South Asia Citizens Wire | 12-13 February, 2006 | Dispatch No. 2216
 Nepal: On the 1st Anniversary of the Coup - A joint appeal by civil
 The War with Cartoons
- The Islam the Riots Drowned Out (Emran Qureshi)
- This is the Real Outrage (Tariq Ali)
- Attacking Islam (Javed Anand)
 Pakistan: Women’s Action Forum to fight for human rights
 India: A Gift From Fundoos (Githa Hariharan)
 India: Another Gujarat in the making? (Avinash Dutt)
 India: Spurt in the Anti Christian Violence (Ram Puniyani)
 India: Students on 'mission postcard' against Clemenceau
 India: A convention on "Children's Right to Food" (Hyderbad, April 2006)
ON THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF THE COUP IN NEPAL - A JOINT APPEAL BY CIVIL
Nepal under Royal Regime: One year of dictatorial rule deepening the
We, the undersigned members of NGOs, civil society organizations and
trade unions around the world are deeply concerned over the Royal
crackdown on democracy and gross violations of human rights, as well as
continued conflict with the Maoists (Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist) in
Nepal. Despite the lifting of the state of emergency on April 29, 2005,
King Gyanendra has continuously curtailed civil society. More than 6,500
political activists, human rights defenders including journalists,
lawyers, trade unionists, women rights activists and students were
arrested and detained, since February 1, 2005.
On January 16, 2006, curfew in the capital city was imposed and was
extended on January 18. On January 19, Nepal faces another severe phase
of total crisis in the country. Latest attacks by the autocratic
government on civil society include massive arrests of political and
human rights activists, crack down on peaceful assembly and association,
restriction on movement, cutting-off communications including telephone
services and television channels.
The Maoists have cancelled the extension of a four-month unilateral
cease-fire on January 2, 2006 even after an understanding on various
issues with seven political parties on November 22, 2005. During the
cease-fire, the King's government did not reciprocate with any
appropriate conflict settlement with the Maoists.
The extreme measures adopted by the present regime have failed to
resolve the violence and armed conflict. The daily death toll has
doubled since the royal takeover. From February 1, 2005 to January 22,
2006, at least 1,478 people were killed in 65 out of 75 districts of
Nepal, allegedly due to the people's war waged by the Maoists. The
government security forces have unrelentingly cracked down on peaceful
demonstrations during the year. Those arrested were held in unofficial
detention centers in extremely bad conditions. Escalating armed conflict
has resulted in increased public insecurity, displacement, destruction
of infrastructures and lack of access to emergency social services.
Without democracy, peace, and the rule of law, the fundamental rights of
all people in Nepal cannot be guaranteed. The present regime led by the
King denies basic rights and fundamental freedoms, including labor and
women rights in Nepal, which are guaranteed under the Nepalese
Constitution and various international human rights and humanitarian
treaties. Such Royal crackdowns on democracy and the rule of law in
Nepal is also clearly based on the fact that at least 35 ordinances have
been issued without due process, of which more than half were introduced
after the lifting of the State of Emergency.
These ordinances are aimed at safeguarding the autocratic regime,
curtailing freedom of expression, association and assembly, especially
those of media and NGOs, restricting activities of NGOs, harassing civil
administration, weakening national human rights institution, threatening
innocent civilians and curtailing trade union rights. Of the last, the
latest in a series of cutting off trade union rights is the latest
amendment in the Labor Act, approved by the labor bill drafting
committee under the Office of the Prime Minister and the Council of
Ministers, in January 2006. This amendment greatly threatens the jobs of
employees, curtails the right to assembly and aims at dismantling the
thrust of the trade union movement.
Against this backdrop, Nepal and international community must be
afforded to restore multi-party democracy, peace and human rights in
Nepal. The autocratic government and the Maoists must respect the
internationally-recognized human rights and humanitarian treaties, which
Nepal is a party to.
Therefore, we strongly appeal to King Gyanendra to:
1. Repeal the unconstitutional Royal proclamation of February 2005,
and immediately restore multi-party democracy;
2. Guarantee all the rights of the people, including freedom of
expression and opinion, peaceful assembly, association and movement;
3. Release all human rights defenders including journalists and
lawyers, trade unionists, women rights activists, students,
professionals and political activists arrested in connection with the
movement for human rights and democracy in the country;
4. Stop harassing human rights defenders including journalists and
lawyers, trade unionists, women rights activists, students,
professionals and political activists;
5. Lift all measures passed without due process, including the
Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Control and Punishment) Ordinance,
Social Welfare Council (First Amendment) Ordinance, Ordinance Relating
to Amend in Some Nepal Acts Related to Communication, National Human
Rights Commission (First Amendment) Ordinance, Code of Conduct for
Social Organizations, and the proposed Labor Act (Second Amendment)
6. Declare a cease-fire to stop further violation of human rights
and for peaceful resolution of the armed conflict.
We also strongly appeal to the Maoists (Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist)
1. Respect and commit to international human rights and
humanitarian standards, and not violate the basic rights and fundamental
freedoms of all people in Nepal;
2. Follow the 12-point understanding with the seven political
parties on November 22, 2005;
3. Declare a cease-fire to stop further violence and for peaceful
resolution of the armed conflict.
Sponsors: 1. Abi Sharma, Coordinator, Canadian Network for Democratic
Nepal (CNDN), Canada; 2. Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary, Odhikar,
Bangladesh; 3Ang Kaljang Lama, Chairperson, Nepalese Democratic Forum,
UK; 4. Anselmo Lee, Executive Director, Asian Forum for Human Rights and
Development (FORUM-ASIA); 5. Bhakta Gurung, Regional Secretariat Member,
Asian Students Associatoin (ASA); 6. B. M. Kutty, Secretary General,
Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC), Pakistan; 7. Camilo Tovar, Deputy
Director, Europe External Policy Advisors (EEPA), Brussels; 8.Deepak
Prakash Bhatt, Chairperson, All India Nepalese Free Students Union
(AINFSU), India; 9. Farhat Perveen, Coordinator, Women Workers Centre,
Pakistan; 10. Girish Pokhrel, President, America Nepal Journalist
Association, USA; 11. Govinda Bandi, Member, Hong Kong Support Group for
Democracy and Human Right in Nepal, Hong Kong; 12. Iman Rahmana, Sedane
Institute for Labour Information (LIPS), Indonesia; 13. Irene Xavier,
Coordinator, Trans-nationals Information Exchange-Asia (TIE-Asia); 14.
Junya Yimprasert, Coordinator, Thai Labour Campaign (TLC), Thailand; 15.
Karamat Ali, Executive Director, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education
& Research (PILER), Pakistan; 16. Kiran Sitoula, Editor, Nepalipost.com,
USA; 17. Krishna Upadhyaya, Coordinator, Solidarity Nepal UK (Solidarity
for Democracy, Human Rights and Peace in Nepal); 18. Lekhnath Bhandari,
Coordinator, Alternative Group, Virginia, USA; 19. Lita Anggraini,
Chairperson, RUMPUM , Jogjakarta, Indonesia; 20. Lucia Victor
Jayaseelan, Coordinating Officer, Committee for Asian Women (CAW); 21.
Nongluck Parnthong, Coordinator, Slum's Women Network (SWON), Thailand;
22. P. Razeek, Managing Trustee, Community Trust Fund (CTF), Sri Lanka;
23. Parat Nanakhorn, Coordinator, Asia Pacific Workers Solidarity Link
(APWSL); 24. Pramod Dhakal, Member of Coordination Committee, Canada
Forum for Nepal, Canada; 25. Prathueng Chuaykliang, Coordinator, Women's
Rights and Development Centre (WORD), Thailand; 26. Premchandra Rai,
Coordinator, Far East Overseas Nepalese Association (FEONA), Hong Kong;
27. Purushottam Poudel, Chairperson, Nepalese People's Coordination
Committee, UK; 28. Rajan Treepathi, Coordinator, Nepal Human Rights
Organization, Baltimor, USA; 29. Ram Lal Kafle, Chairperson, Migrant
Nepalese Association, India; 30. Ramesh Pandey, Coordinator, Nepalese
Forum for Human Rights and People's Democracy (NEHURIPD), Australia;
31.Rawai Phupaga, Chairperson, International Federation of
Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), Thailand
Council; 32. Samydorai Sinapan, President, Think Centre, Singapore; 33.
Shobhakar Budhathoki, Secretariat Member, Defend Human Rights Movement
in Nepal (DHRM-N), Nepal; 34. Somchai Chuaykliang, Director, Training
Centre for Urban Poor (TCUP), Thailand; 35. Somyot Pruksakasemsuk,
President, Alliance of Democratic Trade Unions (ADTU), Thailand; 36.
Subodh Raj Pyakurel, Chairperson, Informal Sector Service Centre
(INSEC), Nepal; 37. Suhas Chakma, Director, Asian Centre for Human
Rights (ACHR); 38. Sujita Shakya, Chairperson, Women's Welfare Society
(WWS), Nepal; 39. Sukanta Sukpaita, Chairperson, Women Workers Unity
Group (WWUG), Thailand; 40. Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, Ain O
Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh; 41. Sunila Abeysekera, Executive
Director, Information Monitor (INFORM), Sri Lanka; 42. Supawadee Petrat,
Coordinator for Mekong Region, 1000 Women for Nobel Peace Prize 2005;
43. Sushil Pyakurel, Former Member of the National Human Rights
Commission (NHRC), Nepal; 44. Tapan Bose, Secretary-General, South Asian
Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR); 45. Wasun Reesomwong, Coordinator,
Institute for Social Research and Action (ISRA), Thailand; 46. Wilaiwan
Cheatia, Chairperson, Thai Labour Solidarity Committee, Thailand; 47.
Yadu Nath Pandey, Chairman, Nepali Jana Samparka Samiti, India; 48.
Yagya Raj Thapa, Executive Officer, Nepal Advocacy Centre for Human
Rights and Democracy (NAC), India; 49. Montreal Serai (Rana Bose,
Editor); 50. South Asia Research and Resource Center (CERAS), Montreal,
Canada (Minoo Gundevia, President)
 ON THE WAR WITH CARTOONS
New York Times
February 12, 2006
THE ISLAM THE RIOTS DROWNED OUT
By Emran Qureshi
IN a world of wrenching change, the Danish cartoon affair has widened a
growing fissure between Islam and the West. The controversy comes at a
time when many in the Islamic world view the war on terrorism as a war
on Islam. They draw on memories of colonization and of the Crusades,
when Western invaders ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad as an imposter.
Sadly, the recent polarization obscures a rich humanistic tradition
within Islam — one in which cosmopolitanism, pluralism and a spirit of
open-minded inquiry once constituted a dominant ethos.
European Muslims for the most part have protested the Danish cartoons
but kept their protests peaceful. That is good. Stigmatized European
Muslims are often the targets of right-wing attacks and feel
increasingly beleaguered. But the lesson many have learned from this
affair has not been the utility of freedom of speech so much as that
their continued presence is an affront to European identity.
Within the Muslim world, the cartoon imbroglio has given ammunition to
the two entrenched forces for censorship — namely, authoritarian regimes
and their Islamic fundamentalist opposition. Both would prefer to
silence their critics. By evincing outrage over the Danish cartoons,
authoritarian regimes seek to divert attention from their own manifold
failures and to bolster their religious credentials against the
Islamists who seek to unseat them.
Ironies abound. Saudi Arabia leads the protests, yet is systematically
destroying its Islamic heritage. The Wahhabis who dominate Saudi Arabia
do not believe in honoring Islam's holy men and women or the Prophet
Muhammad (they've proscribed the celebration of his birthday). Driven by
sectarian zeal, the Saudi authorities have razed and dug up virtually
every site in Mecca and Medina linked to Muhammad, members of his family
and his companions.
But these acts of disrespect and desecration have failed to arouse any
protest from those who now take to the streets to condemn the Danish
Elsewhere, Sunni Muslim fundamentalist leaders express anger over the
Danish cartoons, but no comparable indignation over suicide bombers who
attacked Shiite Muslim mosques during Ramadan in Iraq. In Pakistan,
blasphemy laws have been used by fundamentalists to attack Christians
All this is a far cry from the Islamic humanism of Ibn al-Arabi, the
Andalusian philosopher and mystic, or of Rumi, the Persian Sufi poet.
Muslim societies have paid a dear price for the militants in their
midst. Many of the best and brightest within the Muslim world have had
to flee to the West to avoid being silenced or killed. Fazlur Rahman, a
brilliant and deeply religious Pakistani scholar of Islam, had to flee
his native land for the University of Chicago. Similarly, the Islamic
studies scholar Nasr Abu Zayd fled Egyptian Islamists for the
Netherlands. Naguib Mahfouz, recipient of the Nobel Prize for
Literature, was stabbed in the neck in Cairo and barely survived; the
Egyptian writer Faraj Foda was not so lucky.
In some Western Muslim quarters, the proposed solution is more
censorship — that these cartoons and similar expressions should be
banned as hate speech. By that logic, shouldn't Salafist diatribes
against Shiites also be banned? Shouldn't the writings of Maulana Abul
Ala Maududi and his Jamaat-e-Islami, which were instrumental in
persecuting the Ahmadis, a Muslim minority in Pakistan, be banned as
well? Maududi's religious writings, best sellers among Muslims in the
West, are suffused with an intolerant and anti-Western hue.
No, the answer is not more censorship. But it would be nice if Western
champions of freedom of speech didn't trivialize it by deriving pleasure
from their ability to gratuitously offend Muslims. They view freedom of
speech much as Islamic fundamentalists do — simply as the ability to
offend — rather than as the cornerstone of a liberal democratic polity
that uses such freedoms wisely and responsibly. Worse, these advocates
insist on handing Muslim radicals a platform from which to pose as
defenders of the faith against an alleged Western assault on Islam.
Today's Muslim leaders, for their part, seem unable to formulate an
ethical response to the challenges of the modern world. Moreover, their
actions lead to the stereotyping of Islam. What else is one to conclude
from this episode?
The loudest and most murderous forces have chosen to forget the spirit
of the Koran, which opens with an invocation of God's mercy and
compassion and which repeatedly urges believers to practice patience and
kindness. There is something very ugly about the power of the radicals,
their recourse to violence, their anti-intellectualism and their ability
to trample and blaspheme a more humanistic Islamic tradition.
It is right and proper for Muslims to be offended, to be hurt, to
protest. But we should be wary of the authoritarian voices that claim to
speak and act in the name of Islam. The answer is not more violence and
censorship, but rather peace, mercy and compassion.
Emran Qureshi is a fellow at the Labor and Work Life Program at Harvard
o o o
February 13, 2006
THIS IS THE REAL OUTRAGE
Amid the cartoon furore, Danish imams ignore the tragedies suffered by
Muslims across the world
by Tariq Ali
The latest round of culture wars does neither side any good. The western
civilisational fundamentalists insist on seeing Muslims as the other -
different, alien and morally evil. Jyllands-Posten published the
cartoons in bad faith. Their aim was not to engage in debate but to
provoke, and they succeeded. The same newspaper declined to print
caricatures of Jesus. I am an atheist and do not know the meaning of the
"religious pain" that is felt by believers of every cast when what they
believe in is insulted. I am not insulted by billions of Christians,
Muslims and Jews believing there is a God and praying to this
nonexistent deity on a regular basis.
But the cartoon depicting Muhammad as a terrorist is a crude racist
stereotype. The implication is that every Muslim is a potential
terrorist. This is the sort of nonsense that leads to Islamophobia.
Muslims have every right to protest, but the overreaction was
unnecessary. In reality, the number of original demonstrators was tiny:
300 in Pakistan, 400 in Indonesia, 200 in Tripoli, a few hundred in
Britain (before Saturday's bigger reconciliation march), and
government-organised hoodlums in Damascus burning an embassy. Beirut was
a bit larger. Why blow this up and pretend that the protests had entered
the subsoil of spontaneous mass anger? They certainly haven't anywhere
in the Muslim world, though the European media has been busy fertilising
the widespread ignorance that exists in this continent.
How many citizens have any real idea of what the Enlightenment really
was? French philosophers did take humanity forward by recognising no
external authority of any kind, but there was a darker side. Voltaire:
"Blacks are inferior to Europeans, but superior to apes." Hume: "The
black might develop certain attributes of human beings, the way the
parrot manages to speak a few words." There is much more in a similar
vein from their colleagues. It is this aspect of the Enlightenment that
appears to be more in tune with some of the generalised anti-Muslim
ravings in the media.
What I find interesting is that these demonstrations and
embassy-burnings are a response to a tasteless cartoon. Did the Danish
imam who travelled round the Muslim world pleading for this show the
same anger at Danish troops being sent to Iraq? The occupation of Iraq
has costs tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. Where is the response to
that or the tortures in Abu Ghraib? Or the rapes of Iraqi women by
occupying soldiers? Where is the response to the daily deaths of
Palestinians? These are the issues that anger me. Last year Afghans
protested after a US marine in Guantánamo had urinated on the Qur'an. It
was a vile act and there was an official inquiry. The marine in question
explained that he had been urinating on a prisoner and a few drops had
fallen accidentally on the Qur'an - as if pissing on a prisoner (an old
imperial habit) was somehow more acceptable.
Yesterday, footage of British soldiers brutalising and abusing civilians
in Iraq - beating teenagers with batons until they pass out, posing for
the camera as they kick corpses - was made public. No one can seriously
imagine these are the isolated incidents the Ministry of Defence claims;
they are of course the norm under colonial occupations. Who will protest
now - the media pundits defending the Enlightenment or Muslim clerics
frothing over the cartoons?
It's strange that the Danish imams and their friends abroad ignore the
real tragedy and instead ensure that the cartoons are now being
reprinted everywhere. How will it end? Like all these things do, with no
gains on either side and a last tango in Copenhagen around a mountain of
unused butter. Meanwhile, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine the
· Tariq Ali is the author of Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads
o o o
The Times of India
February 13, 2006
You do not have to be a particularly devout Muslim to feel deeply hurt
or offended by cartoons of Prophet Mohammad that have inflamed the
Islamic world. The contention that any depiction of the Prophet is per
se unacceptable in Islam is debatable.
But some of the controversial 12 cartoons originally published by a
Danish paper several months ago, and now being published all over in a
rare gesture of media solidarity, are undoubtedly grating on religious
One of them shows the Prophet with a bomb tucked in his headgear.
Another shows him entreating his followers, "Stop, stop, we have run out
Yet another goes with the legend, "Prophet, deaf and dumb, keeping women
under thumb". And another shows him on the go, blinkered, sword in hand,
leading two burqa-clad women; all you can see of the women is terror in
Taken together, what do these cartoons add up to except an image of the
Prophet as a bloodthirsty, misogynist tyrant?
An original Osama bin Laden, if you please, whose followers today are
bent on forcing all Muslim women behind the veil and who show not the
least qualm in blowing-up infidel men, women and children to bits, all
in pursuit of virgins in the promised paradise.
Enraged Muslims across the globe protesting against such insults to the
Prophet fail to recognise that what they are dealing with here is not
blasphemy but demonising.
It's in the same league as proclamation of a prominent Bajrang Dal
leader some years ago that there can be no peace as long as the Qur'an
The same sentiment continues to be reiterated by other prominent members
of sangh parivar every now and then. Here as with the Danish cartoons
the issue is not blasphemy per se but insidious demonising of an entire
Were the Danish cartoons a depiction of Osama or his ilk, no one could
or should have complained. But when terror and enslavement of women are
projected as synonymous with Islam, all Muslims stand demonised as a
dangerous multitude of bloodthirsty vermin.
Faced with such hate propaganda, Muslims have every right to, and they
must, protest. But the forms of protest that many Muslims and even
governments have chosen — mindless economic boycott of Danish products,
snapping diplomatic ties, torching embassies, issuing death sentences
against all Danish and Norwegian citizens, raging mobs taking to streets
with banners and placards calling for butchery of enemies of Islam — are
Through such misguided deeds, Muslims end up affirming the very image of
their community that they are ostensibly outraged about.
What do the agitating Muslims want? In an open letter addressed to
"Honourable Fellow Citizens of the Muslims World", dated January 30,
Carsten Juste, editor-in-chief of the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten,
has explained that "we are strong proponents of the freedom of religion
and because we respect the right of any human being to practice his or
her religion, offending anybody on the grounds of their religious
beliefs is unthinkable to us. That this happened was, consequently,
This obviously is not enough for the agitators. Ideally, they would like
to see cartoonists, editors and proprietors of the newspaper hanged in
At the very least they want an exemplary government crackdown on
Jyllands-Posten. Some have reportedly also called for new international
legislation making the death sentence obligatory for all blasphemers,
blissfully unaware that many western democracies have done away with
capital punishment altogether even for the worst crimes imaginable.
Fortunately, unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria or Egypt, Denmark is a
functioning democracy. Like other democracies, it too does not hold the
right to freedom of expression as absolute.
Last August, for example, Danish authorities withdrew the broadcasting
licence of a Copenhagen radio station for three months because it called
for the extermination of Muslims. That, according to the authorities,
was clear incitement to violence (against Muslims) and therefore actionable.
We may argue with the Danish on where the Lakshman rekha be drawn
between freedom of expression and its abuse for incitement to violence
against targeted groups.
But we must also ask ourselves why we remain silent when any number of
mullahs and assorted jehadis (Fadi Abdullatif, spokesman for Danish
branch of the militant Hizb-ul-Tahrir, is one of them), shamefully
misuse the hospitality and freedom of western democracies to openly
incite Muslims to violence against fellow citizens.
And we must be thankful that countries like Denmark don't have laws like
Pakistan's notorious blasphemy law that is a curse for religious
minorities and the press.
Addressing a gathering of faithful during Friday prayers, Qatar-based
Shaikh Yusuf Alqarzadi, a highly respected religious leader, condemned
the burning down of Danish and Norwegian embassies.
Exhorting Muslims to eschew extremism, he appealed to them to express
their unhappiness over the offensive cartoons in a "decent" and
"I cannot condone destruction and arson because they are against basic
human decency and the teachings of Islam", he said. May Allah add power
to Alqarzadi's voice.
The writer is editor of Communalism Combat.
February 12, 2006
WOMEN’S ACTION FORUM TO FIGHT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
ISLAMABAD: The Women’s Action Forum (WAF) has pledged to continue
fighting for women’s rights on the 23rd anniversary of an incident where
police baton-charged and arrested women protestors outside the Lahore
They were peacefully protesting against the draft Qanoon-e-Shahadat (Law
The 25th anniversary of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) would also be
celebrated in 2006. The WAF was established in 1981 as a platform for
advocating human rights of Pakistani women, non-Muslim citizens and
other marginalised Pakistanis suffering under unjust systems,
discriminatory laws, poverty and patriarchy.
The WAF’s Charter and Statement of Demands have provided the mandate to
work jointly with the progressive sections of civil society in the
ongoing struggle. “Our struggle is against brutal feudal and tribal
socio-legal structures, oppressive military dictatorships, self-serving
political regimes, religious extremism, inequitable and unsustainable
national and global economic development and environmental policies and
The statement said the WAF strongly favours a secular state and
inter-faith harmony; its
against all moves towards theocratic rule; and it believes in a
democratic, pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, tolerant and
The WAF works closely with the national, South Asian and global peace
movement. The The WAF advocates peace with India, accompanied by
bilateral decreases in military expenditures, as well as
demilitarisation and de-nuclearisation.
“WAF also continues to work against superpower interference in
Pakistan’s internal and regional affairs, the impunity with which
Pakistan’s sovereignty and territory continues to be attacked, the
government’s misplaced politico-economic alliances, and its acceptance
of unfair terms of trade under the WTO,” said the statement.
Over the past 25 years, violence against women, discriminatory laws,
unjust and cruel social customs and practices continue to be a norm.
Despite the government’s declared intentions, culprits continue to go
unpunished and support systems for women remain inadequate, the
Nevertheless, the WAF has achieved a great deal over the last 25 years.
The most important is raising awareness on all these issues,
particularly on discriminatory laws against women and non-Muslim
Pakistanis, and the promotion of zero-tolerance for any form of violence
against women, said the statement.
February 12, 2006
A GIFT FROM THE FUNDOOS
- Hindutva is not a spent force in tribal Gujarat
Second Thoughts / Githa Hariharan
It’s not as if we have forgotten what the Hindu fundoos are capable of.
But since the electoral defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led
government at the Centre, many of us have been tempted to take a break
from foregrounding resistance to the parivar’s day-to-day communal
designs. Our attention has also been diverted by the public antics of
the BJP and its cohorts as they reinvent their internal power
structures. As a result, a little hope has lodged itself in us; a hope
that Hindutva is almost a spent force. This hope, like so many of our
dearest hopes, is unlikely to be realized quite as soon as we would
wish. It’s been business as usual — malignant business — for the
Hindutva brigade in several places in the country. The tribal district
of Dangs in Gujarat is a case in point.
Dangs, of course, is not the only tribal area that has been at the
receiving end of Hindutvadi cultural indoctrination. For several years
now, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its front organizations — such
as the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad and the Hindu Jagran Manch — have
targeted the tribal belt. This includes Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,
Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Orissa and Gujarat. In all these areas, the
object of the Sangh’s activities has been to “Hinduize” the adivasis.
But Dangs has the misfortune to be in Gujarat, a state in which the BJP
government has systematically abused power to isolate and terrorize
minorities. In addition to the generalized statewide “policy” of hatred
against Muslims, there is the anti-Christian propaganda in tribal areas.
Although the population of Christians in the state is a mere 5 per cent,
and though there are less than 8,000 Christians in Dangs, the bogeyman
at large is the “threat” of Christian conversion.
Consider, for a moment, a view of Dangs if we look at the inhabitants as
people, not as numbers on the scorecard of one religion or the other. In
this district with more than 90 per cent forest cover, most cultivators
barely manage to survive for a few months of the year on the crops they
harvest in their smallholdings. Agricultural labourers are able to get
some employment only during the agricultural season. The rest of the
time, they migrate in large numbers to Surat District — often to work as
semi-bonded labour. Overall, the political economy of Dangs makes the
district a study of neglect, dispossession and non-development.
What has been the state government’s reaction to such a situation? Like
a good servant of Hindutva, the state, in close collaboration with Sangh
organizations, has come up with a familiar answer: cultural
indoctrination. In other words, never mind the dull and painstaking task
of building economic and social progress; what these tribals really need
is some new mythology, some new folklore that will tell them who they
should be. The fundoo solution to the difficult life of the Dangi
tribals has been to gift them with a new goddess that will make them
less tribal but more “Hindu”.
The goddess is Shabri, a faithful servant of Ram, just like Hanuman.
(But the choice of Shabri also has that edge to it: the adivasis are
linked to the dominant ideology-bearing myth only through a female
servant of Ram.) With the open support of the BJP state government,
organizations affiliated to the RSS have been working hard at mobilizing
lakhs of adivasis and Hindutva activists to attend a gathering in
mid-February — what is being described as a massive “Shabri Kumbh”. Two
fact-finding citizens’ committees visited the district in December 2005
to investigate the plans for the Kumbh. Both teams talked to the local
people and activists, and the second team also met local district
officials and leaders of the RSS.
The report that emerged from the teams’ investigations describes the
misuse of the legend of Ram and Shabri by the attempts to draw adivasis
into the Hindu fold. We already know that the RSS lot have a hotline to
Ram — they know exactly where he was born, where he travelled, where he
made his mid-journey halts. So it should not surprise us when these
informed people tell us (or tell the adivasis) that Ram visited Dangs,
which is actually the Dandakaranya of the Ramayana. The new legend
naturally adds that important detail: a nearby hill, Chamak Dongar, is
the exact place where Ram met Shabri and ate the sweet wild berries she
tasted for him. This is the place where the “Shabri experts” have chosen
to build a temple. In our own Ram-less times, this has meant cutting
down a large number of trees, and violating laws protecting forests, as
well as tribal land ownership.
The Kumbh Mela is an old tradition; it has been organized by turn in
Nasik, Hardwar, Allahabad and Ujjain. But courtesy the new
tradition-keepers, the mela is now being organized in Dangs.
Professionally prepared CDs reveal the real intention of this gift to
the Dangi tribals. They call for the destruction of Christianity, a
dangerous foreign faith, just as Ram destroyed Ravan. “Hindu jagao,
Christi bhagao” is the rallying slogan.
The report of the fact-finding teams traces the way this anti-Christian
propaganda has been building up over the years. It also illustrates the
ways in which the propaganda seeks to divide the adivasis and distract
them from the real issue in their lives — dispossession. Perhaps worst
of all, it undermines tribal identity as it attempts to take tribals
“home” to Hinduism through a process called ghar-vapasi or re-conversion.
These findings are based on various testimonies from the Dangis as they
describe the strategies of the Hindutva brigade. Typically, the RSS-type
activists encourage the adivasis to think of themselves as vanvasis, and
encourage the youth to join outfits such as the Bajrang Dal. With the
arrival of Swami Aseemanand, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad functionary from
West Bengal, ancestral stones where adivasis worshipped or performed
agriculture-related rituals were identified, and small temples built
next to them. This creates a new, non-tribal practice of housing a god
as opposed to the usual practice of a god kept in the open. The
traditional practice of sacrificing chickens and goats is stopped. And
over a period of time, this “temple deity” is incorporated into the
Hindu pantheon as a lesser god — befitting the lower caste status of the
“vanvasis”. The promotion of the Shabri legend is in line with this
approach to “gift” the tribals mythological characters who were
subservient to more elite characters or gods. Community leaders in Dangi
villages point out that they have heard of Shabri only in the last year
or so. But the shrines for Shabri not only assault tribal identity, they
also mean the grabbing of land — as much as sixteen acres in the case of
Jairam Kashiram for example.
What will the Shabri Mela bring the Dangi tribals? The collector and
others who have bought the RSS line claim it will develop religious
tourism, provide employment, and “help instil moral values in the
tribals”. The victims of the mela, the Dangis, testify otherwise. What
they expect is more intimidation of Christians; more tree-felling and
land-grabbing; more threats to an already precarious livelihood; and a
new position as a marginal member of the “Hindu family”.
Feb 18 , 2006
INDIA: ANOTHER GUJARAT IN THE MAKING?
The Dhar episode is only the latest in a series of Sangh interventions in MP
By Avinash Dutt
Frenzied Madness: Police beat back a crowd after they clashed at the
Bhojshala AP Photo
While all eyes are fixed on the communally sensitive Dangs district of
Gujarat where Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated organisations have
been holding ‘Shabari Kumbh’ to make tribals aware of the evangelical
Christian agenda, similar developments in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh
have hitherto gone unnoticed .
On February 3, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) members pelted stones at
policemen when they tried to get them out from the controversial 11th
century Bhojshala-Kamal Maula Mosque in Dhar after their allotted time
was over. The Archaeological Survey of India, which looks after the
monument, had set a timetable giving Hindus time from sunrise to 12.30pm
and 3.30pm till sunset for Basant Panchami pooja and to Muslims between
1pm and 3pm for offering Friday namaz. The VHP and Bajrang Dal members
refused to vacate the complex in time for the namaz and hurled abuses on
a handful of Muslims before challenging the police and pelting stones. A
curfew was subsequently clamped.
While RSS spokesman Ram Madhav, VHP’s Praveen Togadia and former mp cm
Uma Bharti hailed the “peaceful and harmonious celebrations in Dhar”,
Ashish Basu of the Hindu Jagran Manch claimed victory. “We did succeed
in creating awareness which was our main objective,” he said.
The attacks on minorities that started in Bharti’s tenure grew worse in
successor Babulal Gaur’s dispensation. Clashes between Hindus and
Muslims in Indore have become routine. The spark could be anything from
the elopement of a girl with a boy from the other community to ‘foreign
festivals’ like Valentine’s Day. On one occasion, curfew had to be
imposed in the town of Burhanpur in October 2004 after riots broke out
over a stolen goat.
The situation of Christians is even more precarious. The findings of the
one-man Narendra Prasad Commission appointed to inquire into the Jhabua
killings in January 2004 were leaked to a Bhopal newspaper last July.
Prasad’s report stated that the decadal growth of the Christian
population in Jhabua district was 80 percent. He suggested more
stringent laws against conversion. The existing law — Madhya Pradesh
Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam 1968 — has a provision of imprisonment upto
a year and/or fine upto Rs 5,000. Though the law stipulated that no
conversions could take place without intimating the district collector,
it was rarely observed.
However, the picture painted by the commission remains seriously
challenged. Between 1999 and 2003, only three cases of violation were
registered. The BJP attributed the low figure to the laxity of the then
Congress government in implementing the law. But in its own rule of
about two-and-a-half years only seven such cases have been registered.
There have been instances of missionaries arrested on complaints of
unlawful conversions and later released in the absence of evidence.
The Bhojshala-Kamal Maula Mosque
Now under Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the fringe Rightwing aggression has
assumed a dangerous pattern. Prior to the Dhar clash, on January 31 VHP
and Bajrang Dal activists roughed up several policemen in Gwalior during
a bandh. In July last, their activists barged into Indore airport and
halted a plane. When the police arrested a few, hundreds attacked a city
“Christians today fear stepping out of their homes,” says Father Anand
Muttungal, spokesman for the Catholic church in MP. “The police is under
pressure from the government. A news report in a local Hindi daily three
days after the January 28 attack by ‘unknown miscreants’ on a prayer
meeting in progress in Bhopal said ‘police arrested the culprit after
getting permission from the government’. Since when has permission
become mandatory for arresting an accused,” he fumed.
Since January 27, nine incidents of violence against Christian
missionaries alone — from attempts to torch places of worship to attacks
on religious assemblies — have been reported.
In most of the incidents arrest cases were registered, often against
unidentified people, and a few arrests made after a few days but the
accused promptly secured bails with the prosecution not opposing.
The MP Police denies this. “I don’t feel that the problem is going out
of hand. It is just that the VHP and Bajrang Dal members are acting on
their own when they see so-called anti-Hindu things,” Additional DGP SK
Rout told Tehelka over the phone from Bhopal. They are intervening in
three types of cases in the main: cow slaughter, conversions and
obscenity, the ADGP said. Rout went on to claim that the administration
is handling fringe elements adequately.
Issues in Secular Politics-February 2006 I
Intimidating a Minority
SPURT IN THE ANTI CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE
There has been a continuous rise in the number of
incidents of anti Christian violence since last one
decade. Currently this violence has become a regular
feature in Madhya Pradesh and other BJP ruling states
in particular and in other parts of the country in
general. The first simmering of these incidents began
from 1996, went on to have a sustained presence all
through. This violence has mainly been in the remote
places. Burning of small churches, Bibles, attack on
congregations and assembly of people around the Church
have been some of these. The most horrific of these
was the burning alive of Pastor Graham Stewart Stains
along with his two sons, Timothy and Philip. The main
pretext of this violence is that the Christian
missionaries are converting the gullible Adivasis, who
are called Vanvasis by them, and are projected as the
Hindus who had to flee to forests to avoid conversion
by the invading Muslims Kings. The ‘fear’ of
conversion by now has become a pathological obsession.
Lets begin with the facts first. The booklets brought
out by RSS combine, operating in the name of Vishwa
Hindu Parishad, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and Bajrang Dal,
pick up small pockets with small percentage of
Christians, and show as to how the Christian
population is rising by leaps and bounds. Dangs is a
case in point. Here out of the total population of
nearly 1, 80, 000, close to 8000 are Christians. In
Gujarat as such the total population of Christians is
less than 0.5%. The overall national percentage of
Christians is on the decline, (1971-2.60, 1981-2.44,
1991-2.34, and 2001-2.30). And this is what is
supposed to be the demographic danger for the RSS
Is it the conversion that Hindutva politics is scared
of or is there some deeper political and social agenda
at the back of the Anti Christian campaign which has
been strengthened from 1996? Some observations are
very pertinent. It is from 1987 that RSS affiliates
intensified their activities in the Adivasi areas. It
is 1996 that the BJP led coalition first came to power
at the center. The other point is that the attacks are
mainly in the remote places. In the cities where major
Christian institutions are located, such incidents are
few and far between. There seems to be no such fear
that one’s children will be converted by the time they
pass out after few years in urban schools. Yet another
point is that by now this violence has consolidated
Hindutva in these regions and the states like Gujarat,
Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, the states
where Adivasis have a significant presence; BJP has
been able to come to power. Another major state where
Adivasis are in good number, BJP ally Biju Janata Dal
is the leading party.
The anti Christian violence is slightly of a different
variety than the anti Muslim violence. Initially anti
Muslim violence was mainly in cities; mainly in places
where Muslim artisans are traders were having a good
deal of presence. Bhiwandi, Malegaon, Meerut are some
of the major ones’ in this category. Later this did
spread to places where communal forces gained strength
due to ideological indoctrination like Mumbai and
Ahmadabad. The main pretext of anti Muslim riot has
been Muslims aggressiveness and their loyalty to
Pakistan, their being terrorists, their appeasement by
the Government for vote bank politics. While most of
this is totally false, popular psyche was flooded with
this propaganda. Its percolation was smooth due to the
lack of effective counter awareness and spread of the
truth about this disadvantaged section of society. A
distorted version of History was also selectively
projected to demonize the Muslims and the picture is
complete with Osama bin Laden’s alleged role in 9/11.
In case of Christians, no such demonization is
possible. As such Christianity is older than Islam,
Christian missionaries are in India from AD 52, and in
most of the major cities their institutions are older
than a century or so. British were the patrons of
communal politics; British are identified with
Christianity so it becomes difficult for Hindutva
propaganda machine to demonize Christians on the basis
of History. More so the historical method followed by
Hindutva communalists is based on the version
propounded by British Historians in pursuance of
British policy of divide and rule so demonization of
Christians on this ground is difficult if not
impossible. RSS propaganda making machine resorts more
to demonizing Christian missionary activities in
today’s times. The global links of Christian missions
are restricted to the funds coming from abroad, and
mercifully the whole Christian community world over is
not linked up with the local missionary activity. One
of the reasons of this is that RSS ideology and
politics is hands in glove with the imperialist,
colonialists, who happen to be Christians, so
Christianity cannot be demonized the way Muslims and
To overcome this ‘handicap’ the total focus is placed
on the conversion into Christianity and Gobbesian
propaganda has been supplemented by the proactive
cultural manipulation. The symbolism is used to woo
Adivasis. The fascination of being accepted by the
upper caste, the RSS followers gives a sense of false
pride in a section of Adivasis who surrender to the
Hindutva symbols and takes up arms on its behalf to
finish off the ‘enemies of Hindu nation’ as witnessed
in the role Adivasis played in Gujarat carnage. Since
this work is to be in the remote places many a Sadhus,
Aseemanand in Dangs, Lakkhanand in Orissa, have been
unleashed in these areas. The groundwork for
communalization has been prepared by the so called
Achrayas, Babas and Bhagwans belonging to the streams
of Asaram, Morari, Pandurang Shastri and their tribe.
The violence against Muslim community has come in huge
bouts after the pretext of burning a train (Sabrmati)
or a family (Bane family) in Gujarat and Mumbai
respectively. These ‘incidents’ are than used to
browbeat the whole community. In case of Christians,
at present, the violence is chronic, low intensity and
sustained. While this anti Christian violence is more
in BJP ruled states or the ones’ where its allies
rule, other states are also not exempt. While the
major anti Muslim onslaught was built around Ram
Temple, by the program to demolish Babri, the
antichristian campaign is being centered on building
temples of the forgotten Gods and Goddesses. The
Shabri temple in Dangs is a case in point. The overall
result is by and large the similar one, to browbeat
the minorities into ghettoisation, intimidation and
isolation. The anti-minority violence results in
polarization of communities resulting in the electoral
gains for BJP.
Muslims and Christians, both these minorities are on
the chopping block of Hindutva politics. Christians do
have better advantage of modern education and better
awareness of their rights. But of course, that is no
insurance against the violence against them as being
witnessed from last few years. The hatred for
Christian priests amongst the Adivasis is intense. Our
team had visited Dangs to investigate the Shabri
Kumbh. While some of us were talking to the Adivasis
in one corner, the word spread that a team of Fathers
has come from Ahmadabad. One of the Adivasi volunteer
blocked the road and said he will not let us go till
Aseemanand gives us permission, since we are Christian
fathers. Either he or we will survive the
confrontation. Once Aseemanand’s volunteers came and
checked our antecedents, we were ‘permitted’ to go.
Identity is the central point of this whole attempt of
RSS. One thing uniform in the areas visited, in
Gujarat and Orissa is the stark poverty and the
problem of land rights of Adivasis. But what better
way to ensure that they are fed the opium of religion
so that the supporters of RSS combine in these areas,
the traders, contractors, and land grabbers can have
their cake and eat it too. By now the polarization in
the Adivasi areas is very intense and RSS has every
reason celebrate as a large chunk of Adivasis have
started yielding to the threat of Gharvapasi, a bath
in hot spring or their feet being washed by VHP
leaders, is picking up. Also threats are subtly being
dished out that if they don’t put the saffron flags,
or don’t take the holy dip or don’t eat the Prasad the
consequences will not be good.
The writer of these lines saw the success of RSS
agenda on the bodies of starving, naked, semiclad
Adivis children who have been taught to shout Jai Shri
Ram! We need to think as to how the worldly issues of
Adivasis, land rights, bread, clothing, shelter and
education are brought in the center of social and
13 Feb 2006
INDIA: STUDENTS ON 'MISSION POSTCARD' AGAINST CLEMENCEAU
New Delhi: Thousands of students from schools and colleges have written
postcards to India;s environment minister to oppose the proposed
scrapping of the French warship Clemenceau at a Gujarat ship-breaking yard.
The Indian chapter of Greenpeace International, the environmental group
that is leading the protests against the ship carrying hazardous
material, has launched the postcard campaign in eight cities - New
Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad and Chandigarh.
Pranay Makhija, a Class 11 student from Sriram School, said he and his
friends would do everything possible to stop the toxic ship from
"We want to do something for our fellow Indians and by participating in
this postcard campaign we want to express our views in a more creative
way," Makhija said.
"We will tell other students to follow suit and may take a protest march
to the parliament."
Greenpeace volunteers have so far collected over 15,000 postcards from
these cities for delivering them to Environment and Forests Minister A.
Raja. They hope to touch the 50,000-mark before Feb 20.
While the ship is currently headed for the Alang ship-breaking yard in
Gujarat, activists have alleged that it contains more asbestos than what
is permitted under the Basel convention and is thus a threat to the
health of scrapyard workers.
The Supreme Court is also seized of the matter and its committee on
hazardous materials is expected to decide soon on the Clemenceau's entry.
Vimalendu Jha, a Greenpeace volunteer, said India is a young country and
youth have a stake in its future. Jha said over 1,000 postcards were
collected from the capital's Vasant Valley School and Sriram School.
"Looking at the importance of the cause, the students have expressed
their desire to participate in awareness campaigns. They are also
preparing to make presentations on this issue in other schools of
Delhi," Jha told IANS.
Ravi Pathak, a doctorate student of the New Delhi-based Guru Govind
Singh Indraprastha University, said: "We are deeply concerned about the
Clemenceau entering India. And to express our resentment the student
community has already written over 500 postcards to the environment
minister in the last few days."
Mona Das, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student
Union, said: "What we want is simple - Clemenceau should not enter India
and create health hazards for our people. We are writing postcards on
the issue and they will be delivered to the ministry of environment and
forests in the near future."
Vinuta Gopal of Greenpeace who has been coordinating the postcard
campaign was upbeat with the response from the student community.
"Students in Delhi have shown a lot of interest in the campaign. We have
also received calls from students of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU)
who are interested in joining the campaign," Gopal said.
CONVENTION ON "CHILDREN'S RIGHT TO FOOD"
(Hyderabad, 7-9 April 2006)
A convention on "Children's Right to Food" will be held in Hyderabad on
7-9 April 2006. This is a follow-up to the second National Convention on
the Right to Food and Work, held in Kolkata on 18-20 November 2005.
The main focus of this convention will be on ICDS, mid-day meals and
related means of protecting children's right to food, including
maternity entitlements. Special attention will be given to
"universalization with quality" as the core demand of a united campaign
on ICDS. This will be an action-oriented convention, built around
plenary sessions, parallel workshops, cultural activities, and more.
For further details, please contact Dipa (dipasinha@...
9866023233) or Navjyoti (righttofood@...
, tel 09350530150). Updated
information will be posted from time to time on the website of the
"right to food campaign" (www.righttofoodindia.org).
The "programme committee" will be meeting on 23 February in Delhi. If
you have any suggestions for the programme please send them to Dipa (see
above) as soon as possible. The programme committee consists of Dipa
Sinha (Children's Rights Protection Forum), Gurjeet (Bharat Gyan Vigyan
Samiti), Geeta Mahajan (National Federation of Indian Women), Hemlata
(Mobile Crèches), Nandini Nayak (Centre for equity studies), Sachin Jain
(Vikas Samvad, MP), Samir Garg (Koriya district, Chattisgarh) and
Vandana Prasad (Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan).
Buzz on the perils of fundamentalist politics, on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. SACW is an independent & non-profit
citizens wire service run since 1998 by South
Asia Citizens Web: www.sacw.net/
SACW archive is available at: bridget.jatol.com/pipermail/sacw_insaf.net/
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed in materials carried in the posts do not
necessarily reflect the views of SACW compilers.