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SACW | Jan 5, 2011 | Pakistan: Fascists kill to keep Blasphemy law / India's l'affaire Dreyfus - Binayak Sen case; Ayodhya verdict based on faith / Bhutan ethnic cleansing continues

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asia Citizens Wire - Dispatch No. 2688 - Jan 5, 2011 From: sacw.net [1] Pakistan: Salman Taseer s assassination by religio-fascists (i) Murder most
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 4, 2011
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      South Asia Citizens Wire - Dispatch No. 2688 - Jan 5, 2011
      From: sacw.net

      [1] Pakistan: Salman Taseer's assassination by religio-fascists
      (i) Murder most foul! (Murtaza Razvi)
      (ii) A brave man cut down by fanaticism (Rashed Rahman)
      (iii) A foul murder (editorial, Daily Times)
      [2] Pakistan: Blasphemous (Editorial, Telegraph)
      [3] God and Mud in Pakistan (Ali Sethi)
      [4] Why do they pick on us Pakistanis? (Pervez Hoodbhoy)
      [5] India - Pakistan : Resume stalled dialogue process (edit, Kashmir Times)
      [6] Bangladesh : A poignant example of political opportunism (Editorial, New Age)
      [7] India of Kangaroo Courts :
      (i) Anti-Binayak verdict is a disgrace (Praful Bidwai)
      (ii) Not to question why (Ramachandra Guha)
      [8] India: Court ruling on Ayodhya a blow to secular ideals
      Verdict betrays India�s bias for obscurantism (Jawed Naqvi)
      Romila Thapar on The Verdict on Ayodhya
      Politics, History, Religion and The Law: The Ayodhya Verdict (Rohini Hensman)
      [9] Creeping clampdown on Christianity in Bhutan - Kagyupa only (I P Adhikari)


      [1] Pakistan: Another secular politician killed by fascists; the state must act now or else all secular liberal voices will go silent

      (i) Dawn, 4 January 211


      by Murtaza Razvi

      Pakistani police officers cordon off the site where Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was shot dead by one of his guards, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. � AP

      The assassination of the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer this afternoon in Islamabad by an armed guard reportedly deputed for his security raises the fundamental issue once again: that religious indoctrination is feeding the fires of hatred and intolerance. Although details as to the motive of the crime have yet to emerge, by the very trappings it seems little else but a crime of hate.

      Mr Taseer had few friends left in his last days. His outspoken defence of the Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy under questionable charges leveled against her by fellow Muslim villagers and who has been on the death row in a Punjab prison for over a year awaiting appeal in a higher court, made him a hate figure for extremist and Islamist outfits and parties. Major religious parties called out nationwide strikes on Christmas Eve and New Year�s Eve to demand Aasia Bibi�s execution under the controversial blasphemy law, and to condemn her sympathisers, Mr Taseer being one of the foremost public figures amongst the latter group and thus the object of hate.

      He, along with the PPP MNA Sherry Rehman, who has courageously sought to repeal or amend the blasphemy law, have been the only leaders to openly oppose the controversial law, like Benazir Bhutto before them had opposed extremism and Talibanisation and paid for it with her life, while a deafening silence prevails on the subject within the ranks of the PPP itself.

      On the political front too Mr Taseer became a controversial figure in his home province the day President Zardari appointed him the governor in Punjab to watch over a provincial government led by his political arch rivals, the Sharif brothers. The sacking of Shahbaz Sharif�s government in 2008, the imposition of governor�s rule and then the restoration of Mr Sharif under court orders in March 2008 as the chief minister, added to the political bitterness that existed between Mr Taseer and the Sharifs. There was little love lost between the rivals till the time of Mr Taseer�s assassination, with no signs of any rapprochement on the anvil whatsoever.

      Of late the Sharifs responded to Mr Taseer�s political opposition to their way of governance by resorting to means that were both unfair and untenable. Often volleys were fired at his personality, and his family�s lavish and somewhat indulgent�read �un-Islamic�� lifestyle. Only last month Mr Taseer was accused of having left the country without informing the Punjab government in breach of the state protocol; a sustained media campaign followed which despite its best efforts failed to prove that Mr Taseer had gone abroad. Earlier photographs of his family partying away in the privacy of their home were placed in the media. Mr Taseer had the courage and the old world grace not to be bogged down or issue a denial in the face of such ungainly criticism that was clearly below the belt.

      The Islamists openly called for his dismissal from the office for supporting the case of the Christian convict, for seeking presidential pardon for her, if it should come to that, and for being a vociferous opponent of the so-called Islamic laws that were introduced by Gen Ziaul Haq and which at best have remained highly controversial. A few also threatened to try Mr Taseer for condoning blasphemy against Islam. But he in that ideological sense represented the somewhat traditional liberal stance of the PPP, which the party itself has not truly been very comfortable with of late.

      It remains to be seen what actually motivated the killer to open fire on Mr Taseer, inflicting a fatal wound, but it is not far from informed conjecture to say at this point that the motivation could have most likely been religious intolerance which leads to extreme reactions. The trend is rampant nowadays, and has led to wholesale killing of citizens, attacks on Sufi shrines and places of worship of rival Muslim sects, and of the minorities.

      This is partly because hypocrisy takes the best of many politicians from across the spectrum. Even non-religious parties like the MQM, the PML-N and the PML-Q, could be seen losing their composure when it comes to issues such as demanding the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui from her American prison, citing little else in her defence besides her bona fides as a Muslim woman convict, but in reality wishing to add to the woes of their political rivals� government. Similar is the stance taken on American drone attacks, even though everyone knows that Pakistan Army provides or shares the intelligence over which such aerial strikes are carried out against extremist elements.

      Back to Mr Taseer�s assassination, it was rather uncanny to overhear a conversation that I did between two security guards outside the building they were deputed to guard, within minutes of the news of Mr Taseer�s death breaking. One guard congratulated the other on the assassination while the other responded by saying that the killer was indeed a very courageous man, God be praised.

      This is not the country that makes one feel very safe.

      o o o

      (ii) Daily Times
      5 January 2011

      A brave man cut down by fanaticism

      by Rashed Rahman

      The whole country has been shaken and sent into new depths of depression and gloom by the assassination of Governor Punjab and publisher of Daily Times Salmaan Taseer. A man of conviction and courage, Salmaan Taseer was gunned down by one of his own Elite Police Force guards. The assassin, after the dastardly deed, surrendered to police. He has stated that he had killed Governor Salmaan Taseer because he had called the Blasphemy Law a black law.

      The incident shows that the fanatical mindset has now permeated broad sections of our society. The governor�s defence of Aasia bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death by a lower court on an alleged charge of blasphemy evoked the religious lobby to condemn him. Fatwas were issued calling for his death, and many of our �heroes� of the electronic media joined the chorus of condemnation of the Governor for his bold stand in defence of a poor, helpless Christian woman. Much food for thought here for those still capable of thinking in our increasingly irrational society.

      Salmaan Taseer grew up in straitened family circumstances due to the untimely demise of his father, famous intellectual Dr. M. D. Taseer. His mother, Chris, struggled in penury to bring up her three children, Salmaan and his two sisters. From such humble beginnings, Salmaan went on to qualify as a chartered accountant from England, set up his own accountancy firm on returning to Pakistan, and ventured into the (then) booming Gulf States to build a business base that later catapulted him into the ranks of the captains of industry and commerce in Pakistan.

      His association with the PPP was both emotional and consistent. He was the author of a book on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whom he greatly admired, a prolific reader and writer, and a man who never shrank from expressing his firmly held opinions without fear. This boldness often landed him in trouble. Arrested during the MRD movement of 1983 by the Ziaul Haq military regime, he was subjected to horrendous torture in the notorious Lahore Fort. Undeterred, he rose to Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly in 1988, a stint that sealed his enmity with then Chief Minister Punjab Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N. For his outspoken criticism of the Sharif government from the floor of the Assembly and outside, Salmaan was beaten black and blue by the Punjab government�s goons, suffering fractures in the process.

      None of this broke his spirit though. He concentrated on building up his business empire, and then re-entered the political fray as a federal minister in the caretaker government that oversaw the elections of February 2008. Later, in May 2008, he was appointed Governor Punjab by the PPP-led government, an office he held until his untimely death.

      For his boldness and courage of conviction, friendship and generosity, fearless advocacy personally and through his media group (which includes Urdu daily Aaj Kal and TV channel B-Plus) of liberal causes, Salmaan Taseer will live on in our hearts and memories.

      God grant his family the strength to bear this irreparable loss.

      Rest in peace, my friend.

      o o o

      (iii) Daily Times, 5 January 2011


      There are no words to describe the shock and horror of the assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. This is yet another high profile murder of a political figure from Pakistan�s People�s Party (PPP) after Benazir Bhutto. The governor could not survive 27 bullet injuries, which were inflicted when one of the guards of his security detail opened fire at him as he came back to his car after having lunch with a friend at a restaurant in Kohsar Market in Islamabad. The autopsy has revealed that his death was caused by a bullet wound in his neck. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has told reporters that the assassin, Punjab Elite Force member Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, confessed to killing Taseer for criticising the blasphemy laws. The governor held an open stance against the blasphemy laws promulgated by General Ziaul Haq and had called for their repeal, or at the very least their amendment to guard against the misuse and abuse of many years since the law was promulgated by a dictator and then made more stringent by successor governments of the right. However, it would be premature to say that this indeed was the motive behind the assassin�s act. This explanation sounds too pat. If history is any guide, such minor operatives act as tools in the hands of their cloaked masterminds and are usually killed after the deed is done. The strange circumstance is that the assassin was able to unload his gun into the victim without being fired back on or even accosted by the rest of the governor�s security detail. So far, the assassin and the entire security detail are in policy custody and being investigated. Only time will tell whether this was an individual act or someone orchestrated it to create political instability in the country at a time when the federal government is already teetering after losing its majority in parliament with the departure of coalition allies JUI-F and MQM.

      If indeed it was an individual act and done to avenge the governor�s opposition to the blasphemy laws, then this murder is a grim commentary on the state of affairs in Pakistan. If the religious extremists who consider themselves the guardians of the Prophet�s (PBUH) honour can go so far as to take the life of someone who opposed man-made laws, then society is heading for anarchy and barbarism. This means that there is no space for a rational discourse and even a person of such high profile as the Governor Punjab cannot escape their wrath. It also speaks of the weakness in the security regime of the Punjab government.

      The Punjab government is responsible for the provision of security to all VIPs in the province. It is strange that a person with such extremist inclinations as Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri was deployed in the governor�s security detail. The Punjab government cannot absolve itself of part of the blame for this murder. Its call for a judicial inquiry has yet to be responded to by the federal government, which has so far set up an inter-agency investigation team to look into all aspects of the assassination, including whether the assassin acted alone or a deeper conspiracy was at work.

      Salmaan Taseer was an entirely self-made person and created a career as a businessman and politician by dint of sheer hard work, courage in the face of adversity, and a fearless stance even when threatened by malign forces. He was a highly qualified chartered accountant, having obtained his qualification from England, and initially made a business fortune in the Gulf. He relocated to Pakistan and established the First Capital Securities Corporation, a full service brokerage house in 1994, and next year founded WorldCall Telecom Limited in 1995. The company has since become a major private sector telecom operator and expanded its network to the Gulf region. However, business was not his only interest. Politically motivated since his student years in London, Taseer participated in politics from the PPP�s platform and experienced the tribulations of the martial law of Ziaul Haq during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy in 1983, including a spell of incarceration and torture in the infamous Lahore Fort. He also authored a biography of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1980 titled, Bhutto, A Political Biography. In 1988, he was elected a member of the Punjab Assembly, eventually taking over the slot of the Leader of the Opposition. Due to his trenchant criticism of the PML-N government in Punjab, he was rounded up and tortured by the security forces on the directives of the Sharifs. His later attempts to enter the National Assembly in successive elections during the 1990s did not succeed. He, however, continued to exercise considerable clout within the party. After developing his successful businesses, Salmaan Taseer ventured into the world of the media, a project close to his heart. He launched the Daily Times newspaper and television channel Business Plus (now renamed B-Plus). This was followed subsequently by the launch of a liberal Urdu daily, Aaj Kal. He was appointed Governor Punjab on May 15, 2008, much to the chagrin of the PML-N. He had since gained prominence in the political arena and served as the strongman of the PPP in Punjab and therefore a thorn in the side of the PML-N.

      His murder has been strongly condemned by leaders across the political spectrum. The PPP workers have reacted by staging a demonstration in front of the Governor�s House in Lahore and various locations in most major cities. Markets in Lahore, Faisalabad and other parts of the country closed as soon as the news of the assassination spread. The prime minister has announced a three-day mourning, the PPP two weeks of mourning, while the Punjab government has decided to close all educational institutions in Punjab today, partly as a mark of respect, partly out of security concerns. The nation suffered a great loss in this assassination. A liberal and progressive voice in a political scene infested by rightwing politics has been silenced. Now justice and the very well being and future of the country demands that the culprit/s be punished to the full extent of the law as a deterrent to such fanatics who seem to be teeming in the very entrails of our state and society.


      [2] Pakistan:

      The Telegraph, 3 January 2011

      Editorial : BLASPHEMOUS

      Democracy, being the government of the people, by the people, for the people, often turns out to be a tricky business. Depending on the drift of the popular will, democracy can dovetail into majoritarianism, which is what is happening in Pakistan. Last November, Asia Bibi, a Christian farmhand from the Punjab province, was sentenced to death under Pakistan�s discriminatory anti-blasphemy law. The initial cry for justice from rights activists as well as from prominent members of the government forced the president, Asif Ali Zardari, to order a ministerial review, which ruled that the law was unsound. But the reality in Pakistan is never quite what it seems. Fiercely countered by radical Islamists, the proposed legal amendments fell through. It is shameful that Mr Zardari, who did not hesitate to exercise his constitutional authority to pardon his government�s interior minister, Rehman Malik, failed to do the same for someone who is going through much worse for a far less serious �crime�. Parliamentary democracy, which was reinstituted by the 18th constitutional amendment last year, was mocked by both the executive and the judiciary, as they pussyfooted, made common cause with the fanatics, and denied pardon to Asia Bibi. On new year�s eve, virulent clerics and their supporters held the nation to ransom, ruining the festive mood by calling a countrywide strike.

      Pakistan�s ruling coalition, led by the Pakistan People�s Party, was badly jolted a few days ago, when some of its key allies defected to the Opposition benches after cabinet ministers from these parties were accused of corruption. Mr Zardari�s reaction in that case, as in the fiasco over the blasphemy laws, was knee-jerk. He followed the classic strategy of unprincipled appeasement at the expense of the international image and credibility of his government. In doing so, he seemed to be paving the way for a military takeover, supported by Islamists. The perniciousness of Mr Zardari�s move becomes apparent if one recalls that blasphemy laws were first introduced in the 1980s by none other than the military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq. Although the PPP has supped with Islamists in the past, and continues to do so, its staying power is, nevertheless, ebbing away. Relentless concessions ultimately lead to abdication of power. And with that the vestiges of prestige the PPP still has with its Western patrons.



      The New York Times, January 1, 2011

      by Ali Sethi

      Lahore, Pakistan

      In July, deep in the heart of Pakistan�s flooded countryside, a miracle mosque was proclaimed: it was the only structure in the small village of Jinnah Colony that the savage waters spared. While the land was still a swamp, I went out to meet the people who had survived by crouching for days on its terrace.

      Most of their mud houses had crumbled; those still standing had been destroyed from within. But the villagers were hopeful: I had brought food in a truck, and they had heard that the military was sending tents. As the water receded, they would return to the fields and start sowing winter crops.

      Proudly they led me to their mosque, a squat white thing with three turquoise doors and a stump of a minaret � it was built on a platform, which had kept it above the water. The villagers said it had been given to them some years ago by a follower of the Ahl-e-Hadith sect, the Pakistani affiliate of Saudi Arabia�s prohibitive Wahhabi strand of Islam.

      �Now,� said an old man with bright eyes, �we are all Ahl-e-Hadith here.�

      It was a revelation. The Ahl-e-Hadith, who call themselves �nonconformists� but are called �fundamentalists� by outsiders, demand the removal of all human agents who claim to act as intermediaries between man and God. And in Pakistan, where the descendants of many Sufi saints have used their lineage over the centuries like a slow magic to acquire land and political power, the Ahl-e-Hadith doctrine, with its insistence on a direct and abstract relationship between humanity and the divine, has begun to look like a long-denied cause.

      I remembered my own little childhood fantasy for Islam, one that did away with priests and pedigrees and gave everyone his or her own right to God. And I thought I saw its reality now in Jinnah Colony, with its devastated residents and their simple faith in their mosque.

      After four months I went back to the village. The water had receded and the surrounding fields were lush with crops.

      Naseem Bibi, a diminutive mother of eight who was squatting on the edge of the village, said she was poorer now than ever. �The next time a big man comes to ask for my vote,� she said, �I will pelt him with stones.�

      Two young men tried to shut her up.

      �This is what the big man does!� she cried. �He throws a little money at a poor man and buys him. He divides the village. We were promised sugar, wheat, money! And we got nothing!�

      �Who promised you?� I asked.

      She pointed to the mosque.

      I thought she was referring to God. But she meant the men who looked after the mosque, the sons of the man who had donated it. They belonged to a mid-level caste, had inherited the small mustard fields around the village and worked as schoolteachers and crane operators in the town. They still claimed to be Ahl-e-Hadith. But in this anciently divided, ever-hierarchical land, these Ahl-e-Hadith, too, had been reduced to living as intermediaries. They had slightly bigger houses than the villagers, whose votes they collected for still-bigger intermediaries, negotiating in the meantime with callous notaries and bureaucrats for rationed food and money that, when it did arrive, was given only to their allies in the village, passing as it always has: from patron to client, man to man, hand to greased hand.

      � ALI SETHI, author of the novel �The Wish Maker�
      A version of this op-ed appeared in print on January 2, 2011, on page WK9 of the New York edition.



      The Express Tribune
      3 January 2011

      by Pervez Hoodbhoy

      The writer teaches physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. These remarks are excerpted from a recent talk he gave in Washington DC to Pakistani professionals settled in America

      My green passport requires standing in a separate immigration line once my plane lands at Boston�s Logan airport. The �special attention� from Homeland Security, although polite, adds an extra two to three hours. I belong to the fortunate few who can get a visa, but I am still annoyed. Having travelled to the US frequently for forty years, I now find a country that once warmly welcomed Pakistanis to be strangely cold. The reason is clear.

      Foreigners carrying strong negative feelings � or perhaps harmful intentions � are unlikely to find enthusiastic hosts. I know that the man who tried to bomb Times Square, Faisal Shahzad, a graduate of the University of Bridgeport, is my compatriot. So is Aafia Siddiqui, our new-found dukhtur-e-millat (daughter of the nation). Another Pakistani, Farooque Ahmed, with a degree from the College of Staten Island, made headline news in November 2010 after his abortive attempt to blow up DC Metro trains.

      If such violent individuals were rarities, their nationality would matter little. But their actions receive little or no criticism in a country consumed by bitter anti-Americanism, which now exceeds its anti-Indianism.

      Example: after the Faisal Shahzad news broke in early May 2010, TV channels in Pakistan switched to denial mode. Popular anchors freely alleged conspiracies against Islam and Pakistan. None revisited their claims after Shahzad proudly pleaded guilty in June. Calling himself a �Muslim soldier�, he read a prepared statement: �It�s a war � I�m going to plead guilty a hundred times over�.

      Psychologists say that even hard facts can be denied when people subscribe to a radically different vision of the world. A glimpse of the current Pakistani weltanschauung � the mental makeup which selects and filters facts before they reach the conscious brain � can be had through the lives of the three young US-educated Pakistanis mentioned above.

      Idealistic in their own way, they fought for a cause they believed was just. Influenced by an ambiance that puts America as the source of the world�s grief, they bravely sacrificed their jobs and careers. Having inhabited some part of their universe, I can understand something of what they went through.

      Like Aafia Siddiqui � now al Qaeda�s poster girl � I, too, was a student at MIT. And, like her, I was furious at America. In the late 1960s, American B-52s were flattening Hanoi and Haiphong, while napalm and Agent Orange were destroying Vietnam�s people and jungles. When Nixon ordered the Christmas bombings of 1972, I wept. How could one live in America and not fight it? But instead of wanting to bomb Harvard Square, I chose to return to Pakistan � for good.

      Reason and observation slowly changed me. Cruelty to the weak is not an American monopoly; wars and brutal conquests are as old as history. The US cannot be forgiven for the Vietnam and Iraq wars, among others. But should India be forgiven for killing Kashmiris, West Pakistan for the East Pakistan massacres, Turkey for the Armenian genocide, or Japan for the Rape of Nanking? Countless states have blood on their hands. But retribution would surely make the world an inferno.

      If Pakistani-Americans wish to feel welcome in the country they have chosen to live in, then, they must judge the West and Pakistan using exactly the same criteria, and expose three popular falsehoods.

      First, it is a lie that American Muslims are victims of extreme religious prejudice. Certainly, no country is free of religious discrimination. But, the secular West is infinitely less discriminatory than any Muslim country. How many churches are there in Saudi Arabia? Yet Muslims have built hundreds of new mosques in America � with Saudi money � and many after 9/11. New churches or temples are impossible in Pakistan; even old ones are burned down by rampaging mobs.

      In America, Muslims successfully use the legal system to seek damages if there is discrimination in matters of employment, housing, or access to public facilities. But in Pakistan, if you are a Christian, Hindu, or Ahmadi, you simply accept your fate.

      Second, it is a lie that US Muslims are physically endangered. In fact, Muslims are far safer in the US than in Pakistan. Does one see Kalashnikov-toting guards during Friday prayers outside a mosque in the West? Yet if you are a Barelvi or a Shia in Pakistan, your life may end at your place of worship. Scattered body limbs and pools of blood at Data Darbar, Abdullah Shah Ghazi, and the Pakpattan shrines testify that the cruellest of Islam�s enemies come from within.

      While Pakistan�s terrified religious minorities live in fear of an intolerant majority, American Muslims get protection both from its people and the state. A personal example: the day after 9/11, I was appalled by the wild joy among my students. Worried about my former students, now studying in various US universities, I emailed them. Their return emails were reassuring. White American students had formed defence committees; no Muslim student was ever harmed on any campus. So even though George W Bush � a religious zealot � was preparing to invade Iraq, ordinary Americans were largely decent.

      Third, the nauseating hypocrisy of Pakistan�s radicalising West-hating, West-baiting leaders needs to be exposed. For example, Imran Khan � who speaks of the West as the fountainhead of evil � prefers to keep his family in London and New York, owes his fame to a game invented by British colonialists, and employs real doctors rather than hakeems for his cancer hospital.

      To conclude: if Pakistani-Americans want to feel welcome in the land they have chosen to settle in, they must actively combat the cancer of radicalism. They must want to be part of the modern world, not the one they came from. To mosque imams and radical Islamists, they must say clearly and loudly: we want to live peacefully with other Americans in a modern, pluralistic and secular society that values freedom of belief, freedom for art and music and freedom for thought and expression.

      (The writer teaches physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. These remarks are excerpted from a recent talk he gave in Washington DC to Pakistani professionals settled in America)


      [5] India and Pakistan:

      Kashmir Times, 5 January 2011



      Political leadership in the two countries must demonstrate their will to move forward

      Yet another survey conducted jointly by two newspaper groups in India and Pakistan has shown that the vast majority of people in the two countries favour resumption of the composite dialogue for resolving all their outstanding disputes including that of Jammu and Kashmir. According to the survey as many as 87 percent of Indians and 77 per cent Pakistanis feel that the peace can be achieved in the region by settling the protracted Kashmir issue. That the people in general in the two neighbouring countries, who have suffered due to the prolonged confrontation between India and Pakistan since independence, desire peace, friendship and mutual cooperation, is too well known. It did not require any survey to establish this truth. It is the ruling elite and the over-sized security establishments which have refused to mend the fences and put an end to the prolonged conflict which has only brought miseries to their people. With the two countries spending huge amount on building their respective war machinery the basic problems like poverty, education, healthcare, sanitation, water supply and electricity etc have remained neglected. While the people-to-people contacts, as the vast majority in the two warring countries believe, are important for restoring mutual trust and building the bridges of understandings it is for the political leadership in the two countries to change their mindset, shed rigidity and demonstrate their will and capacity to move forward on the road to peace. The dialogue, as the Pakistan Prime Minister Yousif Raza Geelani has acknowledged, is the only way to resolve the outstanding disputes between the two countries. While there are several issues of contention between the two countries which have bedeviled their relations leading to three wars, Jammu and Kashmir is undoubtedly both the cause and consequence of this prolonged conflict. While composite dialogue is necessary no move forward is possible without finding a just and democratic solution to the Kashmir problem. For this the people of the troubled state have to be taken on board.
      There is no reason why all the outstanding issues between the two countries cannot be resolved if the leadership in the two countries demonstrates political will, flexibility and sagacity in view of the huge cost that the prolonged conflict has been causing for the past over six decades. In fact New Delhi should take the initiative for resuming the composite dialogue stalled after the Mumbai terror attack. The hawks in the two countries need to be isolated to ensure that the dialogue process moves forward without any kind of roadblocks. For pushing forward the peace process it is important to take some confidence building measures. These include the increased people-to-people contacts for which the visa system needs to be relaxed. The visits of different professional groups including the students, writers, poets, artists and peace and rights activists must be facilitated for building a conducive climate for the success of the dialogue process. For finding a just and democratic solution of the Kashmir problem it is important to provide adequate space to the representatives of the people of J&K at the dialogue table. The two governments should facilitate intra-Jammu and Kashmir dialogue for evolving a consensus for a realistic and lasting Kashmir solution. Some of the Kashmir-related CBMs include release of all political prisoners and withdrawal of cases against them, setting up of an independent commission to probe into all the cases of human rights abuses followed by stern punishment to those found guilty, scrapping of the draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Public Safety Act and Enemy Agents Ordinance, removal of the bulk of troops from the civilian areas, opening of all routes for hassle-free movements of goods and passengers across the Line of Control and rehabilitation of the displaced persons. India's concern about terrorism can be addressed by the two countries evolving joint mechanism to deal with this menace.


      [6] Bangladesh:

      New Age
      20 October 2010


      THE assertion of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, at the weekly meeting of the cabinet on Monday, that the constitution the government was reprinting on a directive from the Supreme Court would restore secularism but no political party bearing names of religions would be banned, in content and intent, provides a poignant example of political opportunism. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Tuesday, a senior minister of the Awami League-led government quoted the prime minister as saying that �the constitution could be amended later if necessary by parliament in keeping with the recommendations of the special parliamentary committee� and as warning her cabinet colleagues of the �propaganda by some quarters� against the incumbents that they were going to ban religion-based parties, especially those named after Islam.

      That the government would try to ride on the Supreme Court�s invalidation of the Fifth Amendment for restoration of the 1972 constitution had become obvious through remarks made recently to the press by the co-chairman of the special parliamentary committee. Hence, the prime minister�s assertion does not come quite as a surprise. It does, however, betray her government�s readiness to circumvent its constitutional obligation for political convenience. Ironically, by apparently acquiescing to the authority of the Appellate Division to dictate fundamental changes in the constitution, she actually put the lie to what had appeared to be the ruling party�s position, as articulated by the AL general secretary on October 2, that �democracy may face uncertainty if the court is given the responsibility for amending the constitution.� Of course, observations, even guidelines, by the apex court vis-�-vis the acts of parliament in line with the constitutional spirit are necessary. However, the apex court can in no way be regarded as an instrument of constitutional amendment. Minor constitutional changes fall within the jurisdiction of the members of parliament, as representatives of the people, while changes in the fundamental makeup of the constitution have to be done by a constituent assembly comprising members elected especially for the purpose. It seems now that the government has chosen to not go through the philosophically legitimate and politically arduous process and settle instead for a short-cut.

      Moreover, secularism to be pervasive and widely accepted, its incorporation or reincorporation in the constitution as one of the fundamental principles of the state is not enough; the government needs to champion the cause in society at large through words and deeds. In other words, on the one hand, the government needs to undertake a comprehensive sensitisation campaign to raise awareness in every nook and corner of society, and, on the other, set precedents through secular policies and actions, e.g. secularising the key national institutions. Regrettably, although not quite surprisingly, the government has sought to cleverly avoid the long and difficult road.

      The master stroke, so to speak, is, however, the prime minister�s assertion or assurance, whichever way one puts it, that restoration of secularism as a fundamental policy of the state would not entail any ban on religion-based party, especially those named after Islam. Why then, one might ask, the restoration of secularism as a fundamental policy of the state? Just for the sake of it? Secularism is about separation of religion and politics, about absence of religion in the worldly affairs of the state. But the government has chosen to turn the concept on its head, just to appease the religion-based parties that they hobnob with, and even pamper, especially in times of elections. The ruling quarters know only too well that they need these parties to regain or perpetuate control over state power.

      Overall, the prime minister has revealed her party�s predilection for the same blend of political opportunism that many people expected it to throw away. If the government cannot live up to the arduous task of secularising the state and society, the least it can do is not try to deceive people with its pseudo-secular gestures and postures.


      [7] India: A colonial law is used to shut dissent - The incarceration of Dr Binayak Sen


      by Praful Bidwai (3 January 2011)

      If Additional Sessions Judge BP Verma wanted to expose the Indian judiciary to international ridicule, he couldn�t have done so more effectively than by sentencing the celebrated health and civil liberties activist, Dr Binayak Sen, to life imprisonment on the trivial charge of passing on to others letters written by an imprisoned suspected Maoist. Even this charge wasn�t established beyond reasonable doubt.

      The trial closely resembles the kangaroo court model of reaching a predetermined verdict by substituting suspicion, surmise or conjecture for substantial evidence and ignoring the facts and arguments presented by the accused. The judgment has been condemned the world over by conscientious citizens�because Dr Sen is himself a voice of conscience and civic courage.

      The Sen case has become India�s L�affaire Dreyfus (the Dreyfus case), a transformative moment in French history which exposed anti-Semitic prejudices in society. A century ago, Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer, was falsely charged with espionage and sentenced to death. The verdict caused widespread outrage and provoked the great writer, Emile Zola, to write a searing indictment of the state under the heading J�accuse (I accuse). It�s to be hoped that the Sen case will prove therapeutic for Indian society.

      Dr Sen�s trial was a grotesque travesty of justice. The police concocted a cock-and-bull story. The judge accepted it. The case against Dr Sen, businessman Piyush Guha, and alleged extremist politician Narayan Sanyal, was filed under Sections 124A and 120B of the Indian Penal Code, and sections of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act 2005 and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Sections 124A and 120B pertain to sedition and conspiracy for sedition. CSPSA and UAPA punish membership of and support to unlawful/terrorist organisations.

      To pronounce the accused guilty, Judge Verma needed to establish beyond doubt that they directly indulged in seditious activities or conspired to abet them. He failed to do so and instead resorted to sleights-of-hand. All but one of the 97 prosecution witnesses proved unreliable or hostile. The entire case hinged on the testimony of only one person, cloth merchant Anil Kumar Singh, who claimed he witnessed the police seizure from Guha of three letters written by Sanyal.

      Singh claimed to overhear a conversation between the police and Guha, while Guha was in their custody, in which he said he was given the letters by Dr Sen to be carried to top Maoist leaders. But statements made to the police in custody are not admissible as evidence. Singh didn�t accompany the police when they allegedly arrested Guha. A mere passer-by, he couldn�t have known if they planted the letters on Guha. The police admit the seizure memo wasn�t made on the spot, but only after taking Guha to the police station.

      The judge wrongly accepted Singh�s hearsay and made much of Dr Sen�s 33 meetings with Sanyal over 18 months in his capacity as a doctor and People�s Union of Civil Liberties office-bearer. Several jail officials testified that the meetings were strictly supervised in the jailor�s room, thus eliminating the possibility of any letters being transferred.

      This writer finds it hard to believe that such transfer could have taken place in the jailor�s chamber. Dr Sen�s wife Ilina and I visited him in Raipur jail in September 2007, with official permission. The jail superintendent and at least one constable kept a watch on our movements and conversations. Every single magazine/newspaper brought for Dr Sen was thoroughly screened. So, the story of a furtive transfer doesn�t hold much water.

      Judge Verma ignored the fact that Dr Sen in his writings and speeches has opposed violence of any kind and has never been previously accused of a crime. Worse, he accepted and reconciled contradictory accounts of the place of Guha�s arrest on May 7, 2007. The police swore before the Supreme Court in 2009 that they had arrested Guha from Mahindra Hotel. But they told the Sessions court that that they arrested Guha on Station Road.

      The discrepancy was explained away as a �typological error�! The judge uncritically accepted this and put the onus of proof to the contrary on Guha. This is legally impermissible. Logically, the concerned policeman should have been tried for either filing a false affidavit in the Supreme Court, or perjury in the Sessions court.

      According to Guha, he was arrested on May 1 at Mahindra Hotel and kept blindfolded in illegal custody for six days and produced before a magistrate only on May 7. The judge ignored Guha�s statement to the magistrate. Had Guha�s testimony been accepted, the entire case would have collapsed. Even the inference that Sanyal is a Maoist leader is based on cases in other states, in which he hasn�t been pronounced guilty.

      The prosecutor�s argument confirmed that the trial was a farce. He started by quoting Marx�s Capital, which is irrelevant to the case. He concluded with a claimed �master-stroke��an email addressed to �Fernandes of the ISI�. He triumphantly declared: We don�t know who �Fernandes� is, but we know the ISI is Pakistan�s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Of course!

      It didn�t strike Judge Verma as absurd that links were alleged between the intransigently secular Maoists and the fanatically religious elements whom the ISI backs. In reality, the �Fernandes� is Walter Fernandes, a former director of the Delhi-based Indian Social Institute, a Jesuit body.

      In another absurdity, Judge Verma accepted the police claim that a letter by the Maoist leadership thanking Dr Sen for his work was recovered from his house. But the letter is unsigned. Supposedly two years old, it still looks fresh. It wasn�t part of any seizure memo.

      The judge justified the life sentence on the ground that �the way that terrorists and Maoist organisations are killing � paramilitary forces and innocent Adivasis, and spreading fear, terror and disorder across the country � implies that this court cannot � give them the minimum sentence ��. So, the sentence was decided on political considerations, not legal ones.

      The legal rationale against treating sedition cavalierly was set out by the Supreme Court in the 1962 Kedarnath Singh case. It held that sedition, defined as spreading disaffection against the state, must be interpreted not as a means of muzzling dissent�the reason it was introduced in the IPC by the colonial state and used against the Freedom Struggle�but in a manner consistent with the fundamental freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution. Sedition must involve direct incitement to violence or to public disorder.

      This emphatically doesn�t apply in the present case. In 1995, the Supreme Court quashed the conviction of two Punjab government officers who publicly raised pro-Khalistan slogans after Indira Gandhi�s assassination. The trial court had sentenced them to one year�s imprisonment. But the Supreme Court overturned even that by rejecting the claim that the act�s consequences would prove detrimental to India�s unity and integrity.

      Dr Sen�s conviction is a huge miscarriage of justice and a judicial monstrosity worthy only of kangaroo courts in a Banana Republic. Regrettably, and to the abiding shame of India�s judicial system, Judge Verma has reduced India to that status.

      An appeal will of course be filed against his judgment in the Chhattisgarh High Court. But there�s no guarantee that the High Court of the state�where the elite�s minds are poisoned by paranoia and rationalisation of a Maoist witch-hunt by a murderous state-sponsored militia, Salwa Judum�will overturn the verdict. It had refused Dr Sen bail for two years.

      The Verma verdict fits in with the government�s fashioning of a militarist approach to the Maoist problem while letting off scamsters, corrupt businessmen, politicians, and those responsible for mass-scale violence�the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, the post-Babri demolition riots of 1992-93, and the butchery of Muslims in Gujarat (2002).

      The official anti-Maoist strategy uses methods that are downright unconstitutional, illegal, obnoxious and inhuman. It�s as if these were calculated to aggravate disaffection in the tribal belt�rooted in appalling social indices, chronic malnourishment, and state cruelty�and thus help the Maoists.

      Chhattisgarh has witnessed massive state atrocities because of its abundance of natural resources which capital wants to appropriate. To facilitate this, the government must crush the Maoists. It muzzles people like Dr Sen to demonstrate that it�s willing to be unreasonably brutal. This is the stuff of which Banana Republics are made.

      Of the major parties, the CPI alone has officially condemned Dr Sen�s conviction. The Congress, the BJP and the CPM have refused to do so�the BJP out of its machismo and suspicion of civil liberties, and the CPM, even more short-sightedly, because of its �Naxal problem� in West Bengal. The Congress says dismissing the verdict would amount to admitting that India is a Banana Republic. But that�s standing logic on its head.

      If the Congress has any sense, and unless it really wants to turn India into a Banana Republic, it should condemn the verdict and dismantle the entire structure of oppression built into the colonial law on sedition. The Verma verdict demands no less.

      o o o

      (ii) Hindustan Times

      by Ramachandra Guha

      New Delhi, December 26, 2010

      Thirty years ago, in an act I still feel guilty about, I woke up a very great Indian from his sleep. I was volunteering at a conference in New Delhi, and had been asked to fetch the Member of Parliament from Dhanbad, AK Roy, from his quarters in Vithalbhai Patel House. Roy, a labour leader legendary for his integrity and his wide range of reading, had been elected from the mining town as an Independent, his campaign funds raised from the workers themselves. It was characteristic of the man (and perhaps also of the times) that instead of asking for a Lutyens� bungalow or even a spacious flat on South Avenue, he settled on a single room in a tall, dark, unattractive building off Parliament Street.

      We students asked the reception for Roy�s room number, took the lift up, and knocked on the door. No one answered. We knocked again. At this stage we should probably have left and told the organisers that the MP was not in. But we were students, eager to prove our keenness, so we knocked several times more and also shouted to attract attention. Finally, the door opened, and an erect man in a khadi kurta-pyjama stood in front of us, rubbing his eyes. He asked who we were and what we wanted, meeting our answers with an extraordinarily gentleness of manner. His friend, and temporary host, had apparently gone out on an errand.

      The man we had woken up was Shankar Guha Niyogi. He was resting perhaps after a long train journey, and in any case for a man who worked where and like he did any sleep snatched anywhere was a bonus. Originally from Bengal, Guha Niyogi had gone to the Bhilai region as a young man and started working among unorganised labour. While workers employed by the Bhilai steel plant were represented by unions affiliated to the major parties, the labourers in the mines and ancillary industries were unrepresented, and hence shockingly exploited. Under Guha Niyogi�s leadership they came together in unions, and demanded and obtained better wages. But their leader�s vision was never merely economistic. He opened clinics for them and schools for their children, and, with the help of their wives, ran a successful campaign against alcoholism. Guha Niyogi was also a precocious environmentalist, urging factory owners to protect workers from pollution, and asking the general public to conserve the water bodies, forests and overall biodiversity of the region.

      A man of quiet dignity and an almost heroic commitment to the poor � like Mahatma Gandhi in both respects � Guha Niyogi inspired many middle-class professionals to join him. Among them was Binayak Sen, a gold medalist from the Christian Medical College in Vellore, who, with the world at his feet, moved to Chhattisgarh in the early 1980s. He has lived in the region ever since, ministering to patients from a wide variety of backgrounds. If his mentor�s vision went beyond higher wages, Sen�s goes beyond medical ailments. He became increasingly interested in the social rights of the area�s adivasi population, who live on the margins, without access to decent schools or regular employment.

      In 1991, Guha Niyogi was murdered by a man hired by industrialists who disapproved of his attempts to enhance the self-respect of the workers. Now, 20 years later, his friend, colleague and proteg� has been awarded a life sentence by a court in Raipur for the crime of talking to Maoist prisoners in jail. Binayak Sen has never fired a gun; he probably does not know how to hold one. He has explicitly condemned Maoist violence, and even said of the armed revolutionaries that theirs is "an invalid and unsustainable movement".

      In the eyes of the government of Chhattisgarh, the crime of Binayak Sen is that he dared question the corrupt and brutal methods used to tackle the Maoist upsurge. In 2005, the state government promoted a vigilante army that spread terror through the districts of Dantewada, Bijapur and Bastar. In the name of combating Naxalism, it burned homes (and occasionally, whole villages), violated tribal women, and attacked (and sometimes killed) tribal men who refused to join its ranks. As a result of its depredations almost a hundred thousand adivasis with no connection at all to Maoism were rendered homeless.

      Sen was one of the first to document the excesses of the vigilante army, and to expose the hand of the state government in promoting it. That his charges were true I can confirm, for I visited the region shortly afterwards, in the company of a group of independent citizens, who included the respected editors BG Verghese and Harivansh, and the distinguished anthropologist Nandini Sundar, winner of the Infosys Prize. Our report, War in the Heart of India, provides a sober, non-ideological account of the crimes of the state and Union governments in this regard.

      Sen�s conviction happened in a court subject to intimidation by a government run by (and I use the word advisedly) paranoid politicians (helped by sometimes paranoid police officers). His conviction will and should be challenged. As it stands, however, it is a disgrace to democracy. His brave wife commented on the verdict that if "one who has worked for the poor of the country for 30 years, if that person is found guilty of sedition activities and conspiracy, when gangsters and scamsters are walking free, I think it�s a scandalous situation". Any reasonable Indian would concur.

      Ramachandra Guha is the author of India After Gandhi: The History of the World�s Largest Democracy. The views expressed by the author are personal.

      o o o

      [For more information on the campaigns for the release of Dr Binayak Sen, check, binayaksen.net or freebinayaksen.org ]


      [8] India: Court ruling on Ayodhya undermines secular ideals

      (published earlier at dawn.com)

      by Jawed Naqvi
      Monday, 04 Oct, 2010

      So why should we be surprised that the Indian courts have once again sided with regressive forces notwithstanding the fact that the Indian State according to the constitution is supposed to be a �socialist, secular, democratic republic?� �Photo by AFP

      A story ascribed to the progressive Urdu poet and wit Raghupati Sahai Firaaq Gorakhpuri gives an agreeable perspective on last week�s court verdict on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhumi dispute.

      Rightwing Indian nationalists hallucinate about an imagined Golden Period from their history, which they require as a tool for political mobilisation. The Nazis conjured lofty images of Germany�s past to critique their messy present of the 1930s. One such Hindu nationalist approached Firaaq Saheb who he admired as a professor of English literature at the Allahabad University.

      The man whispered to Firaaq conspiratorially. �My father was digging a 20-foot deep trench to lay the foundation of a new house, when he discovered a yard of copper wire. It conclusively proves there was electricity in ancient India.� Firaaq Saheb took a small sip of his dark Rum with soda and replied after a moment�s pause: �When my father was digging the foundation for his house, he didn�t find any wire. He died believing that in ancient India there was wireless too.�

      Last week�s high court verdict on the Babri Masjid has no basis in either law or logic. It rewards the right-wing vandals who took law into their own hands while demolishing the Babri Masjid. The judgment pulls off a feat by avoiding any reference to the demolition, arguably one of the most painful moments of modern Indian history. In its intellectual content the judgment was somewhat on par with the man whose father found a copper wire while he was digging. It would have been funny if it were not so dangerous and if it did not set a precedent for worse things to come. One can only hope that India�s Supreme Court will bring more gravitas to this vexed issue.

      Some years ago, Justice Haider Raza, a former Marxist who was handling the Ayodhya case, told me that matters of faith were not justiciable under secular law. He said the only thing he could do was to determine the ownership of the land on which the mosque stood before it was demolished on December 6, 1992. He retired before he could find a legally tenable answer to the 61-year old dispute. Or was it a 124 years old issue? That was when Colonel Chamier, an Englishman serving as the District Judge decided a suit claiming a right to build a temple outside the mosque premises. He visited the site. He concluded that it was built in Babur�s time, that it was on land held sacred by Hindus, and then said:

      �� but as that event occurred 356 years ago, it is too late now to agree with the grievances.� Justice Raza couldn�t have agreed more with Chamier�s conclusion though he would have avoided the passing reference to a matter of faith in a legal dispute. So why did the three judges give a verdict which bases its findings on obscurantist evidence, whether from the Muslims or the Hindus?

      The arbitrary division of the disputed land into three parts saw Muslim litigants, though denied a legal logic, getting a third and two separate representatives of Ram�s worshippers getting the rest, including the place that used to be the central dome of the mosque. That at least one of the judges believed that the place of the razed dome which now serves as a makeshift temple with idols that were installed there surreptitiously in 1949 was actually the birthplace of Lord Ram is a matter of concern.

      The Hindu-Muslim division of the mosque-temple complex has all the ingredients of the 1947 partition, which the Congress had opposed because it argued for a secular nation as opposed to one based on religious identity. And yet the judgment is of a piece with the policies pursued by the Indian state immediately after partition. In other words, while Pakistan was (rightly) accused of moulting into a religious state defying the promise by its founder to keep it secular, India�s much touted secular constitution was abused by state-backed zealots as early as 1949. And there has been no stopping in the compromises India has made with obscurantist forces to keep the promised liberal ideals on a short leash.

      Perhaps the most regressive challenge to the Indian constitution came from the ostensibly liberal Congress party under Nehru. In 1959, a progressive government was dismissed in Kerala because it had sought to free the education system from religious groups who had so far controlled it. In 1977, the first non-Congress government came to power in Delhi. Its first job was to ban history textbooks written by India�s most qualified historians, including Romila Thapar and Bipan Chandra. How could anybody believe the historically proven claim that Brahmins in ancient India ate beef, the communal education minister argued? Henceforth the overtly secular Congress and the avowedly revivalist BJP would hunt in pairs. Their quarry: India�s secular promise.

      By the time we come to Rajiv Gandhi�s 1984-89 leadership, the Sikhs had already been alienated with an overdose of communal policies heaped on them by a Hindu upper caste dominated Delhi. Of course many of the Sikh leaders were themselves more than a match for the Congress� obscurantist politics. But Rajiv Gandhi and his cabinet took the cake. They allowed themselves to be kicked around by obscurantists of every kind, including Hindus and Muslims.

      His government banned a book that Muslims found objectionable. It uncorked the Ayodhya genie by opening the locks on the Babri Masjid, to assuage Hindu voters. Simultaneously, bowing to the clamour raised by reactionary Muslims, Rajiv reversed the landmark Supreme Court�s verdict that awarded Shahbano, a Muslim divorcee alimony and other rights that Indian women from other communities enjoyed. Even as he tried to introduce computers to take India into the 21st century he waltzed with Hindu and Muslim obscurantists.

      So why should we be surprised that the Indian courts have once again sided with regressive forces notwithstanding the fact that the Indian State according to the constitution is supposed to be a �socialist, secular, democratic republic?� The most obvious answer is that the courts, very much in synch with other instruments of the Indian State, are being used to divide the hundreds of millions of the Indian poor, (who would become a serious threat if they were to unite) and set them upon each other with its obscurantist mobilisations.

      The worker who is denied a bonus by the factory management, the small farmer who is drowning in debt, the landless Dalit labourer, or the displaced adivasi, thus becomes a Hindu or a Muslim or a Dalit Christian or an adivasi Hindu whose adversary is not someone who denies him justice but someone he is made to believe is his real enemy. That�s why the likes of Bal Thackeray and Narendra Modi are hot favourites of big business.

      That is also why all the big time TV anchors are applauding the dangerous verdict on Ayodhya by seeing in it the possibilities of an India of their limited dream. Feigning magnanimity they are now appealing to the Hindus to be graceful in their victory. It would be more honest and less hypocritical if they just went ahead and gloated.

      Let me end with a couplet by Mir Taqi Mir, who seemed to live in a far more liberal atmosphere in the 19th century India than what we are witnessing in the name of secular democracy.

      Mat ranja kar kisi ko, ke apne to etiqaad! Dil dhaay kar jo Kaaba banaya to kya hua!! (A prayer hall in our lives has no part If built on the rubble of a broken heart)

      Needless to say, the reference is to the people who are believed to have demolished a temple to build a mosque as much as it is to those who demolished the Babri Masjid and have never been punished for it. Last week�s judgment gives legal sanction to vandalism as long as it is done in the name of the �faith� of the majority.

      o o o

      SEE ALSO:

      Romila Thapar on The Verdict on Ayodhya

      Politics, History, Religion and The Law: The Ayodhya Verdict (Rohini Hensman)



      by I P Adhikari

      (in: Himal South Asian, January 2011)

      A creeping clampdown on Christianity in Bhutan poses the serious question of whether the kingdom has really set itself on the path to secular democracy.

      Centuries of theological guidance by a strong clergy has had a tremendous influence in shaping Bhutanese society. Propelled by the principles of Buddhism as generally understood, one would think that this would have led to abiding religious tolerance, allowing for the co-existence of multiple faiths. Yet in recent years, a series of incidents have indicated a continued resolve � indeed, some would say an official hardening of position � by the Thimphu establishment not only to continue to support the state-backed version of Buddhism above all others, but to actively work to stamp out �competing� or emerging religious schools. Some of the starkest examples can be seen in the clear anti-Christian bent on the part of the government.

      In principle, the Constitution of 2008 guarantees religious freedoms. To a certain extent this, coupled with the evolution of two-party politics, has given significant leverage to religious minorities in Bhutan, including Hindus in their significant numbers, in seeking international attention for their rights. The Constitution states that a Bhutanese citizen is guaranteed �the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion� and that no one can be compelled to belong to another faith. Further, the National Security Act (NSA) prohibits any word �spoken or written� that promotes �hatred� between different groups, including on the basis of religion. Violating the NSA is punishable by up to three years� imprisonment.

      Declaring Buddhism as the state religion is not necessarily a problem, but a demonisation of other religions and sects is a worrying sign in the context of Bhutan as an emerging democracy. Indeed, for many people other faiths are looked upon as posing an active threat to the state�s version of Buddhism. The state seems to find it difficult to accept religious heterogeneity in the country, regarding the largest minority of Hindus as well as the other sects of Buddhism. However, it is in the treatment of the small community of Christians that this intolerance is breaking to the surface and provides an indication of the state�s proclivities.

      Religious intolerance in the kingdom was vividly highlighted some years ago when a burial site was denied for Father William Joseph Mackey when he died in 1995. The missionary is recognised as having helped to establish the modern education system in the country, starting with its first high school. As a Jesuit priest, Fr Mackey moved to Bhutan from Darjeeling in 1963. He proceeded to dedicate the following three decades to building up and strengthening the national education system. In recognition, he was granted Bhutanese citizenship in 1985, and even the title Son of Bhutan. Yet he could not be buried in Druk Yul for being Christian. He was finally interred in Darjeeling.

      �Mentoring� minorities

      Historically, the Bhutanese state has used all means available to eliminate religious minorities, though the ruling elite themselves are mostly descended from those who fled religious oppression in Tibet at different times. The oppressed minorities in Bhutan include other Buddhist schools, with everyone forced to follow the Drukpa Kagyu form of Mahayana Buddhism that has strengthened through powerful political pressure over the past couple of centuries. Over time, those of other sects � including the Barawa, Kadampa, Chazampa and Bon � were attacked or forced to convert to Kagyu. Places of worship were either demolished or brought under Kagyu �mentoring�. For the most part, these religious communities, present when Bhutan was evolving as a nation state, no longer exist today. There are no official figures available on how many people belong to the various Buddhist faiths in Bhutan, but Kagyu followers far outnumber the others.

      The followers of Buddhism in Bhutan, including the dominant Kagyu, follow the larger Mahayana line, as opposed to Theravada, as found in Sri Lanka and Thailand. The increasing penetration of Theravada, the oldest surviving school of Buddhism, in India and Nepal in recent years is certain to influence the Kagyu community of Bhutan. As such, the Kagyu clergy is making increasingly concerted efforts to ensure that Theravada does not deplete the strength of their school.

      Government support, financial or legal, has never been allowed to go to any other religious institution due to anxieties over �national harmony�. During the last two decad<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
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