South Asia Citizens Wire | 2 April, 2003
#1. Bangladesh: (Dis) Appearing Women in Nationalist Narratives
Interview with Dr. Geoffrey Davis (Bina D'Costa)
#2. Pakistan: A new foreign policy? (M B Naqvi)
#3. India: Interview with Khushwant Singh (Sachidananda Murthy)
+ Book Extract - The menace of fascism
#4. India: Resisting regimentation : Githa Hariharan re her new book
In Times of Siege (Anuradha Roy)
#5. India: Hindutva and Dalits (Ram Puniyani)
#6. Symposium at Michigan State University "Hindu Nationalism and the
Future of Indian Polity" - MSU
(April 5, 2003)
#7. Sri Lankan and other South Asian Women Protest Against War in Iraq
[June 1, 2002]
(Dis) Appearing Women in Nationalist Narratives
Interview with Dr. Geoffrey Davis
Conducted by Bina D'Costa , the Australian National University
Historically the use of rape in war as a genocide strategy that aimed
at destroying the racial distinctiveness of a community is located in
many other regional examples, including the Bangladesh case. Women
(and their bodies) had been occupied as the medium through which men
concretised the pact of violence, but, because they were not simply
the things to be looted and plundered, but also subjects, they
retained the memory of this rape and depredation. In this sense, the
meaning of Birangona emerges through a very significant shift (but
not new) as the object of, as well as the witness to violence. A
complex combination of religion, culture, identity, manipulation of
history and memory play a significant part in exploiting the
powerless, in this instance, marginalised women. Even with women's
obvious importance in the national image-making, women's exclusion
from the official history is apparent. They also allegorise the
necessity of a new critical approach within the gendered analysis of
With this in mind, I started my interviews, collecting stories: of
muktijodhya (freedom-fighters), social workers and Birangona (rape
survivors) themselves. Documents pointed to a certain physician, Dr.
Geoffrey Davis who had been working in the war-torn Bangladesh in
1972. The following is his interview which I conducted in Sydney
partly at his residence and later on in a Portuguese restaurant
nearby on June 1, 2002. This interview demonstrates the need to
document micro-narratives, the stories of men and women who had been
involved in our nation-building project. While many of us are
immersed in petty politics our national narrative is being affected
by the historical amnesia.
The readers should bear in mind that Dr. Davis has been remembering
with my inquiries what happened almost 32 years ago. Therefore, in
some places the responses may seem blurred.
Dr. Geoffrey Davis, a Medical Graduate from Sydney, NSW, Australia
worked in Bangladesh from March, for about six months in 1972. He
worked under the auspices of International Planned Parenthood, the
UNFPA and the WHO. He begins by remembering that no particular
organization wanted to claim him as one of their own due to the
extremely sensitive nature of his work.
Dr. Davis remembers, 'I was trying to save of what have survived of
the children born during the time that the West Pakistani army had
Bengali women incarcerated in their commissariats. And all of the
ones who had not come to term, our brief was to endeavor them to
abort the fetuses so that they didn't bear children as diseased and
undernourished as was the case. And that we succeeded in doing. The
numbers of everything in Bangladesh were huge of course but by the
time we got there a lot of them had been killed or they have been
repatriated to their families. That horrified everybody. We had to do
something. And tried to sort it out. There was one other guy from
England. I've lost track of him since. It was grotesque.'
B: Did you volunteer to go?
GD: Yes, I did.
B: What made you interested to volunteer for this service?
GD: I had a technique for terminating advanced pregnancy. I received
training mainly from the UK. However, I usually terminated under 30
B: Where in Dhaka did you work?
GD: I worked at the clinic in Dhanmondi. I also worked in most of the
other towns in what was left of hospitals. What I was doing
mainlythe numbers were so hugeI set out to train people in those
towns to do what I was doing and as soon as they got the hang of it,
I will move on to the next place.
B: For the purpose of the record will you please specify what exactly
were you doing over there?
GD: The women's rehabilitation organization had just been formed
before I was there and Justice Sobhan was in charge of that. They
were endeavoring to keep all the pregnant women together somewhere
safe and all those who were feasible we were to abort and the others
who had delivered we were to get their children to International
Social Services (ISS)
B: Do you remember the others who worked with you at that time?
GD: Justice Sobhan headed the War Rehabilitation Organization and the
main active person was Von SchuckI can't remember his first name. I
think his wife's name was Mary. They helped with finances. The names
of the Bengali officials I don't rememberbesides, nobody wanted to
know about this history
B: What makes you say that?
GD: Oh, because it involved abortion and adoption of babies. And one
aspect was that West Pakistan was a commonwealth country and all the
officers were trained in England. It was hideously embarrassing for
the British government. The West Pakistani officials didn't get why
there was so much fuss about that. I interviewed a lot of them.
They were in a prison in Comilla and in pretty miserable
circumstances (laughterwhich served them right). And they were
saying, 'What are they going on about? What were we supposed to have
done? It was a war!'
B: How did they justify raping the women?
GD: Urghh! They had orders of a kind or instruction from Tikka Khan
to the effect that a good Muslim will fight anybody except his
father. So what they had to do was to impregnate as many Bengali
women as they could. That was the theory behind it.
B: Why did they have to impregnate the women? Did they tell you?
GD: Yes, so there would be a whole generation of children in East
Pakistan that would be born with the blood from the West. That's
what they said.
B: Numerous documents from Pakistan still suggest that the numbers of
rapes had been grossly exaggerated. Do you think that's true?
GD: No, nothey did. Probably the numbers are very conservative
compared with what they did. The descriptions of how they captured
towns were very interesting. They'd keep the infantry back and put
artillery ahead and they would shell the hospitals and the schools.
And that caused absolute chaos in the town. And then the infantry
would go in and begin to segregate the women. Apart from little
children, all those were sexually matured would be segregated while
the rest of the infantry tied the rest of the town, which would
involve shooting everybody who was involved with the East Pakistani
government or the Awami League. And then the women would be put in
the compound under guard and made available to the troops. It was
most hideous. I know of no precedent anywhere in the world ever.
Nonetheless, that's how it had happened.
B: Did you have any conversation with the men and women or the social
workers at the Clinic about their experiences of the war? Especially
to the women about rape camps in particular?
GD: Yes, we used to hear about it all the time. Some of the stories
they told us were appalling. Being raped again and again and again.
By large Pathan soldiers. You couldn't believe that anybody would do
All the rich and pretty ones were kept for the officers and all the
other ones were distributed among the other ranks. And the women had
it really rough. They didn't get enough to eat. When they got sick,
they got no treatment. Lot of them died in those camps. There was an
air of disbelief about the whole thing. That no body could credit
that it really happened! But the evidence clearly showed that it did
B: Yes, I see what you mean. Because you know I myself over the last
four years have tried to locate the women. The numbers were huge and
one would expect to find a lot of them. But I myself could only find
a very limited number of women.
GD: Yes, there had been lot of denial. And they just blocked it out.
B: Was it different at that time, immediately after the war? Did
anyone share their experiences?
GD: No, no body wanted to talk about it. You could ask questions and
get an answer. Quite often it would be that they couldn't remember.
And the men didn't want to talk about it at all! Because according to
them the women had been defiled (my emphasis). And women's status in
Bangladesh was pretty low anyway. If they had been defiled they had
no status at all. They might as well be dead. And men killed them.
I couldn't believe it. That is so alien to a western society! It's so
B: You couldn't obviously speak Bengali. Was it difficult to communicate?
GD: No, I had an interpreter. A man. They got fairly organized very
quickly. They provided me with a Landrover, a driver and a field
officer who was also my interpreter. The driver was Mumtaz. But I
can't remember the FO's name... a government official. An amazing
number of them speak English. I didn't have any difficulty that I
faced in Tunisia (Dr. Davis also worked extensively with the Tunisian
population policy program).
B: In your opinion, why do you think the women remained silent?
GD: Horror, you see. They all had nightmares. You never get over it!
A lot of them had tremendous anxiety. Because we were foreign and
they didn't trust anybody who was foreign. They didn't know what we
were going to do to them
B: Did you visit any areas where the rape camps were situated?
GD: Rape camps had been disbanded and the Rehabilitation Organization
was trying to get the women back to their village or town. But what
was happening in a lot of instances was that they'd get a wife back
to the husband and he would kill her. Because she had been defiled.
And in some cases they didn't want to know about what happened. And
there were bodies in Jamuna right up to the distant parts of the
country. And it was that what got people excited in Europe in what
was going on.
B: Do you remember the women? How many you were performing abortion on?
GD: It's hard to recall the exact statistics. But about hundred a day.
B: In Dhaka or in other parts of Bangladesh?
GD: It is difficult to put a figure in it. About 100 a day in Dhaka
and in variable numbers in lot of other towns. And some would go to
B: Do you recall the percentage? For example, class wise, religion
wise how many women you saw?
GD: It was right across the classes. We didn't care what they were
religion-wisewe had to get them out of the trouble.
In general, of course the rich ones were able to leave the country as
soon as there was an armistice and go to Calcutta to get abortion and
they did that
B: Were the women asked if they wanted to have abortion? Were they
given the choice?
GD: Yes. Certainly. All the women we received wanted to have
abortions. Anybody who didn't want to have it we didn't see. On the
other hand, the women, who had delivered, handed the newborn babies
over to the rehabilitation organization. And that's how they got to
the ISS and other countries. How many, I have no idea.
B: I apologize for probing further into this. But I am really
interested in the choice or consent involved in the rehabilitation
program. Do you recall women crying or being visibly upset during
the abortion procedure?
GD: No, none of them cried. They were very impressive. They didn't
cry at all. They just stayed very quiet. Oh, thank God! That made it
easier for us!
B: You mentioned that you only provided treatment to the women who
chose to abort their babies. I just want to return to that point.
Who did the women give their consent to: the involved doctors, nurses
or social workers about terminating their pregnancies?
GD: Oh, Yes.
B: Did they have to sign a paper?
GD: I think they had to sign a document of consent. I am not sure
though. The government indirectly organized that. It was organized
largely by the Rehabilitation Organization. And the women who were
helping with that. No body got near the clinic who haven't agreed to
have an abortion, that's for sure. So, that was not an issue.
B: Did you perform abortion till the very end? Wouldn't that be at a
stage of advanced pregnancy?
GD: Yes, I terminated pregnancy for all six months I had been there.
They had such a degree of malnutrition that a term fetus of forty
weeks was about the same size as 18 weeks anywhere else.
B: Do you recollect the women or the children receiving any kind of counseling?
GD: Counseling, yes with the rehabilitation organization. There were
women social workers who talked to them. I don't think it helped
them. Because they were all malnourished, had horrible deficiency
diseasesand they all had venereal diseases of one kind or another.
It was pretty dreadful. The country had very little resources,
medicines and facilities to deal with this problem. And the limited
resources were kept for the war veterans, etc. There was not much
left for the women. We had to bring our own stuff in.
B: Where did you get your supplies? Was it enough?
GD: From England. I was told to bring my own supply. I also took two
sets of instruments and the antibiotics.
B: Have you used only these two sets of instruments for six months to
GD: Yes. The instruments in the local hospitals were destroyed and
there wasn't much. And medicinal stuff was only for the wounded men.
B: Was it medically safe?
GD: Yes. It was lot less dangerous then going into term with all
those diseases, particularly the younger ones.
B: So you were involved in both the abortion program and the adoption?
GD: Yes. But with regard to the adoption program, only in handing
the babies over to the ISS. Any little ones, even up to toddlers
That was all a bit much. But the numbers involved having abortion or
newborns were huge. The compound where the women had been kept during
the war must have been enormous. But they all had been disbanded by
the time I got there.
B: What about outside of Dhaka city, in the areas where you had been?
What kinds of facilities were made available?
GD: Hospitals and the Rehabilitation organizationI can't remember
what it was called! The Bangladesh National Women's Rehabilitation
Organization or something like that. That was operating in most of
the large centers. And the numbers being done prior to me going there
was negligible because no body wanted to do that. Most of the
medical staff in the hospital thought it was illegal. However, I had
a letter from the Secretary of the State, Rob Chowdhury authorizing
my work there. It mentioned that anything I wanted to do was
perfectly legal and they wee to give me all assistance. I can't find
the letter now. It is probably somewhereLots of papers from
BangladeshI thought it was important since I was never going to see
anything like that ever again as long as I lived. So, I better keep
It was very hard, horrific at that time.
B: Did all the women generally agree to have abortion or give up
their babies for adoption? Were any of them interested to keep the
GD: Wella few of them did
B: Do you know what happened to them?
GD: I have no idea. ISS was there to get as many babies as they
could. Because there were less and less babies available for adoption
in America and Western Europe and they wanted to get as many babies
as they could get.
B: International Social Services?
GD: Yes. It's based in Washington DC. A major organization involved
B: What happened to the mothers?
GD: After abortion or delivery they stayed for a little while and
then went off to the accommodation provided by the Relief and
Rehabilitation Center. They could stay there for as long as they
liked. And then the women went into training programs. I saw a few of
those. People making clothes on a promotional basis. In Dhaka,
Dinajpur, Rangpur, Noakhali.
My sincere thanks to Dr. Davis for sharing his account. Before I
left, we had an extensive discussion about his revisiting Bangladesh.
Our discussion naturally led to future possibilities of a war-crime
tribunal. Geoff held my hand tightly and placed it on his chest. He
had tears in his eyes. He said he'd do anything in his power to help
Bangladesh in its effort to seek justice. As a preliminary step, I
genuinely hope that this interview will inspire interested groups to
organize for an official documentation of his story.
( I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Mr. Roger Kilham who
located Dr. Davis. Sincere thanks to Dr. Hameeda Hossain for her
comments on the draft.)
The News International (Pakistan)
April 02, 2003
A new foreign policy?
M B Naqvi
Fears of Pakistan becoming the next target in the Terror war
notwithstanding, the fierce missiles race between India and Pakistan
has gone on, with one missile testified by each recently. The context
was yet another incident of grisly murder of 24 Hindu men, women and
children in Doda district, with familiar mutual accusations.
Independently, religious parties are demanding a new foreign policy.
Their case is simple: it was wrong to dump Taliban and actively side
with the US. That apparently made the Iraq War possible. Ergo, let's
stop pro-US policy and get the four air bases, now in US use,
vacated. On Iraq, Pakistan must take a more forthright stance and
denounce the War. Details of the desired change are not clear.
This Musharraf-Jamali government is, on the contrary, proud of what
it has achieved with its 'Pakistan First' notion: Americans are
constructively engaged in restraining India from an adventurist
course; they have arranged for nearly $1.6 billion grants or
concessional aid and have been helpful in persuading the Paris Club
and IFIs (international financial institutions) to be far more
forthcoming in debt rescheduling, acceptance of new aid programmes
from IMF and other poverty reduction loans from ADP and WB. The
economy is, as usual, ready to takeoff. Meantime, Pakistan has built
up $ 10 billion in Monetary Reserves -- an all time record.
Few outsiders agree that the economy has actually turned the corner
or that America's remaining engaged can be relied upon to produce the
results that the government fondly imagines. While carrying on an
anti-American campaign based on the hoary pan-Islamist sentiment, the
divines remain paranoid that one-day the Bush, or his successor's,
Administration will turn on Pakistan. They know the basis: Pakistan
has WMDs with means of delivering them; it is intensely pan-Islamist;
it is equally anti-Israel; it is veritably the world headquarters of
Taliban-al-Qaeda kind of Islamic Revolution; all the al Qaeda boys
arrested anywhere display Pakistan Pakistan; and its militant
Islamists mean to bleed India white by their Jihad. The US will not
like all that. Ergo, it will move against them.
Well, Islamists are not alone in this fear. The government too can
see these facts. Observers with no rightwing sympathies who realise
that grounds for such a fear do exist. They also realise that the
government's eyes and ears might have been vitiated by less than
wholly objective perceptions. At any rate, it has to depend on its
own machinery and agencies for implementing changes, with possible
risks of distortion or even failure. Moreover, it is also not free
from all illusions and tendencies that had led to the policies of
nurturing and supporting Taliban. Its ability to shed all those
illusions can be doubted. But a change has certainly become necessary
because the present policy is going nowhere.
What precisely is the government doing today? It goes along as much
with the US as it dares, does not say too harsh things about its War
on Iraq and is carrying on a high trapeze balancing act in PR terms:
firm declarations of not participating in the War while soothing
American nerves. And yet Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali had had to
postpone his US and UK visits. He has however rushed to Beijing where
he was sure to be received warmly. He has promises of eternal Chinese
friendship. Less than a $ 100 million aid for Gwadar Port development
and many big promises besides the description of Sino-Pak
relationship being strategic in nature, with clear dimensions of
continued military cooperation. Pretty solid it seems. But aren't
there any limits to this friendship?
Sino-Pakistan friendship has especially helpful features. It is one
sided; China does not expect much in exchange, not even doing as
Beijing may desire. Pakistan has regularly ignored the Chinese advice
in every major crisis -- the Chinese usually advise against
adventurism and political means -- but that has neither impacted on
economic or military aid that Beijing gives. Pakistanis get this aid
for being who they are and where they are. It is for balance of power
in South Asia and even the Americans do not look askance at it. But
for all that, the Chinese will never fight Pakistan's wars on its
presumptions and purposes. It advises against Jihad in Kashmir and a
resolution of Kashmir problem by amicable negotiations. We have seen
that in 1971. Pakistanis can certainly have some aid; but cannot hope
to seriously influence the extra-prudent Chinese policies. Thus if it
helps the Pakistani rulers' morale, such visits are useful.
Pakistan is really engaged today with three powers: the US (to which
it has given all it wanted), India and China. Look closely.
Pakistan's basic business is with India. The latter holds Kashmir in
its military grip while Pakistan wants Kashmiris' accession to
Pakistan, if possible. Otherwise -- what? It is wholly unclear. Maybe
Pakistan might settle for the third option as once or twice
indicated. Maybe it will even accept Kashmiris' Azadi whatever is
meant by Kashmiris or Azadi.
Since Kashmir's Jihad has lasted 12 years and more, India has
repeatedly threatened war; it had in fact served notice even in
1986-87 (Brass Tacks) because of Pakistan's nuclear programme and its
implications for Kashmir. Since Jan 1, 2002 India has refused to talk
altogether and has cut off all communications as in actual war. It is
a total deadlock and a flare up is still possible, though it remains
rather unlikely. Why? Because the reasons that made India desist in
2002 will continue to operate in 2003 and perhaps subsequently also.
Nevertheless, a near war situation does obtain and the possibility of
an almighty clash remains.
Why war has to be avoided at all costs need not to be argued at
length. Wars are fought for a purpose; they are politics by military
means. In this case, nuclear weapons' mischief is that they destroy
trust and peace and in a possible nuclear war would lead to what
would in fact be defeat for both sides. It has become totally
senseless. No cause is worth a nuclear war, not even Kashmir. The
fact is that military means can achieve nothing positive for either
country -- except to lead to each other's devastation.
A hint recently dropped by Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, the Information
Minister, that a solution of the Kashmir problem looks likely within
two to three years but it will satisfy the wishes of neither India
nor Pakistan assumes some significance. The ferment in the Pakistani
mind is shown by the recent advice of Jamaat-e-Islami's Qazi Hussain
Ahmed to Pakistan's Foreign Office. He correctly assumed that America
is benefiting from the Indo-Pak hostility and that the best way to
tackle the US now is for Pakistan to talk to India -- implicitly by
doing what it takes. What will it take is clear: Jihad has to be
ended for good; only then Indo-Pak talks would proceed. Remember
Hizbul Mujahideen, the main Jihadi group in Kashmir associated with
Qazi Hussain Ahmed's Jamaat-e-Islami. It once offered a unilateral
cease-fire to India. Talks were to follow. That the talks did not
come through was because of Indian politics. Qazi did tour major
capitals of the world and was received at the highest levels; he was
obviously lobbying for something definite. Good that he has revived
To think that India would not negotiate is silly. It has to. There
are issues that require discussion and give and take. War is not an
option for India too. But it also wants a price; it looks it has to
be paid for various reasons: The Jihad is going nowhere; Kashmiris,
after sacrificing 70,000 young men and 14 years of penury, are not an
inch nearer to their Azadi. Pakistan also remains helplessly caught
in the coils of international crises because of that fruitless Jihad,
with no initiative. These are too good reasons for change.
Let's admit Pakistan is not in a position to force a desired Kashmir
solution on India. Nor can India make Pakistan forget its stand,
though it can deny a reasonable solution of the problem because war
is not an option. Therefore, it is much better to accept the advice
given to non-official Pakistanis -- though perhaps intended for
Islamabad -- by India's former Naval Chief Admiral Ramu Ramdas two
weeks ago. It is an opening.
What he said was that both countries are still committed to the
Lahore Process and documents exist that bear the signatures of two
elected Prime Ministers. India cannot, in reason, refuse to talk on
the basis of those documents. Why not use this opening -- of course
with a flexible mind that is free from adventurism -- and Islamabad
will probably see that both Beijing and Washington, not to mention
others, would support and may ensure that the dice is not
unnecessarily loaded against Pakistan in the ensuing talks. India too
needs to get off the hook just as much as Pakistan does.
Pakistan-India relations need not only normalisation but also
improvement, if we all have to grow up into adult citizens of free
countries living cheek by jowl in a rich natural region. There is no
reason why the region cannot be normalised and harmonised to make
economic progress and achieve some political harmonisation. Let's
anchor the originally-visualised Indo-Pak friendship, based on a true
people-to-people rapprochement, in the integration of a freely and
preferentially trading region -- Saarc.
The Week (India)
Apr 6, 2003
The menace of fascism
I am not going to be silent
By Sachidananda Murthy
Contrary to his image as a jolly old sardar, Khushwant Singh, 88, is
a writer who feels deeply about the growing communalism in India. As
a young man, he witnessed the horrors of Partition, an experience he
distilled into his famous novel Train to Pakistan. As a much mellowed
man, he returned his Padma Bhushan award, aghast at the Sikh genocide
of 1984. His anguish over the Godhra carnage and the anti-Muslim
riots in Gujarat last year has now resulted in a collection of
essays, The End of India. He feels thae India of his dreams is dead
and gone. In an exclusive interview with The Week, Singh spells out
his diagnosis of a fascist India and why the Indian Muslim has
remained an outsider. Excerpts:
Do you have no hope for India?
India will not break up physically, but it is growing fascist and
intolerant. I see no reversal of this fall into the abyss of hate.
Hatred is being ingrained into the psyche of a majority of our
people. Even those who are not hateful are resigned to this politics
of hate. "Mera kya hai" (what is it to me) is their response, as one
by one our institutions are overrun by fundamentalists.
The good are becoming cynical, even as the bad are growing in
numbers. The fundamentalists, or fundoos, as writer Githa Hariharan
has called them, are on the up and up. This is not an image of India
that is acceptable to me. So I put my thoughts together on the way
this country is being lost to the fascists. I know I will get flak
You have received a lot of hatemail.
I keep them as mementoes. They call me a Pakistani kutta (dog) and
say I am born to a Pakistani randi ki aulad (son of a whore). They
abuse me because they have no answer to my exposing their humbug and
hate. But I am not going to be silent.
Interestingly, I got similar mail when I wrote against the hate
preached by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. The only difference is the
postcards were written in Gurmukhi script then, and now they are in
You said the Gujarat events culminating in the landslide victory for
the BJP is the end of India. But now the BJP has lost in Himachal
Pradesh and done badly in byelections.
Himachal is too small. Secularism, where religion is kept away from
the state, ended with the death of Jawaharlal Nehru. Ever since then,
every Prime Minister has been wooing the Hindu as well as the Muslim
The Congress and other parties allowed the build-up of private
armies, over whom the state has no control. These private armies
decide things for the country. Whether India should play cricket with
Pakistan, Bal Thackeray decides. He created a private army called
Shiv Sena, who wanted to choose who should reside in Mumbai. Then you
have the RSS, which I call the biggest private army in India. The RSS
decides what the budget should be, what the school curriculum should
But there are states which are well governed....
Governments have no right to be there if they cannot enforce law and
order. The Godhra carnage was used as an excuse for vengeance, while
the police looked on. In 1984, when Hindu mobs went on a rampage
against Sikhs in Delhi, the police did not lift a finger. I witnessed
a large number of policemen watching as goondas burnt Sikh shops in
the market in front of my house. What kind of hope can you have in a
country where the police are not only silent witnesses to genocide,
but even participate in them on orders.
There is no accountability enforced. Fundamentalists burn M.F.
Husain's paintings and the police don't do a thing. They block Deepa
Mehta's film in Varanasi and the police do nothing. Earlier, the
government was weak. Now comes the dangerous phase. The governments
at the Centre and the states are collaborating in the hate campaign
against Muslims and Christians.
Do you blame the Centre, too?
Instead of leading the country, the government is led by private
armies of fundoos. In Punjab, too, the Congress collaborated with
Bhindranwale so it could bring down the Akalis. He controlled the
destiny of Punjab till he was killed.
Punjab is now back in the mainstream. Similarly, India can get over Hindutva.
Punjab is different. Bhindranwale tried to create a rift between
Hindus and Sikhs. But they have no mutual antagonism.
It is not the same with Islam or Christianity, which have no common
feature with Hinduism. Muslims are seen as outsiders. Nobody bothers
how much blood Muslims have shed for India. This hatred, which is
centuries old, is attracting more and more knickerwallahs.
Don't you think religion can play a positive role?
If it stays within the house. We don't need microphones blaring
religious speeches and hate. We don't want television sets spewing
religious propaganda. Religious discourses have no connection with
our social conditions. Secularism means the freedom to practise one's
religion in one's own house. Outside the house, there is no religion.
I have coined a phrase for my bookÑwork is worship, but worship is
In the book you have said Indian Muslims have a national problem, not
a religious one.
Their very nationality and allegiance have been questioned for so
long. Even during British rule, Muslims were seen as separate. Many
opted for a Muslim India when the idea was put across. But those who
stayed back cannot be wished away. Now they are being pushed into
ghettos by treating them as second class citizens. Every Muslim in
India is treated as a Pakistani sympathiser. They don't trust anyone,
because whenever they reach out they are spurned.
Do you have a wishlist for India?
We must separate religion from politics. We must ban religious
parties like the BJP, Akali Dal and the Muslim League. We must ban
hate speeches like Praveen Togadia's.
The menace of fascism
By KHUSHWANT SINGH
Until a few years ago I used to think that I could dismiss the menace
of fascism erupting in my own country as a figment of my sick mind. I
can no longer do so. The Indian brand of fascism is at our doorstep.
The chief apologist for Indian fascism is Deputy Prime Minister L.K.
Advani, who read Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf while in jail during the
Emergency. Bharatiya fascism has its crudest protagonists in Bal
Thackeray, the Shiv
Sena supremo who openly praises Hitler as a superman. Its chief
executioner is Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat. And of
course, there is the rag-tag of the Singhals, Giriraj Kishores,
Togadias and other tuppenny-ha'penny rabble-rousers.
Distort facts, inject dollops of pride in your own race and religion,
and prejudice and contempt for others, and you have a witches' brew
of hate which can be easily brought to a boil....
We talk about the Taliban using
religion to stifle the social and cultural lives of the people of
Afghanistan. The same thing has been happening in our very homeland
and we see it in every aspect of our daily life. It is not only the
Shiv Sena that foams at the mouth about 'Western influence', Minister
of State for Tourism and Cultural Affairs Bhavnaben Chikalia was
recently considering banning discotheques in all government hotels.
She felt it was 'against our culture' and a 'bad influence on our
Bharatiya sanskriti'. Some years ago, Sushma Swaraj made a hue and
cry about Fashion Television, and the Sangh Parivar agitated all over
the country against Deepa Mehta's Fire and even succeeded in stopping
Water, her next film about widows of Varanasi.
These moral police have problems with books, with plays, with music
and with art. In their effort to create a Hindu rashtra, they have
played up the Shah Bano case, using the Congress's appeasement of the
Muslim orthodoxy as their trump card. They have attempted to
'rectify' Muslim 'wrongs' in history by rewriting it. They have
tampered with textbooks in their efforts to 'amend' Leftist readings
and tried to reconstruct in the twenty-first century an imagined
Hindu golden age.
Every fascist regime needs communities and groups it can demonise in
order to thrive. It starts with one group or two. But it never ends
there. A movement built on hate can only sustain itself by
continually creating fear and strife. Those of us today who feel
secure because we are not Muslims or Christians are living in a
The Sangh is already targeting Leftist historians and 'westernised'
youth. Tomorrow it will turn its hate on women who wear skirts,
people who eat meat, drink liquor, watch foreign films, don't go on
annual pilgrimages to temples, use toothpaste instead of danth
manjan, prefer allopathic doctors to vaids, kiss or shake hands in
greeting instead of shouting 'Jai Shri Ram.' No one is safe. We must
realise this if we hope to keep India alive.
(From The End of India by Khushwant Singh. Rs 200. Excerpted with
permission from Penguin Books India).
The Hindu / Literary Review
Sunday, Mar 02, 2003
GITHA HARIHARAN'S new book, In Times of Siege (Viking, Rs. 295), is
about a history academic whose text on the medieval saint Basava
attracts the unexpectedly violent attention of Hindu fundamentalist
groups. ANURADHA ROY talks to her about the book.
Your book captures the common man thrown unwittingly into political
troubles and forced into taking a position: is the novel a cautionary
tale for placid "liberals"?
YES, to the extent that it is possible for many people to be
"liberal" because they are not directly, painfully affected by the
oppression of the authorities they are critical of. Recent
experiences - Gujarat for example - show that the times of siege we
are talking about have stripped the cushioning of even this usually
comfortably placed class. The liberal in the novel, Shiv, says in
some desperation when he sees the "opposition" is not as united as
they need to be: "Forget your little arguments, the enemy is almost
at our heels! If this can happen to an ordinary, cautious man like
me, what about you ideologywallas?" But the novel is also saying that
when pushed to a point where a choice has to be made, many of those
we think of as "just ordinary, decent people" will speak up for the
fundamental values that hold their world in place - peace and harmony
so that everyone in society can go about their business, as well as
the basic freedom to think, speak, and ask questions. This is what
happened during the Emergency, after the demolition of Babri Masjid,
and after the Gujarat carnage.
When making fiction out of contemporary upheaval, did you have any
literary models, like Coetzee's Disgrace, for example, in mind?
There was almost too much from real life threatening to push its way
into the novel as I wrote it. The challenge was to contain the times
we are living through into an individual, human story. But you are
asking about literary models. I am not consciously aware of models as
I write; but certainly I am, like all writers, deeply indebted to the
writing I admire. In this sense Coetzee's writing has always been a
model for me - and this is true as much of Age of Iron as of
Disgrace. There are chilling, heartbreaking parallels between
apartheid and communalism, just as there are between Hitler's fascism
Could you say something about your use of the Basava story?
I came across A.K. Ramanujan's translation of medieval Kannada
vachanas when I was a college student. I am still amazed by the
contemporary voice of these poems - they are ruthless in their
commitment to social equality and in their questioning of formal
religion. Basava was a poet and politician who asked dangerous
questions, about caste for instance. He was also a reformer - what we
would today call an activist. A deeply religious man, he mocked
pious, caste-obsessed chauvinists. He wrote, for example: "there are
so many gods there's no place for a foot." Or he taunted them that
they used the same thing - water - in their temples as well as their
lavatories. Basava is just the sort of complex man who cannot be
interpreted in just one, "official" way as we are being bullied into
doing with so many icons. If we are regimented into seeing the past,
and figures from the past, in the way our present history-rewriters
want us to see them, we are going to lose the richness of those
lives, times and ideas. The next step, of course, is that we will
have to judge the present too with this impoverished worldview: say
these are "saints" or those are "foreigners".
For a man much given to reflection, Shiv, the 50-something professor,
goes unquestioningly by his instincts in his passion for the young
student. What was your intention in depicting this relationship?
Reflection and instinct are more or less balanced in Shiv - as much
as they are in many men of his age and position! His response to
Meena is understandable, not just because he is a cautious, rather
unglamorous middle-aged man and she is a passionate, outspoken young
woman - but because he is being challenged for the first time on both
personal and political fronts. In his life before the crisis brought
on by the fundamentalists - what Meena calls the fundoos - Shiv
sidestepped commitment in every way. Personally, this meant a
halfhearted little affair with a colleague if his marriage was not
quite what it should be. But his obsession with Meena is not just
physical - it's also his fearful fascination for everything her world
stands for: risk and danger, choice and commitment.
The novel demonstrates the oppressiveness of reducing "multitudinous
mysteries" to oversimplified opposites. Have you, living on a
university campus, found things oppressive at times from this point
You don't need to live on a campus to see either the past, or the
modern Indian experiment of a multi-cultural nation, reduced to crude
dichotomies. Our world is pervaded by the "us and them" mindset as
Indian Currents April 6, 2003
Hindutva and Dalits
Post Gujarat riots, many moves have been made by the Hindutva
organizations vis a vis dalits. The latest one being a threatening
letter by Vishwa Hindu Parishad addressed to dalit organizations in
Gujarat to adopt Hindutva. This letter published by VHP, from Paldi,
Ahmadabad, states that, ìLet the Ambedkarite Harijans who oppose the
Hindutva ideology understand. We will not let them mix with even the
soil of Hindustan; today time is in our hands. Hindutva is the
ideology of true Hindus (and) it never accepts the Harijans who are
the off springs of the untouchable Ambedkar.
The Ambedkarite Harijans, Bhangis, tribals and the untouchable Shudra
castes who believe in (respect) Ambedkar do not have any right to
give speeches or criticize the Hindutva ideology in Hindustan,Now
Hindutva has become aware and it is time to teach these Ambedkarites,
untouchable Harijans a lesson. Not even the miyans (Muslims) can come
to their aid now.î (Extract from the letter received by Banaskantha
This is a sort of open threat to Dalilts to toe the VHP line and to
politically subordinate to Sangh Parivar (SP). One has witnessed in
the recent Gujarat carnage that number of Dalits and Adiviasis were
used as foot soldiers of Hindutva to undertake the anti-Minority
violence. Also it was BJP ally Mayawati who came to campaign for
Narendra Modi. What are the portents of this new move on the part of
VHP, a component of Sangh Parivar and a progeny of RSS? As such Dalit
leadership is totally fragmented in Gujarat and the assertion of
Dalit aspirations has been totally weak. Gujarat has witnessed
massive anti-Dalit riots around the issue of reservations (1980 and
1985). After these riots the politics of S P changed the track and
manipulated and unleashed the Dalits against the Muslim minorities.
The Hindutvaisation of Dalits has been a very complex process. It
broadly has aimed to bring the ëUnityí of all the Hindus without
disturbing the caste equations, social hierarchies. To achieve this
these has gone on several processes.
On one hand there has been an urge to move upwards on the part of
section of dalits who have partly benefited from the process of
development, reservations etc. This layer has been looking for the
channels of upward mobility, Sanskritisation, and Hidnutva has
provided them this in abundance. This has come at cultural level by
providing newer community symbols, which have been popularized and
accepted by the section of Dalits. At another level Asaram Bapu,
Pandurang Shashrti and company have been spreading the neutral
sounding sermons, but in depth they do hide the refined version of
Manu Smiriti. This has been one of the major platforms, which has won
over sections of Dalits to the Hindutva. Another factor has been the
floating of Samajik Samrasata Manch, (Social Assimilation Platform)
which aims to bring together all the Hindus, sidetracking the
challenges of the caste system. Projecting the unity of Hindu society
as it is, meaning that the present inequalities are all right and
they are not to be questioned. This added on to the availability of
thousands of dalits who have lost jobs due to closure of textile
mills has provided Hindutva with a vast army of Dalits whom it could
use as the oneís to be the executioners of the anti-Muslim pogrom
witnessed in Gujarat.
So why this new threat to the Dalit organizations. This letter has
been received by many an organizations, particularly those holding
out against the Hindutva onslaught. The message is clear and loud. In
the stage so far Hindutva has been able to assimilate large sections
under its ideology and tutelage. How come some are still holding back
from getting assimilated? The ësuccessí of Moditva (blatantly
aggressive Hindutva) has emboldened them to lead an assault on the
sections, which have not been assimilated. In this type of scenario,
which exists in Gujarat where Hindutva organizations have a free
hand. The attempt is to combine all the strategies, to lure them by
inducements, and to indoctrinate them through the Asarams Bapus and
Pandurang Shastris. And now to threaten them as a last resort.
Hindutva had a complex relationship with Dalit question. With the
rise of Dalit consciousness in the elementary form in the middle of
19th century the reaction came in the form of vague articulation of
Hindutva, which expressed itself in Shuddhi campaign and also in the
programs parties like Punjab Hindu Sabha. The upper caste reaction to
Dalitís coming to social space, education and industry was to be
opposed it in a subtle way. This opposition was manifested in the
attacks on Mahtma Jotiba Phule who led this process. The same stream
of Landlord-Clergy was also opposed to the emerging politics of
Indian National Congress and the accompanying values of Liberty,
Equality and Fraternity. During early part of Twentieth century the
anti-Landlord-Brahmin movement picked up a great deal along with the
social and political changes, which aimed to change the status of
Dalits. This period saw the consolidation of the of upper caste
revivalist ideology in the form of Hindu Mahasabha and later RSS.
Both these organizations kept the clear goal of Hindu Rashtra. Their
major agenda was to ensure that caste equations donít change; the
hegemony of Landlord-Brahmin persists.
The challenge for these organizations was to preserve the status quo
while using the language, which is modern and sounding to be of
equality. We are same because we are Hindus! We are Hindus so lets
not talk of our internal matters, caste etc. lets fight against the
external enemy Muslims and Christians! So during this period on one
hand one sees the rise of Ambedkar and burning of Manu Smriti, on the
other hand we witness the rise of Hindutva as a clear ideology. We
see the coming up of the concept of Hindu Rashtra as the goal of
Hindus as the alternative to the freedom movement, which was movement
for free democratic India. The language and projection of Hindutva
sound as if it has deep anti-Muslim and Anti Christian overtones. In
a way these are incidental and these are there to hide the deeper
project of maintaining hegemony of Brahminical values in the new
garb. So Ambedkar is not opposed directly, some of his agenda against
untouchability is also accepted but his deeper goal of democracy,
which is the only system, which can be libratory to Dalits and women,
is countered in the language of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra.
The third major consolidation of this politics of Hindutva occurs in
the wake of Mandal commission implementation in 1990. While the upper
caste crystallization around Ram Temple and other religiosity based
Yatra continues the Mandal commission threatens the status quo in a
serious way. It is at this time that ongoing processes of
crystallization of upper caste-Brahminical values of caste and gender
hierarchy get more fillips to assert themselves as a severe threat to
Indian constitution. Mr. Vajpayee of BJP formulated the raison de tre
of Ram temple movement by saying that ëthey brought in Mandal so we
had to resort to Kamandal (religiosity). The rest is too well known
to be recounted. The use of religion in politics, Babri demolition,
Mumbai riots etc. resulted in rise of BJP in electoral arena as the
big player in the political field. Gujarat has come as a big lesson
to us all. The declining fortunes of BJP could be reversed by this
party resorting to the rivers of blood in the form of state sponsored
anti Muslim carnage. All this has given big space to the politics of
Hindutva, which is now aiming to manipulate the society from the top.
This manipulation is at cultural, social and political level.
The incident like this letter to recalcitrant Dalit organisations is
an attempt to browbeat the Dalits into submission. Sangh Parivar
cannot afford to let the intra Hindu identities be the fly in the
ointment of Hindu Rashtra. While on one hand it is merrily getting
social and political certification from its alliance with Dalit
leadership like Mayawati-Kanshiram, the odd onesí opposing this
politics and the Hindutva hegemony have to be shown occasional stick
if necessary. If not in Modiís Gujarat where else can they use
intimidation to the Dalits, or for that matter to other layer of
(Writer works for EKTA, Committee for Communal Amity,
"Hindu Nationalism and the Future of Indian Polity" - Symposium at MSU
Saturday April 5, 2003
9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Event Location: Erickson Kiva, Michigan State University
Organized by Dr. Mohammed Ayoob. (ayoob@...
). Speakers include:
1. Professor Christopher Jaffrelot, Director of the Centre dEtudes et
de Recherches Internationales (CERI), Paris, will speak on The
Origins and Evolution of Hindu Nationalism in India.
2. Professor Sunil Khilnani, Director of the Center for South Asian
Studies, Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies,
The Island (Sri Lanka)
2 April 2003
Extract from Cats Eye
South Asian Women Protest
In Sri Lanka over 15 women's organizations have joined to strongly
condemn the war as illegal and to express concern for the people of
Iraq. The protest is endorsed by the leading women's organizations -
Centre for Women's Research (CENWOR), Women's Education and Research
Centre (WERC), the Women's NGO Forum, Women and Media, Voice of
Women, Kantha Shakti, the Women's Development Foundation (Kurunegala)
and the Women's Development Centre (Kandy).
Similarly women's groups in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have
denounced the war and are participating in street demonstrations
protesting the holocaust being inflicted on the Iraqi people. Last
Sunday, masses of women joined the protest in Calcutta on the war.
SACW is an informal, independent & non-profit citizens wire service run by
South Asia Citizens Web (www.mnet.fr/aiindex).
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed in materials carried in the posts do not
necessarily reflect the views of SACW compilers.