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Posted in islamic fundamentalism, religious fundamentalism, terrorism by ravi on December 2, 2008

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Asian Human Rights Commission on the Mumbai attacks

Posted in islamic fundamentalism, terrorism by ravi on December 2, 2008

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AHRC-STM-305-2008
December 02, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

INDIA: ‘Super cop’ is no solution to terrorist threat

The Mumbai terrorist attack was one more occasion for the Indian politicians to call for calm, peace and national unity. Political parties like the Communist Party of India (Marxist) convened a special Politburo session and repeated the rhetoric, in addition to demanding that the Government of India approach the UN Security Council. The Hindu fundamentalists like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made use of the incident to stir up further anti-Pakistan, essentially anti-Muslim, sentiments.

The Union Home Minister Mr. Shivraj V Patil resigned. The Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh convened urgent meetings with high-ranking officers, ministers and defence chiefs. The meeting decided to speed-up the formation of a Federal Investigation Agency and to set up four new centres of the National Security Guards (NSG) in the country.

The final word was that of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Indian National Congress. Mrs. Gandhi gave the ultimatum that her party will tolerate no more terrorism and called upon the Indians to eradicate it from the country. The question is whether the Government of India has any responsibility to prevent such incidents, or whether the people has to embark upon justice delivery themselves?

Among many other things, the Mumbai terrorist attack serves as the latest reminder of the condition of the law and order apparatus in the country, and of the police in particular. As stated after many other former incidents of similar nature, India’s foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), claimed that it had passed over information to the Maharashtra State Police well in advance that a terrorist attack on the city was very likely. The RAW further put the blame upon the local police for its lack of preparedness.

The fact remains that the Maharashtra State Police, like any other state police force in the country, can hardly do anything to avert these incidents. The state of policing in the country is in such demise that it has completely severed its contact with the people. Most police officers contact the members of the public only to demand bribes. Corruption in the police service is at such levels that even in order to lodge a complaint the complainant has to pay a bribe.

Police brutality is so rampant in the country that the sight of a police uniform is enough to scare an ordinary person, particularly among the poor population. Information, independent of its nature, has to be forced out of the ordinary people. Information obtained under the threat of violence is tainted and cannot be acted upon. Terrorists are different from the ordinary people in the sense that they have money, better training and equipment at their disposal to achieve their goals. They can bribe the police and are in fact doing so.

To expect an ordinary Indian to approach the local police with information is an impossibility in the country. An example is the statements made by the parents who lost their children in the infamous 2006 December Noida serial murder case. The case began after the recovery of the skeletal remains of missing children in Nithari village in the outskirts of Noida city close to New Delhi.

The investigation of the case relieved that when the parents approached the Noida police to lodge complaints about their missing children, the police refused to register their complaints. When the parents persisted, they were chased away by the police with the threat that if they returned false cases would be registered against them accusing them of selling their children. The parents went away from the police station, since they were poor and could not afford to pay bribes to the police to get their complaints registered. An administration that expects the ordinary public to freely approach the local police with information is consciously ignoring the reality.

The public mistrust in the local police is not the result of an overnight incident. It is the crystallization of years of experience. Without drastic changes in policing, this mistrust will not only continue, but will increase. Every incident of police failure brought to the people’s attention will further isolate the police from the people. A law enforcement agency which lacks the trust of the people cannot maintain law and order. An officer who serves in such a police force essentially suffers from demoralisation.

No government, state or central, that has governed the country has ever tried to address the deep-rooted problems of policing, and thereby the law and order in India. Politicians across the board use the police for their short-term political interests. The police reciprocate their affinity to the people in power by letting them to be exploited.

Today in India, the police serve the rich and the powerful. The police is a demoralised state agency that lacks the hope of improving their own condition. A police force that cannot investigate a petty crime efficiently cannot prevent terrorism, it can only promote it.

The Mumbai incident like many other former incidents will soon be forgotten. Those who will remember it are those who lost their loved ones. But unfortunately they do not have the political or financial clout to influence the policy makers in India.

The windfall of the Mumbai incident for the Government of India is evident. The Federal Investigation Agency will soon be formed. They will also assume the role of a ‘super cop’. The super cop and the Agency he represent will be an additional reason for the ordinary policeman for further demoralisation. India does not need a super cop. It rather requires a normal and people-friendly police force.

Otherwise people will increasingly start taking things in their own hands. One need not look very far to see examples of this. The day before yesterday, in Khatoli town of Muzzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh state, a person was lynched by the public for suspected theft. In 2008 there were more than a dozen cases of public lynchings reported in India. Hence, people have started taking things in their own hands long before Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s request. There is no doubt that the Indians are united – in their distrust of the police and the politicians.

The national media and the civil society groups in the country have a greater responsibility in this juncture. If the media and the civil society groups in the country try to reflect more of the people’s voice than vested interests, there is an increased possibility for these institutions to in fact persuade policy makers and politicians to meet the people’s demand. The relatively lesser degree of impartiality and openness of the media and the civil society in India are the two serious impediments that prevent these institutions from reaching out to the people. On this front they somewhat equate themselves with the Indian police.

The Government of India is likely to initiate farcical policies on the pretext of countering terrorism in the country without addressing the deep-rooted problems in policing. The continuation of these policies also means the failure of the media and the civil society organisations in the country. It will be a n unfortunate reflection of their lack of understanding of the realities at the grass roots.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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Asian Human Rights Commission
19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building,
998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) – 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) – 2698-6367

Indo-Pak condemnation of Mumbai bloodbath

Posted in islamic fundamentalism, terrorism by ravi on December 2, 2008

This Joint Statement was released to the press simultaneously in Pakistan and India on November 30 2008.

Mumbai bloodbath
We are deeply shocked and horrified at the bloody mayhem in Mumbai, which has claimed more than a hundred and ninty lives and caused grievous injuries to several hundred people, besides sending a wave of panic and terror across South Asia and beyond. We convey our profound feelings of sorrow and sympathies to the grieving families of the unfortunate victims of this heinous crime and express our solidarity with them.

As usual, all sorts of speculations are circulating about the identity of the perpetrators of this act of barbarism. The truth about who are directly involved in this brutal incident and who could be the culprits behind the scene is yet to come out and we do not wish to indulge in any guesswork or blame game at this point. However, one is intrigued at its timing. Can it be termed a coincidence that it has happened on the day the Home Secretaries of the two countries concluded their talks in Islamabad and announced several concrete steps to move forward in the peace process, such as the opening of several land routes for trade – Kargil, Wagah-Attari, Khokhropar etc –, relaxation in the visa regime, a soft and liberal policy on the issue of release of prisoners and joint efforts to fight terrorism? Again, is it just a coincidence that on this fateful day the Foreign Minister of Pakistan was in the Indian capital holding very useful and productive talks with his Indian counterpart? One thing looks crystal clear. The enemies of peace and friendship between the two countries, whatever be the label under which they operate, are un-nerved by these healthy developments and are hell bent on torpedoing them.

We are of the considered opinion that the continued absence of peace in South Asia – peace between and within states – particularly in relation to India and Pakistan , is one of the root causes of most of the miseries the people of the region are made to endure. It is the major reason why our abundantly resource-rich subcontinent is wallowing in poverty, unemployment, disease, and ignorance and why militarism, religious and sectarian violence and political, economic and social injustice are eating into the very vitals of our societies, even after more than six decades of independence from colonial rule.

At this moment of unmitigated tragedy, the first thing we call upon the Governments of India and Pakistan to do is to acknowledge the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people of India and Pakistan ardently desire peace and, therefore, the peace process must be pursued with redoubled speed and determination on both sides. The sooner the ruling establishments of India and Pakistan acknowledge this fact and push ahead with concrete steps towards lasting peace and harmony in the subcontinent, the better it will be not only for the people of our two countries but also for the whole of South Asia and the world. While the immediate responsibility for unmasking the culprits of Mumbai and taking them to task surely rests with the Government of India, all of us in South Asia have an obligation to join hands and go into the root causes of why and how such forces of evil are motivated and emboldened to resort to such acts of anti-people terror.

It is extremely important to remind the leaderships of Pakistan and India that issuing statements and signing agreements and declarations will have meaning only when they are translated into action and implemented honestly, in letter and spirit and without any further loss of time. It assumes added urgency in the prevailing conditions in South Asia , with the possibility that so many different forces prone to religious, sectarian and other forms of intolerance and violence may be looking for ways to arm themselves with more and more sophisticated weapons of mass murder and destruction. The bloodbath in Mumbai must open the eyes of our governments, if it has not already happened.

We urge upon the governments of India and Pakistan to immediately take the following steps:

  1. Cessation of all hostile propaganda against each other;
  2. Joint action to curb religious extremism of all shades in both countries;
  3. Continue and intensify normalization of relations and peaceful resolution of all conflicts between the two countries;
  4. Facilitation of trade and cooperation between the two countries and in all of South Asia. We welcome the fact that the Srinagar-Muzaffarab ad and Poonch-Rawlakot borders have been opened for trade and that the opening of the road between Kargil and Skardu is in the pipeline.
  5. Immediate abolition of the current practice of issuing city-specific and police reporting visa and issue country-valid visa without restrictions at arrival point, simultaneously initiating necessary steps to introduce as early as possible a visa-free travel regime, to encourage friendship between the peoples of both countries;
  6. Declaration by India and Pakistan of No First Use of atomic weapons;
  7. Concrete measures towards making South Asia nuclear-free;
  8. Radical reduction in military spending and end to militarisation.

Signatories

India:

1. Kuldip Nayar, journalist, former Indian High Commissioner, UK., Delhi
2. S P Shukla, retired Finance Secretary, former Member, Planning Commission, Delhi
3. PEACE MUMBAI network of 15 organisations, Mumbai
4. Seema Mustafa, Journalist, Delhi
5. Manisha Gupte, MASUM, Pune
6. Dr. Ramesh Awasthi, PUCL, Maharashtra
7. Jatin Desai, journalist, Mumbai
8. Prof. Ritu Dewan, University of Mumbai
9. Prabir Purkayashta, DSF, Delhi
10. Prof. Pushpa Bhave , Mumbai
11. Paromita Vohra, filmmaker, Mumbai
12. Achin Vanaik, CNDP, Delhi
13. Meena Menon, Focus on the Global South, Mumbai
14. Romar Correa Professor of Economics, University of Mumbai
15. Anjum Rajabally, film writer, Mumbai
16. Anand Patwardhan, filmmaker, Mumbai
17. Kamla Bhasin, SANGAT, Delhi
18. Dr. Padmini Swaminathan, MIDS, Chennai
19. Sumit Bali, CEO, Kotak Mahindra Prime Limited
20. Dr Walter Fernandes, Director, North Eastern Social Research Centre, Assam ,
21. Rabia, Lahore Chitrkar
22. Rakesh Sharma, filmmaker, Mumbai
23. Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, JNU, Delhi
24. Prof. Anuradha Chenoy, JNU, Delhi
25. P K Das, architect, Mumbai
26. Neera Adarkar, architect, Mumbai
27. Datta Iswalkar, Secretary, Textile Workers Action Committee, Mumbai
28. Madhusree Dutta, filmmaker, Majlis, Mumbai
29. Amrita Chhachhi, Founding member, PIPFPD
30. Mazher Hussain, COVA, Hyderabad
31. Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty, Delhi
32. Prof. M C Arunan, Mumbai

Pakistan:

1. Mr. Iqbal Haider, Co-Chairman, Human Rights Commission Pakistan and former federal Minister of Pakistan
2. Dr. Tipu Sultan, President, Pakistan Doctors for Peace & Development, Karachi
3. Dr. Tariq Sohail, Dean, Jinnah Medical & Dental University , Karachi
4. Dr. A. H.. Nayyar, President, Pakistan Peace Coalition, Islamabad
5. Justice (Retd) Rasheed A. Razvi, President, Sindh High Court Bar Association
6. Mr. B.M.Kutty, Secretary General , Pakistan Peace Coalition, Karachi
7. Mr. Karamat Ali, Director, PILER, Karachi , Founding member, PIPFPD
8. Mr. Fareed Awan, General Secretary , Pakistan Workers Confederation, Sindh
9. Mr. Muhammad Ali Shah, Chairman , Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Karachi
10. Mr. Zulfiqar Halepoto, Secretary, Sindh Democratic Front, Hyderabad
11. Professor Dr. Sarfraz Khan, Area Studies Centre ( Central Asia), Peshawar University
12. Syed Khadim Ali Shah, Former Member National Assembly, Mirpur Khas
13. Mr. Muhammad Tahseen, Director, South Asia Partnership (PAK), Lahore
14. Mrs. Saleha Athar, Network for Women’s Rights, Karachi
15. Ms. Sheema Kermani, Tehreek-e-Niswan, Karachi
16. Ms. Saeeda Diep, President, Institute of Secular Studies, Lahore
17. Dr. Aly Ercelan, Pakistan Labour Trust, Karachi
18. Mr. Suleiman G. Abro, Director, Sindh Agricultural & Forestry Workers Organisation, Hyderabad
19. Mr. Sharafat Ali, PILER, Karachi
20. Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, PILER, Karachi
21. Mr. Ayub Qureshi, Information Secretary , Pakistan Trade Union Federation
22. Ms. Sheen Farrukh, Director, Interpress Communication Pakistan , Karachi
23. Mr. Zafar Malik, PIPFPD, Lahore
24. Mr. Adam Malik, Action-Aid Pakistan , Karachi
25. Mr. Qamarul Hasan, International Union of Food Workers (IUF), Karachi
26. Prof. Muhammad Nauman, NED University , Karachi
27. Mr. Mirza Maqsood, General Secretary, Mazdoor Mahaz-e-Amal
28. Ms. Shaista Bukhari, Women Rights Association, Multan

Peace Is Doable

Response to Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn et al on Nandigram

Posted in islamic fundamentalism, Nandigram, religious fundamentalism by ravi on November 24, 2007

[Note: Besides being a useful counter to the joint statement by Chomsky, Zinn, Ali et al, this statement further contextualizes the anti-Taslima protests and the Left Front’s pusillanimity]

We (the undersigned) read with growing dismay the statement signed by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and others advising those opposing the CPI(M)’s pro-capitalist policies in West Bengal not to “split the Left” in the face of American imperialism. We believe that for some of the signatories, their distance from events in India has resulted in their falling prey to a CPI(M) public relations coup and that they may have signed the statement without fully realising the import of it and what it means here in India, not just in Bengal.

We cannot believe that many of the signatories whom we know personally, and whose work we respect, share the values of the CPI(M) – to “share similar values” with the party today is to stand for unbridled capitalist development, nuclear energy at the cost of both ecological concerns and mass displacement of people (the planned nuclear plant at Haripur, West Bengal), and the Stalinist arrogance that the party knows what “the people” need better than the people themselves. Moreover, the violence that has been perpetrated by CPI(M) cadres to browbeat the peasants into submission, including time-tested weapons like rape, demonstrate that this “Left” shares little with the Left ideals that we cherish.

Over the last decade, the policies of the Left Front government in West Bengal have become virtually indistinguishable from those of other parties committed to the neoliberal agenda. Indeed, “the important experiments undertaken in the State” – the land reforms referred to in the statement – are being rapidly reversed. According to figures provided by the West Bengal state secretary for land reforms, over the past five years there has been a massive increase of landless peasants in the state due to government acquisition of land cheaply for handing over to corporations and developing posh upper class neighbourhoods.

We urge our friends to take very seriously the fact that all over the country, democratic rights groups, activists and intellectuals of impeccable democratic credentials have come out in full support of the Nandigram struggle.

The statement reiterates the CPI(M)’s claim that “there will be no chemical hub” in Nandigram, but this assurance is itself deliberately misleading. This is the explanation repeatedly offered by CPI(M) for the first round of resistance in Nandigram – that people reacted to a baseless rumour that there would be land acquisitions in the area. In fact, as the Chief Minister himself conceded in the State Assembly, it was no rumour but a notification issued by the Haldia Development Authority on January 2, 2007 indicating the approximate size and location of the projected SEZ, which triggered the turmoil.

The major factor shaping popular reaction to the notification was Singur.

Singur was the chronicle of the fate foretold for Nandigram. There, land was acquired in most cases without the consent of peasant-owners and at gun-point (terrorizing people is one way of obtaining their consent), under the colonial Land Acquisition Act (1894). That land is now under the control of the industrial house of the Tatas, cordoned off and policed by the state police of West Bengal. The dispossessed villagers are lost to history. A fortunate few among them will become wage slaves of the Tatas on the land on which they were once owners.

While the CPM-led West Bengal government has announced that it will not go ahead with the chemical hub without the consent of the people of Nandigram, it has not announced any plans of withdrawing its commitment to the neo-liberal development model. It has not announced the shelving of plans to create Special Economic Zones. It has not withdrawn its invitation to Dow Chemicals (formerly known as Union Carbide, the corporation responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Bhopal) to invest in West Bengal. In other words, there are many more Nandigrams waiting to happen.

In any case, the reason for the recently renewed violence in Nandigram has been widely established to have nothing to do with the rumour or otherwise of a chemical hub. Print and visual media, independent reports, the governor of West Bengal (Gopal Gandhi) and the State Home Secretary’s police intelligence all establish that this round of violence was initiated by the CPI(M) to re-establish its control in the area. We all have seen TV coverage of unarmed villagers barricaded behind walls of rubble, while policemen train their guns on them.

With the plans it has for the future, regaining control over Nandigram is vital for the CPI(M) to reassure its corporate partners that it is in complete control of the situation and that any kind of resistance will be comprehensively crushed. The euphemism for this in the free marketplace is ‘creating a good investment climate’.

The anti-Taslima Nasreen angle that has recently been linked to the Nandigram struggle against land acquisition is disturbing to all of us. However, we should remember that it is largely Muslim peasants who are being dispossessed by land acquisitions all over the state. There is a general crisis of confidence of the Muslim community vis-à-vis the Left Front government, inaugurated by the current Chief Minister’s aggressive campaign to “clean up” madarsas, followed by the revelation of the Sachar Committee that Muslim employment in government jobs in West Bengal is among the lowest in the country. While we condemn the attempts to utilize this discontent and channelize it in sectarian ways, we feel very strongly that it would be unfortunate if the entire anger of the community were to be mobilized by communal and sectarian tendencies within it. Such a situation would be inevitable if all Left forces were seen to be backing the CPI(M).

This is why at this critical juncture it is crucial to articulate a Left position that is simultaneously against forcible land acquisition in Nandigram and for the right of Tasleema Nasreen to live, write and speak freely in India.

History has shown us that internal dissent is invariably silenced by dominant forces claiming that a bigger enemy is at the gate. Iraq and Iran are not the only targets of that bigger enemy. The struggle against SEZ’s and corporate globalization is an intrinsic part of the struggle against US imperialism.

We urge our fellow travellers among the signatories to that statement, not to treat the “Left” as homogeneous, for there are many different tendencies which claim that mantle, as indeed you will recognize if you look at the names on your own statement.

Mahashweta Devi
Arundhati Roy
Sumit Sarkar
Uma Chakravarty
Tanika Sarkar
Moinak Biswas
Kaushik Ghosh
Saroj Giri
Sourin Bhattacharya
Nirmalangshu Mukherji
Sibaji Bandyopadhyay
Swapan Chakravorty
Rajarshi Dasgupta
Anand Chakravarty
Apoorvanand
Shuddhabrata Sengupta
Nivedita Menon
Aditya Nigam

I left my heart in Kolkata — Taslima

Posted in islamic fundamentalism, religious fundamentalism by ravi on November 23, 2007

Taslima has once again been forced to go into hiding! However, the latest furor against her has a larger context as Diptosh Majumdar explains:

The burning issue of Nandigram was stoking the fires in Kolkata. The Muslims have been viewing explicit footage of how their community members had been at the receiving end in secular West Bengal’s Nandigram. Television channels and newspapers have been discussing gang-rape and other inhuman tales of atrocities perpetrated by the omnipotent CPI(M) cadre.

Nasreen may have been the trigger, the catalyst; but the fury has been building up after Nandigram. The Muslim sub-conscious has also not forgiven Kolkata Police for its alleged involvement in the mysterious death of Rizwanur Rahman, a young graphics designer with a bright future. The senior IPS officers had no business to intercede on behalf of an affluent Marwari family and get the couple separated.

As if to recompense for the Nandigram violence and buttress his secular credentials, Biman Bose suggested that Taslima should leave Kolkota if her stay creates a problem for peace. He also sought to blame Taslima’s presence in Kolkota on the Center. “I don’t want to speak elaborately on the role played by the Centre on Taslima Nasreen’s stay in West Bengal”, he added cryptically.

Hindustan Times quotes an unnamed Left Front leader admitting the role played by electoral concerns:

“Taslima’s presence has endangered not just common citizens. After Nandigram, Left parties run the risk of losing minority votes. Most Left Front leaders have realised that fundamentalist thoughts have made inroads into Muslim society, which had followed the Left’s secular ideology for decades,” said a senior Front leader. “But we cannot admit that in public.”

All India Forward Bloc leader Hafiz Ali Sairani also pinned the blame on Taslima!

“Our secular image is intact. But people should remember that while expressing personal views, one can’t hurt the feelings of millions. Two pages from Taslima’s novel Dwikhondito led to this crisis. It’s sad the anger of the people was directed at the state and not the Centre, who issued the visa to Taslima.”

Fellow FB leader Devrajan also suggested that Taslima should leave the country for the time being if her presence was creating a problem, but party general secretary Debabrata Biswas restored sanity albeit with a rider that Taslima understand that “her use of pen and tongue should not hurt sentiments of a section of people in the country”! The RSP came out strongly in support of Taslima, calling her forcible removal from Kolkota another black spot (an unfortunate, though common usage of black as a negative color) on the face of Left Front after Nandigram. Meanwhile, CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta strongly disagreed with Bose, apologise[d] for what has happened, offerred her protection in Kolkota and called for granting her Indian citizenship if she so desired.

Perhaps stung by the flak from the Left, Bimen Bose has since retracted his comments, and sought to put the onus on the Center:

The state government does not have the authority to grant or cancel visa and only the Centre can do this and let the Union government take an appropriate decision on the issue.

The highly opinionated Sitaram Yechury also resorted to the Center-knows-best mantra:

The visa to a foreign citizen is given by the Central government, which also decides where one can stay in the country….No state government has any role in such matters.

To the best of my knowledge, foreign affairs is also the prerogative of the Central Government though the CPI(M) has never been shy (and rightly so) about asserting its opinions here. Having antagonized large segments of the Left, looks like the comrades from CPI(M) don’t have the stomach for another fight (even if this would mean succumbing to the dictates of Islamic fundamentalists)!

Meanwhile, Idris Ali, president of All India Minority Forum and one of the hoodlums protesting Taslima, has clarified (archive):

We have not mixed up issues as has been reported. We were not agitating against the violence in Nandigram, we were only protesting against the visa extension of Ms Taslima Nasreen as we strongly believe that she has no right to stay in this state.

Syed Md Murur Rahman Barkati, one of his co-conspirators and Imam of the Tippu Sultan mosque seemed unrepentant and asserted: What has happened is because she is being able to stay on in the city. Much like in Hyderabad earlier this year, when those in power are reluctant to take on the fundamentalists, the latter naturally take on a more strident tone. Idris Ali and Barkati are most likely beyond reason, but pressure must be brought to bear on the Left Front to not give in to fundamentalists. Now would also be a good time to demand the un-banning of Taslima’s books in West Bengal.

Meanwhile, Taslima, who has never made secret of her love for Kolkota, has said she has left my heart behind in Kolkata. The Bengali intelligentsia has come to her support, with Mahasweta Devi (among others) strongly criticizing the Left Front:

I saw on television that she was taken away from her residence to the airport by the police. It clearly hints at state government’s influence behind the move. Actually, it is the follow-up of the comment made by Left Front chairman Biman Bose.

Now is the time for a strong push toward pressuring the Indian government to grant citizenship to Taslima and ensure protection to her (and other apostates) who often end up incurring the wrath of thin-skinned fundamentalists. For now, I’ll end with a gem from Taslima:

I [described] the Quran, the Vedas, and the Bible and all such religious texts determining the lives of their followers as out of place and out of time. We crossed that social historical context in which these were written and therefore we should not be guided by their precepts; the question of revising [these texts] thoroughly or otherwise is irrelevant. We have to move beyond these ancient texts if we want to progress. In order to respond to our spiritual needs let humanism be our new faith.

The Displaced of Ahmedabad

[Excerpted from an article in the Economic and Political Weekly by Neera Chandhoke, Praveen Priyadarshi, Silky Tyagi, Neha Khanna]

In his pre-election speeches, chief minister Narendra Modi repeatedly makes two firm statements. The first of these statements codes the suggestion that any comment or criticism, which continues to harp on the communal carnage that was visited upon the heads of the Muslim community in 2002 by members of his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and other allied organisations of the Hindutva brigade, should be abandoned. These comments/criticisms, alleges Modi, remain far too preoccupied with the past. Apparently the past, for Modi, is another country. Observers of the Gujarat scene, he proposes, should rather look to the future, which promises to be a luminous one for an already “Vibrant Gujarat”, provided he is elected to power once again.

At stake here is a rather barefaced denial of history, particularly of the history of communalism in the state. This is simply bad politics, because as any first year student of political science knows, good politics is always constructed upon an awareness of history. Does Gujarat really want to hand over its future to a man who has such a lamentably short memory?

The second of Modi’s comments completely denies the existence of a rather deep Hindu-Muslim divide in the state. Modi insists that he himself speaks for, and represents all people in the state of Gujarat. However, “representation” happens to be a deeply problematic concept, and Modi who is in the business of politics, should be conscious of this. We as citizens of India, of which Gujarat is a part, must ask this question: can Modi even begin to represent the interests, or more precisely the pressing needs of that category of the population which his government has refused to recognise, or cater to – Muslim families who were displaced by communal violence in 2002? Are these interests fated to be unrepresented just because they do not fit into the self-representations that have been formulated and disseminated by Modi and his ilk for electoral purposes? In effect, Modi not only wants people to forget that the communal carnage of 2002 ever happened, he does not want to acknowledge that five years after the pogrom, the victims of violence still continue to suffer through the production and reproduction of different sorts of violence. Surely this is not the section of society that he represents, because if he was representing this section of society, as the chief minister of a state that ranks first in the country in terms of per capita income, he would have done something to ameliorate the terrible and inhuman conditions that these people live in.

Victims of Violence

Though a considerable amount of research has gone into documenting and analysing the communal carnage in Gujarat in 2002, little work has been done on what happened to the people who survived. Where did they go? How have they reconstructed their lives? With the help of which agency? What has the state done for them? These are some of the anxiety ridden questions that our research team has sought to address, through an investigation of the resettlement colonies of Ahmedabad into which the victims of the 2002 violence have been herded. The answer to the last question is easy to negotiate. The government of Gujarat has done practically nothing for the people who might have managed to survive the pogrom, but who lost their family members, livelihoods, hearths, and their homes in the process.

That the victims of violence were herded into poorly funded and grossly inadequate relief camps is well known. In a short time, these camps were rapidly wound up, and the inhabitants, after being given pathetically inadequate funds as “compensation”; funds sometimes as low as Rs 1,200, were now on their own, thrown onto the mercy of a society that had proved complicit in the carnage, either actively or through studied silence. The state government, recognising neither the plight, nor the needs of the victims of communal violence, simply refused to take any action which would help these people to rebuild their shattered lives. At this point a few civil society organisations, predominantly the Islamic relief committee, stepped in to help people relocate and resettle. Some land was acquired on the outskirts of the city, and the victims were resettled in four pockets – Juhapura, Ramol, Vatva and Dani Limda. All of these “colonies” are on the periphery of Ahmedabad, and are poorly connected to the city where most of the jobs are generated. The 729 households that have been relocated in 15 such colonies in Ahmedabad have been displaced mainly from eastern Ahmedabad, from areas such as Naroda Patia, Gomtipur, Daria Pur, Gomti Pur, Saraspur, Bapu Nagar Jamal Pur, Rakhial, and other inner city areas that have repeatedly suffered from periodic outbursts of communal violence right since 1969.

But the legal status of the land upon which these shanty towns have been constructed is contested, because much of it is agricultural land. This has instilled dread among the residents that they still live in temporary settlements, which can be easily mowed down by the bull dozers of the Ahmedabad municipal corporation (AMC). Not only are most resettlement colonies remotely located from the city where jobs are to be found; they are far away from schools and health clinics that are an indispensable prerequisite of living a life free of oppression. In sum these displaced Muslim families are fated to remain outside the reach of all the amenities that a vibrant Gujarat might perchance offer to those who form an integral part of society and the polity.

It is clear that for the present government these families just do not form an integral part of Gujarati society and politics; they have been expelled both spatially and socially to the margins of the city. In these bare, stark, inhospitable areas, civil society organisations constructed rickety one room tenements, without water supply, without electricity, without access to internal roads because there were none, and without sanitation and sewerage for families. And it is here, in these barren spaces, that the victims of the carnage in Ahmedabad have been settled, and expected to begin their life anew, amidst even more deprivation that they faced in their original habitats.

[snip]

Role of NGOs

Since the state government continues to be in the denial mode, non-governmental and other civil society organisations have stepped in to support the victims of communal violence. Notably whereas a small group of such organisations has done a commendable job in resettling victims of communal violence, and it is because of their concerted effort that these people have been able to survive, a majority of civil society organisations have proved indifferent to the cause. The cloud of Hindutva obviously hangs heavily on civil society organisations. Post carnage, the relief work was carried out predominantly with the help of the resources of the Islamic Relief Committee (IRC) along with few more agencies such as Action Aid.

The role played by some of the civil society organisations has been highly commendable, and the victims are all praise for them. Organisations like Aman Biradri and Jan Vikas, for example, have waged a long battle against the indifferent attitude of the state agencies towards the victims of communal violence, and the issue of the relocation of these victims. The documentation carried out by some of these organisations has gone a long way in exposing the callous attitude of the state towards victims of violence, and in fixing responsibility. It is with the help of these organisations that displaced families have been able to press for their rights, and put their demands before the government at the local level. That the plight of these victims has not been subsumed completely in the state-sponsored din about “Vibrant Gujarat” and the benefits of globalisation is due entirely to these organisations.

For instance, on February 1, 2007, the Antarik Visthapit Haq Rakshak Samiti, Centre for Social Justice and ANHAD, along with some other organisations conducted the “Convention of the Internally Displaced” in Gujarat. Thousands of internally displaced households gathered in the convention, and demanded “recognition, reparation and rehabilitation”. Discussions on several issues and problems such as livelihood of the internally displaced, discrimination, exclusion, and economic boycotts, police intimidation, the problems of the children, youth and women of this category highlighted several crucial issues. The convention was successful in exposing the lie of the state government’s claim that the rehabilitation of “riot” victims had been accomplished. The convention also provided the victims with a forum where they could share their troubles and come together to fight these predicaments. Apart from the demand for the provision of basic amenities and livelihood, the convention suggested forcefully that there should be a national policy for rehabilitation for people displaced due to communal violence.

One positive outcome of this convention was that the Election Commission recognised that the inhabitants of these colonies should get election cards even though they could not establish residence, simply because they have not been given the required documents by the agencies that have relocated them. The second positive outcome is that there is hope that these families will be given BPL ration cards, even though they cannot render proof of residence, such as sale deeds, rental receipts or electricity bills.

No Substitute

However, private initiatives in resettling such massive numbers of the displaced cannot substitute for state action. For one, given the limited resources at the disposal of these agencies, relocation has been partial and insufficient, and falls well short of the requirements of the residents. Neither the poorly constructed houses, nor the pathetic state of facilities and services, can give the victims a sense of security, or a feeling that they are being compensated for a major lapse of justice. Secondly, since the colonies are a product of initiatives by non-governmental organisations, they are obviously not in accordance with the “city plan”. The victims of communal violence continue to pay for the sins committed by others in 2002, because the status of these colonies as unplanned or unauthorised, gives the civic agency a pretext to deny basic amenities to the inhabitants. Thirdly, the land on which colonies are constructed is privately bought, in most of the cases by the Islamic Relief Committee. This does not help either. According to city authorities these lands are “not for residential purposes”, and purchase of this land for residential use is not legal. This breeds trepidation and uncertainty among people, who have lived amidst fear most of their lives.

Two more consequences should be noted here because these are of some import. One, the manner in which the victims of violence were relocated, and the non-response of the state when it came to the pressing problem of looking after citizens who have been rendered jobless and homeless for no fault of their own, has led to new kinds of conflicts and tensions within colonies. Bagh-e-Aman in Vatva area is witness to one such tension. Here 12 families were relocated from various parts of the city which had witnessed intense violence. Rehabilitation was accomplished through the collective efforts of the Islamic Relief Committee, private initiatives, and the people themselves. However, some people who belonged to this area had rebuilt their lives after the communal violence, mostly on their own, and without any external support. Now they face the odd problem of not being recognised as “relocated” in the same way as the 12 families, which have been rehabilitated with outside help. Even as the state agencies have been forced to take cognisance of the 12 relocated families because of litigation in various courts, they refuse to recognise other affected households as displaced. As a result about 100 households are deprived of government schemes or compensation. Consequently these households do not even have voter identity cards.

Troubling Development

Secondly, our research team discerned a rather troubling development in these colonies. Since the state has refused to step in to rehabilitate the displaced, Islamic organisations have provided the major chunk of resources for the purpose. For example, the land on which victims have been relocated was mostly purchased by these Islamic organisations. But the land deeds remain with the IRC, even after families have started to live in these colonies. As no land entitlement has been given to the victims, people believe with good reason that they live in semi-permanent relief camps, that they are dependent upon other agencies, and that they have not really been rehabilitated. There have also been instances where the IRC has put its own set of conditionalities on people, if they want to live in these colonies.

Most of these problems emanate from the conflict of priorities of the victims and civil society organisations on the one hand, and the IRC on the other. Residents told us that the IRC prefers the construction of mosques to health clinics, madrasas to schools, and that the organisation insists on dress codes for women, read purdah. The residents, on the other hand, are more concerned about incomes, health, and education for their children. In general, there is some evidence that the IRC has been trying to influence people to abandon their traditional life practices, and follow rigid and doctrinaire versions of Islam. This is the natural outcome of state fundamentalism and neglect of religious minorities; for when religious civil society organisations step into the vacuum, they are likely to extort their own price for helping people. Fundamentalism always breeds counter-fundamentalism, and it is the lives and the futures of ordinary people that are at risk here.

Vibrant Gujarat, For Whom?

The plight of riot victims in Ahmedabad, and in Gujarat in general, raises some very critical questions about the state of democracy in Gujarat, and the capacity of the present leadership to represent the concerns of the ordinary people, irrespective of their religious denomination. As the state prepares for yet another assembly election, the pathetic condition of the majority of people who were hit by communal violence in 2002 begs many questions. For one, can Narendra Modi speak of a “Vibrant Gujarat” when a substantial numbers of its citizens live in want and despair? Secondly, why have political parties such as the Congress not taken up this issue? Is this due to the fear that they will lose the “Hindu” vote? Will the Congress Party that proclaims copyright over secularism really make common cause with BJP leaders who led the communally charged mobs in 2002? And if so where do people who have been wronged for no fault of their own, go? Do any of the political parties who are contending for power in Gujarat, but who are supremely indifferent to the plight of minorities, have an answer? It is election time in Gujarat, and elections are meant to hold the ruling classes accountable for their acts of omission. It is time that the electorate in the state judges the government for what it has not done for the marginal sections of society, and not what for it has done for the already privileged.

[This study forms part of the Cities Component of the Crisis States Programme of the London School of Economics and Political Science.]

Lajja

Posted in free speech, hindu fundamentalism, hindutva, islamic fundamentalism by ravi on August 11, 2007

The Islamic fundamentalists are at it again! Taslima Nasreen, in Hyderabad to release the Telugu version of her work, Shodh (Revenge), was attacked by legislators of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) and a mob led by them. According to The Hindu:

[Taslima] looked in disbelief as they hurled abuses against her. Demanding to know who had mustered the guts to invite her to Hyderabad, they wanted Ms. Nasrin to be handed over to them.

Without further warning, they began throwing books, bouquets, chairs, and whatever they could lay their hands on at her. Some persons in the mob almost got hold of her but Narisetti Innaiah, rationalist and chairman of the Center for Inquiry, who was her host, shielded her. He was injured in his face. A couple of journalists who went to their rescue also sustained injuries in the scuffle.

The Hindu reports Akbaruddin Owaisi, MIM leader in the Andhra Pradesh assembly, as saying:

There is a fatwa against her and the fatwa is one and all for the entire Muslim world, whether it is Salman Rushdie or Taslima Nasrin … If Taslima makes another visit to Hyderabad, yes we will try to implement the fatwa on her.

The Deccan Herald quotes him as saying:

Muslims are proud of what our legislators and workers have done, because we can never tolerate any insult to Prophet Mohammed.

The Indian Express quotes MIM president Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi as saying:

When the Bangladesh government has shunted Taslima out of the country, why is the Indian government protecting her? She brought disrespect to Islam and we taught her a lesson.

This guy seems to be aflicted with a rather severe case of foot in mouth, for the Deccan Herald quotes him as saying:

Our partymen deserved a pat on their back for what they have done. I feel we should have done more.

As the Times of India has noted, MIM’s thuggery is punishable under several sections of the Indian Penal Code. Ironically, while the MIM MLAs — Syed Ahmed Pasha Qadri, Afsar Khan and Moazzam Khan — were let out on bail, Taslima now faces a case of promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.

NDTV suggests that the attack on Taslima was intended to unite the Muslim community behind MIM.

The attack on Taslima serves twin purposes, one to mobilise the muslim vote in its favour in the municipal elections next year and two, to neutralize the CPM’s efforts to make inroads into its bastion, the old city area.

If the MIM wants to defend the Muslim community, how about taking on the Sangh Parivar? No, that would require courage. Besides, as Javed Akhtar has noted:

These (the attackers) are the same people who criticise Bajrang Dal and VHP. What is the difference between them and the Hindu fundamentalist organisations.

[While the Hindu fundamentalists and their Islamic counterparts might be equally repugnant, their ability and propensity to violence can hardly be compared. See, for instance, The Asymmetries of Communalism]

As Akhtar further notes: Fundamentalists are getting bolder and bolder as they can get away with almost anything. That is the problem. This is indeed a problem, for the state often colludes with the local religious elite to silence iconoclastic opinions. But that’s for later.


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