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SACW | 1 June 2005

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    South Asia Citizens Wire | 1 June, 2005 [1] Thousands of Bangladeshis flee India s Assam (Biswajyoti Das) [2] India - Pakistan: We need a people s movement
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2005
      South Asia Citizens Wire | 1 June, 2005

      [1] Thousands of Bangladeshis flee India's Assam (Biswajyoti Das)
      [2] India - Pakistan: We need a people's movement (Abid Hasan Minto)
      [3] Dual India-Pakistan citizenship? (Sandeep Pandey)
      [4] All India Secular Forum Newsletter May 2005-II
      [5] India: The Arbiters of Hindutva (Yoginder Sikand)
      [6] India: Letter to the Editor (Mukul Dube)
      [7] India: An English School For Katna (Syeda Hameed)
      [8] Announcements:
      (i) May 2005 issue of Lines magazine



      Boston Globe - May 19, 2005

      Thousands of Bangladeshis flee India's Assam
      By Biswajyoti Das | May 19, 2005
      GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) - Thousands of
      Bangladeshis have fled India's northeastern state
      of Assam following threats by anonymous groups
      against migrants and a campaign asking locals not
      to employ foreigners, officials and residents

      The unidentified groups in the troubled state's
      Dibrugarh district have circulated leaflets and
      sent text messages on mobile phones in the past
      week, warning Bangladeshi nationals to leave
      immediately or face unspecified action.

      Mobile phones in Assam are being flooded with
      text messages saying, "Save the nation, save
      identity. Let's take an oath ... no food, no job,
      no shelter to Bangladeshis" while leaflets
      seeking an "economic blockade" of the migrants
      are also being distributed.

      "Many labourers working in brick kilns, rickshaws
      pullers and construction workers have fled in the
      past one week due to the threat," said P.C.
      Saloi, superintendent of police in Dibrugarh.

      Over the years, hundreds of thousands of illegal
      Bangladeshi migrants have swamped the tea-growing
      and oil-rich state in search for work and food.

      Over two years ago, the government estimated
      there could be up to 20 million illegal
      Bangladeshi immigrants in India, and labeled some
      of them a security risk.

      In the early 1980s, the powerful All Assam
      Students Union launched a bloody campaign to push
      Bangladeshis back to their homeland.

      Thousands of Bangladeshis, including women and
      children, were massacred across the state by
      indigenous people who feared they would be
      reduced to a minority in their own land.

      The government and the students union signed a
      pact in 1985, but clauses on the deportation of
      foreigners have still not been implemented.

      The campaign against the Bangladeshis has
      mushroomed into a full-fledged uprising against
      New Delhi's rule and many rebel groups are still
      battling for independence.


      India has fenced parts of the 4,000-km
      (2,500-mile) border with Bangladesh, but
      officials say this has done little to deter
      migrants bent on leaving one of the world's
      poorest countries.

      Assam shares a 272 km (169 mile) porous border
      with Bangladesh, a vast stretch of which is

      "Fencing along the border with Bangladesh in this
      sector has started to prevent illegal
      infiltration," said federal Home Secretary V.K.

      "Legal and judicial measures have also been
      adopted to deport illegal Bangladeshi settlers
      from the country."

      The lush paddy fields and the sandy, shifting
      plains of the mighty Brahmaputra river that
      divides the countries are natural transit routes.
      Hundreds take rickety boats across the river,
      which at some places is 15 km (9.5 miles) wide,
      into India.

      The migrants become farmhands or river fishermen
      in villages. In towns they are often construction
      workers or rickshaw pullers, and the women work
      as maids.

      Since the latest campaign against Bangladeshis
      began, rickshaw pullers in Assam have gone off
      the road, maids have stopped coming to work and
      there is a shortage of eggs and chickens as most
      vendors were Bangladeshi. Brick kilns have been
      closed due to shortage of labor.

      Though there are no officials figures of actual
      numbers of Bangladeshis in Assam, locals say
      their population could be six million of the
      state's 26 million people.

      "Every day around 6,000 illegal infiltrators
      cross the border and enter the state," said an
      intelligence official in Guwahati, the state's
      main city.

      Police said most of the fleeing Bangladeshi have
      now moved to districts close to the border with

      "The police have been put on maximum alert and
      instructions have been given that no genuine
      citizens are harassed and no communal clashes
      take place in disturbed areas," said Rockybul
      Hussain, Assam's minister for home (interior).



      Magazine Section | Dawn - May 29 2005


      'Two things thrive on conflict between India and
      Pakistan: religious fundamentalism and the
      military. If this conflict is removed, it will be
      easier to build a liberal democratic process in
      our country,' says Abid Hasan Manto

      ABID Hasan Manto, a lawyer by profession, is one
      of the founders of the Pakistan India People's
      Forum for Peace and Democracy, and a member of
      its central committee. He is also the president
      of the National Workers Party which was formed in
      May 1999, coincidentally a few months before the
      military takeover led by General Musharraf. The
      following are excerpts from an interview
      conducted recently with Mr Manto about the
      current situation vis-a-vis Indo-Pak relations.
      Q. A generation of Pakistanis has grown up
      considering the India-Pakistan animosity as the
      most natural state of being. What, in your view,
      is the context of this hostility?
      A: Between India and Pakistan there are certain
      historical facts that must be kept in mind. To
      begin with, the two major communities, that is,
      the Hindus and the Muslims, over a period of
      thousand years did not have an amiable
      relationship at all. The Muslims originally came
      as invaders, they plundered and returned. They
      did not indulge in empire building at that time.
      Later on, the Pathans and the Mughals came and
      built an empire. For several centuries different
      parts of India, which were overwhelmingly Hindu,
      worked within an empire that was primarily
      Muslim. There is no denial that during this
      period the relationship between the Hindus and
      the Muslims as the rulers and the ruled had
      several ups and downs. Muslim rulers took some
      steps that generated cordiality and the Sufis and
      mystics interacted with the people of India in a
      way that peace and harmony were also created. As
      a result, to this day, non-Muslims also go to
      Nizamud din Aulia and Hazrat Chishti's mazars. In
      spite of all this the basic physical fact is that
      the Muslims ruled over Hindustan for eight
      hundred years. Against this background the people
      who were working within the Hindu community for
      its resurgence, using its religion and culture,
      and the fact that the Muslims had subordinated
      them, is not such an irrelevant thing. Now for
      those building a Muslim identity on religion it
      is easy to use this (Hindu resurgence) because it
      has a historical foundation.
      But the key issue is the difference between the
      rulers and the ruled. Such differences exist
      between the Muslims too. When the Arabs took over
      Iran they kept a difference between 'Arabi' and
      'Ajami' for centuries. The Iranian civilization
      at that time was an advanced civilization.
      Similarly, Indian civilization was also an
      advanced one when the Muslims came here. Anyway,
      the rulers had an impact on the local culture be
      it Iran or India. But we should realize that in
      spite of being Muslims the Arabi and Ajami
      difference still exists to this day. So
      establishing peace is not so easy because a lot
      of prejudices exist for such a long time that it
      is not possible to eradicate them at a stroke. In
      fact, it is easy for the establishment to use
      these differences when it wants.
      In the Indo-Pak situation, we say we are
      different from Indians, we have also made a
      separate country and we feel that we are the
      smaller country in this equation. At the back of
      our minds is also our history that we were the
      rulers and we ruled over a major chunk of the
      world including India. This is similar in some
      ways to the superiority that the British feel
      even towards other Europeans in spite of peaceful
      relations for many years. This is essential
      background for us to remember: our relationship
      with religion. We cannot separate our history of
      having ruled the world from Spain to India from
      religion's point of view. Certainly Islam had the
      last big religious empire. So we are convinced of
      the power flowing through religion, which may not
      be as clear to others. In parts of the world
      where modernism and industrialization have not
      established themselves people are busy
      establishing their identity on the basis of
      Q. What role does industrialization play in this situation?
      A: Historically, the Indian subcontinent has not
      entered the modern era completely. We have not
      entered the industrial and post-industrial era
      completely. There are several reasons, going back
      to the Mughal Empire with its own character, and
      the colonization impact. Colonization forced a
      distance from the development of society that
      western societies gained. Western liberalism and
      democracy were a result of the economic
      industrialization in those countries. These
      things complemented each other. Science and
      technology helped bring down religious prejudices
      etc. For them to talk about secularism and
      liberalism is valid because it is part of their
      historical tradition.
      Our system is still largely feudal. In fact, to
      the extent that India was able to progress in
      industrialization and break down its feudal
      structures, it is ahead of Pakistan. At the eve
      of independence, India was at a different level
      of trade and development and that helped the
      democratic tradition in many ways. The
      arbitrariness of feudal structures is reduced in
      such a situation. The ruling, commercial elite
      remains arbitrary in some ways, but because they
      need to sell things, they need to establish some
      kinds of relationships with a wider variety of
      people in a host of different ways. This is what
      happened in Europe and also in India to some
      Another problem for us is that we got our country
      by dividing the common struggle against the
      British. We said 'we don't want the British,' but
      that we're also against the Hindus. I don't want
      to go into details of the justifications for this
      but the fact remains that this is what we did.
      This we started doing from 1940; before that we
      were looking to resolve our issues within an
      Indian confederation or union, whether through
      Jinnah's 14 points or other means. In 1940, there
      was a clear break. Although even in 1946 Jinnah
      moved back on this too, and he accepted the
      Cabinet Mission Plan, which would have meant a
      united India. However, Congress did not accept
      this plan for several reasons. Anyway, our entire
      struggle for a separate state was six years old
      and as a result it did not give birth to a mature
      political leadership here. A long struggle for
      their independence was the principal struggle
      that Congress leaders had undergone. Mr Jinnah
      was not wrong when he said he had 'khotay sikkay'
      in his pocket. He could not find good leaders;
      for instance, in Punjab he had to rely on Noon,
      Sikander Hayat and Daultana, all feudals without
      a history of struggle for independence.
      Therefore, these leaders were not anti-empire
      and, in fact, many had the seal of British
      approval through titles such as sir etc. These
      are again facts of our heritage so we need to
      know them before we can judge the current
      This is also why there was such a vacuum after
      his death. The leadership later on was not of the
      same level - intellectually, culturally or
      politically. His own political grooming had been
      during an Indian national struggle and he was
      very different from the people around him
      including Liaquat Ali. All of this also left its
      impact on the political traditions on Pakistan.
      This class had no interest in making a
      constitution and delayed it constantly because
      they were feudal rulers and felt no need for a
      law or constitution. You can see how the change
      in the class itself impacted our
      constitution-making when a different class of
      leaders from East Pakistan were in power briefly,
      the constitution was finally made. The outdated
      feudal Bengali leadership and our feudals could
      not make this constitution.
      Q. Kashmir plays a pivotal role in our
      relationship with India, and to many Pakistanis
      peace with India is tantamount to a sell-out on
      the Kashmir issue.
      A. The ML leadership had thought that Kashmir was
      contiguous and predominantly Muslim. So of course
      it would stay with us after partition. At the
      same time we thought that Hyderabad, although not
      contiguous with Pakistan, has a Muslim ruler so
      he will accede to Pakistan. So we took a stand in
      the middle about accepting the ruler's decision
      as far as the princely states were concerned. We
      did not at that time bargain for a poll or public
      opinion. We may claim now that the Hindu raja was
      pressurized by the Indian government, but our
      stand now is weakened by our stance on partition.
      The fact again is that war happened. Our desire
      was always that Kashmir should be part of
      Pakistan. In addition to religion there was the
      issue of all our rivers originating from Kashmir.
      A psyche was built up that Kashmir is ours and
      India is occupying it by force. This disaster has
      created perpetual conflict between India and
      Pakistan. In fact, it has turned our state
      apparatus into a security state; defend yourself
      against India, which is three times larger than
      our country. So our focus moved to security,
      which meant building the army, and that required
      money, which we did not have, so right from 1951
      we looked to the US for money. We entered various
      defence pacts with the US and in the cold war
      context the India-Pak conflict was solidified.
      Q. There have been, however, other episodes of
      improved relationship between India and Pakistan.
      Take the example of the '50s cricket matches in
      Pakistan when the borders were opened. Why didn't
      they last for long?
      A. In 1953, there was a cricket match and the
      borders were opened. There was a general exchange
      at all levels. I was studying at the Law College
      at the time, and I took the Punjab University
      debating team to different cities in India. They
      welcomed us warmly and we met Nehru. Ghazanfar
      Ali was the High Commissioner in India at that
      time and he took several initiatives. And then
      their teams came and we looked after them here.
      But this ended quite soon because Pakistan became
      an active participant in the cold war on the US
      side. We entered various defence pacts that also
      bolstered the role of our army in Pakistan's
      decision-making. India, with a generally
      non-aligned but largely pro-Soviet stance, was in
      the other camp. As I said, our conflict was
      solidified because of the cold war context. The
      Kashmir conflict continued in spite of
      negotiations and Nehru's visit. All the politics
      here was being conducted on the basis of
      establishing India as the key enemy.
      However, today's situation does not parallel
      those previous incidents of peace building. In
      part, this is because of the realization now that
      we have tried the path of hostility and it is not
      going to work. We have realized that the Security
      Council resolutions are of no use. The
      institution that makes these resolutions can and
      will not implement them. We have also realized
      now that we cannot win Kashmir over form India.
      We can create disturbance, but we cannot win it
      over in war. But the right to create disturbance
      is no longer given to any country other than
      America today. So in this context, there has been
      a withdrawal from jihadi politics. It is the age
      of economics and trade. It is now impossible for
      us to not trade with our neighbour rather than
      somebody 2,000 miles away. This will happen
      inevitably although we will go through certain
      ups and downs.
      There have been other experiences as well. For
      instance, now there is a clearer understanding
      among the people that the US has time and again
      used us, and dropped us when a relationship is no
      longer in their interest - for example, after the
      Afghan war. Although admittedly the predominant
      impression in our ruling class is still that
      being with the Americans is important. But one
      thing that everyone realizes is that
      international conditions have changed. Our
      so-called friend America is itself saying we need
      to build peace with India, and so is China. These
      pressures are not just for India and Pakistan.
      This is an international scenario in
      globalization in which economic integration
      requires free access to people and nations for
      corporate interests.
      Q. How is this US or corporate interest-sponsored
      peace likely to affect its sustainability?
      A. We need to be aware that the ruling elite in
      both Pakistan and India is overwhelmingly part of
      US global plans. All this peace is to make it a
      part of that global economic system, which is
      another form of colonial extension. Certainly, we
      cannot stay away completely from the global
      economic system, but how can we decrease or
      change the impact? Our party's analysis has been
      that we need regional arrangements. We have had
      this analysis since the fall of the Soviet Union
      and when such notions were not particularly
      fashionable. In the case of South Asia, Saarc
      should be converted into a massive ground for
      trade and economics rather than just striking
      conversations. Then various other groupings can
      be pursued like Saarc and the Middle East, Saarc
      and Central Asia etc. Some of these regional
      groupings are already emerging and the US is not
      happy with all of them. For example, they are in
      competition with the European Union. Even now
      they do not want the gas coming from Iran to go
      from Pakistan to India. They are pressurizing us
      to leave Iran and take the gas from Turkmenistan,
      where the Americans have military bases.
      We are not pursuing a radical agenda at this
      point. We need to get beyond our archaic feudal
      structures, build our industry, promote equitable
      trade, and all this is not possible without peace
      with regional players.
      Therefore, we need to consciously pick up the
      issue and build a people's movement. We do not
      want to become a pawn in the hands of MNC
      globalization. As far as possible we want to
      benefit from globalization, which is not possible
      on IMF and WB conditions. A people's movement is
      necessary to pressurize the government in the
      right direction.
      In India, for instance, a Common Minimum
      Programme has been agreed between the left
      parties and Congress to decide how much inclusion
      in the globalization process, how much
      privatization etc. are they willing to work
      towards. For us it is problematic because such a
      movement is weak in our country. The situation is
      such that the mainstream political parties are
      looking for employment with the US. Instead of
      mobilizing the people these parties put in an
      application to the Americans to impose democracy
      in our country. Corporate globalization will have
      an impact on our industry, including textile,
      which will obviously have an impact on farmers
      and cotton crops. The rich countries insist that
      we cannot provide subsidies to our farmers while
      they continue to subsidize theirs. And then we
      are expected to compete with their farmers. This
      effect on the rural economy has a direct bearing
      on the urban economy. At its most basic
      unemployment in rural areas translates into
      migration to cities creating greater pressure on
      urban structures. Here, with privatizations in
      cities we can see further unemployment, lack of
      social legislation etc. Even our traditional
      economists are beginning to realize these
      In Pakistan two things thrive on conflict between
      India and Pakistan: religious fundamentalism and
      the military. If this conflict is removed it will
      be easier to build a liberal democratic process
      in our country. A people's movement on the lines
      of, with some changes, Latin America is what we
      need in South Asia. Brazil and Venezuela are not
      cutting off the world but want to exert control
      on their resources and decisions.
      - Humeira Iqtidar



      Daily Star
      May 31, 2005

      Dr Sandeep Pandey

      We are grateful to the Pakistani government for
      allowing us to enter Pakistan and symbolically
      complete the India Pakistan Peace March scheduled
      from Delhi to Multan between March 23 and May 11,
      but regret that we were not given permission to
      walk within Pakistan. The only consolation is
      that we reached Multan on the scheduled date,
      which was not looking possible at one point
      because of bureaucratic hurdles.

      The highlight of the Multan event was the
      presence of both Shah Mahmood Hussain Qureshi,
      the Sajjada Nashin of the Dargah of Bahauddin
      Zakaria in Multan where our March ended and Nazim
      Syed Ali Shah Nizami, the Gaddi Nashin of the
      Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi from
      where the march began.

      The march was meant to carry the message of Sufi
      saints and we accomplished our objective to a
      large extent. The response from people on both
      sides of the border was overwhelming. The signs
      are very clear. The people of India and Pakistan
      are for peace and friendship and they blame their
      governments for not giving it to them.

      The people of India and Pakistan are anxious to
      meet each other as no other two communities of
      people around the globe. The governments of India
      and Pakistan have made it so difficult for the
      two people to meet as probably nowhere in the
      world. A very complicated travel restriction
      regime exists between India and Pakistan. Some of
      the restrictions are beyond the comprehension of
      common people.

      For example, why does one need the permission of
      one's Home Ministry to cross the Wagha border on
      foot if the other country has granted a visa?
      This permission is not needed when you're
      crossing over from one country into the other by
      any other means -- air, rail, or bus. Hence, if
      you cross the same border on Delhi-Lahore bus
      service then you don't need the permission from
      the Home Ministry.

      There is also a rule which mandates a group of a
      minimum of four to cross the border on foot. Most
      of the common Indian and Pakistani citizens are
      neither terrorists nor criminals, but they are
      required to report daily to the police if they
      are in the other country. It is funny that during
      our stay in Pakistan a police squad was
      continuously accompanying us and they had minute
      to minute knowledge about our movement but still
      our friends Saeeda Diep or Shabnam Rashid had to
      waste a couple of hours every day to carry our
      passports to the police headquarters. One has to
      use the same means to return that one used to
      enter the other country. There is a senseless
      strictness about port of entry.

      Most importantly, you cannot go into the other
      country unless you have a relative or an
      invitation. The Pakistani High Commission in
      Delhi had refused to entertain our visa
      applications until our names were cleared by the
      Interior Ministry in Islamabad, which meant that
      unless we had influential friends in Pakistan it
      was virtually impossible for us to enter Pakistan.

      And we had to go through all this after Pervez
      Musharraf's recent trip to New Delhi where the
      two governments had talked about increasing
      people to people contact and making the borders
      softer! The bureaucracy on the two sides is still
      not willing to acknowledge the changing realities
      between the two countries. It wants to maintain
      its hold over people and create all possible
      obstacles in the path of people wanting to go to
      the other country.

      Only twelve of us had got the nod of the
      Pakistani Interior Ministry to enter Pakistan.
      About ten times more people who wished to
      accompany this march into Pakistan were
      disappointed. A close friend Vinish Gupta, who
      left his Ph.D. programme at IIT Delhi to become a
      Buddhist Monk and presently lives in Sarnath,
      wanted to come to Pakistan to see his ancestral
      home in Lahore which houses Habib Bank today. His
      grandmother would have been most happy if he
      could have brought photographs of this home back
      with him.

      However, Tenzin, as he is now known, was not
      given the opportunity by the Pakistani Interior
      Ministry to fulfill even as small a wish as this.
      The great Gautam Buddha had said that desrire is
      the source of pain. Tenzin has learnt this the
      hard way. However, what right the bureaucracies
      on the two sides, who themselves are not
      accountable to anybody, have to deny even simple
      freedom to the people to travel and meet people
      they wish to on the other side?

      Even though we're demanding a complete doing away
      with of the passport-visa regime for travel
      between India and Pakistan, the common sentiment
      that was expressed by people along our route was
      that the two governments must grant visas on
      arrival at the border. The governments of India
      and Pakistan can do it if they want to. They have
      to merely demonstrate the political will as they
      did when they started the Delhi-Lahore bus
      service, implemented the cease fire agreement,
      allowed over 5,000 people to cross over to watch
      a cricket match and most importantly, against all
      odds, introduced the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus

      In fact, it would be a very novel idea for India
      and Pakistan to allow granting dual citizenship
      to people of the other country who wish to apply
      for it. There would be a number of Pakistanis
      willing to obtain Indian citizenship too and
      similarly a number of Indian citizens willing to
      obtain Pakistani citizenship too if given the

      This would be the surest way to get rid of
      distrust between the people of two countries
      which exists because of sustained propaganda on
      both sides against the other country and its
      people. It would also make life easier for a
      number of us who wish to frequently travel to
      Pakistan to meet friends and attend events and
      have to go through the tedious process of getting
      approval of Interior Ministry of Pakistan every

      And till the day of our departure we're not sure
      whether the Indian Home Ministry would allow us
      to cross the Wagha border on foot, even though we
      might have the visa from the Pakistani
      government. No governments possibly treat their
      citizens in such a disrespectful manner as the
      governments of India and Pakistan when it comes
      to traveling between the two countries. Why
      should the citizens of the two countries be
      subjected to this shoddy treatment by their

      Dr Pandey is a social activist and recipient of
      the Ramon Magsaysay Award for the year 2002. He
      has been on the engineering faculties of IIT
      Kanpur and Princeton University and founded ASHA
      For Education Trust in 1991.
      Crossing the Wagha border.



      All India Secular Forum Newsletter May 2005-II

      While we witnessed the increase in the number of
      communal incidents in Rajasthan and against Christian
      missionaries, the law to curb communal violence came
      more as a set back rather than a relief. There is a
      demand that the guilty be punished after every
      incident of violence. But as per the present state of
      things most of those organizing violence or taking
      part in violence get away without any punishment. It
      is this light that measures have been demanded by
      human rights groups to curb this process. UPA Govt
      came up with a law for discussion, in this direction.
      As it turns out this law gives immense powers to
      authorities, without asking for the answerability.

      It is in this light that CSSS organized one day
      consultation to oppose the implementation of this
      bill. Following was the resolution passed unanimously
      at this meeting attended by activists and legal

      A group of activists, lawyers and police officers met
      in Delhi on 18th May 2005 to discuss the government
      draft of the Communal Violence (Suppression) Bill,
      2005. After careful consideration of the proposed
      Bill, the meeting was entirely unanimous that the
      draft was entirely unsatisfactory and even dangerous,
      the solution being worst than the disease. We believe
      that the government does not lack sufficient powers
      even under the existing laws to prevent and control
      communal violence. The new law only adds draconian
      powers to the state and the armed forces in communal
      situations, which experience shows tends to be used
      most against minorities and marginalized groups.
      The meeting endorsed the view of the former
      Chairperson of the NHRC, Justice Verma, that the Bill
      should be restricted to ensuring accountability of
      state and central governments and reparation and
      rehabilitation according to accepted international

      More such meetings are in the offing in different
      places. There is a need to build up pressure against
      this bill.

      The improvement in the Indo Pak relations is most
      heartening phenomenon which is taking place slowly but
      consistently. The Maharashtra Chapter of Pak India
      Peopleís Forum for Peace and Democracy has organised a
      meeting from 10th June in Pune. Those interested may

      Ram Puniyani

      Resources- ìModi-fied Justice and Rule of lawî-The
      case of Best bakery, with Introduction by Rajeev
      Dhavan Edited by Ajay Kumar. Published by Udbhavna
      A-21 Jhilmil Industrial Area GT Road Shahdara Delhi
      95. Available in Hindi also.



      Web | May 31, 2005

      'It is for Hindu religious leaders and social
      reformers to talk on the religion,' and not a
      'declared non-believer' Karunanidhi, argues RSS
      mounthpiece Organiser. Why, then, does it present
      itself as a saviour of Muslim women from the
      'tyranny' of 'obscurantist' and 'barbaric' Islam?

      Yoginder Sikand

      The irony cannot be more striking. Known for
      their fierce opposition to reforms in Hindu law
      that sought to ameliorate the conditions of Hindu
      women, Hindutva groups present themselves as
      ardent champions of Muslim women. The image of
      Muslim women as oppressed by their men and their
      religion is central to Hindutva discourse,
      buttressing their claim of Islam and Muslims
      being inherently and unrepentantly 'obscurantist'
      and 'barbaric'. This explains the hypocritical
      defence by Hindutva ideologues of Muslim women's
      rights, while at the same time the pogroms they
      unleash lead to the death and rape of Muslim

      While Hindutva ideologues present themselves as
      saviours of Muslim women from what they describe
      as the 'tyranny' of Islam, they are fiercely
      opposed to any measures that might threaten
      Brahminical Hindu patriarchy. Thus, the cover
      story of the last issue of Organiser, the RSS'
      official English weekly, protesting against a
      move to reform Hindu marriage, should come as no
      surprise. Titled, 'A Mischievous Proposal to
      Tinker With Hindu Faith', and written by a
      certain R. Balashankar, the article furiously
      denounces the proposal put forward by the Tamil
      politician, M. Karunanidhi, leader of the
      anti-Brahmin Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham, to allow
      for 'self-respect' marriages that do without a
      mandatory priest, who is generally a Brahmin.

      The article refers to a letter sent recently by
      Karunanidhi to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
      demanding an amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act,
      1955 in order to legalise, at the all-India
      level, marriages without a priest. Presently,
      such marriages are recognized only in Tamil Nadu.
      This demand has been a long-standing one, and was
      first put forward by E.V.Periyar Ramaswamy
      Naicker, the pioneer of the anti-Brahmin movement
      in Tamil Nadu. Periyar was a bitter critic of
      Brahminical Hinduism, seeing it as a
      thinly-veiled guise for Aryan, North Indian,
      'upper' caste Hindu hegemony. He regarded
      Hinduism as a creation of 'wily Brahmins' to
      assert their control over the 'low' caste
      majority whom they had reduced to servitude. He
      believed that the non-Brahmins could effectively
      challenge Brahmin hegemony only if they developed
      a sense of self-respect and refused to consider
      the Brahmins as 'gods on earth', a status that
      the Brahmins claimed for themselves.

      As part of the comprehensive plan for cultural
      revolution that Periyar laid out, non-Brahmins
      would dispense completely with Brahmins to
      officiate over their religious and social
      functions. In particular, the use of Brahmins to
      conduct the marriage of Hindu couples was to be
      strictly avoided. In this way, non-Brahmins would
      be able to assert their equality with the
      Brahmins and would, at the same time, be saved
      from paying the Brahmins the hefty fees that they
      charged as ritual specialists.

      In place of Brahmin-officiated marriage
      ceremonies, Periyar launched what he called
      'self-respect' marriages, which were conducted
      without any priest at all. Unlike the Brahminical
      marriage, in which the bride is explicitly
      recognized as subordinate to the husband and is
      given away as a commodity to him, the
      'self-respect' marriage was an egalitarian one.
      In contrast to the Brahminical marriage, the
      'self-respect' marriage did not entail any dowry.

      That the RSS, and the Hindutva brigade as a
      whole, are simply a new face of Brahminism is
      well-known. Little wonder, then, that the
      Organiser spies in Karunanidhi's proposal for
      state recognition of 'self-respect' marriages
      throughout India a conspiracy to 'meddle with
      Hindu religion', going so far as to denounce it
      as 'promot[ing] atheism by deritualising and
      de-Hinduising Hindu marriages'. Clearly, it
      recognizes that marriages that dispense with
      Hindu priests, mostly Brahmins, are a potent
      challenge to Brahminism.

      It is, however, careful not to register its
      protest in a way that reveals its own Brahminical
      agenda. Instead, it denounces such marriages as
      'anti-Hindu', as 'intimidation of Hindu
      religion', and as calculate to 'to spite the
      religious sentiments of the Hindu majority'. The
      fact that the vast majority of 'Hindus' are
      non-Brahmins, who might well believe that they
      are equally capable as Brahmins to conduct their
      own marriages, is, of course, ignored. So, too,
      is the fact that many Dalit castes and Tribals,
      whom the RSS seeks to include within the 'Hindu'
      fold in order to augment 'Hindu' numbers,
      continue to conduct their marriage ceremonies
      without Brahmin priests and dispensing with
      Brahminical ceremonies.

      Any critique of Brahminism, therefore, is
      interpreted as an attack on Hinduism as such by
      the RSS. Any move that might challenge the
      hegemony of the Brahmin minority or make a dent
      in the citadel of Brahminism is presented as an
      attack on the 'Hindu majority' and 'Hinduism',
      even if such moves as 'self respect' marriages
      might work in favour of the non-Brahmin majority.

      As defenders of Brahminical or 'upper' caste
      privilege, Hindutva ideologues see every issue
      from the point of view of the Brahminical elites.
      Hence, the reasonableness of Karunanidhi's demand
      is completely dismissed, without any recognition
      of the fact that it might well help the majority
      of the 'Hindus', who are from the oppressed
      castes, victims of Brahminism. The Organiser sees
      no merit in the proposal at all, and, instead,
      makes the ridiculous suggestion that it might be
      a communist-inspired conspiracy to 'wean away
      Hindu youth from the fold of family and religion
      and make them tools of atheist, anti-Hindu

      The Organiser ends its vehement denunciation of
      Karunanidhi's proposal with by insisting that,
      'as a declared non-believer, Karunanidhi and the
      [sic.] likes have no right to talk on Hindu
      religious affairs'. 'It is for Hindu religious
      leaders and social reformers to talk on the
      religion', it insists. If that is the case, then
      why, one must ask, do the Hindutva-walas appear
      to take such an inordinate interest in the
      'plight' of Muslim women? If non-Hindus and
      self-declared non-believers have no right to talk
      about Hindu religious matters, what gives the RSS
      and its affiliates in the Hindutva camp the right
      to talk about Islam and shed crocodile tears over
      the 'oppression' of Muslim women?

      It is striking how, despite their visceral hatred
      of each other, Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists
      think alike on a range of issues. Both speak of
      religious identity as a monolith, conveniently
      ignoring the obvious fact that the interests of
      the elites they champion have little in common
      with those of the poor.

      On the issue of gender, too, both are firm
      upholders of patriarchal privilege. Like their
      counterparts among the Muslim clerics, the
      Hindutva-walas see patriarchal control as
      essential to their vision of religion, and hence
      any step that threatens to challenge it is
      regarded as a sinister anti-religious plot, as
      the Organiser's furious reaction to Karunanidhi's
      sensible and very welcome proposal makes amply



      D-504 Purvasha
      Mayur Vihar 1
      Delhi 110091

      1 June 2005

      The *Hindu* of 30 May reports Shri Lal Kishenchand Advani
      as having said, "We have been discharging our duties as
      people's representatives ... outside Parliament" and
      also that "we have capable leaders in the second generation,
      even more capable than me." Why do not this epitome of
      modesty and his capable young followers resign their
      parliamentary seats and do their fine work on the foot-
      path, the election to which is what they really fought and

      Mukul Dube



      The Telegraph
      June 01, 2005


      A combination of grit and resourcefulness enabled
      Jugnu Ramaswamy to set up a school in the middle
      of nowhere, writes Syeda Hameed

      Dream come true
      Jugnu Ramaswamy had started Jagriti School in
      1990 to educate Delhi's street children. Under
      the aegis of Street Survivors India, the school,
      located in Delhi's Motia Khan slum in Paharganj,
      began in 1990, and grew from some 30 children to
      over 500 students. During the 12 years of its
      existence, it transformed the lives of slum,
      street and railway-station children. In 2002, the
      Delhi government, reclaiming valuable commercial
      space, demolished Motia Khan. Along with it the
      school too became debris. On June 24, 2002, Jugnu

      "The bulldozer works fast. And this one is as
      mean as they come. Before you can say 'Ananth
      Kumar' it's all gone - several classrooms and a
      small kitchen where working children once learnt
      and ate, a hall that sheltered the homeless among
      them each night and the only tiny toilet to boast
      of a commode among a squatter population of over

      Then he and his wife, Shabnam Ahmad, decided to
      continue Jagriti. But by now Jugnu had realized
      the importance of owning land. He sold his house,
      collected all his savings and set out for a place
      where even modest people like him could own their
      very own piece.

      He decided to take the school to Katna, a village
      in the Kandi sub-division of Murshidabad
      district. This is where Shabnam was born and it
      was from here that, owing to the sagacity of her
      father (the first graduate of Katna), she went to
      Darjeeling and Calcutta for school and college
      education, respectively. He told me that the
      building had just been completed. He, Shabnam, I
      and Nurul Amin (a district official who had been
      sent as my escort) talked for two hours. I forgot
      how tired I was from the day's exertions in
      Berhampore and the 2-hour drive to the village.

      I just listened and listened. I heard Jugnu's
      account of how the building came up. All his
      savings went into buying the land. After Motia
      Khan, he could not risk another bulldozer ripping
      apart his dreams. Then came architect friends who
      understood the environment of rural Bengal and
      the imperative of cutting corners. Slowly the
      building started coming up. Meanwhile, he faced
      untold hardships, political coercion, betrayals,
      and death threats; so much so that a bomb was
      hurled at his vehicle and almost got both of
      them. But he did not give up. Slowly the enemies
      melted away; the would-be assassin came to touch
      his feet. The dream had overcome the nightmares.

      By the time we finished talking, dusk had settled
      in. It was then that I went around the building.
      Among the verdant paddy fields, in natural terra
      colours, fringed by ferns and trees, stood the
      monument of his hard work. The underlying idea of
      his school was to provide a level playing field
      for rural children. It aimed to give all
      advantages, including aesthetic surroundings,
      quality English-medium education, sports and
      extra curricular activities to the poorest of the
      poor village children of Murshidabad and nearby
      districts. The fact that it was located in Katna
      village meant that it would reach quality
      education to many Muslim children, since Katna is
      almost 98 per cent Muslim. The school was
      expected to open its doors on May 16, 2005.

      There was no big money behind the school. It was
      funded entirely by private resources raised by
      Jugnu from individual donations. On appeal from
      him, friends just sent what they could. And in
      his circle, no one is very rich; there are
      teachers, writers, film-makers. He told me of a
      man from England who, while getting his boots
      polished, learnt of a certain school where the
      little polisher studied. Not believing the boy's
      story, he landed in Motia Khan and became a solid
      supporter of Jugnu's work. Then there was a long
      silence - maybe he was dead. When Jagriti had to
      be launched and Jugnu was tapping friends, he
      wrote to the man. In reply came a stout promise,
      followed by a cheque. While I was in Katna,
      another friend called to say, give whatever you
      have on my behalf; I will reimburse you in Delhi.

      The school prospectus, beautifully designed and
      printed, says tuition fee: Rs 350 per month. Not
      a large amount when there are schools in metros,
      which charge Rs 1 lakh a month for the
      air-conditioned education of privileged kids. But
      for these beedi-rolling women and men of
      Murshidabad, even Rs 350 is a huge amount. So
      Jugnu thought of instituting scholarships for the
      poorest of the poor.

      So here it was, before my unbelieving eyes; a
      fully-equipped English medium school on a
      two-acre campus in this remotest of remote
      settings. It was a glowing example of the
      president of India's idea of PURA - Provision of
      Urban Facilities in Rural Areas. Why can't we
      replicate it all over the country, I though to

      The next day, many cars pulled up at Jugnu's
      house. The entire district administration had
      landed up to see Jagriti School. "Look Jugnu, who
      is here," Shabnam said. He looked at me with his
      laughing eyes and said, "Because you are here. We
      have been inviting them for months."

      One day, a month after my visit, with three weeks
      left for the school opening, Jugnu sat in the
      school with Shabnam working on the last details.
      He complained of his stomach hurting. I still
      recall the divan lying on the side of his desk.
      He walked there and lay down, breathing heavily.
      Those were his last breaths. I did not even
      realize until I read the notice in the papers
      that he was only 48-years old.

      The question is, what now? Jugnu's work cannot be
      allowed to go waste. Shabnam has risen from her
      mourning to pick up the pieces and continue his
      mission. Every rupee in the school account is
      fully committed. Jugnu was just collecting money
      for three second-hand vehicles in which to
      transport the children. How will it all come
      together? But in my heart I know it will. Just a
      few years, four or five, to create jagriti
      (awakening) in the community; just a few years of
      help and Jagriti will become self-sustaining. The
      cruel twist to the story, Jugnu, has deprived us
      of you but given a strange new life and vigour to
      your dream.

      At the end, as I and many friends like me say
      goodbye, I want to place at Jugnu's feet two
      lines of Iqbal which symbolize him, his life and
      his mission:

      Jugnu ki raushni hai kashana-e-chaman mein

      Ya shama jal rahi hai phoolon ki anjuman mein

      (Is the glow from firefly which illumines the
      bower?/ Or is it a candle lit in the assemblage
      of flowers?)

      The writer is a member of the planning commission


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      Volume IV; Issue 1

      Editorial Comments:

      Accountability? Political Assasinations and the
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      - Vasuki Nesiah

      the JVP on Federalism
      - Ahilan Kadirgamar

      JVP, Meet Mr. Gramsci… Civil Society, NGOs and
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      of the JVP circa 2005AD
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      - Fara Haniffa and Mirak Raheem

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      Guest Column :

      <http://www.lines-magazine.org/Art_May05/pradeep.htm>SouthPaw Two
      - Pradeep Jeganathan

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      <http://www.lines-magazine.org/Art_May05/nivedita.htm>At the Edge of Fiction
      - Nivedita Menon

      The Water's Edge: A Review
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      Cabs and Capitalism in New York City
      - Chi-ming Yang

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      In The Public Sphere:

      Taboos: Speaking about Rights and Intimidation in
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      lines off the web:

      the Road with 'In the Shadow of the Gun'
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      Reader's Comments:

      <http://www.lines-magazine.org/Art_May05/jennifer.htm>Musings from a North Paw
      - Jennifer Hyndman

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