SACW | 9 Dec. 2005 | Bigots in Bangladesh, Pakistan, US / Quake Update / War n Peace in Sri Lanka, Nepal / Minorities India
- South Asia Citizens Wire | 9 Dec, 2005 | Dispatch No. 2186
(Interruption Notice: Please note there will be no SACW dispatches
between 10-17 December 2005)
 Bangladesh: May I have your attention please? (Zafar Sobhan)
 Pakistan: Earthquake Update, 08 December 2005 (Pervez Hoodbhoy)
+ Report by AH Nayyar
 Nepal’s highlanders and Sri Lanka’s islanders (Kanak
 US / Pakistan: Fighting Theocracy (Manzur Ejaz)
 Bangladesh: Journalists threatened by Islamic militants
 Minorities in India's Freedom Struggle (Asghar Ali Engineer)
MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE?
by Zafar Sobhan
HOW many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't
see?" I dare say that Bob Dylan didn't have Bangladesh in mind when he
penned his famous line, but it seems to me that his words are
extraordinarily appropriate when looking back at the rise of terrorism
in this country over the past several years.
One of the main problems in facing up to the terror threat in Bangladesh
has been to get a significant segment of the population to actually
acknowledge that there is even a threat that needs facing up to. Part of
the problem can be neatly summed up by Upton Sinclair's aphorism that:
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary
depends on his not understanding it."
But now, for all those whose salaries and livelihoods and political
futures and personal philosophies depend on their not understanding that
there is a terrorist threat in Bangladesh, one hopes that the events of
the past week have had the effect of finally concentrating their minds
on the enormity of the menace and the need to address it head on.
Now, even if their salary or something else depends on them not
understanding it, their life and the life of everyone in the country and
the country itself depends on their understanding that the extremists
mean business and that continuing to ignore or to minimize the rising
threat is no longer an option.
There can be little doubt that the terrorists are merely getting warmed
up and that the coming months will see further escalation in terms of
The attack on the AL rally last August 21 and the assassinations of
Ahsanullah Master and SAMS Kibria sent the message that no one is immune
to being targeted.
The serial bombings of August 17 sent the message that the terrorists
possess the manpower, sophistication, and organizational capacity to
strike anywhere in the country and at any time.
And the suicide bombings of this week have sent the message that there
are no barriers to how far the terrorists are willing to go in order to
succeed in their mission.
So is this the beginning of the end for the Bangladesh of our Liberation
War dreams? Is the curtain about to fall on our way of life if we do not
unite to confront this threat?
Ever since I started writing this column some two years ago, I have had
people suggest to me that I am being unnecessarily alarmist with respect
to the extent of the extremist threat to the country.
In fact, I have heard this argument made again and again over the years,
and not merely about my column, but about the extensive reporting and
editorial commentary that The Daily Star has devoted to informing the
public about the extremist menace.
Earlier this week, not three days before the twin suicide strikes on the
court premises in Chittagong and Gazipur, no less an eminence than a
former minister, who has held multiple portfolios in the service of
different administrations, suggested to me that some newspapers were
trying to destroy the country with their sky-is-falling reporting about
In this, he was merely echoing what a number of current ministers and
the PM herself are on record as saying about the media's role in
creating the spectre of the extremist menace.
It never fails to astonish me that even in the wake of massive arms
hauls and repeated terrorist attacks that people could continue to
believe that the media is blowing things out of proportion, but this is
what happens when people are willing to subjugate common sense and the
national interest to partisan politics.
One hopes that the twin suicide bombings on the court premises of
Chittagong and Gazipur that killed nine and injured over eighty on
Tuesday and the suicide bombing in front of the Gazipur deputy
commissioner's office yesterday will once and for all bring home to the
entire country the enormity of the threat that we are facing and the
consequent danger of minimizing it for political reasons.
In fact, it seems to me that the terror threat is so great today as to
render all other debate about the direction of the country more or less
The fact that the attackers were suicide bombings is extremely
significant. These are the first such attacks on Bangladeshi soil and
signal a dramatic escalation in the destructive tactics employed by the
Some might argue that in absolute terms the number of extremists is very
small and that even their wider circle of supporters is by no means
extensive enough to constitute any kind of a threat to the country as a
However, this argument is misguided. In the first place, even though the
network of extremists and supporters may be small in absolute terms, no
one knows what their actual numbers are. In the second place, their
numbers, however small, are augmented significantly by the number of
enablers that the extremists evidently have in place in key positions
within the administration and government services. Numbers are not
nearly as important as access to influential positions in the corridors
Finally, we would do well to remember that if the people as a whole, due
to either indifference or intimidation, sit idle and inactive in the
face of acts of terror and carnage, that it might take only a relatively
small number of determined, ruthless, and unprincipled militants to
throw the nation into utter chaos.
This is not to suggest that Bangladesh today stands at the brink of an
imminent take-over by the extremists or that we have reached anywhere
close to the point of no return. However, if one is to err, it is better
to err on the side of caution, and I want to make clear that the
comforting bromides we tell ourselves about the moderation of the
population and the unpopularity of the militants, so as not to have to
face up to the fact that the core of the nation is being threatened, are
keeping us from taking the steps we need to take in order to get to
grips with this crisis.
So what needs to be done?
The first step is to focus on the reality and immediacy of the crisis at
hand, and to stop worrying about the image of the country or what people
outside of Bangladesh might think, which, I am sorry to say, appears to
have been the principle consideration governing internal discussion of
the issue, and to begin to engage in what we have still to initiate --
an honest and forthright national discussion on the terrorist threat.
We need to understand that right now this is the sole issue that we
should be focusing on as a nation. The discussion of the terrorist
threat -- and by extension discussion of what steps need to be taken to
counter the threat -- is still dominated by the voices of those who, for
purposes of political expediency or ideological conviction or perhaps
just common or garden idiocy, refuse to see the truth of what is staring
them in the face.
The first step towards healing is always acceptance. And it is only when
we accept where we are as a nation and how we got here that we can have
a meaningful and purposeful discussion of how to pull ourselves back
from the edge of the precipice.
Zafar Sobhan is Assistant Editor of The Daily Star."
PAKISTAN EARTHQUAKE UPDATE, 08 December 2005
From: Pervez Hoodbhoy
Professor of Physics
Islamabad 45320, Pakistan.
Many on this list have contributed very generously to the Foundation's
efforts and will surely want to know from time to time where things stand.
So here is another update on the earthquake situation, and of the relief
work undertaken by the Eqbal Ahmad Foundation with the help of faculty
and students of the physics department at Quaid-e-Azam University,
Islamabad, as well as several others.
As bitter cold sets into the mountains, we have had to make a tactical
shift of goals. We had initially thought of reconstructing 100 houses
but this looks difficult. Nor does it seem the most important thing to
There are 2 strong reasons compelling us to think afresh. First, at
current temperatures, cement does not set well (or at all) and even if
we could buy enough cement blocks and other materials, they could not be
used until April except at low altitudes. For all the talk we hear about
pre-fabricated houses, we were unable to see any in the areas we have
gone to and so that too is a dead end. Second, the most urgent thing now
is to protect the maximum number of people from snow, rain, and biting
We have become a little more ambitious than before and are spreading the
net wider. Thanks to a massive international effort, we see that
everyone now has a tent and also that thousands more are on the way. But
even the best winterized tents (and most are not) will be hopelessly
inadequate as winter progresses. This demands that our efforts should be
concentrated on building primitive temporary shelters constructed from
sheets that are screwed or nailed on to a wooden frame. These metal
sheets, as well as the wood, will be reusable in the spring (without
loss of materials) for construction of permanent houses. Some people
have started living within tents placed within our shelters to protect them
against the elements. Each shelter costs about $300 (minus wood) and we
hope to set up several hundred shelters with the money currently at our
disposal. Typically these shelters house 6-8 people of a family.
Various members of our team have chosen different earthquake zones as
their principal responsibility. They have made separate visits. Abdul
Hameed Nayyar, Hajra Ahmad, and I returned yesterday after a 2-day visit
to Chikar, Bagh, and Rawalakot. Working through reliable local groups
and individuals is fundamental to our efforts, but proper selection and such
monitoring visits are crucial for ensuring that the most deserving get
the materials we have obtained for them. Also, prevent pilferage of
resources is an important consideration. This was Dr. Nayyar's third
visit to these areas. His detailed report is appended below.
I would like to share some additional observations with you and elicit
your response to item 2 below:
1) Two months later, the visible devastation has diminished but only
slightly. Thousands of collapsed structures and buildings lie abandoned,
and rubble has been cleared only in a few places. One does not see large
scale reconstruction anywhere. But life is limping back towards a kind
of normalcy. Aftershocks are becoming weaker but people are still too
frightened to sleep indoors even where walls are still standing. This
will surely change as the chill becomes yet more bitter.
2) A few schools have reopened but classes are held outdoors because the
buildings are unsafe with leaning walls and deep cracks. According to
the government 16,000 schools were destroyed or badly damaged. We were
impressed to see that many schools in Kashmir are coeducational even up
to the matriculation level, and standards appear quite a bit better than
in Punjab. Question: should EAF use part of your donated money for
reconstruction of school buildings? Please let me know how you feel
about this. It IS important.
3) For the jihadist organizations the earthquake has been a godsend.
Those that were formally banned by the Pakistan government are fully
operative and highly visible in all earthquake zones, both Kashmir and
NWFP. In open bazars and town centres one sees the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba
(aka Jamat-ud-Dawa), Jamat-e-Islami, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Sipah-e-Sahaba,
Al Rasheed Trust, and others. They flaunt their flags and weapons, and
drive in SUVs and vehicles, presumably given to them by the Pakistan
army and intelligence agencies. These organizations have a new claim on
legitimacy, and will surely find it easier to find more recruits because
they acted promptly and efficiently. But surprisingly, Kashmiri
nationalists, who are remarkably secular, have also done well in
earthquake relief efforts and are gaining back some of the ground that
they had lost to Islamic parties and organizations. The nationalists are
not fond of Pakistan. We were amused to hear conversations between
themselves where they would refer to us as "visitors from Pakistan".
Islamabad is barely 30 miles away (as the crow flies) from Kashmir.
4) People have mixed feelings about the army's efforts, which are
immensely better now than in the week after Oct 8. In some places the
army is having a rough time. It has taken upon itself the task of
reconstruction, but is finding out the hard way that this really needs a
civilian infrastructure. Disaster relief and management are complex
tasks and easily messed up. We were told that near Rawalakot a crowd of
15,000 stormily protested against the arbitrary manner in which the
criterion for receiving relief money ($400 per household) had been
changed, and against alleged irregularities. The earthquake has exposed
government as no more than cardboard puppets to be set aside, or
manipulated at will, by the military rulers of Pakistan. The AJK
government has had no role to play in the earthquake disaster management.
Things are moving, and fortunately the grim predictions of mass deaths
seem wrong. Thanks again, and with best regards.
ABDUL HAMEED NAYYAR'S REPORT
Date: Wed, 7 Dec 2005 00:09:02 +0500
Pervez Hoodbhoy, Hajra Ahmad and I visited Kashmir with Mr. Arif Shahid
on Sunday and Monday (4, 5 December 2005). We went to Muzaffarabad,
Chikar, Bagh and Rawlakot. The purpose was to monitor progress of the
work on temporary shelters (supported by the Eqbal Ahmad Foundation and
SDPI) and to take a measure of additional demand. The work is being
undertaken in 3 areas: Chikar, Bagh and Rawlakot. From Muzaffarabad,
Prof. Khaleeque also joined us to Bagh.
Chikar: Except for the last consignment of sheets for 14 shelters that
left Rawalpindi on Monday, 5th December, all the sheets that were sent
there for 40 shelters had been distributed. We visited two shelters that
were being lived in, some which were ready or almost ready, and others
for which wooden frame had been erected. Because the shelters were given
to widely dispersed locations, it was not physically possible to check
each of them. The local organizers said they needed to cater to a larger
demand, and we promised to supply sheets for 50 additional shelters.
Some people had enough wooden planks to use in making shelter walls and
hence used the donated sheets for roof only, making larger shelters.
Some had placed the sheets in inverted V shape on top of the tents they
had received. This was another good solution, except that it would not
allow lighting fire for heat.
Insulation of shelters was a problem. When we suggested putting up hay
stacks on the outside, a valid objection was that it would easily catch
fire and destroy the entire structure. We are presently working on a new
scheme in which we would supply iron wire nets to be fixed to the CGI
sheets on outside walls and plastered with mud. The nets should be able
to hold the plaster. We are going to test it here, and check the cost of
iron nets before committing to this solution. The nets would be reusable
later for making chicken coops when the dwellers get down to making
permanent houses after the winter.
In Chikar, we also met army officers. They told us that they were also
following our prescription by distributing sheets to build shelters on
our design. In fact, at places we needed to ask if the shelter was a
part of the EAF/SDPI program or donated by the army.
Bagh: We could not visit any site because we reached there after dark.
Bagh is next to a river bed, but the places we have chosen for relief
shelters are high up on the mountains around it. The roads up are very
bad and it would take a whole day to check the sites. Besides, the team
there had distributed the sheets late, and according to them, no
shelters were ready by then. Cutting wood for frames is a major problem,
mobile cutters being in high demand. They had received 823 sheets and
had distributed 473
to 32 households. With the remaining, they were hoping to get 52
shelters completed within a week. We had a meeting with a few young
members of the team, to whom Mr. Arif Shahid described his successful
experience in Rawlakot of issuing sheets to only those who had completed
the wooden frames. This area also needs many more shelters. They had a
list of 16 villages that needed at least 50 shelters each. We promised
to supply sheets for another 50 shelters.
We also discussed the possibility of supporting destroyed private
schools for reopening with a view to not only putting children back into
schools but also providing employment to teachers who were presently out
Rawlakot: We stayed overnight in Rawlakot and had the taste of the
severe cold. It has not snowed yet in the town or up in the places we
are providing shelters to, but it was biting cold.
In the morning we visited far off places like Chak Bazar, Khai Gala, Ali
Sojal and Khorhi Channa, and saw a number of shelters made or under
construction. In one place in particular we saw shelters being made from
our help by a community of Christian sweepers who had faced
discrimination even in relief, we were told. Many frames were waiting
for sawing machines. The list of further need is very large here too. We
that more people had erected frames in anticipation of sheets than those
on the initial lists. Twenty nine additional ready frames were waiting
for sheets in this area. Here also we promised to send sheets for
another 50 shelters. The local organizers are preparing lists of many
more needy households.
We hope to send off 3600 sheets for 150 shelters in each of the three
locations in a week or so. We have already sent material for 132
shelters. If our insulation idea works, we will also send wire nets with
The News International
December 09, 2005
NEPAL’S HIGHLANDERS AND SRI LANKA’S ISLANDERS
by Kanak Mani Dixit
The ebb and flow of war and peace continues at the two corners of
Southasia. The Maoist insurgents of Nepal have decided, at least at
their very top echelons, to opt for open competitive parliamentary
politics. They have extended their unilateral ceasefire by a month and
all but ceased their rhetoric of revolutionary war. But the state
establishment is unmoved.
At the other end, past the tip of the Subcontinent, a chauvinistic
inaugural speech by the newly elected president, Mahinda Rajapakse,
suddenly jeopardised four years of precarious peace achieved and
maintained by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and opposition leader
Ranil Wickramasinghe. The Tamil Tiger leader Prabharakaran rejected the
speech and two landmine attacks in Jaffna this week killed 12 soldiers.
Rajapakse on Wednesday asked Norway to resume mediation.
While Nepal sees the rays of a possible new dawn, Sri Lanka is suddenly
pushed back to the brink of a familiar abyss. It is time to hold your
breath in Sri Lanka and Nepal.
There are significant aspects of the Tamil ‘liberation war’ and the
Maoist ‘people’s war’ which make the two situations dissimilar. The only
lesson from Sri Lanka for Nepal is that a ceasefire can hold even if the
peace process is stuck.
Nepal’s conflict can’t be resolved by studying the resolution in Sri
Lanka, Mozambique or Sierra Leone. Resolution is always specific to the
history of a country and the political and geopolitical matters specific
to that society. The millions of dollars spent by the multilateral
institutions, assorted think tanks and NGOs in taking willing Nepali
politicians, administrators, activists and journalists on conflict
resolution junkets to Jaffna and Geneva have served a limited purpose.
The answers were always in the hills and plains of Nepal not in the pubs
of Dublin nor the seminar hall of the Carter Centre.
If there was anything Nepalis could learn in Sri Lanka, it wasn’t in
Jaffna but in the rural areas of the deep south where the Marxist JVP
waged two uprisings in 1971 and 1989. They have much more in common with
Nepali Maoists than the Tigers. Also, it would be instructive to learn
how the JVP has in the past decade converted itself into a mainstream
party that now plays a king-maker role in parliament.
While the JVP worked within the Sinhala communities of the south, the
Tamil Tigers were and are a different cup of tea altogether. Their
ruthless war has been based on identity politics. These are more
virulent, fanatic and last longer. After all, it was the Tigers who more
or less invented suicide bombings. The Maoists of Nepal, while they have
tried to cynically exploit the susceptibilities of downtrodden ethnic
communities, have been fighting what they identify as a class war. In
theory, this is more easily resolved politically and by tinkering with
the state’s delivery mechanisms rather than with the nature of the state
While the LTTE takes significant support from the Tamil diaspora, not
only are the Nepali rebels home-grown, the overseas Nepali working class
does not form a significant source of funding for them. The military and
state administration of the LTTE comes close to resembling that of a
state, whereas the Maoists are ragtag in comparison. The LTTE has heavy
artillery, a navy and it is rumoured even light aircraft. Nepali Maoist
weaponry is almost entirely looted from the police and army. The tigers
have a massive kitty in foreign banks; the Nepali Maoists on the other
hand stash cash they got from looting banks and sponging off everyone
from industrialists to the peasantry.
The LTTE has carried out massive bombings in the heart of Colombo
whereas the Maoists have left Kathmandu Valley strategically untouched.
The Tigers specialise in assassinations of national leaders, both
Sinhala and Tamil, whereas the Maoists concentrated on the ‘removal’ of
local teachers, activists and political leaders in rural areas.
No one would deny the injustice done by chauvinist Sinhala nationalism
to the Tamil nor the burden of exploitative history on the rural people
of Nepal. But by seeking to bring change through the gun, both movements
have postponed the people’s future.
Till a month ago, Sri Lanka had seemed headed for shore while Nepal was
being tossed around rudderless in the middle of a typhoon. Today, it
seems the islanders have suddenly been overtaken by the storm while the
highlanders have found unexpected hope.
The writer is a journalist based in Kathmandu
December 07, 2005
WASHINGTON DIARY: FIGHTING THEOCRACY
by Dr Manzur Ejaz
Do we have an alternative ideology that can motivate the people to outdo
the mullahs in earthquake relief efforts or political activism? We don’t
have that ideology because we are oblivious or contemptuous of our own
secular traditions. We are living in a vacuum. Americans will fight back
the Evangelist in their own way; the question is how will we
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a
leading Jewish church-state watchdog, has signalled a sharp shift in
policy by directly attacking several prominent religious right groups.
He warned that the Evangelical right had made alarming gains in social
and political influence and said that their aims included
“Christianising America.” He called for a tougher and more unified
Having been duped by the Evangelical right’s hostility towards Muslims
and unconditional support for Israel, this is the first time that a
prominent Jewish group has realised the dangers of a theocratic
Christian state. The alarmists argue that the Jews have been persecuted
in every theocratic state and the US will be no exception. They have
started realising that religious persecution will not end with Muslims;
it will extend to other minorities. Naturally, the Jewish groups will
fight the theocracy within the context of Western tradition by forging
alliances with liberal Christians and other progressive groups.
For the last 25 years, we have been warning our American friends about
the direction the country was headed in. We would share our Pakistani
experience with them but they would arrogantly disregard it; what
happens in a poor developing country cannot afflict the most advanced
capitalist nation. They have been proven wrong. Present-day America is
ruled by Christian Wahhabis.
Their denial is not surprising: 30 years ago, Pakistani intellectuals
never realised that their country was slipping into theocracy and
sectarianism. More importantly, Pakistan’s so-called progressive
intelligentsia — influenced by Western intellectual traditions and with
no knowledge of their own past struggles — has failed to develop an
alternative ideology. They have no respect for their own progressive
intellectual traditions and are not capable of articulating a new one.
This is what Boota Sain has been saying for the last 30 years.
Boota Sain was introduced to us in the 1970s as a kind of malang with
unusual insights. He was a factory labourer then but when I ran into him
a few years ago he had gone into a textile related business. He has
university- and college-going children and has picked up some English
terminology over the years. A devotee of Punjabi classical poets his
opposition to religious parties has not only been consistent but a way
When asked why he follows a philosophy that concentrates on inner
purification and does nothing about making worldly life better, he
sometimes laughs and on other occasions gets irritated. He says that
there is nothing wrong with having a purer inner-self instead of a
greedy and corrupt one. Furthermore, that his devotion had less to do
with inner purification and more with setting people free of the mullahs.
He always questions “Baoo Sahib, how do you tell people not to follow
mullahs? Would you say that there is no religion?” In his view the only
way to break the mullah’s grip is by preaching that religion and God is
a personal matter which should not be brought into politics. “Let the
politicians make laws that suit the people and leave the love of God
alone or to your own heart.” He believes this to be the core of Sufi
Over the three decades that I have known him, Boota Sain has picked up
some modern political terminology as well. So, he contends that the
approach of our buzargs (the elders or sages) was the best way to
introduce secularism in society. According to him, it is the conspiracy
of the mullah-style people to portray these buzargs as people who merely
preached passive inner purification. Sometimes, mullahs come in beards
and sometimes in three-piece suits, he jokingly adds.
To prove his point Boota Sain asks about the disputes between Baba Farid
and the qazi of Pakpattan or Bulleh Shah and the mullahs of Kasur. Why
would a qazi get upset if it was only a matter of inner purification?
Why did the mullah, qazi and ruler of the city gang up against Farid and
kill his youngest son? Why did they refuse to pray at Bulleh Shah’s
death? Because they [the Sufis] challenged them on every aspect of life.
Farid sought to change the institution of the mosque where he insisted
on dancing and listening to music. He would host Hindu yogis and all
sorts of anti-establishment people at his quarters. Does any of you dare
go to the mosque, listen to music and dance there, Boota Sain challenges?
Boota Sain claims that these buzargs were not different from other
intellectuals and artists. “Did Ghalib plough the fields? Did Iqbal do a
mason’s work? Has any of you (i.e. intellectuals criticising these
buzargs) or Faiz Ahmad Faiz or Munir Niazi, spent days on tractors,” he
asks. “Our buzargs lived like the thinkers and philosophers of the rest
of the world. I hear Greek philosophers also lived like them in dargahs
(monasteries),” he adds. Probably, Boota refers to the academies of
Plato and Aristotle as dargahs.
Boota Sain points out that Baba Farid’s eldest son was a farmer while
his middle son was in the army. His point is that if these buzargs were
interested only in inner purification, their family members would not
have opted for worldly businesses.
Boota Sain may be too emotional about these matters but he forces you to
think about the means and ways to fight an oppressive state supported or
dominated by theocracy? This is not the first time that religious
fundamentalism has threatened human liberties. Even the most liberal
Mughal, Akbar, was forced to ban alcohol just as the most enlightened
ruler of our times, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, did in the 1970s. Qawwali and
dance were banned before Aurangzeb’s rule. Religious discrimination by
the state was, through taxation and other laws, so pervasive that even
Muslim minority sects were not spared.
How could people fight an oppressive theocratic state when ideology was
based on religion or metaphysical theory? The intelligentsia of that
time could not have fought theocracy with Marxism or Western style
secularism, ideologies that didn’t exist or were alien to the local
culture. And, if secular ideology had to be carved out of the indigenous
intellectual traditions and resources, what could be done other than
personalising God and taking religion out of the socio-political arena?
If fighting for free expression (music, dancing and other arts) and
religious, social and gender equality was not an active struggle for a
progressive secular state, what else was?
And how do we fight the theocratic oppressive state in our own times? Do
we have an alternative ideology that can motivate the people to outdo
the mullahs in earthquake relief efforts or political activism? We don’t
have that ideology because we are oblivious or contemptuous of our own
secular traditions. We are living in a vacuum.
Americans will fight back the Evangelist in their own way; the question
is how will we!
Committee to Protect Journalists
330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001 USA
BANGLADESH: Journalists threatened by Islamic militants
New York, December 8, 2005 —The Committee to Protect Journalists is
alarmed by death threats from a banned Islamic group against journalists
in four towns and cities in Bangladesh. Local media and CPJ sources said
Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which is suspected of having
killed up to 20 people in bombings in the last nine days, has threatened
journalists in Chittagong, Faridpur, Barisal and Gaibandha. It has also
threatened the lives of officials, police officers, and teachers.
“These threats are clearly intended to inhibit critical coverage of
Islamic militants,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “During this
crisis, we urge authorities to take these warnings seriously and to
safeguard journalists and others whose lives are in danger.”
In a hand-written letter delivered to the Chittagong Press Club on
December 6 the JMB threatened to kill 22 journalists whom they called
“betrayers,” and to blow up the press club in the southern port city.
Journalists Sumi Khan, Samaresh Baidya, Abul Momen, Farok Iqbal,
Biswajeet Chowdhury, and Anjan Kumer Sen were among those named in the
letter, according to the Dhaka-based group Media Watch. The press club
has filed a police complaint. It recently made plans to install security
cameras and a metal detector at the club entrance.
Baidya, a senior reporter with the Bhorer Kagoj daily, told CPJ that he
believed he was on the list of 22 because of his reporting on Islamic
militant groups. The death threat was the second he had received this
year. Police took six months to respond to his complaint in March about
a threat from a student group, Baidya said.
He said he was still reporting but had limited his movements because of
the threats. “I know they can do anything any time,” he said.
On December 4, the press club in Faridpur, a town west of the capital
Dhaka, received a letter claiming to be from JMB and threatening to kill
journalists who oppose jihad (holy struggle). The office of the daily
Ajker Barta in the southern town of Barisal received a letter from JMB
threatening to kill 12 people, including journalists, by December 14,
according to The Daily Star. In the northeastern town of Gaibandha, a
letter claiming to be from JMB threatened to kill six local journalists
reporting for national publications if they continued to write against
The threats have sparked widespread fear among journalists covering
recent bombings and writing about JMB, local sources told CPJ.
Authorities have blamed JMB for a series of suicide bombings, the first
ever in Bangladesh, which began with twin bombings in Gazipur and
Chittagong on November 29 that killed 11. Two days later, another bomb
near the courthouse in Gazipur killed at least one person and injured
two journalists. A suicide bombing targeting a cultural organization in
the northern town of Netrakona today killed seven people and wounded
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THEY TOO FOUGHT FOR FREEDOM - ROLE OF MINORITIES IN FREEDOM STRUGGLE
by Asghar Ali Engineer
The new generation of Indians is hardly in know of the
role played by minorities in our freedom struggle.
They think only majority community fought for it. In
case of Muslims partition made them culprits for
dividing the country Firstly all Muslims were blamed
for partition and secondly it was thought they played
no role in the freedom of the country. It is this view
with which the whole new generation has grown. Even
Maulana Azad‚s role has been obscured and our
textbooks on history of our freedom struggle either
totally ignore him or mention him just casually.
In fact besides majority community all other
minorities have played important role in freedom
struggle. The Sikhs (Sikhs are a minority with a
distinct identity and they resent being clubbled with
Hindus) played glorious role and who can ever forget
the supreme sacrifice made by Bhagat Singh. He has
become an icon of Indians‚ hearts. Besides Bhagat
Singh Sikhs played glorious role right from beginning.
Who can ever forget Ghadar Party which was formed
mainly by Sikhs and they went to Canada and America to
fight for India‚s freedom.
The role of Dalits also has been ignored by and large
and also that of tribals from different parts of
India. While much light has been thrown on the role of
Mangal Pandey (recently a film also has been made on
him), a Brahmin, one hardly finds mention of various
Dalit leaders who also played role in 1857 war of
independence. The Christians and Parsis too were in
the forefront of freedom struggle. Who can forget
Dadabhai Naoroji and Phirozshah Mehta besides others?
But today we find hardly any mention of these persons
who never hesitated to throw themselves in the
struggle for freedom of our country. But our school
textbooks hardly mention them. If the role of these
communities is not highlighted what of Muslims who are
thought to be culprits for dividing the country. And
during the NDA rule even Father of the Nation
Gandhiji‚s role was sought to be de-emphasised.
I would like to deal with the role played by Muslims
in freedom struggle, as this is important for
de-communalising thinking of our people today.
However, before we proceed further I would like to
point out that while it is important to discuss the
religious identity of people who fought for our
freedom it is not our intention to communalise the
role of those individuals in history. Those Sikhs,
Christians, Parsis, Muslims and Hindus fought for
freedom as they loved their motherland and not simply
because they belonged to this or that community. Yet
in the Indian subcontinent since nineteenth century
religious identity became main identity as the British
rulers divided us on the basis of religions and each
individual despite his/her patriotism also considered
himself/herself as belonging to this or that
community. It is for this reason we have to talk of
role of minority communities in freedom struggle.
Unfortunately the minority communities have been
marginalized in every respect including in respect of
their role in freedom struggle. The history of freedom
struggle as also that of medieval period is being
written today from majoritarian perspective. It thus
becomes necessary to emphasise the role of minority
communities. While Mangal Pandey, a Brahmin‚s role is
glorified in the 1857 war of independence (recently a
film also has been made on him) the role of dalits has
been completely ignored or if at all mentioned, it is
mentioned only on the margin. The tribals also played
important role but hardly mentioned in history books.
Who can ever forget the role of Sikhs (though Sikhs
are often clubbed with Hindus but Sikhs themselves
resent being so clubbed) in freedom struggle. The
Ghadar party mainly consisted of Sikhs and Ghadar
Party played very important role. The members of
Ghadar Party migrated to Canada and United States in
early twentieth century to fight for India‚s freedom.
The Namdhari Sikh movement, which came to be known as
Kuka movement and consisted of lower caste Sikhs from
artisan class and poor peasant started after
occupation of Punjab by the Britishers posed a great
threat to the British rule and challenged the role of
Sikh elite including the Mahants of Sikh temples. It
was the first radical challenge to the British rulers
in Punjab. On the other hand the „Punjab Unrest of
1907‰, which was spearheaded by Ajit Singh‚s Bharat
Mata Society or alternatively called
Anjuman-e-Muhibban-e- Watan (i.e. organisation of the
lovers of the country) was a secular, political
struggle of the peasantry against the destructive
economic policies and laws of the British Government.
Similarly, our history of the freedom struggle ignores
the role played by lower class Muslims led by the
orthodox ulama. The Muslim masses were mostly from
artisan classes and belonged to poor peasantry. Most
of the ulama came from these sections of Muslim
society and they fought British rule tooth and nail.
When Indian National Congress (INC) was formed in 1885
Maulana Qasim Ahmed Nanotvi (who was founder of Darul
Ulum, Deoband) issued a fatwa urging Muslims to join
INC to fight against British rule. He also got fatwas
issued by several other ulama on similar lines and
published them in a book form called Nusrat al-Ahrar
(help for freedom fighters) and as a result of his
efforts large number of Muslims joined INC.
It is true Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, an ardent advocate of
modern education among Muslims and founder of
Mohommedan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO) opposed
Muslims joining the Congress but it was because of his
priority to modern education rather than politics and
not because of lack of patriotism. Also, he was
representing the interests of upper classes of Muslims
i.e. ashraf whereas the ulama in north India
represented interests of lower class Muslims know as
But realities in western India were quite different.
There Badruddin Tyebji, the retired acting Chief
Justice of Bombay High Court urged upon Muslims to
join INC and himself joined it with three hundred
Muslim delegates and was elected President of INC. It
is interesting to note that three presidents of INC
were from minority communities in those days.
Badruddin Tyebji, a Muslim, W.C. Bonnerjee, a
Christian from Bengal and Phiroz Shah Mehta, a Parsi.
Dadabhai Naoroji was a critic of British economic
policies and was devoted to the cause of India‚s
The ulama, particularly of the Deoband School, were
greatly devoted to the cause of Indian freedom.
Maulana Mahmudul Hasan of the Reshmi Rumal (silk
kerchief) conspiracy fame was stauch supporter of
freedom movement. Another important name in this
respect is that of Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi. Prof.
Barkatullah also played key role in fighting the
British in those days.
In fact a provisional Azad Hind Government was formed
in Afghanistan with Raja Mahendra Pratap as President
and Prof. Barkatullah as Prime Minister. The Ulama
urged upon Muslims to migrate from India to
Afghanistan as they had declared India as Darul Harb
under the British rule. Thousands of Muslims migrated
and faced great hardships. Though it was not a wise
decision but that is a different matter. What we
intend to show here is that Muslims played very
important role in freedom struggle.
Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi was very enthusiastic
fighter and when he was forced out of Afghanistan by
the Afghan King he migrated to Russia through Central
Asia and witnessed revolution in Russia and was
greatly influenced by Russian revolution. Another very
important figure is Maulana Hasrat Mohani who stood
for complete freedom along with Tilak. He was great
admirer of Tilak and opposed the Congress policy of
Home rule in those days. He used to publish an Urdu
magazine, which was confiscated by the British along
with his press and his valuable books were also
destroyed by the British police.
Mention must be made here of Maulana Husain Ahmed
Madani, the then President of Jam‚at-ul-ŒUlama-I-Hind
who was an important ally of INC and was totally
opposed to the partition of the country. He opposed
two nation theory and wrote a book Muttahida Qaumiyyat
aur Islam (Composite Nationalism and Islam). It is a
seminal contribution by the Maulana. He argued against
separate nationalism and quoted from the Qur‚an to
support his contention. He gave example of the Holy
Prophet who migrated from Mecca and set up a composite
city state in Madina with Muslims, Jews and pagan
Arabs constituting one political community described
as ummah wahidah. All communities were given full
freedom to practice their religion and charged with
responsibility to protect Madina from outside attack.
Many other Muslim leaders, besides Maulana Azad, who
played an important role in freedom struggle and stood
for united nationalism, were Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan
(Sarhadi Gandhi), Hakim Ajmal Khan, Dr. Ansari, Rafi
Ahmad Qidwai and others. We must also mention the role
of Ali Brothers i.e. Maulana Muhammad Ali and Shaukat
Ali who play key role in Khilafat movement along with
Mahatma Gandhi and also their mother Bi Amma.
We cannot mention the role of several others in this
article for want of space. But it becomes obvious that
Muslims played very important role in freedom movement
and also opposing two -nation theory propounded by a
small minority of Muslims belonging to upper class.
Large number of Muslims belonging to artisan classes,
poor peasantry and backward caste Muslims,
particularly the All India Momin Conference vehemently
opposed partition of the country. It would, therefore,
be wrong to blame all Muslims for partition of the
country. Vast number of Muslims made great sacrifices
for the cause of freedom of their motherland.
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