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SACW - 23 Feb 2012 | Afghan Taliban / Pakistan: More Nukes / Bangladesh: Islamists / Sri Lanka: citizens statement / India: Gujarat needs justice / Iranian feminists on International Solidarity

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asia Citizens Wire - 19 January - 23 February 2012 - No. 2731 ... [Special edition in solidarity with secular activists still campaigning for justice and
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      South Asia Citizens Wire - 19 January - 23 February 2012 - No. 2731
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      [Special edition in solidarity with secular activists still campaigning for justice and reparations after Gujarat Massacres of 2002.]

      Contents:

      1. Afghanistan: West's Romancing of the Taliban (Praveen Swami)
      2. Pakistan: Bring Army to Book (Najam Sethi)
      3. Pakistan: Bullying tactics of Jihadis (Edit. Daily Times)
      4. Pakistan: Minorities under attack
      5. India - Pakistan: PPC welcomes Pakistan-India trade accords after commerce ministers’ talks
      6. Bangladesh: Coup Bid Reveals Extremism Within Army (Naimul Haq)
      7. Sri Lanka: Practical steps to meaningful reconciliation - Joint statement by concerned citizens
      8. India’s secular state is in a state of slow-motion collapse (Praveen Swami)
      9. Pakistan’s rush for more bombs — why? (Pervez Hoodbhoy)
      10. India: Hindu Nationalists expanding project to poison school curriculum
      11. India: The Path to a Conflict Free Chhattisgarh (Nandini Sundar)
      11. Workers, Unions and the Left: Responding to the Global Crisis (Rohini Hensman)
      12. India: Kandhamal- The Law must change its course (Vrinda Grover)
      13. India: Treat television as a public utility and guarantee citizens access (Arvind Rajagopal)
      14. Gujarat authorities must face justice over mass killing (Savitri Hensman)
      15. India - Madhya Pradesh.: Path Way to Hindu Rashtra (Ram Puniyani)
      16. India: Lower Subansiri and the Politics of Expertise (Dr. Sanjib Baruah)
      17. India: Bill on Sexual Harassment: Against Women's Rights (Geetha K K)
      18. India: selected content from Communalism Watch
      - Truth about Godhra SIT report: Why are they protecting Modi?
      - Karnataka: Schools and colleges to shut in protest against 'communalised textbooks'; letter from PUCL
      - Cow dung and Bombs: Haryana bombings reveals role of cow protection outfit [a covert hindutva operation?]
      - Is Karnataka the new Gujarat, the second lab of Hindutva fundamentalists
      19. India: Press Release - Externment Notice to Anti Nuclear Activist

      International:
      20. Solidarity and Its Discontents (Raha Iranian Feminist Collective)
      21. Announcements: Upcoming events
      (1) ‘Insaf Ki Dagar Par’ - List of the programs on 10th year of Gujarat carnage (26 February to 7 March 2012)
      - Public Events: Commemorating 10 Years of Resistance in Gujarat DASTAK (24-26 Feb) + National Convention in Delhi (4 March 2012)
      (2) ‘Ten years of the Gujarat Genocide’ a Commemoration Meeting in Mumbai: ‘Justice for Victims of 2002 Genocide’ (27 Feb 2012, Bombay)
      (3) Invitation: Dialogues of Survivors in Delhi and Ahmedabad (5th and 6th March)
      (4) Call For Papers On ‘Interrogating Indian Capitalism’
      (5) "Fiction Writing as History: Narrating the Indian Maoist Revolt of the 1960s and 70s in Literary Representation"
      Talk by Dilip SIMEON (2 March 2012, Paris)


      =======================================
      1. AFGHANISTAN: WEST'S ROMANCING OF THE TALIBAN
      by Praveen Swami
      =======================================
      The Hindu, January 18, 2012

      An Afghan soldier stands guard near arrested Taliban suspects and confiscated arms and ammunition at a police compound in Herat, west of Kabul. File photo
      AP An Afghan soldier stands guard near arrested Taliban suspects and confiscated arms and ammunition at a police compound in Herat, west of Kabul. File photo
      People of Afghanistan will pay the price for the West's looming deal with the Islamic Emirate it destroyed after 9/11.
      In the spring of 1839, the extraordinary Indian adventurer and spy, Mohan Lal Kashmiri, engineered one of the greatest intelligence coups of the 19th century: using nothing more lethal than cash and intrigue, he brought about the fall of Kandahar and secured the Afghan throne for Imperial Britain's chosen client, Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk.
      Less than three years later, in the bitter winter of 1842, Kashmiri found himself working undercover in insurgent-held Kabul, seeking to ransom the remnants of his masters' once-magnificent army — children, women and men at threat of being sold as slaves in Central Asia.
      For decades after, imperial historians agonised over the Afghan debacle of 1842, using tropes that still colour discourse on the country: religious fanaticism; treachery of native rulers; savagery of the tribal culture; primitiveness of its civilisation.
      In a June 1842 paper, authored for the attention of the Governor-General in New Delhi, Kashmiri offered a simpler explanation. Britain's easy victory in Kandahar and Kabul, he recorded, persuaded commanders that “there was no necessity for wearing longer the airy garb of political civilities and promises.” He concluded: “there are, in fact, such numerous instances of violating our commitments and deceiving the people in our political proceedings, within what I am acquainted with, that it would be hard to assemble them in one place.”
      Eleven years ago, the United States went to war in Afghanistan, promising to free its people from a despotic Islamist regime. President George Bush never delivered on his promises of reconstruction. Afghanistan received a fraction of the aid handed out to less-troubled Kosovo and Bosnia, a 2003 RAND corporation study demonstrated, let alone post-Second World War Japan or West Germany. Neoconservatives hostile to big government dominated the development agenda; the war in Iraq sucked away desperately-needed troops.
      Now, as first revealed by The Hindu last year, even the political promise is vanishing: the U.S. is spearheading an effort to make peace with the Islamists it promised to free Afghanistan from.
      Figures like the northern warlord Rashid Dostum, former Afghan intelligence chief Amarullah Saleh and former vice-president Zia Massoud, have been lobbying against the looming deal with the Taliban — but the tide of western opinion seems against them.
      In capitals across Europe and in the U.S., leaders have been persuaded that an end to the war in Afghanistan must mean reconciliation with the Taliban — cast by a growing phalanx of apologists as representatives of a culturally legitimate religious-nationalist tradition.
      The part of the story that is strangely absent from history-telling today is this: until the events of 9/11, the U.S. was engaged in precisely the same process of reconciliation that is being marketed today.

      The beginning
      Muhammad Najibullah Ahmadzai's last minutes were the first of Afghanistan's Islamic Emirate, the Taliban's short-lived state. Early on September 27, 1996, Afghanistan's former President was dragged out of the United Nations compound where he had taken sanctuary. He was beaten, then castrated; his bloodied body was dragged behind a truck before being hung on a traffic light for public display.
      The President's last visitors included Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Panjshir-region warlord who would himself be assassinated on the eve of 9/11. Massoud, for decades a bitter adversary of Najibullah, offered to help him escape, an offer that demonstrated courage and decency.
      Glyn Davies, the U.S. State Department's spokesperson, demonstrated neither when he was asked about Najbullah's murder a few hours later. The barbaric killing, he said, was merely “regrettable.” Mr. Davies proceed to explain that he found “nothing objectionable” in the laws of the new Islamic Emirate; these, he suggested, were “anti-modern”, not “anti-western” and, therefore, presumably legitimate. He hoped the Taliban would “form a representative interim government that can begin the process of reconciliation nationwide.”
      From 1994, the administration of President Bill Clinton had sought just this outcome. The story had something to do with oil. The scholar and journalist, Ahmad Rashid, has shown the U.S. threw its weight behind oil giant Unocal's efforts to build an ambitious pipeline linking Central Asia's vast energy fields with the Indian Ocean. Mullah Muhammad Ghaus, the Islamic Emirate's foreign minister, led an expenses-paid delegation to Unocal's headquarters in Sugarland, Texas, at the end of 1997. The clerics, housed at a five-star hotel, were taken to see the NASA museum, several supermarkets and, somewhat peculiarly, the local zoo.
      In April 1996, Robin Raphel — then Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, and now President Barack Obama's ambassador for non-military aid to Pakistan, visited Kabul to lobby for the project. Later that year, she was again in Kabul, this time calling on the international community to “engage the Taliban.”
      Ishtiaq Ahmad, Pakistani commentator and scholar, has pointed out that oil wasn't the only driver of these sentiments. It suited the U.S., he argued in a perceptive 2002 essay, to back the “emergence of an inherently anti-Iran Sunni force in Afghanistan”.
      The U.S. was well aware that the Taliban's dramatic rise had something to do with forces other than its purported popularity among Afghans: “my boys and I are riding into Mazhar-i-Sharif,” Rafiq Tarar, the head of the Pakistani intelligence's Afghan operations, was recorded saying in an intercepted 1998 conversation.

      Exceptionally savage

      It was also evident that the regime the U.S. was endorsing was exceptionally savage. In a 1998 report, Physicians for Human Rights documented the Islamic Emirate's war against Afghanistan's women: the closing down of schools, the denial of medical care facilities, public floggings and institutionalised child-rape. It noted that men faced “extortion, arrest, gang rape, and abuse in detention because of their ethnicity or presumed political views.”
      From at least January 1998, evidence also emerged of systematic war crimes. Larry Goodson, in his 2002 scholarly work, Afghanistan's Endless War, documented the use of scorched-earth tactics, the denial of United Nations food-aid to ethnic minorities, and the demolition of their homes. Ms Raphael had these words for the critics: “The Taliban do not seek to export Islam, only to liberate Afghanistan”.
      In 1996, a State department report described Osama bin Laden as one of the “most significant sponsors of terrorism today.” Even though the Islamic Emirate sheltered bin Laden, it was never declared a state sponsor of terrorism.
      “Madeline Albright, [her] undersecretary Tom Pickering and regional specialists in state's South Asia bureau,” records Steve Coll in his magisterial work Ghost Wars, “all recommended that the administration continue its policy of diplomatic engagement with the Taliban. They would use pressure and promises of future aid to persuade [Taliban chief Mullah Muhammad] Omar to break with bin Laden.”
      Islamic Emirate officials thus met with State Department representatives as late as March and July 2001. From the memoirs of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Islamic Emirate's envoy to Islamabad, we know that they also passed on information that bin Laden was planning an attack on the U.S. — to no effect.
      “The truth”, Ms Albright would later argue, “was that those [attacks before 9/11] were happening overseas and while there were Americans who died, there were not thousands and it did not happen on U.S. soil”. It isn't: Libya, Iraq, South Yemen, and Syria, all secular states, hadn't killed “thousands” or “on U.S. soil” in 1979, when the State Department first began designating sponsors of terrorism. There was something about the Islamic Emirate that was different.

      Deeper than oil rigs

      For a sensible understanding of the intellectual underpinnings of western romancing of the Taliban, therefore, one must excavate deeper than oil rigs: the West's relationship with Islamism has to do with ideas about the world, not just cash. In search of reliable collaborators across the Middle East, colonial states threw their weight behind reactionary tendencies in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Islam was used to legitimise this project.
      Led by the enigmatic scholar, Gerhard von Mende, Nazi Germany's Ostminsterium recruited Muslims from Central Asia to aid its fight against the Soviet Union. Ian Johnson's remarkable history, A Mosque in Munich, shows the Central Intelligence Agency recruited many of these ex-Nazis.
      The West's Afghanistan policy marks a return to these geostrategic roots —this time founded on the hope that religious-authoritarian regimes will provide a volatile region stability. Its growing engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, its tactical embrace of jihadists in Libya and Syria, its use of the right-wing cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, as a mediator with the Taliban form other parts of this mosaic.
      Afghanistan's political parties and political representatives aren't the ones, notably, who will be doing the deal. The Taliban isn't being asked to agree to terms acceptable to other Afghans. Afghanistan's women's organisations or ethnic minorities aren't at the table in Doha.
      Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to reassure secular Afghans, promising that her country “intends to stay the course with our friends.” “We will not leave you on your own”, said Germany's Foreign Minister, Guido Westwelle, echoing her words.
      Mohan Lal Kashmiri might have had some thoughts on these promises. Those they are directed at in Afghanistan almost certainly do.

      =======================================
      2. PAKISTAN: BRING ARMY TO BOOK
      by Najam Sethi
      =======================================
      Mail Today, 3 February 2012

      THE QUESTION of the jurisdiction of civilian courts over military matters is now firmly posed in the public imagination. In the last few years, hundreds of Baloch nationalists and alleged secessionists have “ disappeared” into the black hole of the military’s various intelligence outfits.

      Attempts by the Supreme Court to extract them from the clutches of the agencies have met with only limited success. But the recent custodial deaths of four alleged terrorists facing court martial for attacks on the army has made front page news and compelled the SC and Peshawar High Court to take notice.

      Part of the problem is related to the law of civilian jurisdiction and part of it has to do with the long- standing and unaccountable power of the military. But the major political parties are now contesting the military’s political outreach. So it is time to also argue for a relevant change in the law in order to facilitate the application of fundamental rights.

      The laws in question are the various Army, Air Force and Navy Acts of 1952 etc., and articles 199 ( 3) and 184 ( 3) of the constitution.

      Article 199( 3) says: “ An order shall not be made [ by the High Court] under clause ( 1) on application made by or in relation to a person who is a member of the Armed Forces of Pakistan, or who is for the time being subject to any law relating to any of those Forces , in respect of his terms and conditions of service, in respect of any matter arising out of his service, or in respect of any action taken in relation to him as a member of the Armed Forces of Pakistan or as a person subject to such law.” Article 184( 3) says: “ Without prejudice to the provisions of Article 199, the Supreme Court shall, if it considers that a question of public importance with reference to the enforcement of any of the Fundamental Rights conferred by Chapter I of Part II is involved have the power to make an order of the nature mentioned in the said Article.” A combined reading of such Acts and Constitutional provisions has served to restrict the jurisdiction of the high courts to matters pertaining to the application of sections of the militaryrelated Acts, including denial of Habeus Corpus, to civilians even in peace time and in “ non- disturbed” or special areas. Consequently, proceedings of courtsmartial and appeals cannot be challenged in the high courts of Pakistan. Judges Advocate- General of the military are always soldiers. And the SC’s jurisdiction under 184( 3) is limited to matters that are both of “ public importance” and also related to fundamental rights.

      The various military Acts are inherited from the colonial era.

      The irony is that in the UK and Europe where such laws have since been amended to enable civilian jurisdiction over military matters, the opposite has been happening in Pakistan during various military regimes. For example, there are no standing military courts in countries like Denmark, Germany, Austria, Holland etc.

      IN BRAZIL and Spain etc. the military courts cannot intervene in political matters.

      In the UK, military Appeal Tribunals are headed by civilian Judges- Advocate with experience in practicing law and further appeals lie with the High Court of England or the Supreme Court of the UK. Even in India, civilians subject to military law may appeal in the high courts of the states. But not in Pakistan where the high courts have no jurisdiction to accept petitions against military court judgments even in the case of civilians during peacetime.

      Indeed, General Pervez Musharraf went an extra mile to beef up the Army Act in November 2007 by inserting various clauses in section 2( 1)( d), including some related to the “ security of Pakistan” and “ ideology of Pakistan”, etc., whereby the military was empowered to detain and summarily convict any civilian on any pretext even in non- martial law times. Fortunately, after the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, and fellow judges were restored in March 2009, the SC struck down all Musharrafrelated legislation after November 3, 2007, including draconian amendments in the Army Act, in the famous “ judges case” which also led to the revival of the corruption cases against President Asif Zardari and cohorts.

      The SC is now hearing three petitions that have a bearing on the subject. The first refers to a case in which the DGISI and COAS accept having paid off politicians to determine the course of a general election in 1990. The second relates to disappearances of civilians in Balochistan and the third to deaths of civilians in military custody. All are related to questions of law and the military’s unaccountable status. If the SC can blithely accept the military’s deposition in Memogate as a matter of “ public importance” by making “ national security” a fundamental right, there is no reason to believe it cannot, by the same yardstick, strike down articles 199( 3) and 184( 3) of the constitution and make military law subservient to civilian law while abolishing the ISI’s internal political wing as a transgression of civilian supremacy in a constitutional democracy. All the transitional populist interventions of Chief Justice Chaudhry to date will then dwarf in comparison to such an abiding historic legacy for constitutional supremacy.

      The writer is editor of The Friday Times

      =======================================
      3. PAKISTAN: BULLYING TACTICS OF JIHADIS
      Editorial - Daily Times
      =======================================
      Daily Times, 22 Feb 2012

      Difa-i-Pakistan Council (Defence of Pakistan Council) is at it again. The group staged another rally, this time in Islamabad, despite the ban imposed on three of its main leaders — Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) President Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, Secretary General Maulana Khalid Dhillon and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed — from entering Islamabad. Due to the ban, these three men did not attend the rally but the question is: what happened to Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s ‘promise’ that banned outfits would not be allowed to hold a rally in the federal capital? Would the SHO of Aabpara be suspended for this rally? There are speculations that a compromise between the government and the powers that be was struck to allow the Difa-i-Pakistan Council to hold the rally in Islamabad. Instead of holding it in front of parliament, the rally was held in Aabpara, quite close to the ISI headquarters. It seems that the Difa-i-Pakistan Council has the backing of our military establishment and has been unleashed because of the fraught relationship with the US. As far as Pakistan-US relations are concerned, there is no resolution in sight at the moment. What kind of a message is the military trying to give to the international community in the form of this conglomerate of religious hardliners is quite apparent.

      That the Difa-i-Pakistan Council openly threatened the media in its previous rally in Karachi did not persuade the government one bit to stop it from holding another protest in the heart of the capital. The government and the military are carrying on with General Musharraf’s mischief — turning a blind eye to banned organisations that have only renamed themselves but are carrying on with their activities with impunity. This is completely unacceptable. Putting further pressure on the Americans and Indians through these gentlemen is not going to benefit Pakistan. Let’s not fool ourselves. Pakistan cannot be held hostage to the jihadists and their apologists because they are more harmful to us than any other country in the world. What is needed is a complete ban on the Difa-i-Pakistan Council.

      =======================================
      4. PAKISTAN: MINORITIES UNDER ATTACK
      =======================================

      PAKISTAN: AHMADIYAS UNDER ATTACK NEED PROTECTION - STATEMENTS BY AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AND AHRC
      http://www.sacw.net/article2528.html

      WORSHIP SITE ROW: LARGE PROTEST AGAINST AHMEDIS IN RAWALPINDI
      http://tribune.com.pk/story/329147/worship-site-row-large-protest-against-ahmedis-in-rawalpindi/

      o o

      SOFT CORNER FOR EXTREMISM TO BLAME FOR KHANPUR KILLINGS: HRCP
      Posted on January 16, 2012 by HRCP

      Lahore, January 16: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has condemned the attack on a Chehlum procession in Khanpur and said that sympathetic attitudes towards religious extremism in all institutions of the state are responsible for the failure to confront the menace of sectarian terrorism.

      In a statement issued on Monday, HRCP said: “HRCP condemns the killing of innocent people in an explosion targeting a Chehlum procession in Khanpur and sympathises with the bereaved families. The perpetrators of sectarian violence regularly keep exploring new and more deadly ways of causing harm to the people. The police actions that follow such brazen targeting of religious events stand little chance of stemming the tide of sectarian killings. While paying attention to symptoms of the malaise is important, sectarian violence continues in Pakistan because the cause is usually left unaddressed. And it is clear that that happens because nearly all institutions of the state have a soft corner for religious extremism and they are certainly not keen to deal with it according to the law. In this environment the bloodletting will not stop.

      “It is a welcome change that the leader of at least one religious-political party has condemned the killings in Khanpur. HRCP hopes that other parties and groups, especially the religious ones, would also not have any reason to hesitate in condemning this act of terrorism as such. It is of vital importance that all segments of civil society that believe in tolerance play their role in unison to expose the passive response to such barbaric brutalities and also the reasons for that. But the state must allow the citizens due space to register their concerns and wishes. Any delay in taking decisive action amounts not only to negligence but complicity. The state must also reach out to the affected community in a manner that demonstrates its concern and shame in failing to protect citizens’ lives and try to promote tolerance after having tried the opposite for so long.”

      Zohra Yusuf
      Chairperson

      =======================================
      5. INDIA - PAKISTAN: PPC WELCOMES PAKISTAN-INDIA TRADE ACCORDS AFTER COMMERCE MINISTERS’ TALKS
      =======================================
      http://www.sacw.net/article2542.html

      Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC)

      PRESS RELEASE

      KARACHI, Feb. 17:

      Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC), while welcoming signing of three trade accords between India and Pakistan has called upon the two governments not only to ensure the strict implementation of these agreements but also to follow it up with some essential steps towards facilitating people-to-people contacts at various other levels.

      In a statement here on Friday, PPC said that in the context of the not so happy relations between Pakistan and India, the outcome of the just-concluded talks between the commerce ministers of the two countries in Islamabad should be considered as a major step in the direction of improving our mutual relations.

      While welcoming the signing of several agreements related to promotion of trade and the promise of a relaxed visa regime for businessmen of the two countries, Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC) has suggested the following measures:

      1. The visa relaxation facilities being offered now to businessmen, such as exemption from police reporting and removal of city-specific limitation be extended to cover all the citizens of the two countries without discrimination.
      2. The cumbersome exercise of having to attach a slew of different documents with the visa applications be made easier.
      3. Issuing of normal Tourist Visas be resumed to enable people to visit popular historical and scenic spots in the two countries.
      4. Students and youth of the two countries be encouraged to visit each other’s country by further liberalizing the visa regime for them.
      5. Consulates be re-opened in Karachi and Mumbai respectively at the earliest.
      6. Newspapers, magazines, books and other publications be allowed unrestricted movement between the two countries.
      7. T.V. news channels of the two countries be freed from the existing restrictions.
      8. Karachi-Mumbai-Karachi sea route be re-opened for movement of people and cargo.


      =======================================
      6. BANGLADESH: COUP BID REVEALS EXTREMISM WITHIN ARMY
      Analysis by Naimul Haq
      =======================================
      Inter Press Service

      DHAKA, Feb 2, 2012 (IPS) - Bangladesh’s army has won paludits as leading United Nations peacekeepers, but the January coup attempt against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has exposed lurking religious extremism within its ranks.
      On Jan. 19, the army brass disclosed that it had foiled a coup attempt masterminded by some mid-ranking army officers and that several have been either confined or put under the scanner.
      At a rare press conference in the Dhaka cantonment, Brig. Gen. Masud Razzaque, flanked by senior officers, said: "Specific evidence has been unearthed that a group of retired and serving officers have been involved in the conspiracy to topple the democratic government through use of the armed forces."
      Razzaque said two of the alleged conspirators had admitted to having connections with the outlawed political party, Hizbut-Tahrir (HuT), suggesting that religious extremists continue to maintain links within the country’s armed forces.
      The HuT website openly urges army officers to "Remove Hasina, the killer of your brothers and establish the Khilafah to save yourselves and the Ummah from subjugation to U.S.-India."
      "Initial investigations suggest that links with non-resident Bangladeshis could not be ruled out," Razzaque said, hinting that forces inimical to Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation from Pakistani rule were at work and may also have had a hand in the coup conspiracy.
      The HuT is known to have strong links with Bangladeshi expatriates in Britain along with other Islamist groups such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) opposed to the professed secularism of the AL and to the 1971 liberation.
      This was the first time that the defence establishment has admitted to extremists in its midst, though the country has seen a series of coups, starting with the one in which Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the founder of Bangladesh and father of Sheikh Hasina was killed.
      Indeed the army is known for the deep divide that exists between officers who fought for Bangladesh’s liberation and those who did not and this has fomented no less than 19 coup attempts.
      Significantly, the January coup attempt follows the execution of a number of officers convicted for the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur, 40 years ago.
      Hasina has also put on trial several religious political leaders, including the former chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), Golam Azam, for alleged collaboration in the genocide committed by the Pakistani military in trying to bludgeon Bangladesh’s struggle for independence.
      The JeI is one of the key allies of the four-party main opposition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former prime minister Khaleda Zia.
      The path for the trials was cleared on Mar. 25, 2010 when the government set up a special tribunal to try the religious leaders for their alleged crimes against humanity committed during the country’s liberation war four decades ago.
      Five of the JeI’s top leaders, including its party chief, Prof. Motiur Rahman Nizami and secretary general, Ali Ahsan Mojaheed, both former ministers in BNP government, are currently being held in prison.
      Soon after taking office for the second time in January 2009, the Hasina government banned 12 religion-based organisations suspected to have strong militant bases across the country.
      Among them was Jamaat-ul Mujahideen, Bangladesh (JMB), the second largest Islamist organisation and one that is believed to have links to the banned Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).
      After the JMB carried out 500 synchronized bombing attacks in almost all the 64 districts of the country on August 17, 2005, police have arrested over 200 of its members.
      Many of its leaders have been executed, including its founder - Shaikh Abdur Rahman and the man known to be second in command, Siddiqul Islam, popularly known as ‘ Bangla Bhai’.
      But, the arrest of about 100 JMB activists since October 2008 and the unearthing of huge caches of firearms, explosives and ammunition demonstrated the JMB’s ability to regroup, recruit and reorganise.
      The Hasina government faces increasing challenges in restoring a secular outlook for the country’s polity originally promoted by her father and the Awami League (AL) party as opposed to the more Islamist face of the opposition.
      Significantly, Khaleda Zia alleged at a rally held in Chittagong on Jan. 9 that the government had kidnapped certain army officers and was torturing them. While Khaleda’s statement was refuted by the army, it admitted to trying officers for ‘dereliction of duty’.
      Over the years Hasina’s pro-liberation, secular AL party has faced violent challenges from the so-called Islamic nationalist and anti-liberation forces which apparently also do not believe in democratic principles.
      Hasina’s government has also been extending friendly gestures to India which helped Bangladesh in its struggle for freedom from the military junta then ruling Pakistan.
      After being swept back into office in January 2009 with a two-thirds majority in parliament, Hasina’s 14-party grand alliance restored the four fundamental secular principles of the constitution enacted by her father.
      That step angered many religion-based political parties. In February 2009, the national border guards, then known as the Bangladesh Rifles mutinied killing some 70 people including 57 army officers.
      The revolt was believed to have been orchestrated by anti-liberation forces and the names of the religious extremist groups were not far down the list of suspects.
      It is unlikely that the Bangladesh army would venture to take over power from a democratically elected government – that would jeopardise its prized role as top international peacekeeper – but it will certainly have to deal with extremism within its ranks, as the January events show.

      (END)

      =======================================
      7. SRI LANKA: PRACTICAL STEPS TO MEANINGFUL RECONCILIATION - JOINT STATEMENT BY CONCERNED CITIZENS
      =======================================
      http://www.sacw.net/article2541.html

      17th February 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka:

      Several valuable recommendations are contained in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s (LLRC) Report and they are all the more compelling because they have issued from a Presidential Commission. In pursuance of this, we the undersigned call upon the government of Sri Lanka, in consultation with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the leadership of the Muslims, to take steps to implement the recommendations. In this statement we have highlighted certain important recommendations. The government is morally bound to implement the proposals of its own commission or otherwise stand indicted of a lack of sincerity.

      A lasting solution to the ethnic imbroglio can be reached only if power, including police powers, land use and allocation, and fiscal and budgetary authority is devolved to the Provincial Councils in accordance with the Constitution of Sri Lanka; but the government is stalling. In the context of this statement we refer in particular to the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The governance of the Northern Province should be handed over forthwith to democratically elected representatives of the people. We also state that without restoration and empowerment of the civil administration, effective demilitarisation, resettlement of Tamil and Muslim displaced persons, disbanding paramilitary forces, releasing illegally detained persons and rejuvenating the local economy, all talk of reconciliation is a deception.

      There have been a number of proposals which if implemented would have gone some way towards ameliorating the conflict; the Mangala Moonesinge Report, President Kumaratunga’s proposals in the 1990s, the draft constitution of 2000, and the Majority Report of the Experts Committee advising the APRC. Now a set of recommendations has been made by the President’s LLRC appointees. Notwithstanding our criticisms of the LLRC in the Concluding Note below we are of the opinion that if the government implements the most important of its Recommendations, progress can be made towards reconciliation of the communities.

      Demilitarisation

      The ubiquitous presence of and pressure exerted by the armed forces in the Northern and Eastern Province engenders grave and direct fear among the people and inhibits social life. Militarization and armed paramilitary groups are the root cause of harassment and are associated with abduction and other unlawful acts. The spread of military tentacles into reconstruction projects is alarming and military sponsored expansion into small and medium business undertakings are taking precedence and steamrolling the local community out of the neighbourhood economy. Commitment to the concept of the primacy of civilian democracy over military power makes it imperative that the LLRC recommendations quoted below be implemented forthwith and in full. This needs the approval of no Parliamentary Select Committee or endorsement by the TNA. There is no justification for procrastination.

      “The Commission, as a policy, strongly advocates and recommends to the Government that the Security Forces should disengage itself from all civil administration related activities as rapidly as possible” - (9.134).

      “It is important that the Northern Province reverts to civilian administration in matters relating to the day-to-day life of the people, and in particular with regard to matters pertaining to economic activities such as agriculture, fisheries land etc. The military presence must progressively recede to the background to enable the people to return to normal civilian life and enjoy the benefits of peace” – (9.227)

      The importance of demilitarisation extends beyond the North-East. There is alarm in the Sinhalese and Muslim communities in other parts of the country about mounting military involvement in civilian life such as state corporations and businesses, construction and urban development, provincial governorships and the diplomatic service. Demilitarisation of civilian and economic life is the common demand of people of all communities. The peril of military involvement in financial matters and sinecures of prestige has been well learnt in recent years from the Burmese, Egyptian and Syrian examples to name but three.

      High Security Zones, paramilitaries and child soldiers

      The LLRC Report deals with High Security Zones (HSZs) in paragraph 9.142 and recommends a review for the purpose of releasing more land to the public. We call for the immediate dismantling of all HS zones which serve no rightful purpose. All occupied land must be returned to rightful owners. The Report refers to illegal armed groups in paragraph 9.73 and to the alleged crimes of the EPDP in paragraph 9.208, but only calls for further investigation in both matters. We fail to see why paramilitaries and armed goons are allowed free reign in the Tamil areas at all. It is the duty of the state to disband these unlawful groups forthwith; the state needs no LLRC recommendation to carry out its bounden obligations. We support the recommendation that past activities of these gangs be investigated with a view to prosecution where warranted.

      We support the recommendations in the report (9.77 to 9.80) regarding rehabilitation, return to families and provision of employment opportunities for former child soldiers. The recommendations in respect of tracing families or tracing child soldiers (9.81) are also commendable and need to be acted on. These are completely non-controversial matters, but it is regrettable that the government has commenced no action. There is no reason whatsoever for delay.

      Unlawful detention

      In ten paragraphs in a separate subsection titled “Treatment of Detainees” the Report deals with several aspects of lawful and unlawful detention and the treatment of detainees. The following passages are of particular note.

      “However, the Commission expresses concern over some detainees who have been incarcerated over a long period of time without charges being preferred. The Commission stresses again that conclusive action should be taken to dispose of these cases by bringing charges or releasing them where there is no evidence of any criminal offence having being committed” - (9.70).

      All places of detention should be those, which are formally designated as authorized places of detention and no person should be detained in any place other than such authorized places of detention. Strict legal provisions should be followed by the law enforcement authorities in taking persons into custody, such as issuing of a formal receipt of arrest and providing details of the place of detention – (9.67).

      The commission has put its finger on a pervasive and persistent problem in the breakdown of law enforcement and justice in the country; illegal detention without adequate cause, failure to prosecute or release, and detention at unauthorised locations at which victims are alleged to be tortured or eliminated. Does a responsible government need the recommendations of a presidential commission to eliminate such practices forthwith? The government is dragging its feet while detainees linger in jails and camps.

      The next of kin of detainees have the fundamental right to know of the whereabouts of their family members and they have the right of access to detainees. The LLRC notes numerous representations were made about this matter.

      “A large number of representations were made with regard to those whose whereabouts are unknown, sometimes for years, as a result of abductions, unlawful arrests, arbitrary detention, and involuntary disappearances” – (9.43)

      Land; Return of IDPs; Return of Muslims

      Some recommendations in respect of land issues overlap the larger of question of devolution of land powers to Provincial Councils (9.124, 9.126 and 9.150). Other matters such as expediting the return of Muslims evicted by the LTTE to the North and steps to prevent the legitimisation of properties forcibly occupied during the war are worthy of support. These issues will be more complex in implementation than the matters adverted to previously as they require legislation and will certainly need the establishment of administrative support mechanisms. The government must demonstrate its good intentions by declaring its intention to implement these recommendations and state the time frame within which they will be completed.

      We recognise that the full reintegration of IDPs into the community and ensuring the return of the Muslims (covered in 9.103 to 9.108 and 9.109 to 9.113, respectively) are important issues. The same is true of the broader discussion in paragraphs 9.121 to 9.152 dealing with several land related matters. While recognising the need for patience on these matters we are perturbed that there seems to be a lack of seriousness on the part of the government in getting started on the job. A matter of more immediate concern is that the provision of basic facilities is neglected while IDPs languish in dire conditions.

      Concluding Note

      Right thinking people of all communities are dismayed by the whitewash of atrocities against the civilian population committed by the Sri Lankan military in the final stages of the war. The LLRC has ignored allegations about the military targeting safe zones, hospitals, and locations where tens of thousands were packed together. The large scale and permanent displacement of the people of the Vanni and the destruction of homes and built infrastructure portends an effort to change the ethnic population profile of the region. The LLRC has documented LTTE atrocities and concluded that it is guilty of human-rights violations. Taking into account all these we believe that there is prima face evidence of human-rights violations by the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE; we demand an independent investigation.

      The purpose of this statement is to express our dismay that the government is taking little follow up action to get down to simple actions that are not particularly controversial if there is a genuine commitment to democracy, human rights and reconciliation. Since in this statement we wish to emphasise matters that can be implemented expeditiously, we have not engaged in extended discussion of two fundamental concerns; that accountability for human rights violations must be followed up, and that a political solution based on devolution is the only feasible permanent solution. Nor is this document comprehensive since we have not dealt with women’s issues, education, compensation, restrictions on travel and the hard to understand delay in rebuilding the railway to the north - a one time artery of commerce and people movement.

      Signatories

      Priyadarshani Ariyaratne
      Niran Bandaranaike
      Lionel Bopage
      Kumar David (Prof)
      Sunanda Deshapriya
      Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri
      Marshal Fernando
      Sarath Fernando (Monlar)
      Bhavani Fonseka
      Mano Ganesan
      Sivaguru Ganesan (Prof)
      N Ganesanathan (Dr)
      Ruba.H.Gnanaratnam
      Farzana Hanifffa (Dr)
      S.H. Hasbullah (Prof)
      Rohini Hensman (Dr)
      Jay Jayasingam
      Kumara Illangasinghe (Bishop Emeritus)
      M. C. M. Iqbal
      Vickremabahu Karunaratne (Dr)
      S. V. Kasynathan (Dr.)
      Uvindu Kurukulasuriya
      Sumanasiri Liyanage (Dr)
      S. Nagendra
      Suppiramaniam Nanthikesan
      Anita Nesiah (Dr)
      Devanesan Nesiah (Dr)
      Lanka Nesiah
      Vasuki Nesiah
      Nigel V. Nugawela
      Rajan Philips
      Mirak Raheem
      Lionel Rajapakse
      Mahinda Ratnayake
      Surendra Ajith Rupesinghe
      Jeanne Samuel
      Shireen Saroor
      Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu (Dr)
      Willie Senanayake (Dr)
      Sabapathy Sivagurunathan
      Daya Somasundaram(Dr)
      Ram Subramaniam
      Jonathan V Thambar
      J. Thiruchandran
      Selvy Thiruchandran (Dr)
      Bradman Weerakone
      Lal Wijenayake
      E Vivegananthan

      =======================================
      8. SALMAN RUSHDIE & INDIA’S NEW THEOCRACY
      by Praveen Swami
      =======================================
      The Hindu, 21 January 2012

      India’s secular state is in a state of slow-motion collapse. The contours of a new theocratic dystopia are already evident.

      In 300CE, the historian and cleric, Eusebius, fearfully recorded the rise of a new “demon-inspired heresy.” “From innumerable long-extinct blasphemous heresies,” he wrote, the new religion’s founder “had made a patchwork of them and brought from Persia a deadly poison with which he infected our own world.”

      Manichaeism, a new religion which posited an eternal struggle between good and evil, had dramatically expanded across the ancient world. Less than half-a-century after its rise, though, the faith had been all but annihilated. Bahram II massacred its followers in Persia; in 296, the Roman emperor, Diocletian, decreed its leaders “condemned to the fire with their abominable scriptures.” Khagan Boku Tekin, the Uighur king, made Manichaeism the state religion giving it a home — but even this last redoubt collapsed in 840.

      Eusebius’ own Christian faith, by contrast, flourished after it won imperial patronage: the word of god grows best in fields watered by the state’s pelf, and ploughed by the state’s swords.

      Salman Rushdie’s censoring-out from the ongoing literary festival in Jaipur will be remembered as a milestone that marked the slow motion disintegration of India’s secular state. Islamist clerics first pressured the state to stop Mr. Rushdie from entering India; on realising he could not stop, he was scared off with a dubious assassination threat. Fear is an effective censor: the writers Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar, who sought to read out passages from The Satanic Verses as a gesture of solidarity, were stopped from doing so by the festival’s organisers.

      In a 1989 essay, Ahmad Deedat, an influential neo-fundamentalist who starred in the first phases of the anti-Rushdie campaign, hoped the writer would “die a coward’s death, a hundred times a day, and eventually when death catches up with him, may he simmer in hell for all eternity.” He thanked Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for his “sagacious” decision to ban The Satanic Verses. Now, another Indian Prime Minister has helped further Mr. Deedat’s dream.

      The betrayal of secular India in Jaipur, though, is just part of a far wider treason: one that doesn’t have to do with Muslim clerics alone, but a state that has turned god into a public-sector undertaking.

      Underwriting faith

      Few Indians understand the extent to which the state underwrites the practice of their faith. The case of the Maha Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years at Haridwar, Allahabad, Ujjain and Nashik, is a case in point. The 2001 Mela in Allahabad, activist John Dayal has noted in a stinging essay, involved state spending of over Rs.1.2 billion — 12,000 taps that supplied 50.4 million litres of drinking water; 450 kilometres of electric lines and 15,000 streetlights; 70,000 toilets; 7,100 sanitation workers, 11 post offices and 3,000 phone lines; 4,000 buses and trains.

      That isn’t counting the rent that ought to have been paid on the 15,000 hectares of land used for the festival — nor the salaries of the hundreds of government servants administering the Kumbh.

      Last year, the Uttar Pradesh police sought a staggering Rs.2.66 billion to pay for the swathe of electronic technologies, helicopters and 30,000 personnel which will be needed to guard the next Mela in 2013. There are no publicly available figures on precisely how much the government will spend on other infrastructure — but it is instructive to note that an encephalitis epidemic that has claimed over 500 children’s lives this winter drew a Central aid of just Rs.0.28 billion.

      The State’s subsidies to the Kumbh Mela, sadly, aren’t an exception. Muslims wishing to make the Haj pilgrimage receive state support; so, too, do Sikhs travelling to Gurdwaras of historic importance in Pakistan. Hindus receive identical kinds of largesse, in larger amounts. The state helps underwrite dozens of pilgrimages, from Amarnath to Kailash Mansarovar. Early in the last decade, higher education funds were committed to teaching pseudo-sciences like astrology; in 2001, the Gujarat government even began paying salaries to temple priests.

      In 2006, the Delhi government provided a rare official acknowledgment that public funds are routinely spent on promoting god. In a study of its budget expenditure, it said it provided “religious services, i.e. grants for religious purpose including repairs and maintenance of ancient temples, contribution to religious institutions and for memorial of religious leaders like Guru Nanak Birth Anniversary, Dussehra Exhibitions [sic., throughout]”.

      The study did not reveal precisely how much had been spent on what kind of religious promotion. It did, however, note that spending on a broad category called “cultural, recreational and religious activities” had increased steadily — from Rs.526.5 million in 2003-2004, to Rs.751 million in 2006-2007. In 2006-2007, these kinds of activities accounted for 0.74% of Delhi’s overall budget — ahead of, say, environmental protection (0.17%), mining and manufacturing (0.59%), and civil defence (0.12%).

      India’s clerics, regardless of their faith, have long been intensely hostile to state regulation of religion — witness the country’s failure to rid itself of the faith-based laws that govern our personal lives. In the matter of the perpetuation of their religion, though, the state is a welcome ally.

      The contours of the bizarre theocratic dystopia that could replace the secular state are already evident. The state tells us we may not read the Satanic Verses, or Aubrey Menen’s irreverent retelling of the Ramayana; it chooses not to prosecute the vandals who block stores from stocking D.N. Jha’s masterful Holy Cow, James Laine’s history of Shivaji, or Paul Courtright’s explorations of oedipal undertones in Hindu mythology.

      Regulation on what we eat, drink

      It doesn’t end there: the state regulates, on god’s behalf, what we may eat or drink — witness the proliferation of bans on beef, and proscriptions on alcohol use in so-called holy cities. It ensures children pray in morning assemblies funded by public taxes, provides endowments for denomination schools and funds religious functions. It pays for prayers before state functions, and promotes pseudo-sciences like astrology. And, yes: it censors heretics, like M.F. Husain or Mr. Rushdie.

      Even the rule of law has been contracted-out to god’s agents. Last week, a self-appointed Sharia court issued orders to expel Christian priests from Jammu and Kashmir; neither the police, the judicial system nor political parties stepped in. In many north Indian States, local caste and religious tyrannies have brutally punished transgressions of religious laws. In 2010, the National Crime Records Bureau data show, a staggering 178 people were killed for practising witchcraft.

      For decades now, Indian liberals have shied away from confronting theism, choosing instead to collaborate with the marketing of allegedly tolerant traditions. Back in 2005, the Human Resource Development Ministry set up a committee to consider how state-funded schools could best promote tolerance. Lingadevaru Halemane, a linguist and playwright, made clear the committee was chasing a chimera. “These days,” he argued, “whichever religion dominates in the area, they open the schools.” Local culture, he said bluntly, “will be dominated by the dominant group.”

      Spurious secularism

      Leaving aside the question of whether India’s religious traditions are in fact tolerant — a subject on which the tens of thousands of victims of communal and caste violence might have interesting opinions — this spurious secularism has served in the main to institutionalise and sharpen communal boundaries. It has also allowed clerics to exercise influence over state policy — insulating themselves from a secularising world.

      The strange thing is this: India’s people, notwithstanding their religiosity, aren’t the ones pushing the state to guard god’s cause. India’s poor send their children to private schools hoping they will learn languages and sciences, not prayer. Indian politics remains focussed on real-world issues: no party campaigns around seeking more funds for mosque domes or temple elephants.

      Eight years ago, scholar Meera Nanda argued that “India is a country that most needs a decline in the scope of religion in civil society for it to turn its constitutional promise of secular democracy into a reality.” “But,” she pointed out, “India is a country least hospitable to such a decline”. Dr. Nanda ably demonstrated the real costs of India’s failure to secularise: among them, the perpetuation of caste and gender inequities, the stunting of reason and critical facilities needed for economic and social progress; the corrosive growth of religious nationalism.

      India cannot undo this harm until god and god’s will are ejected from our public life. No sensible person would argue that the school curriculum ought to discourage eight-year-olds from discovering that the tooth fairy does not exist. No sensible person ought argue, similarly, that some purpose is served by buttressing the faith of adults in djinns, immaculate conceptions, or armies of monkeys engineering trans-oceanic bridges. It is legitimate for individuals to believe that cow-urine might cure their cancer — not for the state to subsidise this life-threatening fantasy.

      In a 1927 essay, philosopher Bertrand Russell observed that theist arguments boiled down to a single, vain claim: “Look at me: I am such a splendid product that there must be design in the universe.”

      The time has come for Indian secular-democrats to assert the case for a better universe: a universe built around citizenship and rights, not the pernicious identity politics the state and its holy allies encourage.


      [Selections from recent content on sacw.net]
      =======================================
      9. PAKISTAN’S RUSH FOR MORE BOMBS — WHY?
      by Pervez Hoodbhoy
      =======================================
      On January 24, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon vented his frustration at Pakistan’s determined opposition to a treaty that would limit fissile material production for use in nuclear weapons. For three years, Pakistan has single-handedly — and successfully — blocked the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva from discussing an effort that would reduce nuclear weapons globally. Consequently, within diplomatic circles, Pakistan has acquired the reputation of an outlier that opposes all efforts towards this end.
      http://www.sacw.net/article2524.html

      =======================================
      10. "INDIANISATION REFORMS" IN SCHOOLS ANOTHER NAME FOR COMMUNALISM CURRICULUM
      =======================================
      Intensifying attempts of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar at “saffronising” education
      http://www.sacw.net/article2531.html

      =======================================
      11. INDIA: THE PATH TO A CONFLICT-FREE CHHATTISGARH
      by Nandini Sundar
      =======================================
      Contrary to the dominant narrative that areas where Naxalites are strong are where the state has been absent, for the last 100-150 years, there has been a gradual expansion of the state in tribal areas regardless of whether the people want it or not. However, the state has been expanding in the wrong areas. You have an extension of the forest department, the bureaucracy, the patwari and the forest guard. But at the same time there is no state presence in the form of school teachers, healthcare workers and other services.
      http://www.sacw.net/article2540.html

      =======================================
      11. WORKERS, UNIONS AND THE LEFT: RESPONDING TO THE GLOBAL CRISIS
      by Rohini Hensman
      =======================================
      [Text of a talk by Rohini Hensman introducing her book Workers, Unions, and Global Capitalism: Lessons from India (Columbia University Press, New York, and Tulika Books, New Delhi) at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, on 23 January 2012.]
      http://www.sacw.net/article2530.html

      =======================================
      12. INDIA: KANDHAMAL- THE LAW MUST CHANGE ITS COURSE
      Edited by Vrinda Grover
      =======================================
      The tragedy of Kandhamal is that the attack on the Christian community was familiar and the subsequent failure of the legal system to accord justice to the victim-survivors predictable. There is today a vibrant debate seeking legal reform to ensure accountability for mass crimes by extending culpability to those who sponsor and profit from the carnage.
      http://www.sacw.net/article2545.html

      =======================================
      13. INDIA: TREAT TELEVISION AS A PUBLIC UTILITY AND GUARANTEES CITIZENS ACCESS TO IT
      by Arvind Rajagopal
      =======================================
      Market forces may decree that millions of viewers can no longer afford the television service they have had many years, unless the government takes pre-emptive steps to treat television as a public utility and guarantees citizens access to it.
      http://www.sacw.net/article2544.html

      =======================================
      14. GUJARAT AUTHORITIES MUST FACE JUSTICE OVER MASS KILLING
      by Savitri Hensman
      =======================================
      The persistence of Zakia Jafri in her fight for the truth after her husband was murdered is in the interests of all Indians
      http://www.sacw.net/article2546.html

      ======================================
      15. INDIA - MADHYA PRADESH: PATH WAY TO HINDU RASHTRA
      by Ram Puniyani
      ======================================
      sacw.net
      Recently (December 2011) M.P. Government’s Gau-Vansh Vadh Pratishedh (Sanshodhan) Act (Bill for Protection of Cow Progeny) got the Presidential clearance. As per this act punishment for slaughtering the cow or its progeny, transporting them to slaughter house, eating and storing beef, is punishable with a fine of R 5000 and prison term up to seven years. States like Gujarat, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh already have laws against cow slaughter, while Orissa and Andhra Pradesh permit the killing of cattle other than cows if the animals are not fit for any other purpose.

      http://www.sacw.net/article2549.html

      =====================================
      16. INDIA: LOWER SUBANSIRI AND THE POLITICS OF EXPERTISE
      by Dr. Sanjib Baruah
      =====================================
      From Assam Tribune, January 22, 2012

      The mobilization of a variety of highly credentialed experts to settle the controversy over the Lower Subansiri hydropower project reminds me of an American Doonesbury comic strip. It features Stewie, a young researcher, who is frustrated with his calculator because it wouldn’t produce the ‘right’ answer. Stewie grumbles that he can’t get the ‘pesky scientific facts’ to ‘line up behind [his] beliefs.’ Some of our decision-makers seem to be behaving like Stewie. They are looking for experts whose opinions can be interpreted as being in line with what officials consider to be the ‘right answer’ to the questions raised about the Lower Subansiri hydropower project.

      It is perhaps not a coincidence that a North American comic strip speaks to our present predicament in Assam. The Doonesbury strip was a comment on former US president George W. Bush’s attitudes toward scientific truths vis-à-vis a number of issues including climate change and evolution. (Many of Bush’s Christian fundamentalist supporters are ‘creationists’ who believe in the Bible’s story of creation and reject Darwin’s theory of evolution). Thus an authority figure dressed in a white lab coat, based on the real-life character of the science adviser at the Bush White House, appears in the scene. He advises the confused Stewie on “situational science” which he explains is “about respecting both sides of a scientific argument, not just the ones supported by facts.” The “situational science adviser” then lists a number of “controversies” where “situational science” could be useful, among them the “evolution controversy,”“the global-warming controversy” and the “pesticides controversy.”

      In the comic strip cartoonist Garry Trudeau uses the term ‘controversy’ ironically with reference to subjects on which there are well-established scientific truths. However, we live in a world where knowledge controversies have become a familiar part of public debates in many parts of the world. Such knowledge controversies are examples of what Dutch social theorist Annemarie Mol calls ontological politics.

      Controversies about the dangers of the “mad cow disease” or what scientists call Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the UK, and other recent panics about food safety in Europe, are examples of ontological politics. What is common about these controversies is that significant sections of the public challenge the knowledge claims of scientists and technologists that inform government decisions and practices. While a few years ago the authority of science and the reassurances provided by technocrats may have been enough to reassure the public about “acceptable risks,” they now fail to convince those that are affected by policy decisions informed by expert knowledge. The debate on the Lower Subansiri project is best seen as a knowledge controversy – an example of ontological politics.

      In these cases, the first-hand experience of citizens and the vernacular knowledge generated by that experience are in tension with what is regarded as authoritative science by decision-makers. They fail to allay public concerns. German sociologist Ulrich Beck explains this as a characteristic feature of “risk society.” Experts in the context of such knowledge controversies fail to convince the public that the risks involved in a new product or in an infrastructural project are “acceptable.”

      At the root of the controversy over the Lower Subansiri project are two sets of tensions (a) between first-hand experience and vernacular knowledge on the one hand, and expert knowledge that informs government decisions on the other; and (b) between expert knowledge produced by one group of well-credentialed experts familiar with the local context, and by a second group of equally well-credentialed experts based at institutions in the Indian heartland, but viewed locally as experts who have few stakes in the region.

      A number of factors account for these tensions.

      First, the people of the Brahmaputra valley have known floods in a way that very few other people in the world have. Second, the experience of the earthquake of 1950 and the catastrophic floods that followed are deeply etched in the collective memory of the people of the Brahmaputra Valley. A research team studying flood adaptation in the Brahmaputra Valley found that even after six decades villagers affected by those catastrophic floods remember them as ‘Pahar Bhanga Pani’ [hill-destroying floodwaters] and ‘Bolia Pani’ [floodwaters driven by madness]. It is hardly surprising that hydropower plants in the mountains that surround the valley would evoke a raw sense of danger and foreboding in Assam.

      In the words of an Assamese engineer who has had a long career building and managing hydropower plants in the region, experts from India’s premier water research institute IIT-Rourkee, “have not seen the earthquake-induced landslides of 1950 . . . when hundreds and thousands of trees floating downstream covered nearly the entire Brahmaputra river. They were not witness to that extraordinary spectacle. How can they say with certitude what a future disaster on the Subansiri might bring?”

      Third, the experience of devastating man-made floods, most likely caused by water released from recently built upstream hydropower plants like that on the Kurichhu river in Bhutan, a tributary of Assam’s Manas river, and on the Ranganadi river in Arunachal Pradesh have only added to this anxiety. In the absence of transparent public inquires about these floods and reassurances that they won’t occur again, the people of Assam have few option but to take them as harbingers of a calamitous future.

      It is extremely unlikely that the authority of experts would at this point be able to bridge the trust gap that has developed regarding the Lower Subansiri project. But we should be glad that we do not have an “unconstrained technocracy” like that in China where as the Economist magazine pointed out last year, “all but one of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee are engineers.” Unconstrained technocracy, says the Economist has not been a guarantee of “good ideas or decisions” in cases such as the Three Gorges dam, the SARS epidemic or the high-speed rail network.

      But democracies can find ways of engaging with ontological politics that autocracies cannot. However, to find a way out of the impasse on Lower Subansiri the authorities will have to go beyond dogmatically asserting the authority of the elected government or of the law.

      Fortunately, in a democracy people who fear the potential adverse impact of a government decision has the ability to organize itself into a public. The memories of devastating earthquakes, the lived experience of frequent floods, and the knowledge of scientists, t
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