gangs
obviously are confident of immunity.
If President Rajapaksa is sincere about restoring democracy in the
North, he should not be replacing one set of armed fascists by
another. ‘The future minds of Jaffna’ deserve better than that. But
first, genuine democracy must be restored in the rest of the country.
Journalists should be free from intimidation, assault and arbitrary
arrests. Lawyers should be free to practise their profession without
death threats and without having their photograph and name ominously
displayed on the web.
The Rajapaksa Government must learn lessons from a disastrous policy
in the East that has brought about a multiplicity of armed groups and
brought back a strong LTTE presence. Bishop Kingsley Swampillai,
Bishop of Batticaloa and Trincomalee, was expressing the concerns of
many locals when he complained of continuing abductions, violence and
killings. It is a self-defeating policy to promote one armed group of
fascists against another. And it is pity that continuing calls for a
respect for the rule of law are being ignored. Sooner or later, such
a policy will come to haunt the government.
[. . .].
New York Times, page A1 of the New York edition. January 2, 2009
FOR AFGHANS, A PRICE FOR EVERYTHING, AND ANYTHING FOR A PRICE
by Dexter Filkins
Kabul, Afghanistan — When it comes to governing this violent,
fractious land, everything, it seems, has its price.
[Photo] Danfung Dennis for The New York Times
[Caption] A man pulls a cart loaded with fire wood past a mansion
owned by high-ranking government officials in the Sherpur
neighborhood of Kabul.
[Photo] Danfung Dennis for The New York Times
[Caption] The mansions of Afghan officials in the Sherpur
neighborhood of Kabul are a curiosity not only for their size, but
also because government salaries are not very big.
Want to be a provincial police chief? It will cost you $100,000.
Want to drive a convoy of trucks loaded with fuel across the country?
Be prepared to pay $6,000 per truck, so the police will not tip off
Need to settle a lawsuit over the ownership of your house? About
$25,000, depending on the judge.
“It is very shameful, but probably I will pay the bribe,” Mohammed
Naim, a young English teacher, said as he stood in front of the
Secondary Courthouse in Kabul. His brother had been arrested a week
before, and the police were demanding $4,000 for his release.
“Everything is possible in this country now. Everything.”
Kept afloat by billions of dollars in American and other foreign aid,
the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and
graft. From the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President
Hamid Karzai himself, the state built on the ruins of the Taliban
government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more
than the enrichment of those who run it.
A raft of investigations has concluded that people at the highest
levels of the Karzai administration, including President Karzai’s own
brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, are cooperating in the country’s opium
trade, now the world’s largest. In the streets and government
offices, hardly a public transaction seems to unfold here that does
not carry with it the requirement of a bribe, a gift, or, in case you
are a beggar, “harchee” — whatever you have in your pocket.
The corruption, publicly acknowledged by President Karzai, is
contributing to the collapse of public confidence in his government
and to the resurgence of the Taliban, whose fighters have moved to
the outskirts of Kabul, the capital.
“All the politicians in this country have acquired everything —
money, lots of money,” President Karzai said in a speech at a rural
development conference here in November. “God knows, it is beyond the
limit. The banks of the world are full of the money of our statesmen.”
The decay of the Afghan government presents President-elect Barack
Obama with perhaps his most underappreciated challenge as he tries to
reverse the course of the war here. Mr. Obama may be required to save
the Afghan government not only from the Taliban insurgency —
committing thousands of additional American soldiers to do so — but
also from itself.
“This government has lost the capacity to govern because a shadow
government has taken over,” said Ashraf Ghani, a former Afghan
finance minister. He quit that job in 2004, he said, because the
state had been taken over by drug traffickers. “The narco-mafia state
is now completely consolidated,” he said.
On the streets here, tales of corruption are as easy to find as kebab
stands. Everything seems to be for sale: public offices, access to
government services, even a person’s freedom. The examples mentioned
above — $25,000 to settle a lawsuit, $6,000 to bribe the police,
$100,000 to secure a job as a provincial police chief — were offered
by people who experienced them directly or witnessed the transaction.
People pay bribes for large things, and for small things, too: to get
electricity for their homes, to get out of jail, even to enter the
Governments in developing countries are often riddled with
corruption. But Afghans say the corruption they see now has no
precedent, in either its brazenness or in its scale. Transparency
International, a German organization that gauges honesty in
government, ranked Afghanistan 117 out of 180 countries in 2005. This
year, it fell to 176.
“Every man in the government is his own king,” said Abdul Ghafar, a
truck driver. Mr. Ghafar said he routinely paid bribes to the police
who threatened to hinder his passage through Kabul, sometimes several
in a day.
Nowhere is the scent of corruption so strong as in the Kabul
neighborhood of Sherpur. Before 2001, it was a vacant patch of
hillside that overlooked the stately neighborhood of Wazir Akbar
Khan. Today it is the wealthiest enclave in the country, with gaudy,
grandiose mansions that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Afghans refer to them as “poppy houses.” Sherpur itself is often
jokingly referred to as “Char-pur,” which literally means “City of
Yet what is perhaps most remarkable about Sherpur is that many of the
homeowners are government officials, whose annual salaries would not
otherwise enable them to live here for more than a few days.
One of the mansions — three stories, several bedrooms, sweeping
balconies — is owned by Abdul Jabbar Sabit, a former attorney general
who made a name for himself by declaring a “jihad” against corruption.
[Photo] Danfung Dennis for The New York Times
[Caption] Farooq Farani has been trying to resolve a property
dispute. An Afghan judge wants $25,000, but Mr. Farani has refused.
After he was fired earlier this year by President Karzai, a video
began circulating around town showing Mr. Sabit dancing giddily
around a room and slurring his words, apparently drunk. Mr. Sabit now
lives in Canada, but his house is available to rent for $5,000 a month.
An even grander mansion — ornate faux Greek columns, a towering
fountain — is owned by Kabul’s police chief, Mohammed Ayob Salangi.
It can be had for $11,000 a month. Mr. Salangi’s salary is unknown;
that of Mr. Karzai, the president, is about $600 a month.
Mr. Ghani, the former finance minister, said the plots of land on
which the mansions of Sherpur stand were doled out early in the
Karzai administration for prices that were a tiny fraction of what
they were worth. (Mr. Ghani said he was offered a plot, too, and
refused to accept it.)
“The money for these houses was illegal, I think,” said Mohammed
Yosin Usmani, director general of a newly created anticorruption unit.
Often, the corruption here is blatant. On any morning, you can stand
on the steps of the Secondary Courthouse in downtown Kabul and listen
to the Afghans as they step outside.
One of them was Farooq Farani, who has been coming to the court for
seven years, trying to resolve a property dispute. His predicament is
a common one here: He fled the country in 1990, as the civil war
began, and returned after the fall of the Taliban, only to find a
stranger occupying his home.
Yet seven years later, the title to Mr. Farani’s house is still up
for grabs. Mr. Farani said he had refused to pay the bribes demanded
by the judge in the case, who in turn had refused to settle his case.
“You are approached indirectly, by intermediaries — this is how it
works,” said Mr. Farani, who spent his exile in Wiesbaden, Germany.
“My house is worth about $50,000, and I’ve been told that I can have
the title if I pay $25,000 — half the value of the home.”
Tales like Mr. Farani’s abound here, so much so that it makes one
wonder if an honest man can ever make a difference.
Amin Farhang, the minister of commerce, was voted out of Mr. Karzai’s
cabinet by Parliament earlier last month for failing to bring down
the price of oil in Afghanistan as the price declined in
international markets. In a long talk in the sitting room of his
home, Mr. Farhang recounted a two-year struggle to fire the man in
charge of giving out licenses for new businesses.
The man, Mr. Farhang said, would grant a license only in exchange for
a hefty bribe. But Mr. Farhang found that he was unable to fire the
man, who, he said, simply bribed other members of the government to
“In a job like this, a man can make 10 or 12 times his salary,” Mr.
Farhang said. “People do anything to hang on to them.”
Many Afghans, including Mr. Ghani, the former finance minister, place
responsibility for the collapse of the state on Mr. Karzai, who, they
say, has failed repeatedly to confront the powerful figures who are
behind much of the corruption. In his stint as finance minister, Mr.
Ghani said, two moments crystallized his disgust and finally prompted
him to quit.
The first, Mr. Ghani said, was his attempt to impose order on Kabul’s
chaotic system of private property rights. The Afghan government had
accumulated vast amounts of land during the period of Communist rule
in the 1970s and 1980s. And since 2001, the government has given much
of it away — often, Mr. Ghani said, to shady developers at extremely
Much of that land has been sold and developed, rendering much of
Kabul’s property in the hands of unknown owners. Many of the
developers who were given free land, Mr. Ghani said, were also
involved in drug trafficking.
When he proposed drawing up a set of regulations to govern private
property, Mr. Ghani said, he was told by President Karzai to stop.
“ ‘Just back off,” he told me,’ ” Mr. Ghani said. “He said that
politically it wasn’t feasible.”
A similar effort to impose regulations at the Ministry of Aviation,
which Mr. Ghani described as rife with corruption, was met with a
similar response by President Karzai, he said.
“Morally the question was, am I becoming the fig leaf to legitimate a
system that was deeply corrupt? Or was I there to serve the people?”
Mr. Ghani said. “I resigned.”
Mr. Ghani, who then became chancellor of Kabul University, is today
contemplating a run for the presidency.
Asked about Mr. Ghani’s account on Thursday, Humayun Hamidzada, a
spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said he could not immediately comment.
The corruption may be endemic here, but if there is any hope in the
future, it would seem to lie in the revulsion of average Afghans like
Mr. Farani, who, after seven years, is still refusing to pay.
“I won’t do it,” Mr. Farani said outside the courthouse. “It’s a
matter of principle. Never.”
“But,” he said, “I don’t have my house, either, and I don’t know that
I ever will.”
Abdul Waheed Wafa and Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.
 India - Pakistan:
JOINT SIGNATURE CAMPAIGN BY CITIZENS OF INDIA AND PAKISTAN
AGAINST TERRORISM, WAR POSTURING AND TO PROMOTE COOPERATION AND PEACE
From 9th January 2009 to 8th February 2009
Seeking Signatures from People and Endorsements from Organisations
(To be submitted to the Prime Minister of India and the President of
With Copies to important political functionaries and media houses of
Come! Sign and endorse the Petition on line by clicking: http://
And take signatures from people in your area of operation by
downloading the attached Petition Form.
Let People Express!
Time Peace Loving People Decide the Agenda!! And the Course of Our
Dear Fellow Citizens of India and Pakistan,
After 55 years of tense relations, just five years of sustained peace
process between India and Pakistan was producing good results for
all. Unfortunately, the terror attack in Mumbai suddenly changed the
entire scenario and the tensions between India and Pakistan have once
again reached dangerous levels that are detrimental to the interests
of both the countries.
It is clear that a dependence on the political- bureaucratic-
military establishments in both the countries may not lead to
reduction in tensions but on the contrary, this nexus could possibly
land us in a war. Role of the media of both the countries in the
ongoing crisis is also not very heartening.
In such a situation, assertion by the people and civil society groups
of both the countries in favour of resolving the present crises
through dialogue, cooperation and appropriate actions by both the
governments to address terrorism and all other outstanding issues
could influence the processes that are set in motion. The collective
will of the people could certainly compel the establishments to adopt
peaceful and appropriate processes to address all the issues and
bring back normalcy.
Joint Signature Campaign from 9th January 2009 to 8th February 2009
To facilitate such assertion by the people of both Pakistan and
India, a number of civil society organisations of Pakistan and India
have come together to launch a Joint Signature Campaign in both the
countries. All civil society organisations and concerned citizens of
both the countries are invited to endorse and be partners in this
Joint Signature Campaign and facilitate this Campaign in their areas
of operation by reaching out to the people to collect their
signatures in large numbers. All endorsing organisations will be
listed alphabetically- country wise.
The Joint Signature Campaign will be launched in different cities and
towns of Pakistan and India on 9th January 2009 from 3 pm (IST). in
India and 2.30 pm (PST) in Pakistan to ensure simultaneity.
The Campaign would be carried out for one month and will conclude on
Sunday, 8th February 2009. Copies of signatures collected in both the
countries will be compiled to be submitted to the Prime Minister of
India, The President of Pakistan and other important political
functionaries of both the countries and members of the Media before
20th February 2009.
The Petition prepared for the Joint Signature Campaign is attached.
We appeal to organisations in both India and Pakistan to become
partners in taking forward this Joint Signature Campaign.
What Can Be Done:
Petition Form for the Signature Campaign is attached. Civil society
organisations and concerned citizens of India and Pakistan can print
copies of the Petition Form to take signatures from people and post
the completed forms by 10th February 2009 to the Indo-Pak Joint
Signature Campaign Secretariats set up in both India and Pakistan at
the following addresses
Indo-Pak Joint Signature Campaign Secretariat
C/o PILER Centre, ST.001, Sector X ,
Sub-Sector V Gulshan-e-Maymar,
Karachi 75340- Pakistan
Ph:. 00-92-21-6351145 – 7
Indo-Pak Joint Signature Campaign Secretariat
C/o COVA, 20-4-10, Charminar
Hyderabad, A.P. India, 500002
All organisations endorsing the Campaign and accepting to take up the
Joint Signature Campaign in their areas of operation will be listed
in alphabetical order as Partner Organisations in all communications
and also on the Campaign Website. All collaborating organisations are
requested to send their names, city/town, country and other contact
details for inclusion as Partner Organisations.
Online endorsement of the Campaign is also possible at
Petitionsonline.com through the link:
Email and Website:
The email ID for the Campaign is: indopak.jointcampaign@...
Come! Let us join hands across borders to usher in peace and
prosperity for both our countries!!
Pakistan- India Joint Signature Campaign
PAKISTANI HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS, WOMEN'S RIGHTS ACTIVISTS, TEACHERS,
LABOUR LEADERS AND JOURNALISTS HAVE ISSUED A STATEMENT ON THE CURRENT
STAND-OFF BETWEEN INDIA AND PAKISTAN.
(Among the signatories are Asma Jahangir, I.A Rehman, Mubashir
Hassan, Ahmed Rashid, Salima Hashmi and Iqbal Haider.)
Islamabad January 4, 2008
The statement is as follows:
“We condemn the recent terrorist attack on Mumbai and extend our
heartfelt condolence and sympathy to the victim families. Likewise,
we condole and sympathize with the victims of terrorism in Delhi ,
Kabul , Swat, other parts of NWFP and FATA. Pakistan's civil society
is alarmed at the loss of life, denial of education to girls and
large-scale displacement of civilians in FATA and Swat. The influence
of militant groups is rapidly growing in all parts of the country
without any effective challenge by the government. Regrettably, there
appears to be a total absence of a cohesive policy by the government
of Pakistan to protect its own citizens or any strategy to challenge
militant outfits that operate with impunity within and outside the
“We regret that the media in both India and Pakistan failed to
present the Mumbai outrage in a proper context and, instead, used the
event to fuel hostility between the two countries. It aided
warmongers on both sides to whip up a war hysteria. Quite ironically,
terrorism, which should have brought India and Pakistan together to
defend peace and people's security, pushed them to the brink of a
mutually destructive war. Confrontation between these two closest
neighbours has never had such a puerile basis.
“Mercifully, the tension between India and Pakistan seems to have
abated somewhat and this is some relief. But the danger of an armed
conflict persists and we call upon both the governments not to take
peace for granted. Better understanding and constructive action
rather than confrontation between states will discourage militant
groups that are growing in strength in both countries. The government
of Pakistan must no longer stay in a state of self-denial. It must
not miss the opportunity of devising an effective strategy to
overcome the menace of terrorism that is posing a greater threat to
this country than any other nation. India too must bear in mind that
militant groups and extremists thrive in a state of conflict and
polarization. Both governments must sincerely redouble their efforts
at addressing the rise of militant groups in the region. They need to
quickly compose their differences over ways of dealing with
terrorism. This could be done through the composite dialogue that
must resume forthwith because neither country can bear the cost of
keeping defence forces on alert and suspension of normal peacetime
“We should also like to caution the government of Pakistan against
lapsing into its traditional complacency with the disappearance of
the war clouds. Blinking at the existence of terrorist outfits within
the country, some open and others disguised, will amount to self-
annihilation and greater isolation from the comity of nations. The
state's commitment to root out terrorist groups must be total. It
must ensure, as far as possible, that Pakistan is not even accused of
allowing cross-border terrorism by any group, alien or indigenous.
But everything must be done within the canons of law and justice.
Killing of innocents and extra-legal excesses will not end terrorism.
They will only fuel it.
“Islamabad must also repudiate the suggestion that its firmness in
the ongoing standoff with India has contributed to national cohesion,
revived the Kashmir issue, and enriched the national coffers. Nobody
can forget the cost paid by the country for unity behind Yahya Khan
in his war on fellow Pakistanis, for the financial windfall during
Zia's agency for the Afghan war, and for the 'revival' of the Kashmir
issue through adventurism is Kargil. The hazards of living in a make-
believe environment are all too clear.
“Success neither in the fight against terrorism nor in defending the
nation's integrity can be guaranteed by arms alone. The way to end
the abuse of belief for politics or for terrorism, there being little
difference between the two, is going to be long and hard. The task
cannot be accomplished without the whole-hearted support of a fully
informed and wide-awake society. The returns on investment in
people's food security, education, shelter, health cover and creation
of adequately rewarding employment for both men and women will be
infinitely higher than on resources expended on guns and explosives.
This can be best achieved through regional cooperation and trade
“It is these pre-requisites to national unity, solidarity, and
survival that we urge the state to address and the people shall not
fail it. Pakistan can beat off all challenges but only through
people's fully mobilized power."
INDEPENDENT APPEAL: SEX WORKERS DICING WITH DEATH IN BANGLADESH
Charities must overcome the disapproval of a conservative society to
teach prostitutes about safe sex
By Andrew Buncombe
The Independent, 30 December 2008
Ajij works as a male prostitute in Bogra, Bangladesh
Ajij lives a double life – half in public, half in the shadows.
During the day he works as a helper in a restaurant kitchen. In the
evening, the slightly-built 25-year-old has sex with men for money in
one of Bogra's many cheap hotels.
His customers are students, rickshaw drivers, police and soldiers –
everyday people. Away from prying eyes, they pay anywhere between 10p
and a pound, depending on what they want from the young man.
Afterwards they quietly leave and return to their other lives.
"At the weekend I have a long line of police and soldiers," says
Ajij, who says he has up to 25 clients a week. "Some are married,
some are unmarried. We don't question them."
Bangladesh's male prostitutes operate on the edge of this
conservative Muslim society. Commonplace but little discussed, they
are vulnerable to harassment, extortion and violence. They are
vulnerable, too, to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.
Ajij's double life could hardly be more complete. Having started
selling sex when he was just 10 years old, he married at the age of
18 under pressure from his family. His wife and five-year-old
daughter live in a village outside the city, unaware of his real
existence. Meanwhile, he lives and works in Bogra, where he also has
a male partner. That relationship, he stresses, is about love, not
"When I got married there was a lot of social pressure. I did not
know I was homosexual until after I got married," he says. "In
Bangladesh, the life of a homosexual is very secret ... There is
restriction from society but the [male sex trade] is growing."
The potential dangers from this secretive trade are obvious. But
educating sex workers about safe sex and the use of condoms is not as
straightforward as it perhaps should be. NGOs and charities working
in the field are constantly having to fight disapproval from certain
sectors of Bangladeshi society, notably religious conservatives. What
a charity might consider health awareness and education can be just
as easily be seen by critics as promotion of an irreligious lifestyle.
There have been instances where outreach workers have been harassed
by local police and government officials. Sometimes maintaining a low
profile is the most effective option. Sometimes, however, the staff
battle to persuade their critics of the value of what they are doing.
"I think it is still secret. We are working with an area of the
community that is very vulnerable," says Muradujjaman, the health
manager of a drop-in centre in Bogra run by the charity Light House.
"It's very challenging work to try to reduce their risk level.
Sometimes the people we are working with are not very educated."
Light House, a Bangladeshi-based partner of Voluntary Services
Overseas (VSO) – one of the charities for which money is being raised
by The Independent Christmas Appeal – has for the past 10 years been
running health education programmes for both male and female sex
workers in Bogra. Around 500 men are on its books.
Kathy Peach is one of the British VSO volunteers who have worked with
Light House. Before volunteering she had worked in advertising and
with the Department for International Development. Once in Bangladesh
she brought her professional skills to bear on the sex workers'
problems – and those of Light House's outreach workers who were also
"It's a tough, often thankless job with huge stigma attached to it,"
she says of the work done by the outreach staff on the streets of
Bogra. "I was impressed by the resilience, courage and dedication of
all the outreach workers I met." But the workers were regularly being
attacked by members of the local law enforcement agencies – or else
subjected to extortion. "The result was that many outreach workers
were scared to do their jobs and it was becoming harder to get
condoms ... to the sex workers who had gone into hiding."
Using her advocacy skills she devised a strategy through which the
workers were able to build bridges with the community. She arranged
meetings with the police and army in which the Light House staff were
able to convince them of the vital need of the organisation's work.
Since then the harassment has fallen off significantly.
All the same, 22-year-old Ekalas still keeps a low profile. This shy
young man works at a tailor's shop, but as evening descends on this
dusty city of a million people, men will come to the shop in search
of more than needlework. "Most of my clients I know," says Ekalas.
"If it is someone new they will come to the shop and ask for me by
name, so I know."
Having started in the sex trade when he was 17, Ekalas estimates he
has around seven or eight customers a week. He says he earns up to £3
a time. He has four brothers and five sisters and he says none of
them know that he works as a male prostitute. Since coming to the
regular sessions organised by Light House, he says he has been
persuaded of the importance of condoms and tries to demand that his
clients use them.
"There are huge numbers of male sex workers in Bogra. They range in
age from 13 to 67," says Ekalas. But it is dangerous work. The young
men say that after sex, customers often refuse to pay the agreed
price. And there is always the hovering threat of violence; on one
occasion Ajij went with a customer to a construction site where he
discovered there was a group of men waiting for them. He was forced
to jump from the third floor of a partly constructed house in order
to escape being gang-raped.
As for the future, Ekalas says he would like to get out of
prostitution. But, as he explains, the key factor is economics. His
boss at the shop pays him only a quarter of what their customers pay
for the shirts that Ekalas makes. Sex is a much more lucrative
option. At least with the help of Light House he is a little safer in
that perilous profession, and considerably less likely to assist with
the spread of the Aids epidemic. It is progress, of a kind.
 South Asia:
December 30, 2008
COURTING THE DEVIL
by Harsh Mander
As the flames of war are being fanned in both India and Pakistan,
fortunately there are sane voices of restraint against the futility
of sacrificing precious young lives in both countries. Also, since
military pressure on terrorists operating along the border with
Afghanistan would ease as troops engage the Indian armed forces,
nothing will be gained in the battle against international terror.
There could be heavy civilian casualties, although there is no
conflict between the people of the two lands. In times of global
economic crisis, the economies on both sides of the border will
flounder, inflaming prices, and extinguishing food and jobs.
But this orchestra of war and hate has muffled an important debate
which concerns the major defence of the Pakistani establishment, as
voiced by President Zardari, to the effect that the State has no
responsibility — legal, moral or practical — for the violence
perpetrated by what he describes as ‘non-State actors’. This means
that even if non-State individuals and organisations based in
Pakistan plan and execute acts of terror, within its borders or
outside, the Pakistan government cannot be held responsible.
Arguments like these have enabled these organisations to operate with
impunity, given the assurance that they will go unpunished for their
transgressions. The issue gets murkier when allegedly non-State
organisations implement the illegal, unconstitutional and violent
political agendas of the State. Blurring the already thin lines
between the State and non-State are elements within the state which
openly or tacitly support these organisations — whether logistically,
morally or politically.
States must accept responsibility for the crimes of hate and violence
perpetrated by non-State organisations. In a salutary ruling
following the 2002 Gujarat carnage, the National Human Rights
Commission Chairperson Justice Verma had held that States were
vicariously but directly responsible for crimes that organisations
outside the State commit, if the state does not do enough to rein in,
control and punish them. In practice, however, most communal riots
tend to be more in the nature of pogroms, where non-State
organisations commit hate crimes with impunity, given a sympathetic
political command, police, magistracy and judiciary, which often
shares their ideology of hate.
States often use non-State actors as their front-line forces, without
spilling the more costly blood of their men in uniform. Examples in
India are militant renegades, such as the surrendered militants in
Kashmir, the ikwanis; or in insurgent north-eastern regions, like the
surrendered ULFA. Armed by the State, answerable to no law or code,
they loot and kill civilian populations in conflict zones without
fear of punishment. Vigilante armies like the Salwa Judum have been
set up by the state in Chhattisgarh to provide dispensable foot
soldiers in the battle against Maoist insurgency.
But those who play with fire will one day burn in it, like the
Taliban has turned against Pakistan in alliance with extremist
religious fringe groups which have miniscule support, but are holding
the country to ransom. But this is not a time for war, because a war
will only strengthen and embolden the forces of hate and terror and
engender enormous human suffering. Instead, it is a time to tell our
governments unambiguously that they can no longer protect and foster
those who live by the gun, by hate and terror. It is a time to refuse
to accept the thin and dishonest defence of government helplessness
before the crimes of non-State actors. .
Harsh Mander is the convenor of Aman Biradari.
DON'T ALLOW FANATICS TO RULE: TASLIMA
Kolkata, January 2, 2009
Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen
Exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen pines for Kolkata, her
adopted home. Ever since she was forced to leave the city after
protests by fundamentalists, she has lived a desolate life in New
York. Nasreen tells India Today's Abhijit Dasgupta that she now finds
it difficult to concentrate on writing and yearns to return to the
city she needs so sorely for inspiration. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Why are you perpetually harping on the fact that you are homeless
in the world? You seem to be moving around the globe and there would
have been many people back in our country who would revel in such a
Taslima: It is not my choice to become a nomad. Neither is it my
choice to be homeless. I badly need a home.
Q. We know that and we are in full sympathy and support. What is it
that you are working on now?
Taslima: It is very difficult to concentrate on my writings...When I
have no place to live, and I am not allowed to live where I like to
Q. We understand the pain. But tell me what are you writing now?
Taslima: I am finishing a novel.
Q. What is it on?
Taslima: It's about Kolkata...
Q. When is that coming out?
Taslima: I am not sure. It is hard to get publishers. I am
blacklisted and banned in both the Bengals. No Bengali newspaper
publishes my articles…hardly any publisher dare to publish my books.
When the fanatics are against me, I get support from people, but when
governments are against me, I lose almost all the support. People are
scared of supporting me. Publishers are afraid to publish my books. I
saw exactly the same thing happen in Bangladesh.
Q. Why should everybody be scared of publishing Taslima Nasreen?
Taslima: They should not, but they are. They think publishing my
books or supporting me would show that they are against the government.
Q. But is the government that powerful?
Taslima: Government is always powerful. If the government supported
me, I could easily live in Kolkata, the city I love the most, the
city I need to be inspired.
Q. Why didn't you get the support of the people? Are they impotent?
Taslima: I don’t think they are impotent. I don’t like this word. I
think civil society should not shut its mouth. They should protest
against any kind of injustice. Most of the people have become immune
to injustice. That is very alarming.
Q. And what about Bengal...don’t you think the situation here is
alarming for the arts?
Taslima: As long as you compromise, it is fine. But for a writer like
me, who is fighting for equality and justice, who has dedicated her
life for secularism and for women's rights is not fine.
Q. Why don’t you compromise with the CPM?
Taslima: I have done nothing against the CPM. Actually, I always
Q. Then why did they throw you out?
Taslima: I don’t think my ideology and theirs are different. I had
been living in Kolkata for years and suddenly the fanatics came out
on the streets and demanded my deportation. I thought the government
would protect me.
Q. You share the same ideology and they give you the boot. "Sounds
strange. I am okay with you but when it comes to vote banks, I will
ignore you"—sort of strange policy.
Taslima: But unfortunately, I am getting punished for no fault of
mine. I am being punished for the crimes Islamic fundamentalists
committed against me. I do not believe in religion, superstition, or
any kind of dogmas. I believe in humanism, I don’t believe in
consumerism or capitalism. I believe in equality and justice for all
people. Don't you think communists have the same beliefs?
Q. If they did, then why did they surrender?
Taslima: I was thrown out of my own country 14 years ago. West Bengal
was my home.... and still it remains a shock that I have been thrown
out and will never be allowed to go there. Only they know why they
surrendered, if they surrendered. But I don’t think the fanatics will
love them (the Communists) for too long.
No political party, for the sake of the country, should surrender to
the fanatics. But unfortunately you do not see this picture. The
great politicians never give up their ideology for votes.
Q. How would you describe the CPM in one word?
Taslima: I can’t describe the CPM in one word. The CPM banned my
book. But still even in my worst nightmares, I can never think that
CPM would throw me out of Kolkata, my only refuge.
Q. Do you think the CPM exchanged you for votes? It was a deal?
Taslima: I don’t think they have earned a single vote by throwing me
out. I am not subject worth that much...99% Muslims do not know about
me. It's just handful of fanatics who use me for their political gain.
The politicians in many countries bow their heads in front of
fanatics. It happens in the subcontinent. Instead of taking action
against the fanatics who issue fatwas against me, the governments of
both Bengals took action against me.
In India, it is heartbreaking when you take a decision to make an
exiled writer homeless once again. I hope they will allow me in
Kolkata again. I am not powerful, I am not a politician. If they do
not open the door, if they do not show their sympathy and support,
how can I go back home?
Q. Have you written to Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi? He is a non-
Taslima: He was very sympathetic to me. I always got his support.
Q. Any more support?
Taslima: Recently Manmohan Singh wrote a very good letter to someone.
He wrote: '"India's glorious traditions of welcoming people
irrespective of caste and creed, community and religion will
continue, whatever be the odds. The atmosphere of hate being
perpetuated by a small segment within the country will not prevent us
from persisting with this tradition. We recognize Taslima Nasreen's
right to remain in a country of her choice, viz., India in this case.
She shall also have the option to choose whichever city or state she
Q. But why isn't the PM intervening? He compares you with The Dalai
Lama in his letter and then forgets all about it. That is not the way
a PM should react...
Taslima: Maybe somebody else is taking all the decisions regarding
me. I do not have the foggiest idea as to how a government works.
Q. Did you contact anybody in the government?
Taslima: I wrote to the chief minister and foreign minister.
Q. Both are Bengalis...
Taslima: As a Bengali, I would like to trust Bengalis. If they are a
bit considerate, I think the problems would be solved.
Q. Is the prime minister serious about your return?
Taslima: I believe one day I will be able to go back to Kolkata and
live there. The door of Bangladesh is closed for me. I can't imagine
the doors of India are permanently closed. I don’t know politics. I
am against fundamentalism but then so are many others. But I am a
soft target because I just a mere writer, I am not influential, I do
not have any organisation and above all, I am woman.
Q. But you are influential. You are Taslima Nasreen...
Taslima: I have some innocent readers who love me, that’s all. They
are not united. You know something. You can fight fundamentalists but
you can't cross swords with the government. And so I could not live
where I want to live. Bengal is my place…Bengal is my home.
Q. What are you doing in New York?
Taslima: I am homeless everywhere...I move around and depend of
friends to allow me to stay with them. I do not want to live in a
Western country. It's an impossible situation. Emotionally and
economically, it is very difficult.
Q. When did you last come to India?
Taslima: In August. I was only allowed to stay in Delhi. I could not
go to my apartment in Kolkata. I wrote letters to both Buddhadeb babu
and Pranab babu, I begged, pleaded and cried for getting the
permission to be allowed to go back to Kolkata to survive as a
writer. But it did not work. I did not get the permission. I had to
quit my Kolkata home.
I have had to remove all my furniture from Kolkata and they are now
lying in a sealed warehouse in Delhi. I asked Pranab babu whether I
could visit Kolkata for just two days. It was refused.
Q. Why don't you suck up to the CPIM if you are so desperate to live
in Kolkata? Just some mere kowtowing?
Taslima: The cruelty that I have seen...this is not the real India. I
cannot act. I am not an actor, I am a writer. All I have is honesty.
Why should I sacrifice that?
Q. What sort of cruelty have you seen?
Taslima: I sometimes wonder whether all that is happening around me
is true...I am too stunned to react. .
Q. Any friends in the CPM?
Taslima: There were many people in CPM who support me...LF Chairman
Biman Bose once told me so many stories of his adventures. He invited
me to visit his Vidyasagar Girls School.
Q. But what do these people have against you? I just do not
Taslima: I don’t know. If they still believe in communism, I don’t
think they have any reason to go against me. One day they will
realise their folly. But that might happen after I die.
Q. Did you approach Sonia Gandhi?
Taslima: I did.
Q. Can I ask you a personal question?
Q. Are you in love now? Any chances of marriage? Don't you want to
become a mother?
Taslima: It would have been nice if I were in love. The answers of
your three questions are, NO, NO and NO.
Q. Have you cut down on your smoking? The last time I met you years
ago, you were smoking like a chimney...
Taslima: I stopped smoking in 2003.
Q. What about your cat? You miss her, don't you?
Taslima: When I had to leave Kolkata, my friends in Kolkata took care
of her. I miss my Minu so much. But what can I do? There is nobody in
India who could take care of her. She was sent to Dhaka with my
brother. She is a great football player. She does not play anymore.
She hardly eats. She is from Kolkata. She misses her wonderful life
in Kolkata, she misses being with me.
Q. What are your plans?
Taslima: I have no future, everything is uncertain.
Q. If you were in Bangladesh now, who would you have voted for?
Taslima: I wouldn’t have voted for anyone.
 India - Freedom of Expression:
The Times of India
4 Jan 2009
MUMBAI BOOKSTORE PULLS PAK WRITERS OFF ITS SHELVES
by Anahita Mukherji, TNN
MUMBAI: 'The reluctant fundamentalist' could just as well be a
description of the Oxford Bookstore in Mumbai's Churchgate area as
the title of
last year's Booker-nominated novel by Pakistan-born author Mohsin Hamid.
The store has taken books by Pakistani authors off its shelves
following "friendly advice" from police. The store was asked to take
precautions in the light of Raj Thackeray's "ban" on Pakistani artists.
Store manager Girish Thakur said, "Ten days ago, a policeman from the
Marine Drive police station dropped in at our store and told us to be
careful. He advised us to remove books and CDs related to Pakistan,
as we may be targeted after the recent terror strikes in Mumbai. He
reminded us of Raj Thackeray's ban on Pakistani artists".
Thakur says he is opposed to banning books, whatever the reason.
"People who love books should be allowed the freedom to read
literature from across the world so that they get different
perspectives on an issue," he said. He added that the books would be
back on the shelves once he was assured he could.
But it's not just the police who advised the store against selling
books by Pakistani authors. A store employee, who belongs to Raj
Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), also urged Thakur not
to display Pakistani books. When contacted by TOI, the employee said:
"After the recent attack on Mumbai, why should we have any Pakistani
material in our bookstore?"
o o o
(4 January 2008]
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
The fatwa by Nav Nirman Sena's (MNS) boss Raj Thackeray to 'ban' the
Music CDs and books by Pakistani Musicians/writers is akin to
terrorizing the society yet again. MNS which has gained notoriety for
its attacks on North Indians was totally quiet when Mumbai faced the
terrible attack. Since the phenomenon of terrorism has been due to
formation of Al Qaeda by US, with the goal of controlling the oil
wells in the region, the same US has also used Pakistan as its base
to do serious damage to the World as a whole and India in particular
by planting this cancer of terrorism. Today we are witnessing the
left-over of the same phenomenon. As a matter of fact it is time that
India-Pakistan come together to solve this problem. Within Pakistan
itself Pakistan army is playing hawk and any military confrontation
in the region will be counterproductive to both the countries. It is
imperative that India as a bigger power sets the tone for peace and
interaction with Pakistani Government and civic society to have a
peaceful South Asia. It will be shortsighted to spread Hate against
our neighbor. Our firm and reasoned stand can bring in Pakistani
democratic Government and civic society to have joint efforts to root
out the evil of terrorism, the evil which has also demonized Islam
and Muslims. MNS politics is not only short sighted it will harm the
interests of our nation.
Secretary, All India Secular Forum
1102/5 MHADA Rambaug Powa Mumbai
o o o
7 January 2009
BANNING PAKISTANI WRITERS IS HYPOCRISY
As a response to the Mumbai terror attacks, this smacks of hysteria
and has disturbing ramifications in the longer term
by Neel Mukherjee
If fresh evidence were needed that books and writers are one of the
greatest threats to bigotry, especially during times that are
malleable enough to be twisted to serve their agenda of hysteria and
fear, Mumbai provides an eloquently senseless example. Hard on the
heels of the terror attacks in the city and the resultant "ban"
declared on Pakistani artists and their works by Raj Thackeray,
leader of the rightwing Hindu party, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena
(MNS), the Oxford bookstore in Churchgate in Mumbai has been asked to
remove all books written by Pakistani authors from its shelves on the
"friendly advice" of the police.
Is it possible to determine the "friendliness" of the advice? In the
store manager's words, "A policeman from the Marine Drive police
station dropped in at our store and told us to be careful about a
possible attack. He advised us to remove books and CDs related to
Pakistan, as we may be targeted after the recent terror strikes. He
reminded us of Thackeray's ban." How diligent of the Mumbai police to
be so proactive in protecting from possible vigilante attacks: the
policeman in question denied having advised the bookstore against
stocking Pakistani literature. He had dropped in to "check that
everything was all right".
One wonders if this dutiful "dropping in" has anything to do with the
MNS employee at the same store who warned his manager not to display
Pakistani books. In righteous anger, the staff member explained to
the Times of India, "After the recent attack on Mumbai, why should we
have any Pakistani material in our bookstore?" Unlike the collusive
and internalised censorship that saw french fries renamed "freedom"
fries after 9/11, this is a more straightforward case of petty
terrorising by apparatchiks. Let us not forget that these are the
very people who attack Clinton Cards outlets just before Valentine's
Day every year for selling corrupting tokens of foreign cultures. The
mirage of purity remains, as ever, the holy grail of the right.
But there are more disturbing ramifications to be reckoned with
before we dismiss this as cultural illiteracy, anti-democratic
intolerance of all kinds of pluralities, or rightwing
"patriotism" (that massive holdall, which accommodates some of the
greatest criminalities in history). It is all those things, but also
something more. Like those who had never read a single word written
by Salman Rushdie but bayed for his blood on the publication of The
Satanic Verses and after his knighthood, these censors are terrorists
in the purest sense of the term: playing at the politics of fear by
manufacturing a terrifying Other to intimidate and to disseminate
lies. By what crazy logic would one seek to have, say, Philip Roth or
Joan Didion removed from bookstores if one finds the existence of
Guantánamo Bay intolerable? And what do the MNS suggest we do with
one of the greatest Urdu writers of the last century, Saadat Hasan
Manto, who was born in undivided India in 1912 and only spent the
last seven years of his life, from 1948-55, in the new country of
Pakistan? Is he "Pakistani material"?
The Pakistani writers the MNS want to banish from bookshops would
have been the first not only to condemn but also to understand,
expose and analyse the intractable history of such acts. Now, more
than ever, we should be rushing out and dedicating entire shelves and
tables in bookstores to Pakistani writers. A culture that bans books,
especially on the grounds of such dangerous nationalism, is a culture
on the brink of self-destruction.
27 December 2008
PAK THEATRE GROUP PLAYS A PEACE TUNE
By Avneep Dhingra in New Delhi
AS TENSION mounts between India and Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks,
a theatre group from across the border took the stage in Jawaharlal
Nehru University ( JNU) to spread the message of peace.
Ajoka Theatre from Lahore is the first Pakistani theatre group to
visit India in 20 years. The irony of the group’s visit in these
tense times was not lost on the crowd that applauded their
performance with gusto.
“ For years, artists have been trying their bit to promote peace and
harmony between the two nations. It is our small attempt to help
diffuse the tension. Peace activists and artists like us have worked
very hard to build this peace process,” said Madeeha Gauhar, artistic
director of the theatre group.
The 23- member group performed its popular play “ Bullah” at a
festival hosted by the Students’ Federation of India ( SFI) and the
All India Students’ Federation on Tuesday.
Ajoka also performed Sufi qawwali on the JNU campus, which attracted
a lot of crowd.
“ It’s a great feeling to have artists from our neighbouring country
perform here. Not only do we get a chance to interact, but it is also
a peace making process,” said Abdul, a senior SFI member.
The performance by the group was well appreciated.
“ The show was splendid. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Our politicians
should learn something from them and should understand a war- like
situation is not the solution to terror,” said Devdeep Choudhury, a
student of international relations.
“ We are here to bring the message of the great Sufi poet, Bulleh
Shah, that is extremely relevant in today’s turbulent times,” said
Gauhar, a famous theatre artist from Lahore. The famous Sufi poet
professed “ humanism, peace, love, tolerance and looking beyond
religious divides”. She said many people were apprehensive about the
visit but she decided to go ahead.
“ When the Indo- Pak cricket tour was cancelled, there was
disappointment in our country.
People questioned us why we were going and said we would not be
welcomed there,” Gauhar said.
“ People came out to condemn those terror strikes. There were marches
and human chains in Karachi and Lahore,” the actor said. The group
will perform at several other places in India.
 India Administered Kashmir
Jan 02, 2009
APPEARANCE AND REALITY
by Rekha Chowdhary
How does one interpret the massive victory of the BJP in the assembly
elections of Jammu and Kashmir? Is it simply the communal
polarisation of the Jammu region — a direct impact of the religious
mobilisation during Amarnath land agitation? Certainly the BJP’s
gain, from one seat in 2002 to eleven now — all in the Hindu-
dominated belt of the region — has a reflection of the agitation, and
yet the verdict is not as straight as it seems to be.
To begin with, the Hindu belt has not exclusively gone to the BJP;
there are many significant exceptions where the party has lost. Of
these, the most interesting is the case of Bishnah where it had
fielded the widow of Kuldeep Verma, whose suicide during the
agitation had generated an intense response in Jammu. It was this
constituency which Gujarat CM Narender Modi had chosen to campaign
for. This epicentre of the agitation could not be returned to the
BJP. There were many other constituencies that had witnessed a strong
emotional response during the agitation — such as, Kathua, Samba,
Vijaypur and Akhnoor — that remained constantly in the news during
the agitation, but did not return the BJP. Another constituency where
the BJP faced a setback was Gandhi Nagar, the urban heartland of
Jammu where Nirmal Singh, the erstwhile party president, was
contesting. Nowshera, Billawar, Ramnagar, Udhampur, Chenani, Chhamb
were the other constituencies which saw the mobilisation during the
agitation but remained out of the BJP fold.
Interestingly, some of these seats have gone not only to the Congress
and the local Panthers Party, but also to the National Conference — a
party against which negative campaigns were launched in these areas,
and the statement made by Omar Abdullah in Parliament was used to
whip up frenzy against the Kashmiri leadership. That the impact of
such campaigning had not gone deep could be seen soon after the
election process began — the flags of the NC were all over the place.
Like the earlier times, one can see a plural political response in
the Jammu region. The seats have been divided between the Congress,
the NC, the BJP and the Panthers Party. It is difficult to see the
communal polarisation, since the Muslim belt of the region has given
as much of a plural response as the Hindu belt has. While in the two
districts of Poonch and Rajouri the seats have been divided between
the NC, the Congress and the PDP, in the Doda belt — comprising the
three districts of Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban — it is the Congress
which has registered its dominance, winning five of the six seats.
The entry of the PDP is seen by many as an indication of the
communalisation of the Muslim belt. Yet one cannot see Muslims in
Rajouri and Poonch voting as a bloc for any party, divided as they
are between the two identities — Gujjars and Paharis. Doda,
meanwhile, is a story of development — it was the most backward and
unattended area of the region, which was paid attention to by the
Congress government, specifically by Ghulam Nabi Azad, who himself
represented one of the constituencies within this belt.
If the BJP has succeeded in Jammu, it is not because of its communal
agenda; it is because of many other factors, anti-incumbency working
against the Congress being the most important one. The Congress faced
problems also due to internal dissensions, wrong candidate choices,
rebels and the lack of credible faces. Where it could field a
credible candidate, as in Gandhi Nagar, it could win despite the BJP
wave. It is a similar story of credible candidates in Kathua where an
independent could win despite the constituency being a BJP stronghold.
On the whole, one can say that it was the vacuum of the regional
politics that has helped the BJP. Jammu does not have a regional
party parallel to the NC. (The Panthers Party is the only regional
party of Jammu and it has succeeded in maintaining its position by
retaining three of the four seats it had won in 2002.) Hence, the
politics based upon the regional aspirations is appropriated by the
BJP. The Amarnath agitation in many ways succeeded in Jammu because,
apart from the Hindu sentiments, it could mobilise the dormant but
persistent feeling in Jammu that this region is politically
subordinated to Kashmir and is taken for granted when it comes to
political negotiations with the Centre. It is therefore the regional
rather than the communal response that has resulted in the BJP’s
The writer teaches political science at Jammu University
 International: The Bombing of Gaza
January 5, 2009
The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has
issued the following statement:
The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) denounces the invasion of Gaza by
the Israeli armed forces. After a week of barbaric air raids, the
Israeli armed forces have now launched the ground offensive which has
sharply increased civilian casualties. More than 500 people have
died in this State-sponsored terrorism.
The Polit Bureau condemns the stand taken by the United States of
America in the UN Security Council which prevented a statement
(Message over 64 KB, truncated)