South Asia Citizens Wire | May 2-4, 2009 | Dispatch No. 2621 - Year 11 running
 Bangladesh: Seizure of posters betrays intolerance to criticism (Editorial, New Age)
 Sri Lanka: Island of blood (Meenakshi Ganguly)
 Nepal: Constitutional crisis (Kanak Mani Dixit)
- A Pak-US game (M.B. Naqvi)
- In Islamabad, a Sense of Foreboding (Pamela Constable)
 Afghanistan: Defying threats, fighting oppression - the woman leading protests (Tom Coghlan)
 India - Pakistan: Resurrecting peace process
 India: The politics of the ethical (Harsh Mander)
 India: Supreme Court's Fast Track Courts on Gujarat Riots of 2002 - Commentary
- Gujarat Carnage-Role of Narendra Modi (Ram Puniyani)
- Where silence prevails, justice will not (Siddharth Varadarajan)
- Poor Sense Of Timing (Rajeev Dhavan)
 India: Ajmer Blasts - Revisiting Hindutva Terror (Subhash Gatade)
+ A Rising Anger in India's Streets - Hindu Extremists Lash Out Against Symbols of Change (Emily Wax)
+ Exploring Gender, Hindutva and Seva (Swati Dyahadroy)
- Condolence Meeting for Ahilya Rangnekar (Bombay, 5 May 2009)
May 3, 2009
SEIZURE OF POSTERS BETRAYS INTOLERANCE TO CRITICISM
THE freedom of thought and conscience is a constitutionally ordained fundamental right, and so is the freedom of speech and expression. Just as the people reserve the right to praise a government, so do they reserve the right to criticise the government in a manner they deem fit. When the elected government of the Awami League-led political combine took over from the military-controlled interim government, which kept the fundamental rights of the people under a state of emergency through its tenure of nearly two years, the people expected the new administration to protect and promote their rights as enshrined in the constitution. However, if the confiscation on April 29 by a law enforcement agency of the state of posters reportedly criticising the government's performance in its first 100 days were to be taken as the government's attitude towards dissenting views, there are valid reasons to be concerned.
As reported in the national media, officials of the detective police, acting on a tip-off, raided a printing press at Fakirerpool in the capital Dhaka on the night of April 29 and seized 20,000 posters which, the claimed, were anti-government. The police said the posters were inscribed with the words `the failure of the government during its first 100 days in office'. While no one was arrested immediately, the police were on the lookout for a designer who had allegedly ordered for the posters to be printed.
In our view, at this point in time, it is more pertinent to find out under which law the law enforcers confiscated the posters than who ordered for the posters to be printed. The constitution says the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed `[s]ubject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence'. The authorities need to explain why and how criticism of the government's failure in its first 100 days, which is what the posters were apparently about according to the police statement, necessitated invocation of the constitutional caveats.
Otherwise, it would seem that the law enforcement agency in question may have been in violation of the constitutional decree for the people's rights to freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech and expression. Worrying still, it would cast the current government in poor light and could be construed as the government's intolerance to any critical appraisals of its words and deeds. The ruling Awami League-led political alliance has come to power on its pre-election promise for change in politics and governance for the better. The April 29 incident hardly indicates any breakaway from the practices of the past.
 Sri Lanka:
ISLAND OF BLOOD
by Meenakshi Ganguly
April 30, 2009
If there were a chessboard to demonstrate the war between Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE, the pawns would be wearing sarongs and saris. These individuals civilians, not soldiers are the war's `collateral damage'. Human rights groups are despised by both for they don't understand this mathematics and mourn over the increasing number of corpses.
The LTTE is responsible for human rights abuses forcibly recruiting people, turning schoolchildren into combatants, indiscriminate killings, using landmines and human bombs. Successive Sri Lankan governments, in order to appease the Sinhalese population, have failed to address the grievances of the Tamils, thus, building support for the Tigers.
To ensure its success, the government has chosen to silence the dissidents. Those who criticise its actions or policies are accused of being closet LTTE supporters; they are either shot down by unknown gunmen or men in vans prowling the streets of Colombo makes them `disappear'. Journalists and human rights defenders live in constant fear.
The military has made gains in reclaiming virtually all of northern Sri Lanka previously under the LTTE. The withdrawing Tigers have taken with them civilians to be used as combatants, provide labour to build trenches or serve as human shields. These are the people that the LTTE claims to represent and protect, and yet, it is deliberately putting them in danger.
For over two years, the Sri Lankan government knew that civilians were being forced to accompany the retreating Tigers, yet it did nothing about their safety. Instead, the detention camps house around 60,000 of those who managed to escape the
LTTE's writ. They now feel that they will be persecuted when the war is over.
Even with reports of civilian casualties pouring in, the government has denied that it is targeting civilians. Credible reports, however, prove it's a lie. The military says that those killed are not necessarily civilians. A senior Sri Lankan diplomat has reportedly said, "A fighter doesn't become a civilian when he dons a sarong." Health Secretary Athula Kahandaliyanage had stated, "It's been found that terrorists fight in civil clothes and when they get wounded they can be mistakenly considered as civilians". He added that there could be accidental injuries to non-combatants if they were in the line of fire.
While some information is available, it's still impossible to know what's going on in the combat zones. The government has booted out almost all humanitarian agencies and has kept independent journalists away from the war zone. With both parties engrossed in their mathematics of disaster, it is up to India, with its historical engagement in the conflict, to take decisive steps to ensure the safety of war victims. It should work with other governments that oppose the LTTE. It should also encourage those members of the Tamil diaspora who have backed the Tigers to speak up for the safety of Tamil civilians.
The LTTE must end its policy of risking civilians' lives and should allow them to flee the combat zone. The Sri Lankan government should make efforts to rescue and protect civilians. Both sides should work towards an emergency evacuation plan for civilians before more die or are maimed. For each passing day is a stain on the consciences of those who could have saved new victims.
(Meenakshi Ganguly works with Human Rights Watch, South Asia)
4 May 2009
The Maoist ouster of the army chief has endangered the peace process
by Kanak Mani Dixit
For two weeks, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal had sought to oust the Chief of Army Staff Rookmangud Katawal. On Sunday morning, the Maoists Chairman moved to unilaterally show him the door, at a cabinet meeting
boycotted by all his coalition partners. The prime minister's action ignited exhilaration among the Maoist cadre while inviting a constitutional crisis that embroils him in a confrontation not only with all the other major parties, but also President Ram Baran Yadav.
On 20 April, the Prime Minister had sought an explanation from Katawal for alleged insubordination on several counts, clearly with the intent of sacking him regardless of the answers furnished. Even as his own party leadership clamoured for Katawal's sacking, President Yadav advised that the prime minister only act in accordance with the interim constitution, which decisions to be taken by consensus of all political players in the context of the ongoing peace process.
Even as the Maoists sought to steamroll the issue, the two main coalition partners - the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum - came to the conclusion that there was not enough reason to sack
the CoAS. They felt that the action would break with the tradition of succession in the Nepal Army and affect morale of an important institution of state that had remained out of the complete grasp of the Maoists.
Apparently concerned about the political instability that the sacking would invite in the neighbouring country, the Indian Foreign Office went into overdrive to get the Maoists to pull back. Ambassador Rakesh Sood met Prime Minister Dahal half a dozen times over the last two weeks, warning of New Delhi's displeasure with the threatened move. In between, Mr. Sood made a dash for Delhi for consultations in South Block.
CoAS Katawal is a haughty soldier who had deep links to the royal regime of the past, and was given to ronouncements that verged on the political.He wrote articles under a nom de plume that supported the royal
adventurism after February 2005. Yet Gen. Katawal is also credited by some for having played a role in convincing King Gyanendra to bow before the force of the People's Movement of April 2006. Under his watch, the army
did remain true to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2007, and watched the peaceful declaration of republic from the sidelines.
Since Gen Katawal had only four months to go before retirement, what was the hurry for the Maoists to see his departure through an ouster. As best as one can make out, the rush had to do with the 'integration' Maoist
combatants into the national army. The earlier gentleman's understanding with the other parties was of individual entry of combatants into the army according to the regular recruitment standards.
Energised by their electoral win in April 2008, the Maoists moved the goalpost, demanding a full merger of the two forces to make up a true national army. They see CoAS Katawal as implacably opposed to the move, and seem to have bargained with some of his associates to be more flexible.
As the crisis grew over the last two weeks, the Maoist leadership sought to label this as a battle for 'civilian supremacy' over the army. It is of course true that the lack of civilian control over the military has invited many accidents for Nepali democracy since as far back as 1959. However, civilian supremacy in the current context does not mean submitting to the Maoist definition of the term and principle.
Under the interim constitution during a time of transition to peace, civilian supremacy refers not merely to the elected government but also the other political forces with whom it is duty-bound to seek consensus. This means not only the UML and MJF, but also the Nepali Congress in opposition. The argument for civilian supremacy as proposed fails the
credibility test also because the peace process is still not ended, and the political party which leads the government and invokes the principle has its own combatant force of 19,000 plus, in cantonments around the country.
The procedures used on Sunday by Prime Minister Dahal was to take a unilateral decision that has been disavowed by his partners in government, and sending a note 'for information' to President Yadav. The constitutional President is also the supreme commander of the Nepal Army, who clearly has to be taken into confidence as it is his constitutional duty to formally apoint the CoAS.
After insisting many times over the last week that the Prime Minister move on the Army chief only through consensus, the President on Sunday responded to the government's decision by suggesting that it was against
due process. This is where matters stood on Sunday evening. The Maoist move has created a constitutional crisis in Nepal, their cadres are in a triumphant mood, while the rest of the polity wonders what is the way out of the danger zone.
The Daily Star
May 4, 2009
A PAK-US GAME
by M.B. Naqvi
SERIOUS talks are going on between the US and Pakistan. The two, allies for 55 years, have complaints against each other. It looks like a scene from a film in which two middle aged lovers are doing a tango and letting out their heartfelt complaints on one side and reassurances on the other.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to a Congressional committee recently. She conceded that America was wrong to have left Pakistan alone to clean up the mess that the Americans had left behind in Afghanistan since 1989 when the Russians withdrew. True, Pakistan has now made it a major complaint, though this writer's assessment at the time was that Pakistanis were pleased as punch at having inherited Afghanistan all to themselves.
Pakistanis had their own mini imperial dreams of utilising the Mujahideen elsewhere (in Kashmir). They did it successfully after the Indians initially accepted the doctrine of mutual deterrence; Pakistan was able to inflict a thousand cuts on India without the latter being able to fight back properly. Clinton also admitted that the US was wrong then and, by implication it, has to do right now. Which means giving Pakistan more aid and accommodating some of its wishes.
The US is really panic-stricken. Pakistanis have, whether by design or by sheer inability to prevent, shown that American supplies through Pakistan from Karachi to Torkhum and Bagram in Afghanistan are no longer safer. There is word that the other supply line from Karachi to Chaman and Kandhar may also not remain safe for long. The Americans have seen this as Pakistani blackmail. Will it succeed, if it is contrived? No one can predict accurately.
The Americans have no real alternative to Pakistan. In theory, there are two possible routes to Afghanistan; one is through Russian territory, and of many other former Soviet republics, on to Afghanistan. It is negotiating separate deals with the countries involved, but they are under Russian influence and Russians cannot be relied upon to be as a faithful to today's commitments as Americans might want. It is a more expensive and time-consuming route. Additionally, they may not permit war equipment to pass through their territory.
The second alternative is through Iran. It would mean swallowing a huge amount of wordage emitted by the US to demonise Iran. It would mean humiliation in the US at one end and possibly anger in the most trusted ally of Americans in the Middle East, Israel. Can the American administration carry it through? America recognises that Iran is vital to many problems in the ME, particularly in Iraq. Even in Afghanistan the Iranians can be useful in other ways.
But Pakistan remains a riveting subject for the US. It is certainly the epicentre of Islamic extremism. The ideas and political trends that emanate from here go far and wide. America had developed a logical strategy to meet the situation. Noting that Pakistan's political class and its army have to hang on to the coattails of Uncle Sam, the Pakistani political class needs only plenty of dollars for the mismanaged country and the economy as also for personal enrichment.
America's strategy now is to give plenty of money to Pakistan and other supplies to the army. Make them happy. Maybe they will cooperate. They have no other real option, just as America has no other choice. This is the stern logic of geography.
There is another qualification of Pakistan. As Kissinger put it the other day, Pakistan has so many nukes but "no government." The state seems to be unravelling to every outside observer, and it is vulnerable in so many ways. It is as inefficient and corrupt as Chiang Kaishek's Kuomintang government was in 1939. Pakistan is inherently more so because of its political trends.
The Taliban are displacing the Pakistan state at a faster pace than people had thought only a few months ago. The US has got to save it for the sake of India and Bangladesh also. Pakistan cannot be allowed to fail. It is only the US and the west that have got to prevent South Asia going haywire.
The problem is Pakistan's implied threat of cutting the supply lines from Pakistan to Afghanistan. The Taliban have interdicted the supply line near Peshawar many times, which could possibly be the state strategy to remind the Americans how vulnerable they are. And it can also be an indicator of the failure of the Pakistan state to safeguard these supply lines.
The real trouble between Pakistan and America is the American desire to include India, with its Kashmir problem, in a comprehensive solution to the regional problems. Deep down, the US wants Pakistan to make up with India, and not compete as a rival.
This runs contrary to the rationale for Pakistan. It is the basis of today's foreign policy, and it is nationalism that was meant to keep Pakistan united and moving forward in an anti-Indian direction. Friendship with India might rock Pakistan in the eyes of its political class and security establishment. It has reason to be worried. This is a major hurdle.
For Americans, deep philosophical problems do not stand in the way of political solutions. Should Pakistan go its way for a variety of reasons, either as a result of its failure or for a purpose, the Americans can turn to alternatives. One is, as noted, Russia and Central Asian states that were once part of Russia. This is a time consuming and problem-ridden route, and is probably available to the US. But it requires continued Russian goodwill, which might pose a problem.
The second alternative is via Iran. This is doubtless the cheapest, safest and perhaps speediest route. But the US has demonised Iran for 30 years. To approach now, would involve considerable humiliation on its part. Israel can become angry and put difficulties in the way. In contrast, Pakistan has given some bases for the US military and a lot of its air space has been reserved for Americans.
The question is: Will Pakistan's perceived blackmail, as the Americans actually put it, succeed? Probably it can. US will have to dole out more dollars and some aircraft to keep the Pakistani political class happy. It will also have to continue to supply the Pakistan army's needs.
But India has bigger prizes to offer. India is bigger, richer, more developed and more influential than Pakistan. The US can depend on India much more than on Pakistan, whose utility from longer-term viewpoint is questionable.
This tango with Pakistan has to end soon. Who will get away with what they are trying to do is not clear. But neither can Pakistan's political class have its wishes nor can the US do without Pakistan's cooperation. When and how will they make up is the issue.
M.B. Naqvi is a leading Pakistani columnist.
o o o
IN ISLAMABAD, A SENSE OF FOREBODING
Pakistanis Nervously Look to Northwest, Where Taliban Fighters Are Taking Control
Shoppers examine goods at Islamabad's Jinnah Market, which has seen a dip in business because of terrorism fears. (Pamela Constable - The Washington Post)
(Photos By Pamela Constable -- The Washington Post)
By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 27, 2009
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, April 26 -- Every spring, the Margalla Hills overlooking this capital city burst into life. Evening thunderstorms send torrents of water down the slopes, scenic paths attract hikers and picnickers, and bands of monkeys scramble down from the trees to watch the weekend visitors.
But this season, the forested ridges have taken on a new, ominous significance for jittery residents. Suddenly, the hills are being depicted as the last barrier to hordes of Islamist insurgents sweeping south from the Afghan border and as perfect places for suicide bombers to lurk.
"If the Taliban continue to move at this pace, they will soon be knocking at the doors of Islamabad. The Margalla Hills seem to be the only hurdle in their march toward the federal capital," Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a religious party leader, warned last week in a speech to Parliament. He was exaggerating for effect, but the image struck home.
Islamabad, a placid, park-filled city of 1.5 million people, was built in the 1960s as a symbol of Pakistan's modern and democratic aspirations. Its boulevards are lined with grandiose federal buildings, and its shady side streets are home to an elite class of politicians and professionals. Until several years ago, the orderly capital seemed immune to the religious violence that bedeviled the country's wilder rural fringes.
But now, a psychosis of fear has gripped the Pakistani capital, driven partly by recent televised images of turbaned Taliban fighters occupying town after town in the northwest districts of Swat, Shangla and Buner -- as close as 60 miles from Islamabad -- and partly by a rash of bombings and threats in the quiet, heavily policed federal district.
Private schools that cater to international and wealthy families have installed security cameras and gun turrets; many are losing foreign students as embassies and agencies send families home. The local World Bank office just moved into the heavily guarded Serena Hotel.
Police barricades, detours and checkpoints are sprouting so fast that drivers barely have time to learn the new traffic patterns. Without a foreign passport or a VIP license plate, it is almost impossible to enter the federal district that includes the Supreme Court, the Parliament and the diplomatic enclave.
"We're not going to let anyone come and capture Islamabad, but we have too few resources to secure the city," said Nasir Aftab, the superintendent of police, his eyes red after a night of little sleep. "We need more weapons and men. We need explosive detectors and vehicle scanners on the highway entrances. If a mullah tells a boy of 15 to blow himself up, how do you stop him? This is the capital, and we don't even have a sniffer dog."
It is the insidiousness of suicide bombers, more than the bravado of gun-toting Taliban troops, that keeps officials such as Aftab up at night. The biggest bombing yet here was in September, when a truck full of explosives rammed into the luxury Marriott Hotel, killing 52 people.
The hotel has since reopened, and the lobby has been restored to its former elegance. But the inviting scene is hidden behind blast walls, and the doormen who once swept open wide glass portals guard a narrow opening with a huge metal detector.
"Sometimes I think we've overdone it. The hotel looks like a fortress, but security has to be our top priority," said Zulfikar Ahmed, the Marriott's general manager. He said hotel occupancy had plunged to 40 percent of what it once was. "We maintain a calm atmosphere, but if something happens tomorrow, it will drop again," he said.
A less spectacular but equally worrisome attack occurred last month, when a young man approached an open camp for off-duty paramilitary guards, located in a small park in an upper-class residential area. The man blew himself up, killing himself and five guards.
The blast sent shoppers fleeing in panic from the exclusive Jinnah Market a few blocks away. Now, the market is half-empty, waiters stand idle and merchants sit behind sale racks on the sidewalk.
"The future looks very bleak. Fear chases us everywhere, from the moment we leave home to the moment we return at night," said Mohammed Ismael, 46, who sells fabric for party dresses. "These blasts and attacks don't hurt the ruling class, but they destroy our business. . . . The tension is everywhere."
The tension is relatively new to Islamabad, which until 2007 had been tranquil. But that summer, the calm was shattered by a violent face-off between the government and radical leaders of the Red Mosque, who had turned their compound in central Islamabad into an armed camp. After a standoff, security forces stormed the mosque, killing at least 100 people, and the leaders vowed revenge.
Since then, terrorist assaults, bombings and kidnappings have become regular occurrences across the country. The targets included former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, U.N. officials, NATO supply convoys, police checkpoints, video shops, mosques of minority sects, an Italian eatery in Islamabad and a Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.
There was also a growth in the number of religious schools, or madrassas, some of which espoused radical visions of Islam.
This month, the former chief cleric at the Red Mosque was released from detention and appeared there, nearly two years after the deadly siege. More than 5,000 people gathered to hear Maulana Abdul Aziz urge his excited followers to bring a "true Islamic system" to the nation.
"We know very little about some of these madrassas, and where their funding comes from is a mystery," said a police intelligence official.
Islamabad is far better known for its top-quality academic schools and colleges, including private institutions tailored for foreign students. Several weeks ago, police learned of terrorist threats to attack such schools and recommended that they take security measures.
The capital also houses a well-regarded national university. The student body includes thousands of women, and though more of them wear Islamic garb than before, many make clear they have no sympathy for fundamentalists.
"We've been discussing what would happen to us if the Taliban come here. Would I have to wear a burqa?" demanded Fatima Tanvir, 21, in reference to an all-covering garment. Like several of her classmates, she said she resented the negative impression many foreigners now have of her country. "People see the TV images and think we are a rogue, barbarian society. It makes us really sad," she said.
With extra contingents of paramilitary police being sent to beef up security, it seems unlikely that militant hordes will swarm down from the Margalla Hills anytime soon. But the recent attacks, and the calls to arms ringing from dozens of mosques, suggest there is more religious violence ahead.
"If they come again, we'll be ready," said an off-duty paramilitary guard in the camp that was bombed in March. Since then, the survivors have dug a trench around their tents and piled the earth into a perimeter wall. On one side are wreaths from well-wishers, and a hand-lettered sign that says, "Resist or Die."
The Times (UK)
April 30, 2009
DEFYING THREATS, FIGHTING OPPRESSION: THE WOMAN LEADING PROTESTS IN AFGHANISTAN
by Tom Coghlan in Kabul
They were stoned, spat on and assaulted, but when 200 women staged Afghanistan's first public women's rights protest since the 1970s their voices were heard around the world.
And if centuries-old traditions are to change, it may well be a petite but pugnacious 28-year-old called Diana Saqeb who is responsible.
One of the organisers of the march, which took place a fortnight ago in the capital, Kabul, Ms Saqeb was present this week when President Karzai promised activists that there would be changes to the Shia Family Law that prompted their protest.
Mr Karzai said that the legislation would be amended and he did not know that the law he was signing legalised marital rape, child marriage and a host of Taleban-era restrictions on women, because his advisers had failed to inform him of its contents.
Sitting in her home in Kabul, where the walls are lined with arthouse film posters and translations of Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Virginia Woolf and Michel Foucault, Ms Saqeb was unimpressed.
"This excuse is worse than the actual crime," she said. "It was not acceptable for a lot of women present at the meeting that the first person of the country signs a law, which directly affects the lives of the people, without reading it."
She said that Mr Karzai should have been more responsible in a society where, as the UN puts it, women "remain victims of discrimination and violence" and the concept of human rights means little to many Afghan women.
"The society we live in is full of intimidation," said Ms Saqeb. "Always concealing ideas, beliefs, dressing the way others want, it is a kind of continuous stress and intimidation; more mental intimidation than physical."
Nonetheless, the protesters were taken aback by the fury they provoked. "We did not expect the wild reaction from them," Ms Saqeb said of a mob, several thousand strong, that surrounded the marchers. "We wanted ours to be a silent protest but then they turned violent with rocks and stones, saying terrible things to the women, trying to physically attack the women. I was not frightened but I was shocked."
Many women did not reach the protest, she said, after being attacked or intimidated as they tried to approach the area.
"The women who came were from all walks of life. We talked to women in many parts of the city. All the women who came had seen difficulties and oppression in their daily lives, and now they were seeing it legalised."
Since the protest, she said, she had received threatening messages and rumours had circulated that she was not a Muslim the evidence being that her name sounded foreign.
To describe the country's women's rights movement as embryonic is to overstate its strength. At its heart are a few score visible activists, including a number of young women MPs such as Sabrina Saqib, Diana's sister.
The women politicians owe their seats in most cases to a quota system, included in the Afghan constitution to the dismay of conservatives which reserves 25 per cent of Parliament for women.
Afghanistan today is a world away from Saqeb's early life in one of the few old liberal Kabul families to have returned to the city since 2001. She spent most of her upbringing as a refugee in Iran, finding in the arts faculty at Tehran University a relative freedom of thought far from the constraints of home. She is now a film-maker.
The risks attached to attacking the status quo are very clear. A growing number of women holding public positions have been killed in the past two years by Taleban militants, whose influence extends to the outskirts of the capital. Ms Saqeb says she is undaunted.
Among a new generation of supporters is Hamida, 18, who told The Times: "I think since the day of the demonstration, more and more girls in our school are speaking against the law and it has become a big subject for the girls' discussions. I think rights are something that you have to always take by struggle. If you sit by, no one will come to give them to you."
Ms Saqeb said that the campaign to change the Shia family legislation was just the start: "We are just confronting people who don't dare to doubt what they are told."
 India - Pakistan:
May 4 2009
RESURRECTING PEACE PROCESS
It should not remain hostage to terrorism and political convenience of the ruling elite
The political elite both in India and Pakistan must understand that the present tension between the two neighbouring countries is not in the interest of their people suffering from the growing terrorist menace on the one hand and the lack of mutual trust on the other. The prolonged conflict has only served the cause of anti-democratic forces and fundamentalists in the two countries. The ruling establishments must listen to the voice of reason which is trying to assert in both India and Pakistan.The peace process should not remain hostage to terrorism and political convenience of the elite in the two countries. They need to overcome the trust-deficit which is the main cause for the slow progress of the composite dialogue earlier and its coming to a screeching halt in the wake of the terror attack in Mumbai. The subsequent elections in India, with neither of the political parties in race for forming the next government, in a mood to abandon their chauvinistic stance has only weakened the peace process. To hoodwink the gullible voters and trying to cater to the popular mood of hostility they are naturally engaged in a kind of one-upmanship.Unless there is a perceptible change in their perception and mindset it is doubtful that even after the elections there can be any radical shift in their stance. With Pakistan facing the growing threat from Taliban,threatening even its survival as a democratic country, the hawks in India find it easy to oppose any move for breaking the logjam.It is in this context that the political elite in the two countries must listen to the voices of sanity. The political elite both in Islamabad and New Delhi must heed the advice of the noted peace activists and members of the civil society in the two countries for de-escalating the present tensions and resuming the stalled dialogue process. The civil society activists in Pakistan while expressing their serious concern over the growing challenge from Taliban have rightly pointed out that instead of facing this threat jointly India and Pakistan should not engage themselves in blame game and finger-pointing. They feel that instead of trying to take political mileage out of their predicament the Indian state should not do any thing that can only further isolate the civilian government and the emerging democratic forces in their country. Similarly a number of noted Indian intellectuals and peace activists including the former Prime Minister I.K.Gujral, Aruna Roy, Teesta Setalvad, Salman Haider and Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Gandhiji, have urged for resumption of talks with Pakistan, saying the beleaguered country needed neighbourly support as well as self-help strategy to overcome its many challenges. As they rightly point out, in their hour of crisis Indians must express total support to all Pakistanis striving to preserve normal life in their country.
Instead of having a sadistic pleasure over the Pakistan's discomfiture and adopting an attitude of hostility and justifying the disruption of the dialogue process, Indians must release that the threats to Pakistanis are not only threats to close neighbours ; they are threats moving towards India, and threats that can easily scale the international border. As the statement by the peace activists said " self-interest plus the simplest humanity demands that Indians, citizens and the government, do all they can to make the challenges before Pakistanis less arduous." Despite the country's ongoing elections, and notwithstanding Indian complaints against Pakistani governments, agencies and non-state groups, India and Indians must offer every encouragement and support to the people of Pakistan in the difficult times they face. "Indians cannot and must not remain mute witnesses of the grave danger that the neighbouring country faces and of the brave efforts of a large number of Pakistanis to meet that danger." While the efforts of the people of Pakistan who are working for reconciliation and strengthening of the democratic forces in their country need to be appreciated all those who cherish peace and stability in the region must express their solidarity with them. Nothing should be done that weakens these forces and make the task of divisive and anti-democratic forces easier.The present thaw in the relationship between the two countries is not in the interest of the people in the two countries. The resumption of composite dialogue to resolve all outstanding disputes including the major issue of Kashmir can act as a catalyst for eliminating the menace of terrorism in the region. Neither the blame game should be allowed to continue nor the present stalemate in the dialogue process should be made to prolong. While the Pakistan has to overcome the internal trust-deficit and emerge stronger as a civilised and democratic society, India needs to shed its rigidity and take steps for the resumption of the peace process for ushering into a new era of peace, cooperation and stability in the region.
Magazine / The Hindu
May 3, 2009
THE POLITICS OF THE ETHICAL
by Harsh Mander
On the campaign trail with Mallika Sarabhai as she tries to put in practice a cleaner, more ethical and accountable politics
She is already victorious, because she chose to engage with electoral politics
with independence, grace, and integrity.
Not pulling her punches: Mallika Sarabhai making a point in Ahmedabad.
Amidst the colour, din, dust and heat that typically mark elections in this chaotic, flawed but ultimately robust democracy the largest in the world there are always glimmerings of hope. During the current general elections held in the summer of 2009, one of these is the unexpected decision of a leading classical dancer, Mallika Sarabhai, to stand as an independent candidate, against one of the Prime Ministerial hopefuls, L.K. Advani, from Gandhinagar. This constituency has consistently returned him with large margins for many recent elections. Mallika's battle has captured segments of the popular and intellectual imagination.
She explained that her decision was to establish the possibilities of a "politics of the ethical". Her candidacy was an invitation to a new mode of politics. It was to challenge and establish ethical processes of politics: "the means, the culture and aesthetics of politics, (and for)
raising issues that concern us as citizens. The means have to be fair, democratic, just, civil, non-violent, and therefore transparent".
Her announcement elicited endorsements of support from many corners of the country, firstly because of her brave, outspoken and ethical stand against the communal carnage that shamed Gujarat in 2002. It was her voice which first rang out with the words: I accuse. "I stand amidst the ruins of civilisation as I knew it
For, they have taken away my pride at being a human being
They have taken away my joy of belonging to a land of understanding and compassion." She lamented the silence and complicity that enabled the massacre, and spoke of her own sense of guilt. "For letting myself become part of that silence. For trusting incorrectly. For letting everyday inanities dull myself to the genocide being planned and executed". This earned her a great amount of credibility and admiration, more so because she did not waver despite a battery of harassment mounted by the State government.
For this reason, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, himself one of the most credible moral voices among living Indians, notes that since Mallika "waged a spirited and consistent struggle on various fronts judicial, social, cultural, political against the forces of communalism and majoritarian extremism in the State", he feels confident that if elected she will "uphold the secular and democratic principles as enshrined in our Constitution".
But what has also won her a great deal of support is the idea that a person of privilege and accomplishment, but also of undoubted integrity, can choose to leap into what many regard as a cesspool of electoral politics. She echoes the despair of the majority of Indians with the state of our electoral politics: the "corruption and criminalisation everywhere" in mainstream political parties. "They are forever indulging in horse-trading and it has only become a game of numbers. The citizen is forgotten in this `game'. In the Lok Sabha of 2004-2009, there were 128 MPs facing criminal charges out of the total 534. Is that not shameful? We need to change this."
Being the change
Her decision to contest derives from her realisation that she can alter the sickness of electoral politics in India only by participating in it; by attempting to adhere to ethical rules, and still surviving. "For very long now, politics has become a space for politicians and not for you and me. I have been waiting for long for things to change, for good people to come into politics and change the system. I realised that people with integrity do not want to enter politics because it has become such a dirty word. I decided to change that."
Mallika believes that independent candidates like her can "bring a different style, a different sensitivity, a more personal concern to governance, to the questions of deprivation and exclusion, to the very idea of suffering". It is this promise of the possibility of clean, ethical and sensitive, accountable politics that has generated much hope and expectation riding on her shoulders. Many like Anu Aga, herself a voice of conscience in Indian industry, have endorsed her candidature, declaring, "I am glad that people like you have decided to join politics. India needs you". Hundreds of young people from within and outside Gujarat have volunteered to support her campaign, and I found them cheerfully braving the heat of Ahmedabad, dancing, beating drums, distributing pamphlets, urging people in homes and on the streets to vote for Mallika Sarabhai.
I followed Mallika on her campaign trail for a couple of days, and was riveted by the ease with which she related with the people in her constituency. She was assured, energetic, and empathetic: not seeming a novice greenhorn politician, but one born to the vocation. She spent eight hours every day on the road, most of it on foot, often running between settlements, leaving her young volunteers trailing and breathless. Her campaign team estimated that she has personally met in the first 25 days of her campaign more than a hundred thousand voters in 125 villages and city settlements.
Her volunteers lead with the beat of drums, others dance and people gather. In high-rise housing colonies in Ahmedabad, they collect in their verandahs, and listen to her from there. Mallika speaks to them from her hand-held microphone, or individually in small groups. She dwells on how established political parties have failed them. In 20 years, a small seed grows into a tree, she says, and you can rest in its shade. But in 60 years of Independence, political parties have alternately come to power, but have failed to provide you even clean drinking water, drains, toilets, work, food, schools, hospitals, and security for women. You deserve better, she declares, and they agree. If they work together, she promises, change is possible.
A new aesthetics
In announcing her candidature, Mallika had talked not just about experimenting with new means and a culture of politics, but also a new aesthetics, and this last was clearly evident in all her public meetings. The colours of her campaign were carefully chosen, and she explained them to her audience. White, she said, stood for non-violence, because she opposes the use of violence, both in public and domestic spaces. Purple is the international colour of women's rights. And red is the colour of blood of all human beings, regardless of their faith, caste or wealth. She explains the significance of her election symbol, the harmonium. "Each note of it is separate, just as we are separated by our caste, religion, gender. But only when they are in harmony together do they produce music". She ends all her campaign meetings by breaking into Gujarati folk dances, and many in the audience join in. She believes that elections must also be a celebration.
She tells me that she has seen so much human suffering and deprivation in this past month of campaigning that it is now impossible for her to turn her back to her people. At the time I write, and probably when you read this, we will not know how many votes have been cast in favour of Mallika Sarabhai. But she is already victorious, because she chose to engage with electoral politics against a formidable contestant, and demonstrated that it is possible to do so, with independence, grace, verve and integrity. And in trying to walk the path of a politics of the ethical, she has crafted authentic hope.
 India: Supreme Court's Fast Track Courts on Gujarat Riots of 2002 - Commentary
Gujarat Carnage-Role of Narendra Modi
by Ram Puniyani
Where silence prevails, justice will not
by Siddharth Varadarajan
Poor Sense Of Timing
by Rajeev Dhavan
 India's Hindu Far Right:
sacw.net, 1 May 2009
INDIA: AJMER BLASTS - REVISITING HINDUTVA TERROR
by Subhash Gatade
It has been more than one and half years that the great Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti based in Ajmer, Rajasthan, which is equally revered by the Hindus and Muslims, reached headlines for unforeseen reasons. On 12 th October 2009 it witnessed a bomb blast which saw deaths of two innocents and injuries to many. In fact it was for the first time in its few centuries old history that blood of innocents lied splattered in those areas where thousands and thousands of people use to gather daily to offer their prayers.
As was the routine procedure then - when Hindutva terror had not reached headlines - a few fanatic Islamist groups were blamed for this ignoble incident. There were interrogations, arrests, quite a few people were illegally detained supposedly to extract their confession for this act. Media was not to be left behind, it had juicy stories about the plans and the execution of this inhuman and barbaric act, and definite clues about its real 'masterminds' remote controlling from across the border. Witchhunting of the community went on for a while. And as usually happens in such case(s), after some initial hullaballo Ajmer blasts were relegated to the inner pages of newspapers in one small corner. People also lost interest. Perhaps they had more exciting news awaiting them.
Few days back, Ajmer blasts suddenly reappeared in a section of the press, with Maharashtra ATS alongwith Rajasthan ATS making startling revealations about the perpetrators of this act. It was worth noting that the mainstream media largely ignored this news which had important ramifications for the secular fabric of the country. 'The Statesman' carried a front page news on 13 th April, followed by Asian Age which carried it on inner pages and 'Mail Today' carried a three column story on its second page on 19 th April. Apart from NDTV none of the other channels bothered to report this incident.
The crux of the revelations was that the Ajmer blasts were the handiwork of the same Hindutva terrorist group 'Abhinav Bharat'
According to NDTV ['Abhinav Bharat under ATS scanner for '07 Ajmer blast' Rajan Mahan, Tuesday, April 14, 2009, (Jaipur)]
Abhinav Bharat, the Hindu extremist group, involved in the Malegaon blasts may also be the hidden hand behind the Ajmer blasts. The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Rajasthan police says investigations into the blasts that shook the Ajmer Dargah in 2007, have led them to members of the Abhinav Bharat.
In an exclusive interview to NDTV, the ATS Chief in Rajasthan, Kapil Garg, has admitted that Abhinav Bharat is now actively under their scanner. And a special team of the Rajasthan police had recently visited Mumbai to collect full statements and reports of the narco-analysis and brain mapping tests done on the mastermind of the Malegaon blasts Lt Col S P Purohit and others accused in the Malegaon blast cases.
Police sources say that in his narco-analysis and brain mapping tests Lt Col Purohit has revealed that another member Dayanand Pandey, also an accused in the Malegaon blast, had planned the Ajmer blast that killed 2 and injured over 20 people in October 2007.
What is Abhinav Bharat? It is a Hindu extremist group of pre-Independence era that was revived in Pune in 2006 and now has a large base in Madhya Pradesh. This group, the police say may be involved in the other attacks on Islamic establishments.
'Mail Today' carried the story bit further and its report 'Malegaon accused had role in Ajmer' (Mailtoday) filed by Krishna Kumar said :
The Maharashtra ATS believes the arrest of three suspected Hindutva terrorists who had planted bombs at Malegaon is key to solving the Hyderabad Mecca Masjid and the Ajmer Sharief blasts.
A senior ATS official said on Saturday the Malegaon blast was linked to these two incidents as the same group of men, belonging to arrested Hindutva terror suspect Lt. Col Srikant Purohit's Abhinav Bharat, executed the other blasts, too.
"We have evidence that the same group of men associated with the Abhinav Bharat carried out all the three blasts.If we arrest the men who planted the bombs at Malegaon, the other two cases could easily be cracked" he said.
The three suspects are Shivnarain Kalsangra, Sameer Dange and Pravin Mutalik. The ATS is hunting for the trio who, it suspects, has fled to Nepal or is hiding near the Indo-Nepal border.
The statement of the ATS official is significant as the Jaipur police, too, are investigating Abhinav Bharat's links to the Ajmer blast in October 2007.
The conversation between Purohit and Dayanand Pandey, who were arrested in connection with ghe Malegaon blast, revealed they were involved in other blasts, too.
While Pandey claimed the Hyderabad blast was carried out by Hindutva activists and not the ISI, Purohit boasted how he had carried out two successful operations like the Malegaon blasts in the past. The ATS believes the two operations could be the Mecca Masjid and the Ajmer Sharief blasts.
It need not be forgotten that when Malegaon II investigations were going on many names had come to the fore but the untimely death of Mr Hemant Karkare, the ATS chief of Maharashtra, in the terrorist attack in Bombay created a situation where all such people were allowed to go scot free. May it be the case of Dr R.P. Singh, a leading physician working in a hospital in Delhi, or may it be the case of Himani Savarkar, the president of Abhinav Bharat or for that matter the old Saffron hand who is contesting elections for the Parliament from Delhi, none of them were interrogated. Himani Savarkar had given an important clue to the investigators during initial investigations, wherein she had divulged that the plan of the attack was hatched in her presence during the meeting in Indore.
Question naturally arises why did the police acted in a partial manner ? There were reports that Togadia, the international secretary of VHP had funded Abhinav Bharat. According to CNN-IBN :
Purohit claims Togadia funded Abhinav Bharat
CNN-IBN Published on Mon, Nov 24, 2008 at 11:45, Updated on Mon, Nov 24, 2008 at 12:53 in India section
New Delhi: In a sensational development in the Malegaon blast case Lieutenant Colonel Srikant Prasad Purohit has claimed that Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia was involved in funding Abhinav Bharat.
Abhinav Bharat is being investigated in connection with blast of September 29 in Malegaon in which at least six people were killed.
Lt Col Purohit, who has been arrested for masterminding the blast, reportedly claimed that Togadia provided the organisation with some funds to start out.
The claims were reportedly made while the Lt Col was being interrogated by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
He revealed that he received a call from a man who called himself the VHP's Maharashtra chief to say that Togadia wanted to know who was investigating the Nanded blasts case.
However, Togadia has denied his involvement with Abhinav Bharat. He said the allegations are unfounded, criminally defamatory, malafide and politically motivated.
(With inputs from Sumon K Chakrabarti)
It also need be reminded that a few other bomb blasts before Malegaon bomb blasts - which clearly showed involvement of Hindutva terrorist - were not even investigated properly. The bomb blast in Kanpur ( August 2007) which saw deaths of two RSS/Bajrang Dal activists- Rajeev Mishra and Bhupendra Arora - is a case in point.The Kanpur police had even claimed that the explosives seized from the site could have easily destroyed half of Kanpur. Police had also found maps of Muslimmajority areas of Ferozabad from the house of one of the victims. How did the whole matter proceed ? Narco test was done on two acquaitenances of Rajiv and Bhupendra and they were left untouched. And the police did not even bother to apprehend/interrogate two vital contacts of the victims/perpetrators whose name had surfaced during the narco test of the two acquaitenances . One among them was a Professor in Kanpur IIT and the other one was a local leader of VHP.
Digvijay Singh, the ex chief minister of M.P. who has been in the forefront as far as divulging details/conspiracies involving Hindutva terrorists are concerned, had made an interesting point sometime back. He posed the question, should it be called mere coincidence that there are no bomb blasts after the arrests of Masterminds of Malegaon bomb blast.
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A RISING ANGER IN INDIA'S STREETS - HINDU EXTREMISTS LASH OUT AGAINST SYMBOLS OF CHANGE
by Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 1, 2009
Bangalore, India -- At a trendy pub in this cosmopolitan IT capital, Hemangini Gupta, 28, and some of her girlfriends were recently relaxing with cocktails after work. A group of Hindu men later followed them outside, verbally accosting them for drinking in a public bar and for wearing jeans.
"These guys went psycho," Gupta said. "This isn't Afghanistan. But here in Bangalore, as a young woman on the streets, if you are driving a car or in a pub or dressed a certain way, you just feel this rising anger."
The incident was mild compared with some of the violent assaults on women that have taken place here. The attacks are part of what many see as rising Hindu extremism in much of the country over the past few years, especially in places such as Bangalore, precisely because it is a bastion of India's fast-changing culture. Bangalore is home to an explosion of software companies, a lively heavy-metal rock music scene and burgeoning gay rights and environmental movements.
The growing extremism has sparked a national debate -- especially with national elections this month -- over what has become known by the Indian media and analysts as the "Talibanization of India." It features a rise of moral policing and an increasingly active constellation of Hindu right-wing groups that believe in a politicized form of religion known as Hindutva.
In Bangalore, recent street protests by Hindu extremist groups have targeted the emblems of globalization. The demonstrators have thrown rocks at the glass office buildings of call centers and software companies. They have shut down clubs that feature dancing and live music. They have hurled verbal and physical abuse at women in jeans or skirts. They have vandalized Christian churches, which are regarded as foreign trespassers.
Political experts predict that the rise of Hindu extremism will spur greater participation during India's marathon, month-long elections by the secular middle class and by those who support traditional values.
Some Indians see the growing number of attacks as a national embarrassment. The issue has resonated among young urban voters, frustrated that politicians and police have turned a blind eye or have themselves taken on the task of moral policing.
For India's young, the debate goes to the heart of India's new identity. In this fast-changing society, long-held religious sentiments about public behavior are still being negotiated in Indian homes and on the streets. The discussion is complicated by the fact that India's economic growth has been lopsided: Well-paid urban youth tend to embrace Western values, while the country's poor appear more eager than ever to stick to traditions that have been shaped by Hindu religious teachings.
"Before the IT culture, things were very peaceful. Our youth enjoyed their own Indian culture," said Vasanth Kumar Bhavani, 32, president of Bangalore's branch of Sri Ram Sene, a right-wing Hindu group involved in a string of attacks on women. "Now it's been spoiled by all these outsiders flowing in, and it's all because of this IT sector. They need to be taught a lesson."
His lesson plan apparently includes violence. In January, his followers -- 40 men wearing saffron-colored headbands -- barged into a pub called Amnesia in the southern city of Mangalore as television cameras rolled. They pulled down the skirts of several young female patrons in an effort to embarrass them and kicked others, accusing them of being prostitutes. Since the stunt, which was billed by the group as an effort to "preserve Indian culture," nearly a dozen cases of attacks on women have been reported in Bangalore.
"What they did was correct in some ways and wrong in others," Bhavani said. "When something is wrong, you have to respond. Sometimes the reaction is too much. But you must respond."
On a recent afternoon, he sipped coffee at a hotel garden in Bangalore, as his buff bodyguard hovered nearby, and said he sees his group as a custodian of Indian culture. It will soon be launching social outreach programs: visiting with tech companies and putting on street plays that preach traditional values. It will also provide marriage counseling.
Bhavani said he was concerned about the opening of more retirement homes in Bangalore, which he said indicated that young people were abandoning their parents and grandparents instead of caring for them in their homes, as is India's family tradition. "These IT youths are partying at pubs after work instead of spending time and their new salaries on their parents, who gave them everything," Bhavani said.
Bhavani is also at the forefront of crackdowns on the closing time of discos -- known here as Cinderella laws -- and protests against Valentine's Day, which Bhavani and his followers say gives young people the wrong ideas about love and romance. Combined, the efforts have given Bangalore a new nickname in the Indian media: Bans-Galore.
In response, a group of artists and writers that calls itself the Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women mailed his group a Valentine: hundreds of pink panties. "We felt enough is enough. You suddenly see a state that is going berserk," said Nisha Susan, 29, who organized the protest and started the consortium. "The attacks are just spreading like crazy along with Hindutva. We didn't want the protest to be wishy-washy. We wanted to thumb our noses at these right-wing groups."
Few places symbolize a changing and youthful India more than Bangalore. It is a destination for young people from across the country who come here for well-paid outsourcing jobs or to escape the pressures of family.
It's common to see young women wearing saris with jasmine strung to their long braided hair walking alongside girls in miniskirts with pixie haircuts and bright purple highlights.
"It's a clash of cultures, for sure. But the heart of the issue is that in India, globalization has left many more people alienated from development and confused. That frustration has been converted into hatred," said Arvind Narrain, 33, a lawyer with the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore who wrote a report on the state's rise of cultural policing. "So many young men can't afford a drink at those pubs, can't afford Western clothes, can't speak English. The girls they are attacking wouldn't look twice at them."
Narrain pointed out that every place where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other right-wing parties have whipped up communal strife, they have been able to remain in power and have become even more popular. In the Western state of Gujarat, controversial Chief Minister Narendra Modi is accused of complicity in the 2002 violence against Muslims. But he was overwhelmingly elected last year.
Both sides of the debate have been moved to political action in Bangalore, where the BJP was elected to the state government last year. Elections for the national government here are dominated by debate over cultural policing.
"They call us Hindu Taliban. But we are not against modernization," said P.M. Girdhara Upadhyaya, 36, of the Hindu Awareness Forum. "This country has its own heritage and way of living. If you ask the common man if he wants his daughter going to a pub, he will of course say no."
Sitting at a fusion restaurant that serves Belgian beer along with pomegranate mojitos, several generations of women recently had lunch to the sounds of blaring Bob Marley music.
"India is going through a very confused phase. There are many cultures coming at us. But at the end of the day, we are a secular democracy. That means we don't all have to wear a sari every minute of the day," said Lakshmi Khanna, 26, an Indian classical dancer who was dressed in a sexy, low-cut Western dress.
Her grandmother, Sarla Seth, 76, was wearing a sari and gently smiled, agreeing. But she also joked with her granddaughter to put on a scarf.
"Women have progressed so much in India," she said. "Still, there are limits."
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Exploring Gender, Hindutva and Seva
by Swati Dyahadroy
AKHIL BHARATIYA JANWADI MAHILA SANGHATANA
(ALL INDIA DEMOCRATIC WOMEN'S ASSOCIATION)
Maharashtra State Committee
E 5 Ensa Hutments (Next to Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh), Mahapalika Marg, Mumbai 1.
Freedom fighter, doyen of the women's movement and a fighter for the rights of the working class and poor citizens, Comrade AHILYA RANGNEKAR passed away on 19th April 2009. We are organizing a condolence meeting on Tuesday, 5th May 2009 at the Ruia College , Matunga (E), at 5 pm. We request you to attend the meeting and join us in paying tribute to a veteran leader.
Date: Tuesday, 5th May 2009
Time: 5 pm
Venue: Ramnarain Ruia College , G 12 Hall (Ground Floor), Main Gate
Matunga (E), Mumbai.
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