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SACW 1-4 Feb 2011 | Bangladesh: 1976 execution / Pakistan: Fascist Ideas Rule / India: Judges undermine secularism

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asia Citizens Wire - Dispatch No. 2705 - February 1-4, 2011 From: sacw.net [1] Bangladesh: Statement to Bangladesh Court on the 1976 Military Execution
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2011
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      South Asia Citizens Wire - Dispatch No. 2705 - February 1-4, 2011
      From: sacw.net

      [1] Bangladesh: Statement to Bangladesh Court on the 1976 Military Execution of Colonel Abu Taher (Lawrence Lifschultz)
      - No end to extrajudicial killings: HRW
      - Meherjaan’s women on the verge (Naeem Mohaiemen)
      [2] Sri Lanka: Books and boycotts in Galle (Irfan Husain)
      - Sri Lanka Supreme Court’s ruling on constitutional status of Courts Martial will weaken independence of the judiciary
      [3] Pakistan: Citizens Letter re Senators refusal to condemn the murder of Salman Taseer
      - Living under the reign of terror (Kamila Hyat)
      [4] Afghanistan: Private mercenaries and the Afghan Army (Musa Khan Jalalzai)
      [5] India: These court ruling shame and undermine secularism:
      - What about the murdered kids? (Dilip Simeon)
      - EPW editorial on The Staines Verdict
      - A bit of the Cancer remains in Supreme court’s Judgment on Dara Singh (John Dayal)
      - India: Courts continue to peddle obscurantism by recognising astrology as science
      - Supreme Court has upheld the subsidy given to Haj pilgrims
      [6] What it Means To Be a Muslim in India Today - The book (anhad)
      [7] Nuclear Weapons Race in South Asia (A letter by Alice Slater)
      [5] Announcements:
      Release of report: Planned Dispossession: Forced Evictions and the 2010 Commonwealth Games (New Delhi, 7 February 2011)

      ---------

      [1] Bangladesh:

      STATEMENT BY LAWRENCE LIFSCHULTZ TO BANGLADESH COURT ON THE 1976 MILITARY EXECUTION OF COLONEL ABU TAHER
      http://www.sacw.net/article1910.html

      o o o

      New Age
      26 January 2011

      NO END TO EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS: HRW

      Staff Correspondent

      International human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch has said that the Awami League-Jatiya Party alliance government has not yet ended systematic human rights abuse, including extrajudicial killing, despite promises.

      In its World Report 2011, released in New York on Monday, the organisation said, ‘The Awami League government has not kept its promise after its election victory in December 2008 to show “zero tolerance” for abuses by its security forces. Two years on, new extrajudicial killings have been reported, and those responsible have not been brought to justice.’

      According to data available with the national human rights organisation Odhikar, 281 people have fallen victim of extrajudicial killing since January 6, 2009 when the AL-JP-led alliance assumed office. Of the 281, 230 were killed in ‘crossfire’ or ‘encounters’.

      The 649-page World Report 2011, the Human Rights Watch’s 21st annual review of human rights practices around the world, summarises major human rights trends in more than 90 nations and territories worldwide.

      Bangladesh should immediately end systematic human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions and torture by its security forces, the Human Rights Watch said in the chapter on Bangladesh.

      It should allow the media, political opponents, and labour rights activists to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association fully, the Human Rights Watch said.

      ‘The government should not just keep turning a blind eye to all these killings because they are not fooling anyone with their excuses,’ said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the Human Rights Watch.

      ‘Credibility will only come if the government follows the National Human Rights Commission’s recommendation to name an impartial panel of inquiry for each killing and to hold those found responsible to account,’ he said.

      The joint police-military force, Rapid Action Battalion, carries out the extrajudicial killing, frequently termed ‘crossfire killing,’ and after the fact, the government has justified each killing as legitimate, the Human Rights Watch said.

      The Human Rights Watch noted that often independent groups find signs of torture and abuse on the bodies of ‘crossfire’ victims, and survivors of the RAB custody testify that torture is commonly inflicted by RAB on those in its custody. This is consistent with information in the recently leaked US government diplomatic cables that stated there was credible evidence that the RAB tortures detainees.

      The Human Rights Watch also found that it is not only the Bangladeshi security forces who commit abuses. Acute poverty and unemployment prompts millions of Bangladeshis to cross the border into India in search of jobs or to engage in trade. Many of them are killed by India’s Border Security Force, which engages in indiscriminate and excessive use of deadly force.

      The Bangladesh government should be more vocal and determined in pressing the Indian government to restrain the Indian border forces and to end the killings that too often occur all along that border, the report said.

      The government regularly harassed, repressed, and retaliated against its political opponents and labour union activists during 2010, the Human Rights Watch said.

      Leading opposition daily newspaper Amar Desh was forced to close down and the editor was arrested. The editor, Mahmudur Rahman, claims to have been tortured by the RAB while in custody, said the organisation.

      Labour union activists also bore the brunt of the government crackdown against public protests and organised demands. While demanding further increase in the minimum monthly wage, many apparel workers were arrested, and some were allegedly beaten while in custody, the rights watchdog said referring to credible human rights institutions and journalists.

      The government also stripped the internationally respected Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity of its non-governmental organisation status, and arrested its top leaders along with other senior labour leaders on unsubstantiated charges of incitement connected to worker disturbances in late July. Two BCWS leaders publicly stated they were tortured while in police custody, the report said.

      In a new development, the government took steps to bring to trial the people responsible war crimes during the country’s war of independence in 1971. The government arrested five activists of opposition parties but there are strong suspicions that the detentions at this time are politically motivated. Equally troubling, the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973 still falls well short of international standards, the Human Rights Watch said.

      ‘Bangladesh has a long way to go to live up to its commitments, in both national policies and meeting international obligations,’ Robertson said. ‘It is only when its people can live free of fear of torture, repression, curbs on free speech, or politically motivated actions that it can truly lay its claim to being a democratic country.’

      o o o

      Daily Star, January 23, 2011

      MEHERJAAN’S WOMEN ON THE VERGE

      by Naeem Mohaiemen

      The week of Meherjaan’s release in cinema halls, a friend received a SMS from a viewer: “The film is an insult to muktijuddho, women and Bangladesh.” In a subsequent email debate, some wondered out loud about a “pro-Pakistan” agenda.

      I found myself disagreeing with these polarised characterisations, which rush to pass judgment and flatten the debate. But we also need to pause to parse the reactions carefully, especially as they seem to fracture along generational lines. At least part of the visceral response is to the story’s central pivot — a love affair between a Bengali woman and a Pakistani soldier. The film declares it is about “loving the other,” although in a nation of a million others (Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Pahari, Bihari) this variation can only be privileged within the war’s crucible.

      The idea of a Pakistani-Bengali romance, in the midst of a genocidal war whose ferocious modes included sexual assault and rape (documented in the aftermath by Brownmiller; and later by Ain o Salish Kendra, Nilima Ibrahim and others) will strike some as perverse. Given the dearth of analytical film treatment of 1971, and over-representation of clumsy hagiography, audiences may feel unease that a well-funded, sumptuously lensed, international crew production sketches a romance that runs counter to the war’s actual impact on Bengali women.

      Other viewers however may consider the secondary character of Neela, the rape victim who becomes “lagam-hin” (socially rejected and therefore free of constraints) as an attempt to represent war’s collateral damage. Certainly the idea of trauma leading to a certain madness and social transgression has been explored elsewhere (as in Yasmine Kabir’s A Certain Liberation). But the undertone here, of sexual assault leading to social liberation, remains problematic.

      The initial screenplay was by Ebadur Rahman, but he eventually resigned from the project due to creative differences. In an email, he explained that his original script, prior to his departure from the film, had intended to locate the “gap” or “absence” in the language field that historicises muktijudhdho. There was also the intention to create what Angela Carter calls “wild women’s discourse.”

      The story, and final execution by director Rubaiyat Hossain, is framed as a counter-narrative of the war. The problem is that the basic narrative is still blurry in a global context. Two generations of Bhuttos have passed away without acknowledging the paterfamilias’ role in the genocide. Western journalists routinely refer to 1971 as “the India-Pakistan war” and “secession.” Indian intervention in the final weeks of 1971 is writ large over the entire nine months, rendering invisible the Bengali guerilla resistance, and obscuring war crimes.

      Having worked on projects where I pursued the cracks between histories, I am not particularly worried by this film’s taboo romance or friction with foundational histories. I don’t believe it is every artist’s duty to always re-inscribe the basic facts. Mahmud Rahman, whose short stories in Killing the Water include one where allegorised Bengalis commit mass murder, points out that works of fiction or art are unfairly forced to take on the burden of representation in our local context. Where art is expected to function as reportage, anything outside a dominant narrative of unblemished heroism is seen as insult and hostility. In an email about the debate over the film, Dina Siddiqi notes: “Individuals are conscripted into wars they may not agree with; individual soldiers can have a conscience, no matter how brutal and dehumanising war time ideology.”

      Watching Meherjaan, I could give it space as a counter-narrative project, whether I agree with it or not. But analysing it as pure cinema, I was jolted by the absurdist elements of the fairy tale screenplay. Meher plays out her love in soft-lit evening glow, with translucent water frolics, multiple costume changes (the soldier even has a dhoti ensemble) and wandering baul serenades. Half my viewing time was spent wondering how this couple could spend hours holding hands and engaging in close clinches, while remaining undiscovered.

      Once the lovers are found, the reactions are mellow and measured to the point of delirium. Even in peacetime, male aggression and macho swagger reacts aggressively, possessively and patronisingly to questions of “honour.” But in 1971, in an extreme environment where reprisals against transgressive Bengalis were also the norm, the characters carry on as if Meherjaan has only been caught stealing peyara. Meyera ektu erokom korei…

      The film gives the audience a way out from the central conundrum. The soldier is not the dreaded “Punjabi hanadar” (just as “Bihari” became a stand-in for “Urdu speaker,” Punjabi is another flattening signifier), but rather, a Balochi. You are meant to think of the post-71 Baloch uprising. And to sweeten the taste, he has run away from his battalion and hasn’t killed anyone. A traitorous Pakistani! The other transforms into, well… us.

      Meherjaan packs many subplots: the closeted possible lesbian, the last Muslim quasi-feudal, the feisty coquette, the leftist radical. People attempting a meta-reading can ponder the choice of Jaya Bacchan as memory locus or Victor Banerjee as Muslim grandee on the cinderblock. The latter is especially ironic, given Banerjee was a onetime campaigner for the BJP, during their anti-Muslim zenith.

      In 1997, in a review of Tareque and Catherine Masud’s just-released Muktir Gaan, I recalled a scene with affection: “Troupe members try to teach the bird Bengali, starting with the ultra-dainty ‘When evening comes slowly’ couplet and ending with ‘Joi Bangla!’ The parrot fails to learn either the gentle lyrics or the street chant — in real life, not everything happens on cue.”

      In a contrasting hostile review, Obaid Jaigirdar questioned how Lear Levin (whose footage the Masuds used) could afford his expensive camera equipment. The insinuation seemed to be that he was an “intelligence agency” plant. But I met the man many years later, and the reality was prosaic. Levin made his living as an adman, and brought his own equipment to the refugee camps. He filmed it as he saw it, no grand conspiracy there.

      Meherjaan also needs to be discussed in a new language, without defaulting to questions of other “agendas.” It is one director’s attempt to begin imagining other stories, and we need cautious openings for discussion about that effort, even if we think it failed.

      Some viewers will be irked by a perceived assault on the honour of history, but for me the dissatisfaction instead is with the celluloid execution. Scenarios are built as a dissociated dollhouse, within which the ugly context is a force-fit and the attempt at counter-narrative loses its way. The brutality of genocide and the geography of ravage vanish, while starry-eyed lovers stroll, undisturbed, through mustard fields.


      _____


      [2] Sri Lanka:

      Dawn, 2 February 2011

      BOOKS AND BOYCOTTS IN GALLE

      by Irfan Husain

      IN the hierarchy of protests, the easiest one is the boycott: it requires you to do nothing at all, and leaves you with an easy conscience. All you need to do is not go somewhere, or refuse to buy something. Thus, the appeal to boycott the fifth Galle Literary Festival (January 27-30) launched by the Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) was an easy one for a few writers to fall into line with.

      The logic underlying this appeal – signed by some very respected writers, including Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy – was that by going to the festival, writers would somehow confer legitimacy on a Sri Lankan government that has been treating writers and journalists in a particularly vile fashion. Now there is no argument at all over the repressive behaviour of the Rajapakse government towards the media and the opposition. Over the last few years, I have watched and written about the steady slide towards autocratic rule in this island paradise.

      However, the fact is that the government has nothing to do with the Galle Lit Fest. Now in its fifth year, the event was initially launched by an expat in the aftermath of the tsunami to restore foreign interest and confidence in Sri Lanka. It is now curated by a Sri Lankan writer, and has a number of corporate supporters as well as a few diplomatic missions who sponsor writers and functions. All in all, it’s four days of fun and discussions.

      I only wish the signatories of the boycott appeal had been present at the opening session. Organised by the BBC World Service, the discussion centred round “the lingering legacy of civil war”. The panellists were Sunila Abeysekera, a prominent Sri Lankan human rights activist, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, the famous Nigerian author of Half a Yellow Sun that won the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction. The former spoke of the trauma prevalent among Tamil survivors of the civil war in her country, while Adiche drew on the research she did for her book on the bloody Biafran attempt to break away from Nigeria, and its aftermath. While she herself had no personal memories of the bitter conflict, she talked to hundreds of people to get a sense of what they went through.

      What was more revealing than the talks was the heated discussion that followed. Sunila Abeysekera came under sustained attack by a few supporters of the Sri Lankan government who took up cudgels on its behalf to attack her for her criticism of the regime. One of them even accused her of being in the pay of foreign powers, while another suggested she leave the country. This is the standard response of ignorant people who do not have the intellectual capacity to argue rationally. When Adcihe spoke out in her co-panellist’s defence, her words were greeted with loud applause.

      The fact that this discussion took place at all in public rebuts the claim of the RSF: if anything, the exchange challenged the official position of the government. Given that the space for a critical examination of the government’s role in the civil war, as well as of its increasingly harsh measures, is shrinking, it is all the more important to use and expand whatever room is available.

      Another controversial talk was by Jung Chang and her husband Jon Halliday. The authors of the revisionist biography of Mao (Mao: The Unknown Story) spoke of 12 years of research in Beijing, Moscow, Albania and London, and the many shocking revelations their book contains. For instance, they discovered that in the almost mythical Long March, Mao was carried in a litter where he spent most of the time reading. Chang spoke movingly about growing up during the Cultural Revolution where millions were uprooted and exiled to the countryside to do manual labour. She herself, at age 16, was required to work in the fields, and then as a barefoot doctor. Her father, a senior member of the Communist Party, was made to ‘confess’ his errors at one of the grotesque public trials that were conducted by uneducated louts. He and his wife were sent to different ‘re-education’ camps.

      As Mao wanted China to be a superpower, he exported wheat and rice on a massive scale, triggering a famine in which Chang estimated around 40 million people died. According to her, Mao sent out instructions that the peasants should be educated to eat less. Mao also placed strict restrictions on the books people were allowed to read, and encouraged the growth of cruelty in the country. Chang and Halliday maintained that Mao contributed nothing to the present rise of China, and it was only after his death that the country made rapid progress.

      As the moderator pointed out, there was some debate in scholarly circles about the nature of the research, and the motivation behind the book. Some have accused Chang of seeking revenge over the way she and her family had been treated. The elegant and beautiful writer countered by saying that she had already got even with Mao through her first book, Wild Swans, a saga of three generations and their trials and tribulations.

      Pakistan’s Mohsin Hamid talked about his two best-selling novels, Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The latter is being turned into a film. In a packed hall at Galle’s Maritime Museum, he spoke about the creative process and his personal journey from being a lawyer in New York to a full-time writer in Lahore.

      One problem with going to a festival like this one when you have your own writing deadlines to meet is that it is not possible to attend all the sessions you’d like to. And of course, there were often two talks scheduled for the same time. What pleased me specially was the presence of so many school and college students, and the fact that the festival organisers had arranged so many activities for kids. Their exposure to so many well-known Sri Lankan and foreign writers might inspire some of them to take up writing when they are older.

      Such a pity, then, that these young people (as well as adult audiences) were deprived of the presence of the handful of authors who chose to take the easy way to protest and stayed away. How much more effective their protest would have been had it been made on Sri Lankan soil.

      o o o

      SRI LANKA SUPREME COURT’S RULING ON CONSTITUTIONAL STATUS OF COURTS MARTIAL WILL WEAKEN INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY
      Press Release by CPA
      http://www.sacw.net/article1901.html

      _____


      [3] Pakistan: Shame on these Parliamentarians who wont condemn the murder of Salman Taseer

      CITIZENS GROUPS LETTER TO THE CHAIR OF THE SENATE OF PAKISTAN

      To Farooq Hamid Naek
      Chairman, Senate of Pakistan
      Fax: 051-9103125
      Email: chairman@...

      Dear Sir,

      We are appalled by the statement of independent Senator from Balochistan Hamayun Mandokhel who has justified the murder of assassinated Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was totally innocent of any wrongdoing but was gunned down by his own guard on the pretext of religion.

      When invited by the Citizens for Democracy to attend the public chehlum for the assassinated Governor, Mr Mandokhel replied: "He met his fate. This is our religion. You have to accept it or leave Pakistan".

      We are appalled that a sitting Senator can make such a statement and get away with it. We request that disciplinary action be taken against the Senator if he does not tender a public apology for his remark that has justified the cowardly and shameful murder of Mr Taseer who had neither been charged, tried nor convicted of any crime.

      We also condemn those senators who refused to lead a fateha recitation and those who refused to raise their hand in fateha for the departed soul.

      Yours sincerely

      Citizens for Democracy - a coalition of professional organisations, trade unions, political parties, non-government organisations and individuals including Naveen Naqvi, Shayan Afzal Khan, Yasser Latif Hamdani, Sabeen Mahmud, Beena Sarwar, Faisal Butt, Marvi Sirmed, Ambareen Kazim, Fahim Zaman Khan, Nadeem Hussain Mahbina Waheed, Naziha Syed Ali, and organisations including Professional Organisations Mazdoor Federations & Hari Joint Committee – POJAC, an umbrella organisation including: 1. Sindh High Court Bar Association; 2. Pakistan Medical Association (PMA); 3. All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC); 4. Mutahida Labour Federation; 5. Karachi Union of Journalists; 6. Pakistan Workers Federation; 7. All Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF); 8. All Pakistan Clerk Association; 9. Democratic Labour Union State Bank of Pakistan; 10. UBL Workmen Union (CBA); 11. National Bank Trade Union Federation; 12. Karachi Bar Association; 13. Pakistan Nursing Federation; 14. National Trade Union Federation; 15. Sindh Hari Committee; 16. Govt. Sec. Teachers Association; 17. Pakistan Hotel And Restaurant Workers Federation; 18. Mehran Mazdoor Federation; 19. All Sindh Primary Teachers Association; 20. Sindh Professor Lecturer Association; 21. Malir Bar Association, Karachi; 22. Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF); 23. Railway Workers Union Open Line (cba) Workshop; 24. Mehran Railway Employees Welfare Association; 25. All Pakistan Trade Unions Organisations; besides other CFD members and endorsing organisations: 26. Awami Party; 27. Labour Party Pakistan (LPP); 28. Progressive Youth Front (PYF); 29. Communist Party Pakistan (CPP); 30. Peace and Solidarity Council; 31. Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education & Research (Piler); 32. Action Committee for Human Rights; 33. Dalit Front; 34. National NCommission for Justice and Peace (CJP); 35. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP); 36. Caritas; 37. Aurat Foundation; 38. Women's Action Forum (WAF); 39. People's Resistance; 40. Sindh Awami Sangat; 41. National Organisation of Working Committees; 42. Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF); 43. Child and Labour Rights Welfare Organisation; 44. Progressive Writers Association (PWA); 45. Port Workers Federation; 46. Shirkat Gah; 47. Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC); 48. Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA); 49. Sanjan Nagar Public Education Trust (SNPET); 50. Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network (PDSN); 51. Sindh Democratic Forum (SDF); 52. SAP-Pakistan; 53. AwazCDS-Pakistan; 54. GCAP-Pakistan; 55. Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF); 56. Labour Education Foundation (LEF); 57. Progressive Youth Forum; 58. National Students' Federation (NSF); 59. The Researchers; 60. Tehrik-e-Niswan; 61. Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD); 62. Crises Support Group of Residents for Defence and Clifton, Karachi; 63. Baaghi: A blog for secular Pakistan; 64. Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP); 65. Ansar Burney Trust International; 66. Viewpoint International; 67. Pakistan Youth Alliance

      o o o

      The News
      3 February 2011

      LIVING UNDER THE REIGN OF TERROR

      by Kamila Hyat

      The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

      The shameful refusal by senators to move a resolution condemning the death of former governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, calls attention to the deep waters we stand in today. It is imperative that we realize that, at any given moment, we are at risk of sinking below the tide.

      In the senate, the very suggestion that fateha be said for Taseer was turned down. No one was ready to lead the prayer, and as Opposition Leader, Wasim Sajjad suggested, it was unclear how many members of the house actually ended up saying fateha for the deceased governor. Moreover, the JUI-F walked out of the senate while the JI and FATA members took no part in the prayer.

      This was hardly surprising. What was shocking however is, the MQM, a party that prides itself on its liberalism, also refused to say the fateha, and not a single PPP member rose to support the resolution moved by the PML-Q’s Nilofer Bakhtiar, that Taseer’s murder be condemned.

      While the ‘Taliban threat’ is one that is widely discussed in the country, it seems the bigger threat may come from a fear-driven mindset. The latter prevents even those who should know better from dissenting from the extremist line. Do they fear recriminations if they refuse to agree?

      Or is it that they, as a result of continued brainwashing, really subscribe to the view that Taseer’s comments on the blasphemy law, and his attempts to defend a hapless Christian woman locked away in a Sheikhupura Jail, meant that he deserved to die? The idea is a frightening one.

      It is apparent however, that some of the groundwork for Taseer’s death had been laid well before Mumtaz Qadri turned his gun toward him at the Kohsar Market in Islamabad, on that fateful evening a few weeks ago. In the weeks preceding his murder, numerous TV comperes and columnists lashed out at Taseer for expressing his views on the blasphemy issue. Others vociferously condemned his lifestyle, and that of his family. In many ways, the ground had been laid for the vilification of Taseer when he was presented as a man who stood against Islam - or at least a specific interpretation of it.

      Even amidst a widespread fear of retribution, several meetings and vigils were held to condemn the murder. At least some citizens acted courageously. Nevertheless, it is sad that others, including senators and numerous politicians, have not done the same.

      The silence of the PPP, the ANP and the MQM, beyond immediate condemnations of a murder that shook the country, is unforgivable.

      Only Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has spoken strongly on the subject, and has unequivocally condemned the killing. One can always argue that he has done so because he speaks from the greater safety of London, where the possibility of being stalked by a bearded gunman is somewhat remote. At home, some PPP workers in Taseer’s home town embarked on a campaign to plaster walls with handbills that declared the former governor a martyr. Sadly, their party leaders discouraged them from continuing these efforts. Similarly, civil rights activists across Pakistan have struggled to find venues where crowds may be allowed to convene in memory of Taseer.

      This reign of terror needs to end. It has, over the decades, impacted increasing aspects of life in Pakistan. ‘Taboos’ have sprung up and ideas of ‘morality’ have been distorted in all kinds of self-serving ways. We need a far more proactive effort to challenge this menace. Taseer’s own party appears to have opted to remain mum on the subject of his murder. Party members seem to believe it is best to pretend the incident never took place, Their behaviour suggests that Taseer has perhaps gone on a holiday or business trip, that he may even be back in time for his beloved basant festival.

      This attitude can only encourage pro-Taliban elements to gain courage, swagger a little more confidently, and further block space for the liberals. Already, quite a few individuals, who once claimed to be progressive, appear to have disappeared from the public eye.

      The media, especially TV channels, have recently come under fire for pursuing what is essentially an orthodox agenda. Some may do so almost unconsciously; we have become so steeped in particular schools of thought, it is hard to remember that other ones exist.

      Over the decades, we have gone out of our way to paint the country in a specific colour code. Like the strictest cadet colleges, we have ensured no one strays outside these strictly demarcated boundaries. Even the length of hair and the width of belts are determined by those who run these institutions.

      The blinkered vision of life such attitudes create leads to bizarre decisions. A case in point is the Central Board of Film Censors ban on the light-hearted film, ‘Slackistan,’ made by an independent film-maker. In addition to other cuts, the censor board seeks elimination of all references to Osama bin Laden, beards, religious attire, as well as the removal of scenes featuring alcohol consumption if the film is to be deemed suitable for viewing, even by 18 year olds.

      Apparently, reality, as it exists in the country, is too dangerous to be projected onto cinema screens. Hypocrisy is a safer option.

      It is, in part, attitudes such as these that serve to create and sustain fear. We need to expand the realm of public debate and allow discussions of all kinds. At the moment, there is little room for healthy debate in the country, and countless controls are placed on the little discussion that does take place. We must clear these obstacles if we aspire for a future where fear is not the decisive factor that guides decision-making.

      Creating widespread terror amidst the population, is arguably the biggest success of extremists in Pakistan. But there are many examples from around the world which show that once artificial creations such as these are challenged, they tend to collapse very quickly.

      It is noteworthy that, to a great extent, these ideas have taken root because no major party is ready to stand up to obscurantist forces. No one is willing to speak out against murder, regardless of the motive behind it, and the mayhem it creates in society. We need to challenge these views far more forcefully if we are to defeat them.


      ____


      [4] Afghanistan:

      The Daily Times, February 02, 2011

      PRIVATE MERCENARIES AND THE AFGHAN ARMY

      by Musa Khan Jalalzai

      The involvement of Afghan generals in land grabbing and drug trafficking is a major threat for the NATO mission. In Kabul and many other districts, narcotics are transferred from one place to another in military vehicles

      Ethnicity, misgovernment, corruption and political violence have put in danger the national unity of Afghanistan. All ethnic groups have their own thinking of national unity and concordance. The recent institutionalised ethnic and sectarian divisions, specifically in the police and army units raised some questions: whether Afghanistan will again become the battleground or will this persistent insecurity affect the security of neighbouring states? The decade-long civil war in the country has already left devastating effects on Pakistan’s economic performance and security infrastructure. This is a big challenge for Pakistan, which has close ethnic, sectarian, cultural, religious and tribal proximity with Afghanistan. Thus Pakistan understands the way Afghan forces are being trained and armed is not a proper method to create a standing military.

      The US, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) are training soldiers of the Afghan National Army but rely on private security agencies and rogue warlord armies. Coalition forces in Afghanistan feel more threatened by the Afghan National Army than the Taliban. Last year, several coalition soldiers were killed by their Afghan partners during a military patrol in the south. Afghan Army commanders have established close contacts with drug lords and the Taliban militia, provide them with arms and military information, including counter-insurgency strategies.

      The police department is considered to be the most corrupt institution. Last year, Britain’s top representative warned that amid enduring suspicions over the reliability of local forces, Afghans are turning to the Taliban for justice. Drug trafficking, facilitation, corruption and the trends of alienation among the police force may delay the force’s ability to take over the responsibility of law and order enforcement in 2014. Smoking narcotics in police barracks is not new. Illiteracy is another issue that has badly affected the performance of the police. A police officer needs to have some notes, write down number plates of vehicles and take a necessary statement, but unfortunately, Afghan police are not able to read or write.

      The involvement of Afghan generals in land grabbing and drug trafficking is a major threat for the NATO mission. In Kabul and many other districts, narcotics are transferred from one place to another in military vehicles. Generals and their cronies have grabbed thousands of acres of agricultural and government land across the country. Commanders of the Tajik-dominated army protect drug lords and the criminal mafia and supply arms to the dissidents across the border into Pakistan.

      A recent report submitted to the British parliament has warned that: “Counter-insurgency in Afghanistan cannot succeed without two elements essential for success: a legitimate, functioning government and insurgents that are deprived of external sanctuary and support. Transition — efforts to build Afghan forces and transfer responsibilities to them — faces major obstacles and will take longer than anticipated.” If there is no functioning state in the country, what is the purpose of the presence of foreign forces there?

      A black market economy and criminal trade has flourished while thousands of private security personnel have taken control of important places across the country. Keeping in view their secret links with insurgents and warlords, the Afghan president once cried that private security firms empowered warlords. Recent reports say some private security agencies have hired Iranian agents and Taliban soldiers. In Helmand and in Kandahar, US military officials discovered that Afghan security guards were passing sensitive security and troops information to the Taliban. At the same time a security firm — EOD — had hired two Iranian intelligence agents who were known to the US military intelligence.

      An Afghan Security Council secret official and an aide to President Karzai, Muhammad Zai Salehi, was arrested in July 2010. The New York Times reported Salehi was accused of soliciting a bribe to help shut down an investigation into a company suspected of transferring millions of dollars out of the country for officials, insurgents and drug smugglers. This is not the only instance. There are innumerable cases of civil and military officials’ secret involvement with the Taliban. After the appearance of this news item, the NATO command issued new instructions for awarding billions of dollars worth of international contracts in Afghanistan.

      Some reports of the Afghan Interior Ministry confirm that there are over 200 agents of Iranian Sepah-Ansar operating in Afghanistan. These agents are collecting sensitive information and facilitate the Taliban in arms and training. Reports revealed major warlords or their relatives or allies have been contracted for security services in four provinces. In Uruzgan province, Australian Special Forces and the US signed an agreement with a local warlord Matiullah Khan for protecting their convoys and military bases. His army is known for kidnapping and the drug trade. Matiullah Khan has built an army of 2,500 soldiers known as Kandak-e-Amniat-e-Uruzgan — Uruzgan Security Force. Warlord Matiullah Khan receives 340,000 dollars per month. This agreement is clearly evident of the US and NATO distrust of the Afghan National Army and the police. Military observer are of the opinion that now the US and NATO may not show more interest in building an Afghan Army as its soldiers are killing coalition forces. This distrust among the Afghan National Army, NATO and the Afghan police has strengthened the Taliban and Iran on the one hand and delayed the process of building a strong Afghan Army on the other. In southern Afghanistan, Canadian forces in 2007 hired a local warlord for the security of their forces. General Gulalai had helped the US in driving out the Taliban from Kandahar in 2001. Moreover, the Canadian military hired another warlord, Haji Toor Jan’s private army for the protection of its installations.

      In Badakhshan, a local warlord who is in control of a significant portion of the drug trade provides security to the German Army’s Provincial Reconstruction Team. Warlord Nazari Muhammad receives thousands of dollars as a salary for his private army. The Afghan president, his brothers — Wali Karzai and Hashmat Karzai — the son of Afghan Defence Minister, Hamid Wardak — Pir Gailani — Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Rabbani, Gulbadin’s son, ex-army chief Fahim, General Dostum, Haji Din Muhammad and other warlords and parliamentarians have established their own private armies, which erode the strategic role of the Afghan National Army across the country.

      According to two recent reports of the UN, ISAF forces have trained, armed and employed some 1,000 private security groups across Afghanistan. The UN has estimated that there are 120,000 armed individuals belonging to about 5,000 private militias in Afghanistan. As the US and NATO is ultimately dependent on private criminal armies, the existence of the Afghan National Army remains a question. If the US and NATO do not rely on the national army and Afghan police, the question is; what is the basic role and function of these two forces? The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) gives arms, money and communication equipment to the warlords and has hired them on their payroll. These warlords, with the help of the CIA, consolidate their political control over different regions. The Afghan National Army is divided into five combat corps. But it has neither performed as a counter-insurgency force or as a strategic force.

      The writer is the author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and can be reached at zai.musakhan222@...


      _____


      [5] India: Court rulings that undermine secularism


      Mail Today, 4 February 2011

      WHAT ABOUT THE MURDERED KIDS?

      by Dilip Simeon

      THE RECENT controversy over the Supreme Court’s January 21 judgement on the Graham Staines murder is revealing. To begin with, Justices P. Sathasivam and B. S. Chauhan saw fit to make certain gratuitous remarks: “ the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity.

      It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone's belief by way of ‘ use of force’, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better.” It's not clear whether they're saying there were such grounds for complaint against Staines ( the Wadhwa Commission found “ no extraordinary increase in the Christian population in Keonjhar district between 1991 and 1998”); or if the judges were merely saying that Dara Singh believed Staines to be converting people.

      Implications

      Be that as it may, following protests by Christian organisations and members of civil society, the judges modified their judgement on January 25. They deleted the reference to Dara Singh’s intentions; and replaced it with the following: “ more than 12 years have elapsed since the act was committed, we are of the opinion that the life sentence awarded by the High Court need not be enhanced...” It also replaced the references to “ interference in someone's belief by way of ‘ use of force’, provocation...” etc., with the sentence “ There is no justification for interfering in someone's religious belief by any means.” Christian organisations welcomed the judges' decision to expunge or modify the two sentences, but the matter still carries grave implications.

      The issue is not the rights and wrongs of conversion, which may be debated, but the citation of communal animus as a justification for murder. Undoubtedly some Christian evangelical groups use objectionable language and means to convert people.

      They can be countered by civic protest and legal proceedings — there are several laws regulating religious conversion. The issue before the Court was an act of pre- meditated murder, in which there were not one, but three victims. We are talking about the law, and section 302, IPC. The SC's modification remains tinged with sinister implications. It would appear that the change was made with regard to offended sentiment, rather than in recognition of a flawed argument.

      While the decision to spare Dara Singh’s life is a welcome one, the reasoning supplied by the honourable Justices is disturbing.

      They say, “ there is no justification for interfering in someone's religious belief by any means.” The reference to religion has been watered down, but remains. The implications are that 1/ Staines was indeed so interfering — for which there was no official complaint, nor reference in the Wadhwa Commission report; and 2/ that communal animus is a mitigating ( rather than exacerbating) factor in pre- meditated murder.

      Even more disturbing is the fact that the judges have rendered invisible ( as regards the punishment meted out to the culprit) the deaths of two little boys, Timothy aged 6, and Philip, aged 10. Even if Graham Staines was indulging in objectionable activity, he did not deserve to be murdered for his sins. And even if the Staines’ were Christian evangelists, their children could hardly be guilty of offending any law or anyone’s religious sentiments. If the extenuating factors relating to conversion apply to the murder of Graham Staines, what factors could possibly attenuate the crime of burning alive two small boys? The judges have allowed their consciences to erase even the natural sympathy we feel about their terrible plight.

      Their comments — before and after their modification — are tantamount to blaming the victims for their fate. They violate the spirit of the Constitution and the norms of human decency; and they add weight to the normalisation of violence in the Indian polity.

      Justice

      Judges are not elected officials. The judicial conscience is separate from public belief insofar as it cannot be led by popular prejudice or stereotypical modes of thought. One such stereotype is manifested in the doctrine of collective guilt that may be found, for example, in the Biblical accusation that the blood of Christ lies upon the heads of all Jews till eternity. More generally, it vests in the idea that the sins of the fathers are visited upon their sons. This is one of the most noxious ideas in human history, and has found its way into every form of communal ideology. Early in 1985, I heard a justice of the Delhi High Court say something similar in response to the PUDR petition praying for the registration of cases in the matter of the carnage of Delhi's Sikh citizens in November 1984.

      The judge dismissed the prayer, saying, as he did so, that “ there was a background to the killings.” He was alluding to the murder of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. By speaking thus, he was alluding to the idea of collective guilt.

      There is indeed a background to everything, but surely no thoughtful person, let alone a judge, can argue that a crime committed by a member of this or that religious group somehow taints every member of the criminal’s community. For a judge to suggest that communal hatred diminishes the gravity of a heinous crime is a travesty of justice.

      Communalism

      The Supreme Court recently asked a minister to be temperate in his speech.

      Their own choice of words carries far more weight than that of any minister.

      Judges derive their authority from the seats they occupy, and society’s trust in their fair- mindedness and wisdom. The Bench is superior to the persons who temporarily occupy it. That is why there is a constitutional provision for the impeachment of judges. It is within the realm of possibility that judges can commit contempt of court. The Staines’ judgement comes close to exemplifying such contempt. The learned Justices could have endorsed the judgement of the High Court and left it at that. But they chose to act otherwise.

      The central danger to the Indian polity is communalism, and it works via ideas and prejudice, not organisational affiliation.

      The Kandhamal cases, arising out of events initiated by the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda by Maoists in 2008, and followed by an orgy of collective retribution upon poor Christian villagers, will be adversely affected by this judgement. If our highest judges wittingly or otherwise provide barely- disguised legitimation for criminal deeds, our Constitution is doomed. Speaking out against this judgement is the least we can do to atone for the cruelty with which little Timothy and Philip were deprived of their innocent lives.

      The writer is a political commentator

      o o o

      The Economic and Political Weekly, January 29, 2011
      [EDITORIALS]

      THE STAINES VERDICT

      Why the deep prejudice against Christians availing of the freedom granted by Article 25 of the Constitution?

      On 21 January, the Supreme Court (SC) upheld the life sentence of Dara Singh, the main accused in the burning to death of the Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons on the night of 22 January 1999 in Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district of Orissa. The SC commented on the intention of the crime thus: “…the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity”. However, days later, on
      25 January, the Court expunged its own comments on conversions. Staines had been working with leprosy patients in Keonjhar for nearly 34 years. While the brutal killing evoked reactions of shock and horror, the Hindutva forces had a pat explanation: the murders were a result of the tribals’ anger against the “forcible” conversions made by Staines. What was not explained was why this anger against Staines had not manifested itself for three decades until Hindutva outfits began their virulent anti-Christian propaganda in the region and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power at the centre. Dara Singh’s conviction notwithstanding, the impression assiduously cultivated by the Sangh Parivar that his anti-Muslim and anti-Christian activities were not backed by any of its affiliates, stands. So does the view that “popular anger” against “forcible” conversions by Christian missionaries like Staines are responsible for attacks on the minority community. The Supreme Court’s statement quoted above has only added to this impression.

      The violence against Christian tribals in the Dang district of Gujarat in 1998, which continued unhindered for more than a fortnight, was also blamed by Hindutva leaders on the people’s anger against “forcible” conversions. There too, following a pattern, the area had become the target of a sustained hate campaign and deliberate provocation against Christians with official help for quite some time before the attacks began.

      In Orissa too, the anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal district in 2008, which led to 38 deaths and destruction of nearly 50,000 homes, were not a flash in the pan. The “ghar vaapsi” programmes (converting Christian tribals to Hinduism) conducted by the Sangh Parivar outfits along with the continuing anti-Christian propaganda had raised tension to straining point. Predictably, the district administration, under the then BJP-Biju Janata Dal state government, turned a blind eye to the danger signals. The Maoists claimed responsibility for Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati’s killing but the Vishwa Hindu Parishad targeted Christians and its leader Pravin Togadia took out a procession with the swami’s body through the sensitive areas unhindered by the district administration. Thousands of Christians had fled their homes, living in government relief camps for well over a year. Despite these now being closed, there are reports that the Christian tribals still live in fear and insecurity.

      Starting from the 1980s, Hindutva forces, emboldened by the BJP’s rise to power, began floating outfits like the Hindu Jagran Manch (responsible for the Dang attacks) and the Bajrang Dal with which Dara Singh was linked. In 1999, a Roman Catholic priest, Arul Doss was killed by a mob at Jamabani in Mayurbhanj district, while a Muslim trader, Sheikh Rehman, was killed in the same district on 26 August. The D P Wadhwa Commission’s (set up by the BJP government) report did not take into account the wider context of the steady creation of an anti-minority atmosphere or even the official complicity. It blamed the Staines’ murders on Dara Singh alone and the people he managed to incite, discounting the involvement of any organisation in the murder despite the evidence presented to it.

      The tribals have as much right as any other Indian citizen to avail of the freedom granted by Article 25 of the Constitution. That is, to propagate one’s religion and to practise the religion of one’s choice. There is no evidence on record that Staines indulged in “forcible” conversions, but the SC bench, with its comments on conversions, later expunged, showed its deep prejudice against Christians availing of the freedom granted by Article 25. The crime was the fruit of sustained and ongoing hate and false propaganda campaigns unleashed by affiliates of the Sangh Parivar and which continue to this day.

      o o o

      communalism.blogspot,com

      29 January 2011

      A BIT OF THE CANCER REMAINS IN SUPREME COURT’S JUDGMENT ON DARA SINGH

      by John Dayal

      Oncologists, cancer surgeons, take extra care when excising a malignant tumor from the human body. They make sure not an iota, not one cell remains of the tumor, lest it blow up in full bloom some years later and send the patient to his or her death.

      The Supreme Court of India, the last bulwark of justice and secularism from the point of view of micro minorities such as the Christians, seems not to have take such due diligence when in a rare suo moto action this week it modified its remarks in a judgement denying the investigating agency’s demand for the death penalty for Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh who led a mob that burnt alive Australian mission and health worker Graham Stuart Staines and his two sons Timothy and Philips in Orissa on the night of 22 January 1999. The court upheld the High court judgement which had given Dara Singh a life term holding that the crime was not the rarest of the rare, and the trial court in Khurda had erred in giving Dara Singh and some of his associates the death penalty in the first place.

      The Christian community is still divided on its support or opposition to the death penalty, but most in the Catholic and Protestant churches say capital punishment is an anathema in this age and time. I am myself a staunch opponent of the death penalty.

      When the Supreme Court delivered its judgement, the community was slow to respond. I was on satellite television to welcome the life term, but to express my strong apprehensions to the implication of the Supreme Court judgment which made it seem that Dara Singh was justified in “punishing” Stainless for his Christian activities including alleged conversions of the tribals I Orissa.

      The Supreme Court through most of its judgement text dwelt on the circumstances of the case and held that Dara had been indirectly identified through slogans and identification through photographs. It did bold that the triple murder was horrendous. But in its concluding paragraphs, the court said the following: In the case on hand, though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity. All these aspects have been correctly appreciated by the High Court and modified the sentence of death into life imprisonment with which we concur." The Court had also said, "It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone's belief by way of 'use of force', provocation, conversion, and incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other."

      The All India Christian Council issued an immediate press statement, which expressed concern about affect of Judges’ comments about conversion on cases of communal violence. Dr. Joseph D’souza, President of the Council said, “We are satisfied with the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the 2005 Orissa High Court’s verdict which commuted a death sentence for Dara Singh to life imprisonment for killing Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in Orissa in 1999. In dismissing Dara Singh’s petition for dropping of the case against him, the Apex Court clearly denounced the heinous hate crime perpetrated by communal forces.”

      Dr. John Dayal, aicc Secretary General, said, “Most Indian Christians oppose the death penalty both on moral and theological grounds, as much as we oppose abortion and taking away life at any stage. Of course, as Citizens, we want the State and Central government to uphold the rule of law.” In the conclusion of the ruling on Criminal Appeal No 1366 of 2005, “Rabindra Kumar Pal @ Dara Singh Vs. Republic of India”, the judges wrote, “It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone’s belief by way of ‘use of force’, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other.” Some media reports insinuated this meant ‘conversions’ are illegal or the root cause of the violent attack. Dayal said, “Although we are yet to analyse the full judgment of the Supreme Court, we are disturbed by the parts carried by the media, mentioning terms like fraud and forcible and conversion. The Court must comment on Hindu conversions, termed Ghar Wapsi. But more than anything, we fear such remarks may negatively impact trials in Kandhamal, Orissa and future challenges to so-called ‘freedom of religion laws’ in various states.”

      The aicc said inquiries by the National Commission for Minorities, Right To Information (RTI) requests, and other investigations have proven repeatedly there have been no fraudulent or forceful conversions by Christians in India anywhere, anytime. After analyzing the Supreme Court reference to conversions, the aicc might move Supreme Court to revise the reference at an appropriate time. “We do not want any court to pre-judge the matter of conversions and violence. The real root cause of strife in which Staines lost his life with his two kids was a misunderstanding of conversion. We have seen communal violence not only against Christians, but also on Muslims and Sikhs since India’s Independence. It is unfortunate that Hindutva forces look for an excuse to attack Christians and others because they believe that India is for Hindus only. This goes against India’s spirit of secularism.”

      A day later, civil society activists, among them Navaid Hamid, Shabnam Hashmi, Seema Mustafa, Harsh Mander, H S Hardenia, and former MP Shahid Sidiqi, and Christian activists John Dayal, Dominic Emmanuel, and Mary Scaria also issued an angry press note, widely covered on the internet and controversially covered by the Hindu on Page One -- leading to a hilarious editorial development, of which some other time – calling the comments gratuitous. The statement noted A bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B. S. Chauhan went on to add: “It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone’s belief by way of ‘use of force’, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other. It strikes at the very root of the orderly society, which the founding fathers of our Constitution dreamt of. ”

      “This statement patently is unconstitutional as it goes against guarantees of freedom of faith on the one hand and seems to acknowledge vigilante action of criminals like Dara Singh who take upon themselves ‘to teach lessons’ to persons serving lepers and the poor. Did the SC ever take into consideration the report of the Wadhwa Commission which was set up to probe the murder of Graham Staines and which had observed, “There has been no extraordinary increase in the Christian population in Koenjhar district between 1991 and 1998. The population had increased by 595 during this period and could have been caused by natural growth”. The SC ruling may in fact send the wrong signals to courts trying cases of religious violence in Kandhamal, for instance, and in other places. It also tends to preempt possible challenges to the black laws enacted by many states in the guise of Freedom of Religion Bills.

      “The secular India looks at SC and other judicial forums as its last hope to preserve Constitutional guarantees given to religious minorities and other marginalized groups. It is therefore understand disturbed when judgments such as this one and the Allahabad-Lucknow Bench, ruling on Ayodhya are made and interpreted as supporting the bigoted point of view of right wing fundamentalists such as the Sangh Parivar. The state cannot abrogate its responsibilities to ensure the secular fabric of the country. We expect the government to ask the SC to expunge the unnecessary, uncalled for and unconstitutional remarks..”

      The uproar had its impact. The Supreme Court did not wait for us to file an application. In a salutary rare revision of its own order, the two judges expunged most of the offending words.
      The suo moto changes made by the court are:

      "In the case on hand, though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity."

      has been replaced with:

      “However, more than 12 years have elapsed since the act was committed, we are of the opinion that the life sentence awarded by the High Court need not be enhanced in view of the factual position discussed in the earlier paragraphs," said the bench in its one of such replacement.”

      And
      We hope Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of religion playing a positive development integrating into a prosperous nation will be realized. "It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone's belief by way of use of force, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other."

      has been replaced with:

      "There is no justification for interfering in someone's religious belief by any means."

      On the face of it, it is satisfactory. But senior Supreme court advocates I have consulted have told me there is enoiugh cause to go back to the Supreme court to seek clarifications on what it means by the term “interference” in someone else’s religion. Is talking about your own religion “interference”, or is evangelization interference. This suddenly gains in importance in view of the Somaekharan Commission report on the Karnataka attacks on churches in which it calls for drastic measures to regulate church activity, including registration of churches.

      The bench of justices P Sathasivam and BS Chauhan, while dismissing the agency’s plea for death penalty, said the punishment can be imposed only in the “rarest of rare” cases depending upon the facts and situation of each case. Dara Singh and Mahendra Hembrom were found guilty of burning to death Staines and his sons, who were sleeping inside a van outside a church, at Manoharpur village in Koenjhar district of Orissa on January 22, 1999. The bench had on December 15 last year reserved its judgement after hearing at length the arguments of CBI’s counsel and Additional Solicitor General Vivek Tankha and counsel for the convicts.

      Senior counsel KTS Tulsi and Ratnakar Dash, besides Counsel Sibo Shankara Mishra, appeared for the 12 convicts. Appearing for CBI, Tankha had told the bench that Dara Singh deserves death sentence as the murders were committed in a most “diabolic and dastardly manner” which warranted exemplary punishment. Dara had filed an appeal challenging his conviction and the life sentence awarded to him. The appeals were admitted by the apex court in October 2005. On May 19, 2005, the Orissa High Court had commuted to life imprisonment the death penalty imposed by the sessions court on Dara Singh for the murder of Staines and his two minor sons, 10 y3ear old Philip,6 year old Timothy. Mahendra Hembram, a tribal, was convicted but the High Court acquitted 11 others who were awarded life terms by the trial court in the case. The trial court in Khurda had in September 2003 convicted all the 13 accused. While Dara Singh was awarded death sentence, others were given life terms.

      While the Christian Council has reserved its right to move the Supreme Court again, there seems to be a division in the church on what to do next. High level meetings in the Delhi archdiocese have not arched a unanimous decision on the course of action, but it is clear that senior counsel and even the National Commission of Minorities has to be consulted.

      CBCI law panel secretary Sr Mary Scaria said; the freedom of religion is a Constitutional Right under Article 25 of the Constitution of India and it is accepted and respected both in the national and International laws. The right to freedom of religion allows Indian citizens to choose any religion that he / she wants to choose. This fundamental right was chosen after lot of thought regarding the process of person choosing his / her own religion. The right to freedom of religion is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of India. Article 25 reads as follows:-The judgment will give impetus and be used as a precedent to justify the "Freedom or Anti-Conversion" Acts and Bills in many states, besides emboldening religious fundamentalists and moral policing. As the Supreme Court itself have realized that they have made a mistake and expunged those portions which according to them were unconstitutional, the community after having gone through the judgment before and after expunging feel the urgency to go before the APEX COURT with another petition perhaps as it is a larger Constitutional issue pray for a proper dealing of the issue. Or referring to a larger bench?

      One of the messages tome said “”The modified version of the Supreme Court judgement in the Graham Staines case may be less offensive, but it is in no way less dangerous. In some ways it is even more dangerous to liberty than the earlier offensive wording. While deleting references to "teaching the victim a lesson" etc, and direct use of the word "conversion", the Court still maintains that "There is no justification to interfere in someone's belief by any means", implying thereby, that propagating one’s beliefs is tantamount to interference in another’s beliefs. This judgement needs to be challenged – not under criminal law, but under Constitutional law.

      Advocate P I Jose said: Rules of statutory interpretation are not applicable to reading of a Judgment. But there are well accepted judicial norms for this too. Keeping that in mind the basic question that scares every one, particularly Christians in India, is- what is the larger social evil that disturbed and prompted the two judges while dealing with the subject case to pen paragraph 47 as a post script to the Judgment? References to Shri K.R. Narayanan and Mahatma Gandhi in the same Para 47, which was retained even after suo-moto ‘clarification’ make it clear, the evil that disturbed them is “intolerance and disrespect for another’s religion The issue is whose intolerance or disrespect- the convict’s or the victims’? The replaced sentence answers it without any doubt as the words used are “religious belief” because Dara Singh did not interfere with helpless Stains and two innocent children’s “religious belief” but with their “right to life”. This takes us to the conclusion that the judges were disturbed by the victims’ way of life.
      On the first place making a comment on the victims’ is out of place and against the basic principles of judicial thinking because a victim is not given an opportunity to explain their conduct in a criminal trial. Secondly, but more important, applying the yardstick of victims’ conduct while judging a criminal act not committed on a sudden provocation, rather in a case of cold blooded murder. Sadly the feeling of scare and deep hurt the comments made to the Christian community in India is because it fell from the highest court of the land. A comment deviating from the or
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