SACW | Nov 13, 2008 / Bigots vs Bauls / Taliban in Lahore / Obama's Indian
- View SourceSouth Asia Citizens Wire | October 10 - November 13, 2008 | Dispatch
No. 2579 - Year 11 running
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are doing our best to keep this over a decade old information
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 Bangladesh : The Battle Over Culture - Fundamentalist threats and
secular response :: The Baul statues episode
 Sri Lanka: Recent regulations concerning TV broadcasting
 Pakistan, Indian govts urged to avoid arresting fishermen
 Pakistan: In City of Tolerance, Shadow of the Taliban (Salman Masood)
 The blasphemy case against Afghan journalist Parwiz Kambakhsh
(Coordinamento Italiano Sostegno Donne Afghane)
 An Artist in Exile Tests Indiaâs Democratic Ideals (Somini Sengupta)
 India: Terror Has No Religion (Brinda Karat)
 India: An appeal for peace in South Bastar (Ilina Sen)
 India: Old fears and bitterness now resurface in Assam (Sanjoy
 India: Letter from Feminists to Orissa's Chief Minister
 USA: Obamaâs Indian - The Many Faces of Sonal Shah
 India: Book Review: Unfolding the communal agenda (Ranjona Banerji)
(i) QUEER AZADI MUMBAI invites you to an important public protest and
public meeting (Bombay, 13 November 2008)
(ii) Shubha Mudgal sings for SAHMAT (New Delhi, 22 November 2008)
 THE BATTLE OVER CULTURE : FUNDAMENTALIST THREATS AND SECULAR
RESPONSE IN BANGLADESH
The Baul statues episode
A compilation of reports and opinions
assembled by Harsh Kapoor / sacw.net | 12 November 2008
 The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)
CPA CHALLENGES VALIDITY OF RECENT REGULATIONS CONCERNING TV
BROADCASTING IN SRI LANKA
5th November 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy
Alternatives (CPA) this week filed action in the Supreme Court by way
of a fundamental rights petition, challenging the validity of recent
regulations concerning television broadcasting.
The Minister of Mass Media and Information promulgated a new set of
regulations on 10th October 2008, cited as the Private Television
Broadcasting Station Regulations, under powers conferred by the Sri
Lanka Rupavahini Act, No.6 of 1982. These new regulations seek to
regulate all aspects of private television broadcasting, including
classification of stations and services; issue, revocation, and
duration of licenses; fee structure; territorial coverage; ownership;
duties and responsibilities of private television broadcasters;
extended powers of the Ministry; and content controls.
CPA is of the view that the regulatory regime imposed by the new
regulations violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression
recognised by the Constitution, balanced against the legitimate aim of
reasonable regulation. In particular, the wide areas of discretion
conferred on the Minister in respect of the grant, suspension, or
cancellation of television broadcasting licenses lead us to believe
that the new regime would be seriously susceptible to abuse, both in
respect of the freedoms of expression and information, as well as the
independence and integrity of the Sri Lankan media. Moreover, we do
think that the power to make regulations conferred on the Minister by
the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation Act, extends to such a broad area
as the new regulation seek to cover.
We also note that the new regulations are an attempt to introduce
wide-ranging controls and regulation of the televisual broadcasting
sphere without adequate regard or reflection about the implications of
technological advances of the last decade or so, especially in respect
of internet and telephony based communications. Furthermore, it is our
firm belief that the necessary regulatory regime in this field is a
matter that is more properly to be dealt with by legislation enacted
by Parliament, rather than by executive fiat and subordinate rule-making.
CPA hopes that the Supreme Court would be pleased to grant leave to
proceed with its application, and further, that the Court would use
the opportunity afforded by this case to further develop its
jurisprudence in securing, protecting, and advancing the freedom of
speech and expression in Sri Lanka.
The News, October 21, 2008
PAKISTAN, INDIAN GOVTS URGED TO AVOID ARRESTING FISHERMEN
By our correspondent
Speakers on Monday urged the Pakistan and Indian governments to find a
permanent solution to avoid arresting fishermen from the open sea,
while they are engaged in fishing near the controversial Sir Creek.
The Sir Creek divides sea boundaries between the neighbouring
countries, Pakistan and India. The speakers in a seminar on Detained
Fishermen, organised by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), pointed
out that there is no visible demarcation in the sea. Therefore,
fishermen of both sides mistakenly violate the boundary. In return,
the border security forces of both the countries, arrest them
instantly, dealing with the boat crew as âprisoners of warâ, they said.
Adviser to Sindh Chief Minister on Jail Affairs, Gul Mohammed
Jakhrani, presided over the seminar, while Pakistan Institute of
Labour Education and Research (PILER) Director, Karamat Ali, head of
the Indian fishermenâs delegation Velji K Masani, Haji Wali Mohammed,
representing the Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS), PFF Chairperson,
Mohammed Ali Shah, Sami Memon, Mai Bhagi, Ali Walri and Mai Assi spoke
on the occasion.
Mai Bhagi and Mai Assi, the poor fisherwomen, whose sons are
languishing in Indian jails, portrayed the picture of their familiesâ
lives, in the absence of their bread winners. They said since their
bread winners were in jails abroad they were facing hardships to run
their family affairs.
The poor fisherwomen demanded of the government to ensure release of
their sons or extend help to them in this difficult time as they are
facing problems. Velji K Masani said there was the same situation
facing the mothers, wives and sisters of those Indian fishermen,
languishing in the Pakistani jails. This is the same kind of pain
facing the parents of fishermen on both the sides. âI receive a large
number of poor women daily complaining about their plight as their
sons and husbands have been caught by the Pakistani coastal authorities.â
âI dislike the exchange of fishermen by both the countries, because it
is a human rights issue. They should be released unconditionally,
because they are innocent and not criminals,â he said.
The speakers also pointed out that while the fishermen are released
they have to travel for one week to reach their destination. There are
434 Indian fishermen in Pakistani jails, besides 379 boats. However,
55 Pakistani fishermen are in Indian jails along with 87 fishing boats
caught by the border security forces there.
Karamat Ali said being neighbouring countries, Pakistan or India
should take the first step to release fishermen unconditionally so
that the other country could realise the fact and respond positively.
He said this might be the only solution to bring happiness in the life
of disturbed families, whose loved ones were in jails.
PFF Chairperson, Mohammed Ali Shah, said 100 nautical miles should be
declared special zone for fishermen of both the sides to enjoy their
livelihood activity without any fear. Shah also urged close
coordination between the community representatives of both the sides
to help each other to fight the same war.
He said the fishermen organisations, representing the community should
have access to visit jails on both the sides and meet their community
people. Shah claims that the fishermen families of Thatta coastal
villages had received letters, which showed that the boat crew
members, who had gone missing after the cyclone hit the wide Sindh
coast on May 19, 1999, are alive and have been in Indian jails.
He said the community people released from Indian jails recently have
confirmed the presence of Pakistani fishermen there. Shah allegedly
said the Indian authorities were denying confirming the actual number
of Pakistani fishermen languishing in their jails.
Gul Mohammed Jakhrani said since the matter was related with the
federal government he could not announce any help for the poor people
on this forum. But he assured to convey the suggestions of this
seminar to the concerned authorities in Islamabad so that they could
use diplomatic sources to find any solution.
The New York Times
November 2, 2008
IN CITY OF TOLERANCE, SHADOW OF THE TALIBAN
by Salman Masood
LAHORE, Pakistan â" This city has long been regarded as the cultural,
intellectual and artistic heart of Pakistan, famous for its poets and
writers, its gardens and historic sites left over from the Mughal Empire.
Salman Masood for The New York Times
In Lahore, Pakistan, sellers of CDs and DVDs complained of slumping
business after threats.
The New York Times
Panic over an insurgency has found its way to Lahore.
The turmoil sown by militancy may have reached into the capital,
Islamabad, but it rarely seemed to intrude here among the leafy
boulevards that are home to many of Pakistanâs secular-minded elite.
But in recent weeks, panic has found its way even here, with a series
of small bombs and other threats that offer a measure of just how
deeply the fear of militant groups like the Taliban has penetrated
On Oct. 7, three small bombs exploded in juice shops in a sprawling,
congested neighborhood called Garhi Shahu. The shops, which had gained
a reputation as âdating points,â offering enclosed booths for young
couples to cuddle, were gutted in the blasts. One person was killed,
and several others were wounded.
An unknown group called Tehreek-ul Haya, or Movement for Decency,
claimed responsibility and warned of more attacks against âcenters of
immoralityâ in the city.
On Oct. 9, Shabbir Labha, the president of the local traders
association, received an unsigned handwritten letter that threatened
to bomb Lahoreâs biggest video and music market.
The next day, he got an anonymous phone call asking him if he could do
something about the sale of the pornographic CDs and DVDs there. âI
assured the caller that I can,â Mr. Labha recalled, sitting in his
basement office on a recent afternoon.
Within a day, the traders had handed over more than 60,000
pornographic videos and burned them in a bonfire as the cityâs top
government officials, the police and a large crowd looked on.
âWe were not sure if the threats were made by the Taliban or not,â Mr.
Labha said. âBut the bomb blasts in Garhi Shahu had made us
apprehensive. We didnât want to take any chances.â
The fact that a single, anonymous letter could inspire such a
spectacle surprised many people here. Some voiced alarm that the
tolerant, liberal outlook of Lahore was under attack from
Taliban-style moral policing, usually found only in more restive
corners of the country, like the North-West Frontier Province. There,
in cities much closer to the tribal areas where many militant groups
are based, music stores have been attacked repeatedly by the Taliban.
But in Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province, the music and video
market on Hall Road was famous for the sale of English and Indian
movies, as well as a thriving underground trade in pornographic
movies, which are illegal here. The small stores in dingy, clustered
plazas had attracted buyers for more than two decades.
Despite repeated crackdowns and warnings, the police had been unable
to stop the trade in pornography. But the specter of the Taliban
achieved in a day what the police had been unable to do in years.
Ahmad Rafay Alam, a columnist for The News, one of the countryâs
leading daily publications, wrote afterward that the âTalibanization
of Lahore has begun.â
âI was very surprised,â said Moonis Elahi, a member of the provincial
assembly, referring to the response of the traders, who he said were
less concerned about making a stand than about saving their livelihoods.
âThe traders wanted to pacify the extremists,â he said.
Since then, the lingering threat of bomb blasts and suicide attacks
continues to sow fear, though many of the letters and the calls have
proved to be hoaxes. Mr. Elahi said a close friend was so fed up with
threats to a school that his child attended that he was contemplating
a move to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
Police officials, however, dismissed the concerns of âTalibanizationâ
as overblown and played down the threats. âIn our assessment the
letter was a hoax,â said Pervez Rathore, the police chief of Lahore.
âIt was a local mischief.â
In addition to fear, the Hall Road episode has exposed fissures in
society in Lahore, between the cityâs liberal elite and the
conservative impulses of its working and middle classes, some of whom
have excused or supported the threats and the tradersâ response.
Ejaz Haider, an editor at Daily Times, one of the leading English
newspapers, said the burning of the CDs did not necessarily mean that
the Hall Road traders had become reformed Muslims overnight. âIt just
showed the pragmatism of the traders,â he said.
Khalil Rehman Chugtai, the secretary of the tradersâ union of Hall
Road, said the threats were in fact a blessing. âWe had been trying to
eliminate the sales of porn movies for long with no luck,â he said.
âThe letter helped us to get rid of them.â
Mr. Chugtai said there would now be no tolerance for the sale of such
âimmoral movies.â A few days after the bonfire, he said, one video
store owner was found selling pornography again. âWe apprehended him,
blackened his face and paraded him through the market,â he said.
Saeed Ahmad, who owns a juice shop near the three juice shops that
were attacked last month, even defended the bomb blasts.
âWhat happened was for the better,â he said. âThey didnât just serve
juices there. Immoral acts were going on inside the cabins set up by
the owners, who took money from couples.â
Still, Raza Ahmad Rumi, a writer and blogger who takes great pride in
his city, insisted that âIslamic extremism has had very little appeal
here.â The cultural life of Lahore goes on, as it has for centuries.
He said that a recent stage play, âHotel Moenjodaro,â whose theme was
against religious fundamentalism, drew a packed audience. âIt was very
encouraging,â Mr. Ahmad said.
Nonetheless, he said, the Hall Road incident and the juice store
blasts were alarming. âIf the traders, the merchant class, which forms
the bulk of the middle class of Lahore, becomes Talibanized, then the
whole complexion of the city will change,â he said. âThatâs a fear
amongst the secular intelligentsia and elite of Lahore.â
A version of this article appeared in print on November 3, 2008, on
page A8 of the New York edition.
THE BLASPHEMY CASE AGAINST AFGHAN JOURNALIST PARWIZ KAMBAKHSH
by Coordinamento Italiano Sostegno Donne Afghane, 23 October 2008
The outcomes of the âjudicial reform programmeâ run by the Italian
government in Afghanistan:
The case of journalist Parwiz Kambakhsh
The New York Times, November 8, 2008
AN ARTIST IN EXILE TESTS INDIAâS DEMOCRATIC IDEALS
Maqbool Fida Husain, Indiaâs most famous painter, in one of his homes
in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he now lives.
by Somini Sengupta
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates â" Maqbool Fida Husain, Indiaâs most famous
painter, is afraid to go home.
Mr. Husain is a Muslim who is fond of painting Hindu goddesses,
sometimes portraying them nude. That obsession has earned him the ire
of a small but organized cadre of Hindu nationalists. They have
attacked galleries that exhibit his work, accused him in court of
âpromoting enmityâ among faiths and, on one occasion, offered an $11
million reward for his head.
In September, the countryâs highest court offered him an unexpected
reprieve, dismissing one of the cases against him with the blunt
reminder that Hindu iconography, including ancient temples, is replete
with nudity. Still, the artist, 93 and increasingly frail, is not
taking any chances. For two years, he has lived here in self-imposed
exile, amid opulently sterile skyscrapers. He intends to remain, at
least for now. âThey can put me in a jungle,â Mr. Husain said gamely.
âStill, I can create.â
Freedom of expression has frequently, and by some accounts,
increasingly, come under fire in India, as the country tries to
balance the dictates of its secular democracy with the easily inflamed
religious and ethnic passions of its multitudes.
The result is a strange anomaly in a nation known for its vibrant,
freewheeling political culture. The government is compelled to ensure
respect for Indiaâs diversity and at the same time prevent one group
from pouncing on another for a perceived offense. Ramachandra Guha, a
historian, calls it âperhaps the fundamental challenge of governance
The rise of an intense brand of identity politics, with Indiaâs many
communities mobilizing for political power, has intensified the
problem. An accusation that a piece of art or writing is offensive is
an easy way to whip up the sentiments of a particular caste, faith or
tribe, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an Indian political scientist, points out.
He calls it âoffense mongering.â
There have been isolated episodes of violence, and many more threats,
often prompting the government to invoke British-era laws that allow
it to ban works of art and literature. India was among the first
countries to ban Salman Rushdieâs novel âThe Satanic Verses.â
In March, Taslima Nasreen, a Bangladeshi novelist living in exile in
the Communist-controlled state of West Bengal, was forced to leave for
several months after a Muslim political party objected to her work.
Meanwhile, in the western state of Gujarat, controlled by the Hindu
nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, a political psychologist, Ashis
Nandy, was charged with âpromoting enmity between different groups.â
His offense was to write an opinion article in The Times of India
criticizing the victory of the Hindu nationalists in state elections;
the case is pending.
âThat politics has gotten out of hand,â Mr. Mehta, the political
scientist, argued. âIt puts liberal democracy at risk. If we want
social stability we need a consensus on what our freedoms are.â
Even threats of violence from offended parties are a powerful
deterrent. In Mumbai, formerly Bombay, where Mr. Husain lived for most
of his life, a recent exhibition on Indian masters did not include his
work. Nor did Indiaâs first modern art fair, held in New Delhi in
August. The same week in the same city, a small show featuring
reproductions of Mr. Husainâs work was vandalized.
Of Mr. Husainâs exceptionally large body of work â" at least 20,000
pieces, he guesses â" there are three that have angered his foes. Two
are highly stylized pencil drawings of Durga, the mother goddess, and
Saraswati, the goddess of the arts, both faceless and nude. The third
is a map of India rendered as a female nude, her head in the
Himalayas, a breast jutting out into the Arabian Sea. Mr. Husain
insists that nudity symbolizes purity. He has repeatedly said that he
had not meant to offend any faith. But one of his paintings, showing a
donkey â" to the artist, a symbol of nonviolence â" at Mecca, created a
ruckus among his fellow Muslims.
Harsh Goenka, a Mumbai-based industrialist and one of the countryâs
most important collectors, has a similar Husain nude, an oil painting
of the goddess Saraswati. As âan average normal Hindu,â he says he is
appalled that Mr. Husain is not safe in his country.
âKeeping him away is, in a way, showing the weakness of the system,
that we cannot protect the rights of the citizen,â Mr. Goenka said.
âIf he has done a crime, punish him. If he hasnât, let him live here
with dignity and peace of mind.â
Mr. Husain calls the current Congress Party-led government too
weak-kneed to offer him protection from those who might harm him.
Mostly, though, he cautions against making too much of his case.
India, he insists, is fundamentally âtolerant.â
Not least, he said, he has always been a vagabond, sleeping on the
Mumbai streets during his impoverished youth, wandering through Europe
to study Rembrandt, or bouncing, as he does now, among several lavish
apartments and villas here in Dubai â" or rather, cruising among them,
in one of his five costly thrill machines, including a lipstick-red
Ferrari, his current favorite. Mr. Husain is Indiaâs best-paid artist.
Last March, at a Christieâs auction, his âBattle of Ganga and Jamuna,â
part of a 27-canvas series on the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic, fetched
âI am working, itâs O.K.,â he said. âIf things get all right, Iâll go.
If they donât, so be it. What can I do?â
And then he quoted the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a Pakistani who went into
exile in the late 1970s during President Muhammad Zia ul-Haqâs regime
and who wrote about missing the animosity of his enemies as much as
the affection of friends. âOf course,â he conceded, âthe heart is there.â
On the morning of Id al-Fitr, Islamâs holiest day, Mr. Husain sat in
the back seat of his Bentley as it whizzed past a row of construction
sites, taking calls from Mumbai on his new iPhone.
Back home on the same day, his granddaughter Rakshanda was getting
engaged. It was the first major family function he had missed since
his exile. âSuch an auspicious day,â he murmured. âAnyway, we will
have a ceremony here again.â
In Mumbai, it had been his custom to host an annual Id al-Fitr
breakfast for his community, a Shiite subsect that calls itself
Suleimanis. This morning, he hosted one here, too, at a community hall
with steaming plates of mutton and flatbread. A stream of people came
to pay their respects, taking his gnarled right hand, placing it above
their eyes, one after the other, then to their lips. Mr. Husain, a
master of flamboyance, stood beaming in a green silk jacket
embroidered with motifs from his paintings, including several
voluptuous, scantily clad women.
He is now working on two ambitious series: one on Indian civilization,
to be mounted in London, the second on Arab civilization, which will
be exhibited in Qatar.
Here in Dubai, he is at work on a whimsical installation titled âForm
Meets Function,â which will incorporate his five luxury cars,
including a sound piece he intends to create using their engines.
At sundown, he climbed into the passenger seat of the Ferrari, pounded
the dashboard and instructed his driver to hit the gas pedal. The
engine revved, and he squealed in delight. He said he had stopped
driving several years ago, after cataract surgery.
He does not have a studio in Dubai. There are easels in each of the
homes he has bought for his extended clan. He spends a night here, a
One of them is an 11th-floor apartment with spectacular, south-facing
views of jagged skyscrapers under construction. It is filled with
dozens of small canvases from the 1950s that he had given to a Czech
woman he had once intended to marry, though she turned him down.
She found him recently and returned his paintings. âThey belong to
India,â she told him.
This afternoon, recalling the story, Mr. Husain said he would
eventually have to take them home. âTemporarily,â he mused, âthey are
The Times of India
11 Nov 2008
TERROR HAS NO RELIGION
by Brinda Karat
The aggressive defence by the Shiv Sena of the terrorist activities of
people acting in the name of Hindutva, combined with the BJP's refusal to
condemn these activities, represent a danger mark in the political
response to the rising tide of bomb attacks and violence against
innocents. Any effort to give terrorism a communal colour will surely
spell disaster for our country.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad once ascribed India's "inner vitality and
resilience" to a "confluence of cultures, faiths and beliefs that has
gone into the making of a composite India". In the Assam serial bomb
blasts, Hindus, Muslims, and tribals were equally victims. It is our
country's tragedy that we have before us another type of "confluence",
the confluence of the blood of innocent victims, regardless of
community, religion, sex or age. The death of five-year-old Morromi,
her beautiful face and little body burnt beyond recognition,
symbolises the helplessness of the innocent victim.
Between 2004 and 2008, India has been the victim of at least 25 major
bomb blasts in which 717 people were killed and hundreds injured.
Earlier, after every such attack, investigating agencies would point
to the involvement of Pakistan-based terrorist networks. In some cases
such terrorists were identified, and many shot dead. A feature of
recent terrorist attacks, however, is the involvement of a network of
groups drawn from a small section of Indian Muslim youth, revealed in
The failure of the state to ensure justice to the victims of communal
attacks and to punish those guilty of serious crimes against the
minorities is indeed attracting a few elements among Muslim youth to
the extremist cause. Such feelings of alienation get exacerbated when
Muslim youth in various localities are rounded up, harassed and
tortured even when there is not a shred of evidence against them.
We require the widest possible secular mobilisation against the
profiling and demonisation of a whole community. Prominent Muslim
organisations have condemned those involved in terrorist attacks. It
is essential to isolate and fight back those extremist forces within
the community who seek to exploit the genuine grievances of Muslims.
These extremists are the enemies of the Muslim people at large and
seek a social order that denies ordinary Muslims their fundamental
human rights. Groups and individuals who are in a state of denial
about the involvement of such elements, regardless of their
intentions, can hardly be considered friends of the victimised
Strong action must be taken against the guilty established through
legal, transparent procedures and must apply to terror groups
regardless of what religion they claim to represent. On the basis of
the evidence it has, the Centre has pleaded before the Supreme Court
for a continuation of the ban on SIMI. It is wrong for some parties to
demand that the ban be lifted. The list of 32 organisations that are
proscribed under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act also
includes terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba,
Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen, Khalistan Zindabad Force,
International Sikh Youth Federation and Babbar Khalsa International.
Yet today when there is mounting evidence of involvement in terrorist
attacks against the Bajrang Dal and other such organisations, the
government has not taken action against them. It is such double
standards that deeply compromise, if not put to question, the secular
character of the state.
Particularly disturbing is the report of the possible involvement of a
serving army officer along with two ex-army officers, both of whom are
linked to the Bhonsala Military School run by an RSS-founded trust in
Nashik. This is the first time that a serving army officer is
suspected to be involved in a terrorist crime of this nature. It is
known that army recruitment is disallowed for anyone with political
affiliations. But is the screening applied to all affiliations,
including those who may have direct or indirect contacts with the RSS
or affiliated organisations?
The Bhonsala school was already on the radar of the Anti-Terrorist
Squad (ATS) in Maharashtra in the 2006 Nanded bomb blast case. The ATS
unearthed a conspiracy by the Bajrang Dal in 2006 after a bomb they
were making exploded and killed two of them. Two of the accused
confessed that they underwent training at the branch in Nagpur. One of
the accused stated that he attended a training camp organised there by
the RSS in which two retired ex-servicemen and a retired officer of
the Intelligence Bureau were present. Three dozen more, mainly Bajrang
Dal activists, were also named. Shockingly, nothing came of this
investigation. The cases were handed over to the CBI where the entire
matter was given a quiet burial.
Maharashtra is run by a Congress-led government. Why did it not act on
the earlier ATS investigation? Who was responsible for the CBI's
weakening of the case? Why has the Bhonsala school been allowed to
function even after its links with the accused in the earlier Nanded
case were established? Has any enquiry been conducted into its
activities and if not, why so? What is the extent of penetration of
such elements into our security forces?
India's fight against terror is as much a political fight as an
administrative one. Although extremist groups act in the name of
religion, the vast majority of believers, whether Muslim or Hindu,
abhor violence that kills innocent people. This is the abiding
strength of our country. Terrorism cannot be ascribed to any one
religion. The politics of secularism is the only means to ensure the
unity of India in the fight against terror.
The writer is a CPM Rajya Sabha MP.
 [visit: www.freebinayaksen.org]
The Hindu, 21 October 2008
AN APPEAL FOR PEACE IN SOUTH BASTAR
by Ilina Sen
Dr. Ilina Sen presents certain proposals made by Dr. Binayak Sen,
medical practitioner and leading member of the Peopleâs Union for
Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh. She has written this based on
discussions with him during recent visits to the Raipur Jail where he
is since May 14, 2007.
The present situation in South Bastar is characterised by an
infinitude of chronic deprivation, along with a complete absence of
political discourse. On the one hand we have the Salwa Judum, which
the government dishonestly tries to characterise as a âpeopleâs
response to Maoism.â On the other hand, there is a purely military
engagement between the state-based forces and the Maoists, which act
as a proxy to a political discourse. Both parties to this enga gement
deliberately ignore the fact that a purely military solution, imposed
by either party, even if it were possible, would be neither valid nor
Any quest for a resolution of this situation cannot start by
addressing the humanitarian problem on the ground alone, catastrophic
as that no doubt is. The humanitarian situation in South Bastar today
is both the end product as well as the precipitating factor behind the
current impasse. Any standard appeal for peace would begin with an
agenda for the resolution of the humanitarian situation, but given the
total breakdown of societal mechanisms in the area, this might have
limited possibilities for success. Instead, the first and most urgent
necessity is the establishment of an institutional forum for political
engagement without preconditions. The purpose of this forum will not
be to search for solutions, but rather to concentrate on the
identification and recognition of participants in the forum, and the
elaboration of an agenda as well as the guarantees necessary for the
forum to conduct its business, that is, talks about talks.
Essentially this proposal resembles that suggested on certain
occasions for the resolution of the current situation in Jammu and
Kashmir. The identification of members of the forum must be an
inclusive process. This must include, apart from the government and
the Maoists, representatives of political parties as well as civil
society in the area of South Bastar.
Once this institutional mechanism is in place, it would undertake,
within its overall supervision, a specific series of measures directed
at relieving the humanitarian situation on the ground. As an immediate
priority, the problems to be addressed will include Food and Water,
Shelter and Livelihood, Health Care, and Transport and Infrastructure.
Education is a more contentious subject and may be addressed once we
move beyond the preliminary stages.
Food and Water: For all intents and purposes, the entire region is
famine-stricken and should be treated as such. The indigenous systems
of food production and livelihood have been destroyed. A universal
public distribution system (PDS), at zero cost to the identified
card-bearing consumers, should be put in place as an immediate
priority. The identification of consumer households should be through
electronic ration cards that can be redeemed at any geographical
location in the affected area. This will leave the option open for
households and household members to either return to their villages or
continue to reside at whichever camp or other place they may have
relocated to. The PDS should supply, in addition to cereals, pulses
and oil. Adequate locally relevant measures to obtain potable, safe
drinking water should be put in place.
Shelter: Village homes, which have remained unoccupied for months,
will need repair and reconditioning to make them habitable. Help
should be at hand to enable returning families to rebuild their homes.
Livelihoods: The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act should be
extensively deployed over the entire area to secure a minimum
livelihood for all returning families. Only when guaranteed
livelihoods are effectively put in place will people enjoy some degree
of autonomous control over their own lives. The issue of pattas to
revenue lands abandoned for lengths of time, and cultivation of what
are technically forest lands, are extremely complex. In view of the
new Act for granting land rights to families cultivating these lands,
the matter should be handled with extreme sensitivity. Pending the
reclamation and recording of peopleâs land rights, implementation of
all decisions for land acquisition must be put in abeyance.
Health Care: Adequate and accessible health care facilities,
universally accessible to all on a cashless basis, must be put in
place as soon as possible. This should include supplies of drugs and
other necessary equipment. No discrimination should obtain between
different population groups with respect to access to basic health
facilities. In case state-based facilities are not available,
non-state providers who fulfil these criteria should be welcomed.
Transport and Infrastructure: The network of weekly markets must be
restored on a priority basis. The minimum infrastructure for
resumption of agriculture, including animal husbandry, should be put
Citizenship records and voter rights: Widespread displacement and
population dislocation have made citizenship records and voter rights
critical issues at this particular time. Transparent mechanisms must
be put in place to ensure that citizenship rights are preserved and
entitlements to democratic decision-making are ensured.
Demilitarisation: It will not be possible or practicable to wait until
full normalcy is restored in all these parameters. However,
significant progress that demonstrates the bona fides of all parties
as far as their commitment to peace and political discourse is
concerned will have to precede the negotiations and a move for full
demilitarisation. It is our belief that significant progress towards a
ceasefire and eventual demilitarisation can only take place when the
ordinary people have a stake in the maintenance of the peace.
October 21, 2008
OLD FEARS AND BITTERNESS NOW RESURFACE IN ASSAM
by Sanjoy Hazarika
The girl from a television channel in New Delhi was extremely
enthusiastic on the phone. She wanted me to go on air the next evening
on a live interview with another panelist on the situation in Assam â"
conveniently called the "Bodo-Muslim clashes". I debated the issue
internally and finally decided that it was not appropriate to do so
because the situation was so complex and difficult. Scholars and media
who have visited the area, not armchair pundits sitting in New Delhi
and Guwahati, say that it is clear that whatever triggered the
violence earlier this month, the roots of the suspicion and bitterness
are still untouched.
A complex maze of factors have emerged at the heart of the problem,
ranging from disputes over land and concerns about land alienation by
different ethnic and religious groups, as well as fears of being
driven out from their own villages. Muslim settlers, many of whom are
originally Bengali-speaking but now have adopted Assamese as their
language, are embittered by the fact that they are categorised as
Bangladeshis despite having lived in the region for decades and
remained poor and marginalised all this time.
These groups have kept a social and cultural distance from the other
ethnic communities living in western Assam, unlike the "Assamese
Muslims" who converted to Islam centuries ago, who maintain Assamese
customs and a folklorish approach to the faith and have close
relations with Hindus and those of other faiths. The result of the
distance of the settlers is an enduring divide that has increased with
the changing demographic profile of the region as the Muslim
population began to grow and the influx from Bangladeshi became a real
issue, even if media reports of their involvement in the recent riots
are pretty fanciful.
The perception of the problem is as much a critical component of the
tragedy that has unfolded these past weeks in Assam. Thus, the view of
the "other" has been fuelled by some wild media reporting (for
example, leave aside the local vernacular or English media, an
international news agency has proclaimed, without attribution, that
the clashes were between the Bodos and "Bangladeshi settlers", that
the Indian government bestowed "citizenship in 1985 to millions of
settlers from former East Pakistan who arrived before 1971.") If ever
there is a case of turning facts on their head, this is one. Under the
Assam Accord, which ended the six-year student-led agitation against
illegal migration â" although the issue is still volatile, a total of
about nine lakh settlers, largely Hindus who had come from East
Pakistan from 1966 to 71, were to be given citizenship after 10 years
of the accord; and they were not even supposed to cast their votes
during that period.
Assam has a total population of 30 million, of which the Muslim
population is about 30 per cent. There are two clear groups of
Muslims, those of Assamese stock, who number about 350,000, while the
others, of Bengali stock, make up the balance of about 8.2 million.
Many Bengali settlers have reported Assamese as their mother tongue as
part of a complex political pact with the Congress which dates back to
the 1960s. Although Islamic, the Assamese Muslims are far more liberal
and open than the settler group and their identity is inexorably
connected with the Asomiya language and the state of Assam. Today,
Muslims are a decisive factor in at least 30 of the stateâs 126
Assembly segments and are a majority in six of 27 districts. A court
ruling also appears to have aggravated the tension; a judge described
the influx of migrants as a "cancerous growth" and called for
"political will" and "public activism" to fight it.
Vigilantism and pressure tactics followed, from groups wanting to
detect and push out "Bangladeshis" while the state administration
behaved like a disinterested spectator.
The confrontation in these areas is not new, although the recent bout
was sparked by an attack on Bodo youth during a bandh called in August
by a little-known Muslim organisation. Clashes between settlers and
"local" groups goes back decades and many hark to the massacres of
1983, when over 3,000 persons, mostly Muslim and of Bengali origin
(not Bangladeshi), died in clashes in Assam, especially on the killing
fields around a little town called Nellie. A number of us reported on
those riots and the recent incidents spark a sense of deja vu.
A senior minister has declared that a Bodo armed group, currently
locked in peace talks with New Delhi, is behind some of the killings,
although the organisation, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland,
has denied it. There are reports of Pakistani or Jaqmaat flags flying
in some areas.
While these are important points, they are no longer the issue â" the
heart of the matter is that if Assam is to survive, trust and security
must be restored to these areas. But how? How can dialogue be
initiated and promoted between the communities, at the village,
district and state level? There are disturbing voices who say they no
longer can live with the other groups and want separate habitations.
If this happens, then whatever remains of Assamâs composite culture,
devastated by years of confrontation, ethnic divides, suspicion and
assaults by the State and non-state actors, would be wiped out.
It is critical that civil society groups, scholars and activists who
have worked here â" and even those who have not â" go to the area,
especially the relief camps, to help the resumption of a basic
dialogue and conversation among the groups. One learns that there is
an understanding among some settler groups that their deliberate
distance and social customs have created misunderstanding. The
government must enable such processes to take place for only these can
bring long-term peace.
The government cannot be seen as supine: it has to bring a set of
governance tools to bear on the situation, for without that no
dialogue or process of reconciliation can last. For such conversations
to have any meaning there must be justice: justice for those who have
suffered by punishing the attackers and protecting the weak and
sufferers, from whichever community. While it is obvious that the
government cannot provide protection to all at risk, it must marshal
its resources competently and strategically so that such incidents are
Should governments, at the state and Central levels, go about business
as usual and sleep over these issues and hope that the problem will
just go away, then they will be guilty of criminal conduct; unless the
media and extremist politics are reined in, Assam could be, in for
another bloodletting during the Lok Sabha elections.
Illegal migration cannot be accepted but rhetoric, which has spawned
frustration and deep anger over these decades, does not solve the
problem. Fences and laws do not keep migrants out.
Better border management and identity cards for all Indian citizens
must be part of a better border management policy. But even more
critical, keep the doors open for dialogue among the communities, the
conversations going and the media hype down.
Sanjoy Hazarika is an author, journalist and filmmaker
Mumbai, 4th November, 2008
From: Ammu Abraham
Women's Centre, 104B Sunrise Apts; Nehru Rd,
Vakola, Santacruz (E), Mumbai - 400 055
tele: 91-22- 2668 0403
Shri Navin Patnaik, Chief Minister of Orissa
Navin Nivas, Aerodrome Rd, Bhubaneshwar, Dist. Khurda,
Orissa - 751 001
Sub: State complicity in further oppression of the Catholic nun raped
during the attacks on Christians in K Nuagaon, Orissa
Dear Chief Minister,
We have been informed by the media that you have 'suspended' 5
policemen on duty during the rape of a Catholic nun in K Nuagaon,
Kandhamal, Orissa on August 25th, 2008. Apparently they have been
suspended for 'misconduct and negligence of duty'.
As women's rights activists, and women in human rights and civil
liberties, people's rights activists, members of NGOs, civil society
groups, activists for democracy and a secular India, we are enraged by
your serial suspensions of your police personnel, and your absolute
refusal to face upto the genocide of Christians in Kandhamal district
of the state of which you are the Chief Minister.
It took you more than a month to admit that this 28 year old sister of
a religious order was raped during an attack by an armed mob of 40 to
50 Hindutavadi men on her and a priest, Fr Chellan. When you finally
did, you called it a 'shameful and savage act' and promised
'stringent' action. Then you 'stringently' suspended the inspector -
in - charge of the Baliguda police station. This was a month ago, in
the first week of October.
Dear Chief Minister, it has taken you a further whole month to realize
and to admit to the public that another five Orissa policemen were
guilty of dereliction of duty when the sister was raped and when she
was paraded in a barely clothed state along a public road to a market
place in the afternoon.
Through September and October, you have allowed this derelict police
force to harass this rape survivor by demanding that she co-operates
with them in their "investigations" into her rape. Some of them have
landed in Delhi and rushed about looking for her in odd places. She
has also been intimidated by the women's wing of the RSS, the
Rashtriya Sevika Samiti who were calling for her arrest if she did not
surrender herself to the investigations of the Orissa police.
Sir, we consider this a grave dereliction of duty on your part as the
Chief Minister of Orissa. And who shall suspend you? Sir, are we all
to accept once and for all, that not only is there discrimination
against religious minorities in our country, but that their right to
life can be violated with impunity? The violated nun had requested a
CBI investigation, instead of one by the state police. She had
expressed not only her lack of faith in the Orissa police as the
investigating agency, she has expressed her fear of vidictiveness on
After sister was brutally beaten, stripped, raped and paraded half
naked, her statement says, that they reached a market place where
there were about a dozen Orissa State Armed Police. (Please note,
about a dozen and not five; and why should anyone have faith that of
the five suspended now, any are from the dozen at the market?) This
desparate woman tried to sit between two of them and asked them for
protection from the mob which had been assaulting her and parading
her. But these policemen sat stone faced and allowed the mob to
recapture her and to parade her again till the Nuagaon police post. At
this place too, a member of the mob stayed behind talking in a
friendly manner to the police. The sister has no faith in them or
their colleagues as investigators.
Now we find that these same would-be investigators have been busy
trying to discredit the sister. According to them, she did not record
their handing over her to the mob in her First Information Report and
this proves that her statement to that effect is untrue. But it is
definitely not uncommon for the police to try to sheild their
colleagues and fail to note such episodes in the FIR. The Orissa
police have also tried to say the FIR was lodged the day after the
rape, insinuating delay. Sister has stated that she tried to give a
full account in the FIR, but that the police warned her first of the
'consequences of filing an FIR' and also asked her to restrict it to
one page. She was raped in the afternoon, her medical examination was
done in the evening; the police took her for registration of the FIR
the next day, according to the sister. She was also abandoned by them
halfway to Bhubaneshwar and asked to take public transport the rest of
After that it took them nearly 40 days to collect the medical report,
despite the doctor telephoning them to do so, and to start the
'investigations' . Their conduct thereafter has not been that
befitting a state investigating agency; they have conducted themselves
instead as a force trying to clear their colleagues by discrediting
and harassing a rape victim.
It is not surprising then that the sister refuses to 'cooperate' in
this process of investigation. But she must be empowered to fight this
case. It is not unprecedented for a state government to agree to ask
for a CBI investigation in such situations. The murders of all but one
of a Dalit family in Khairlanji in Maharashtra is a relevant example,
though the decision came rather late.
Dear Chief Minsiter, it is within your power to ask for and engage the
C.B.I. in the investigations into this case; to help this sister to
seek justice in the courts; to make it more probable that justice may
be done in this case.
We request you, on behalf of this rape survivor, to do so immediately.
We really hope that you will accept our request and act on it.
1. Ammu Abraham, Women's Centre, Mumbai
2. Sandhya Gokhale, Forum Against Oppression of Women, Mumbai
3. Soma Marik, Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Manch, Kolkatta
4. Madhuchanda Basu Karlekar, Sachetna, Kolkatta
5. Deepti Sharma, Saheli, Delhi
6. Sheba George, SahrWaru, Ahmedabad
7. N. B. Sarojini, S.A.M.A., Delhi
8. Chayanika Shah, Labia, Mumbai
9. Trupti Shah, Sahiyar, Vadodara
10.Aleyamma Vijayan, Sakhi, Kerala
11. Kerala Streevedi (network of 35 women's organizations)
12. Sudha Verghese, Nari Gunjan, Madhya Pradesh
OBAMAâS INDIAN: THE MANY FACES OF SONAL SHAH
by Vijay Prashad, 7 November 2008
Daily News and Analysis, November 09, 2008
BOOK REVIEW: UNFOLDING THE COMMUNAL AGENDA
by Ranjona Banerji
RSS, School Texts and the Murder of Mahatma Gandhi
Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan
Sage Publications, Paperback, 112 pages. Rs 195
A potted history of Hindutva sectarianism that reminds people of the
pitfalls of an ideology based on hatred and violence
In the beginning, the problems: This is a book written to and for the
converted. That is, someone who already knows about the doings of the
Hindutva organisations. It is also written by "the usual suspects",
that is, names and institutions that are associated with the
anti-Hindutva movement. The second is a problem to the extent that the
battle lines are so strongly drawn in this debate that any mention of
Jawaharlal Nehru University and the other side tends to go up in
flames. However the writers do have the scholarship and credentials to
take on such a subject and do justice to it.
The first problem is the larger one. This is a thin book which appears
to have been put together in a hurry. While it could not have come at
a more opportune moment, as everyday brings headlines of a "Hindu"
terror network spreading across the country, a littler more heft would
not have hurt. It makes sense then to examine how this communal
thinking is engendered and the effects it has had on Independent India.
The first part of the book looks at the history textbooks used in the
schools run by the RSS and its affiliate organisations, which are full
of invectives and distortion of facts. It examines how the BJP
government, when it was in power at the Centre, attempted to change
NCERT textbooks to suit their Hindu supremacist agenda. One 10th
standard textbook on contemporary India did not even mention Mahatma
Gandhi's assassination. After objections were made, a bald statement
of the fact of his death â" with no mention that it was the Hindu
rightwing which had killed him â" was introduced.
However, while the absurd assertions made by RSS textbooks are
mentioned - India brought civilisation to China and so on - no
attempts are made to counter these claims. Instead, it is assumed that
everyone would know that they are absurd. But if one contention of
this book is that the communal virus has spread enormously over the
past 20 years through this network of schools, it would greatly help
the lay reader if the statements made are effectively proved to be false.
This book should serve as a real eye-opener when it comes to the
assassination of Gandhi, especially for those who are unaware or have
forgotten that it was the efforts of all the Hindu rightwing
organisations which inspired Nathuram Godse to kill Gandhi. Over the
years, VD Savarkar's role in the conspiracy has been ignored or
As it happens, Nathuram Godse expressed his deep hurt at the way
Savarkar ignored him during the trial.
The assassination of Gandhi is India's most shocking event as a
nation. Yet today, as this book reiterates, after years of Gandhi
being vilified by a sustained campaign carried out by the Hindutva
lobby, a portrait of Savarkar hangs in Parliament, opposite his own.
This is not irony: this is the theatre of the absurd where a man who
played a key role in the plot to assassinate him is portrayed as a hero.
But the plot to kill Gandhi once and then kill his reputation again
has been at work since 1948, which this book clearly puts down.
Contrary to claims by the rightwing that Sardar Patel was somehow one
of them, his disapproval at the communal agenda of the RSS was
complete and clearly stated and is shown here. The role of Shyama
Prasad Mukherjee has also been outlined.
The RSS agenda â" and to this can be added the Hindu Mahasabha â" was
always to inculcate a sort of "Hindu" nationalism and to put down
religious minorities, particularly Muslims. Gandhi had to be killed
because he did not believe in either and his influence over India and
the world was great. While the admiration of the RSS for Hitler and
his assault on the Jews is well-known, sometimes it is worthwhile to
repeat it so that the extent of the organisation's hate philosophy is
understood. As this book makes clear, as long as India was under the
influence of a "Nehruvian view" for want of a better expression, the
RSS had limited underground appeal. The last 20 years has seen a
substantial change in that view, perhaps to our detriment as a nation.
This book, part of The Hindu Communal Project with a foreword by
renowned historian Bipan Chandra, is a worthwhile read as a sort of
potted history of Hindutva-inspired hatred and to remind those who may
want a refresher course in the context of recent happenings.
QUEER AZADI MUMBAI invites you to an important public protest and
public meeting on Thursday 13 November
These are stirring times for the LGBTI communities in India.
Queer Azadi on 16 August was an empowering day for us in Mumbai. So
many individuals and groups worked together to make it happen, and
marched together with such a sense of affirmation. Bangalore, Delhi
and Kolkata had already had Pride marches, well covered by the media,
and these inspired all of us here.
Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court has concluded its hearings around the
petition (filed by various activist groups) seeking to have Sec. 377
of the IPC read down, because it criminalises sexual acts between
consenting adults of the same sex. Even as we await the Courtâs
ruling, there is room for cautious optimism because of the progressive
stance of the Bench throughout, and the contradictory positions taken
by the Govt. of India, with the Home Ministry opposing the petition
and the Health Ministry supporting it.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are making
their presence felt, on the streets and in the media, and there is a
lot more discussion today about our long-denied human and civil
rights. Yet this did not prevent the horrific arrests, abuse and
torture by the police of hijras and activists of Sangama in Bangalore
recently. This was not an isolated incident: as public, media and
legal sympathy for the right of queer people to live with dignity
builds, we may expect, and must be prepared with strategies to resist,
such right wing and state-sponsored backlash.
If stirring things have been happening here, a revolution has been
cooking across the border in Nepal! Sunil Pant of the Blue Diamond
Society, a queer rights organisation, is the countryâs first openly
gay elected MP. The new Nepali Constitution that is even now being
written includes committees working on same sex marriage rights and
protection of LGBTI people, no mean achievement.
We have planned an afternoon that brings all these issues into focus.
7 November was observed in many places as a National Day of Protest
against the Bangalore incident. We are holding our public protest in
Mumbai on 13 November, along with a public meeting to coincide with
Sunil Pantâs visit to the city.
Please make yourselves free and attend in large numbers! We have to
keep up the momentum of Pride and Azadi.
Queer Azadi Mumbai