Posts Tagged ‘the Bharatiya Janata Party’

Strong reactions in India over a book on Jinnah

August 31, 2009
Al Jazeerah, Aug 31, 2009

Interview: Jaswant Singh

Singh’s book has provoked a storm of reaction in his own country [EPA]

Jaswant Singh, a former leader with India’s main opposition party, has sparked controversy in his own country with a book on Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) expelled Singh over his book Jinnah: India-Partition Independence, which offered a sympathetic portrayal of Jinnah by an Indian writer.

The local government in Gujarat, a state controlled by the BJP, even moved to ban the book, saying it ran counter to public and national interests.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Singh, a former finance and foreign minister, gave his thoughts on the controversy sparked by his book, as well as on his former political party.

Al Jazeera: When you say that perhaps we need controversy to educate people, that seems to imply that there is some problem for India and Pakistan confronting that history.

Jaswant Singh: We have been manufacturing history, inventing history.

For example, India has demonised Mohammad Ali Jinnah just as Pakistan has demonised Mahatma Gandhi, or [Jawaharlal] Nehru or [Sardar Vallabhbhai] Patel.

They were all Indian. All of them were great Indians. Gandhi and Jinnah were really contemporaries … and Gandhi himself called Jinnah a great Indian.

In terms of the book that you have written, what is more important – that discussion takes place in India about that history or that Jinnah is viewed differently?

The book has sparked controversy in India over its portrayal of Mohammed Ali Jinnah

Once the full book is read, [and] the narrative is grasped, then you understand the enormity of the tragedy and the fruitlessness of the partition, certainly to me.This is not to question the reality of Pakistan, of Bangladesh, but we have to find an answer to the problems of that period.

We created a partition to end peace. There is no peace in Pakistan (inside it), there is no peace in India and there is no peace in Bangladesh. There is no peace between the countries.

You say in the book that “Pakistan is doubtless Muslim but theocentrically it’s not a theocratic state”. I mean, that’s quite a loaded statement to make.

Not at all. “Theocentricism”, where society is centred on Islam – this is in line whether Pakistan, India or Bangladesh, where faith is of paramount importance.

Pakistan is not theocratic in the sense it is not the Mullah that is governing Pakistan … but Pakistan society is governed by Islam. That is the difference. It is a very vital and important difference that has to be understood by the West about Islam.

Should Pakistan be governed in a secular fashion though?

Pakistan should be governed as they determine for themselves … I can wish that it would be better that they were governed as Jinnah had dreamt that they ought to be governed, but it’s for Pakistan to decide.

You say in the book that the modern mind just cannot comprehend Islam precisely because it is a totality. It makes it very difficult for Pakistan to govern in anything that might resemble a secular fashion.

The Western mind cannot grasp the enormity and subtlety of Islam.

India has more Muslims living in it as citizens of India today than Pakistan has. We have lived with Islam for centuries. Islam has been absorbed by the ethos of India.

I think India understands Islam much better than the West does. You see it as an adversary. We see it as part of the Indian vividity. The real renaissance of Islam would have taken place in undivided India if there had not been a partition.

I’m asking you a very personal and direct question because you’ve been such an integral part of the BJP. Do you take any responsibility for the state of affairs? Do you think that the BJP, not just for the country but for the good of itself, needs to reform?

Of course I take responsibility for everything that the party has done up till the moment of my exit. Until the day, I am a member of the party [and] I am responsible for everything the party has had to do or done.

As it is, the political parties that exist in the country are really functioning like private limited companies or family concerns … congress of course is purely and unashamedly a family concern and they don’t make any bones about it, but the same problems seem to have afflicted my former political party. It has become sycophantic, full of time-servers.

These are not the ideals with which we began. The purpose of the party was the service of the nation.

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RIGHTS-INDIA: New Anti-Terror Laws Draconian Say Activists

December 22, 2008

Analysis by Praful Bidwai | Inter Press Service

NEW DELHI, Dec 19 (IPS) – Following the late November terror attacks in Mumbai, India has passed two tough laws being seen by rights activists as potentially eroding the country’s federal structure and limiting fundamental liberties.

Parliament — meeting under the shadow of the November 26-29 attacks on India’s commercial hub resulting in close to 200 deaths — approved the legislations on Thursday with no considered debate and the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pushing them past amendments tabled by several parliamentarians.

One law, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, seeks to establish a new police organisation to investigate acts of terrorism and other statutory offences.

The other, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Act, radically changes procedures for trying those accused of terrorism, extends the periods of police custody and of detention without charges, denies bail to foreigners, and the reverses the burden of proof in many instances.

Civil liberties activists and public-spirited citizens are appalled at the new laws, which they describe as draconian and excessive in relation to the measures India really needs to take to fight terrorism.

“The UAPA Act is particularly vile, and will have the effect of turning India into a virtual police state,” says Colin Gonsalves, executive director of the Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network. “It basically brings back a discredited law, the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2002 (POTA), except for admitting confessions made to a police officer as legal evidence.”

POTA was an extremely unpopular law, which the UPA government abrogated upon coming to power in 2004 in response to innumerable complaints of its selective and discriminatory use against India’s Muslim minority, and its cavalier and irresponsible application to offences not even remotely connected with terrorism.

While rescinding POTA, the UPA kept in place all of India’s criminal laws, which are much stricter than those in many democracies.

In addition, it also enacted an amendment to the Unlawful Activities Act, 1967, which increased punishment for committing acts of terrorism and for harbouring terrorists or financing them, enhanced police powers of seizures, made communications intercepts admissible as evidence, and increased the period of detention without charges to 90 days from the existing 30 days.

However, this was not enough to please those who want a “strong” militarised state which will prevent and punish terrorism by violating the citizen’s fundamental rights, including the right to a fair trial, and not to be detained without charges.

India’s main right-wing political group, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been stridently demanding that POTA be re-enacted. Until recently, the UPA, the Left and other centrist parties stood firm in rejecting the demand despite the numerous terrorist attacks that India has suffered over the past few years.

“But now, the UPA has suddenly, and shamefully, caved in to the BJP’s demand under the pressure of elite opinion,” says Jairus Banaji, a highly regarded Mumbai-based social scientist. “The capitulation seems to be based on the UPA’s anxiety to counter the BJP’s ridiculous charge that it lacks the will to fight terrorism, and on its political calculations about the next general election due by May.”

In its desperation to be seen to be taking a tough stand against terrorism, the Manmohan Singh government also tabled the NIA Bill earlier this week. The new agency will specifically investigate offences related to atomic energy, aviation and maritime transport, weapons of mass destruction, and Left-wing extremism, besides terrorism.

Significantly, it excludes Right-wing terrorism, which has become a greater menace in India.

Unlike the existing Central Bureau of Investigation, which needs the consent of a state before investigating crimes there, the NIA will not need a state’s concurrence. This is a serious infringement of the federal system, where law and order is a state subject.

Many state governments and regional political parties have sharply criticised the Act on this count. In India, Central agencies are politically vulnerable to manipulation by New Delhi and often used to settle scores with states ruled by opposition parties.

The NIA Act also provides for special courts to try various offences. This too has drawn criticism from eminent lawyers such as Rajeev Dhavan, who argues that the potential misuse of this anti-terror legislation will now “come from both the states and the union, which can hijack the case”.

The UAPA Act contains a number of draconian clauses, and is also applicable to the entire country — unlike the Unlawful Activities Act, which was originally not extended to the strife-torn state of Jammu and Kashmir. This too has drawn protests from Kashmir-based political parties and human rights groups.

The stringent clauses cover a broad range, including a redefinition of terrorism, harsh punishment extending from five years’ imprisonment to life sentence or death, long periods of detention, and presumption of guilt in case weapons are recovered from an accused person.

The new definition now includes acts done with the intent to threaten or “likely” to threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India, and offences related to radioactive or nuclear substances, and even attempts to overawe, kidnap or abduct constitutional and other functionaries that may be listed by the government. Dhavan says: “The list is potentially endless.”

Under the Act, an accused can be held in police custody for 30 days, and further detained without charges for 180 days, although courts can restrict the period to 90 days.

“This is a travesty of constitutional rights and the rule of law,” says Gonsalves. “Even worse is the presumption of guilt in case there is a recovery of arms, explosives and other substances, suspected to be involved, including fingerprints on them. The police in India routinely plants such arms and explosives, and creates a false record of recovery.”

“The very fact that offences such as organising terrorist training camps or recruiting or harbouring terrorists carry a punishment as broad as three or five years to life imprisonment shows that the government has not applied its mind to the issue,’’ Gonsalves added.

Under the Act, there is a general obligation to disclose any information that a police officer of a certain rank thinks is relevant to the investigation. Failure to disclose information can lead to imprisonment for three years. Journalists are not exempt from this.

Besides making telecommunications and e-mail intercepts admissible as evidence, the Act also denies bail to all foreign nationals, and mandates a refusal of bail to anyone if a prima facie case exists, which is decided on the basis of a First Information Report filed by the police.

POTA and its predecessor, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), were extensively abused. They typically targeted the religious minorities, specifically Muslims, and allowed for their harassment and persecution.

The TADA story is especially horrifying. Some 67,000 people were arrested under it, but only 8,000 put on trial, and a mere 725 convicted.

Official TADA Review Committees themselves found the law’s application untenable in all but 5,000 cases. In 1993, Gujarat witnessed no terrorism, but more than 19,000 people were still arrested under TADA.

Religious minorities were selectively targeted under both Acts. For instance, in Rajasthan, of 115 TADA detainees, 112 were Muslims and three Sikhs.

Gujarat had a worse pattern under POTA, when all but one of the 200-plus detainees were Muslims, the remaining one a Sikh.

The passing of the two new laws is certain to increase the alienation of India’s Muslims from the state. They have been the principal victims of India’s anti-terrorism strategy and activities in recent years.

Muslims are first to be arrested and interrogated after any terrorist incident, even when the victims are Muslims, and although strong evidence has recently emerged of a well-ramified pro-Hindu terrorist network, in which serving and retired army officers were found to be key players.

Muslims also distressed at the alacrity and haste with which the new laws were passed, especially since it contrasts with the UPA government’s failure to enact a law it promised five years ago to punish communal violence and hate crimes targeting specific religious groups.

“This will pave the way for more disaffection amongst Muslims and make the social and political climate more conducive to terrorism,” argues Gonsalves. “Even worse, it will promote excesses of the kind associated with state terrorism. And that is no way to fight sub-state terrorism.”

Massive protests against Indian rule continue in Kashmir

September 15, 2008

MASSIVE PROTESTS ROCK HSHS

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MALIK, GEELANI CONDEMN SHRINE DESECRATION, DELHI BLASTS
NO CURFEW RELAXATION IN SHOPIAN

MUDDASIR ALI | Greater Kashmir

Srinagar, Sep 14: Massive protests rocked Amira Kadal and adjoining Hari Singh High Street and Sarai Bala here on Sunday against the alleged desecration and damage of the shrine of Hazrat Peer Dastageer Sahib at Saraibala on Saturday by paramilitary CRPF troopers.

Scores of people from Saraibala, Maharaj Bazaar, Ghoni Khan, Koker Bazaar and Magermal Bagh came on streets early morning and staged a dharna in the Hari Singh High Street Chowk against the incident.

The protesters, who included a large number of youth and women, raised pro-freedom and anti-CRPF slogans. They accused the CRPF troopers of indiscriminately beating the locals on Saturday. “They even barged into some houses at Saraibala and beat the inmates. The troopers damaged the windowpanes of many houses,” said Ghulam Rasool, a local resident.

Senior pro-freedom leaders, including the chairman of Hurriyat Conference (G), Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and the chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Muhammad Yasin Malik, visited the shrine and strongly condemned the act. They joined the protestors in the dharna.

Addressing the people, Geelani and Malik said that no force on earth can stop Kashmiris from achieving their right to self determination.

India might use more force, but aspirations won’t die: Malik

Malik said, “Even if India put Kashmiri people to test again and again by using indiscriminate force, our aspirations for right to self determination wouldn’t die down.”

Malik said: “Kashmiri people continue to offer sacrifices to get freedom. Hundreds and thousands of people have been subjected to the custodial disappearances. Hundreds of Kashmiris are lodged in dreaded jails of India including Tihar and Jodhpur. Let India put Kashmiris to test again and again, we wouldn’t give up till our nation gets Azadi.”

Referring to the BJP’s demand for ‘nationalizing’ the Amarnath Yatra route, Malik said entire Kashmir was out on the roads seeking “Azadi.” “The BJP statement doesn’t hold any importance when Kashmir will be free,” Malik said.

Earlier Malik, joined by senior pro-freedom leaders, Javaid Ahmad Mir, advocate Shahid-ul-Islam, Showkat Ahmad Bakshi and others appealed to the international community, including United Nations and Organisation of Islamic Conference to intervene in Kashmir. “More than 50 people were killed by CRPF and police during the recent agitation and hundreds have sustained the bullet injuries. We appeal the UN and the OIC to visit the Kashmir and see for themselves how unarmed and peaceful protesters are killed and injured with impunity.”

Malik also called upon people to abide by the programme of Coordination Committee. He strongly condemned the blasts in Delhi, describing it as “barbaric act.”

No force can stop us from achieving right of self-determination
Geelani said, “Kashmir has risen to seek the right to self determination and there is no force which can stop us now from achieving this goal”.

Geelani and Malik were referring to the statement by the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, to the party’s working committee in New Delhi on Saturday that “there is also no question of pandering to or being soft on the separatists (in Kashmir).”

Geelani said, “I want to tell the people in New Delhi that it is the people’s movement in Kashmir. How many voices can the state government and New Delhi suppress by using indiscriminate force.”  The government, Geelani said, had given “unbridled powers” to the CRPF and police to suppress the people. “We condemn the use of force on unarmed and peaceful protesters in Kashmir,” he said.

On Bhartiya Janta Party’s demand of “nationalization” of the entire route to Amarnath cave, Geelani warned New Delhi of “dire consequences” if any attempt was made to change the demography of the state. “We wouldn’t allow creation of a Hindu state in the disputed region of Kashmir,” he said.
Rejecting the accord between the governor’s administration and the Jammu-based Sangrash Samiti over Baltal land, Geelani said, “Instead of raising prefabricated huts and toilets, concrete structure are being constructed at Pahalgam and Sonmarg, en-route to the cave. We wouldn’t allow creation of Amarnath Nagar in Kashmir and we wouldn’t sit silent.”

While referring to National Conference patron, Dr Farooq Abdullah’s statement that even if there is five per cent voter turn out, elections should be held, Geelani said, “These are the people who live only to see their petty interests fulfilled. Kashmiri people can’t expect anything else from NC and its leaders as they have always betrayed the nation.”

Geelani condemned the blasts in New Delhi that have killed more than 30 people. “Such inhuman acts should be condemned by one and all,” Geelani said and asked people to strictly follow the program of Coordination Committee.

Curfew lifted but demos continue in VarmulHundreds of people took to the roads in north Kashmir’s Varmul district on Sunday and staged pro-freedom demonstration.

Authorities lifted the curfew from the township this morning. Curfew was imposed in the township on Friday after a youth was killed in police firing near Cement bridge.

After the curfew was lifted, residents raising pro-freedom slogans assembled in the Varmul Chowk and took out a procession. Demonstrations were on when this report was filed.

Curfew continues in ShopianThere was no relaxation in curfew in Shopian on the second day today. The curfew was imposed in the township on Friday after a youth was killed and many others injured in Police and CRPF firing.

Hindutva’s Violent History: Orissa

September 8, 2008

By Angana Chatterji | ZNet, Sep 7, 2008

HINDUTVA’S PRODUCTION of culture and nation is often marked by savagery. On 23 August 2008, Lakshmanananda Saraswati, Orissa’s Hindu nationalist icon, was murdered with four disciples in Jalespeta in Kandhamal district. State authorities alleged the attackers to be Maoists (and a group has subsequently claimed the murder). But the Sangh Parviar held the Christian community responsible, even though there is no evidence or history to suggest the armed mobilisation of Christian groups in Orissa.

After the murder, the All India Christian Council stated: “The Christian community in India abhors violence, condemns all acts of terrorism, and opposes groups of people taking the law into their own hands”. Gouri Prasad Rath, General Secretary, VHPOrissa, stated: “Christians have killed Swamiji. We will give a befitting reply. We would be forced to opt for violent protests if action is not taken against the killers”.

Following which, violence engulfed the district. Churches and Christian houses razed to the ground, frightened Christians hiding in the jungles or in relief camps. Officials record the death toll at 13, local leaders at 20, while the Asian Centre for Human Rights noted 50.

The Sangh’s history in postcolonial Orissa is long and violent. Virulent Hindutva campaigns against minority groups reverberated in Rourkela in 1964, Cuttack in 1968 and 1992, Bhadrak in 1986 and 1991, Soro in 1991. The Kandhamal riots were not unforeseen.

Since 2000, the Sangh has been strengthened by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s coalition government with the Biju Janata Dal. In October 2002, a Shiv Sena unit in Balasore district declared the formation of the first Hindu ‘suicide squad’. In March 2006, Rath stated that the “VHP believes that the security measures initiated by the Government [for protection of Hindus] are not adequate and hence Hindu society has taken the responsibility for it.”

The VHP has 1,25,000 primary workers in Orissa. The RSS operates 6,000 shakhas with a 1,50,000 plus cadre. The Bajrang Dal has 50,000 activists working in 200 akharas. BJP workers number above 4,50,000. BJP Mohila Morcha, Durga Vahini (7,000 outfits in 117 sites), and Rashtriya Sevika Samiti (80 centres) are three major Sangh women’s organisations. BJP Yuva Morcha, Youth Wing, Adivasi Morcha and Mohila Morcha have a prominent base. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh manages 171 trade unions with a cadre of 1,82,000. The 30,000-strong Bharatiya Kisan Sangh functions in 100 blocks. The Sangh also operates various trusts and branches of national and international institutions to aid fundraising, including Friends of Tribal Society, Samarpan Charitable Trust, Sookruti, Yasodha Sadan, and Odisha International Centre. Sectarian development and education are carried out by Ekal Vidyalayas, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashrams/Parishads (VKAs), Vivekananda Kendras, Shiksha Vikas Samitis and Sewa Bharatis — cementing the brickwork for hate and civil polarisation.

This massive mobilisation has erupted in ugly incidents against both Christians and Muslims. In 1998, 5,000 Sangh activists allegedly attacked the Christian dominated Ramgiri-Udaygiri villages in Gajapati district, setting fire to 92 homes, a church, police station, and several government vehicles. Earlier, Sangh activists allegedly entered the local jail forcibly and burned two Christian prisoners to death. In 1999, Graham Staines, 58, an Australian missionary and his 10- and six-year-old sons were torched in Manoharpur village in Keonjhar. A Catholic nun, Jacqueline Mary was gangraped by men in Mayurbhanj and Arul Das, a Catholic priest, was murdered in Jamabani, Mayurbhanj, followed by the destruction of churches in Kandhamal. In 2002, the VHP converted 5,000 people to Hinduism. In 2003, the VKA organised a 15,000- member rally in Bhubaneswar, propagating that Adivasi (and Dalit) converts to Christianity be denied affirmative action. In 2004, seven women and a male pastor were forcibly tonsured in Kilipal, Jagatsinghpur district, and a social and economic boycott was imposed against them. A Catholic church was vandalised and the community targeted in Raikia.

Change the cast, the story is still the same. 1998: A truck transporting cattle owned by a Muslim was looted and burned, the driver’s aide beaten to death in Keonjhar district. 1999: Shiekh Rehman, a Muslim clothes merchant, was mutilated and burned to death in a public execution at the weekly market in Mayurbhanj. 2001: In Pitaipura village, Jagatsinghpur, Hindu communalists attempted to orchestrate a land-grab connected to a Muslim graveyard. On November 20, 2001, around 3,000 Hindu activists from nearby villages rioted. Muslim houses were torched, Muslim women were ill-treated, their property, including goats and other animals, stolen. 2005: In Kendrapara, a contractor was shot on Govari Embankment Road, supposedly by members of a Muslim gang. Sangh groups claimed the shooting was part of a gang war associated with Islamic extremism and called for a 12hour bandh. Hindu organisations are alleged to have looted and set Muslim shops on fire.

It is Saraswati who pioneered the Hinduisation of Kandhamal since 1969. Activists targeted Adivasis, Dalits, Christians and Muslims through socio-economic boycotts and forced conversions (named ‘re’conversion, presupposing Adivasis and Dalits as ‘originally’ Hindus).

Kandhamal first witnessed Hindutva violence in 1986. The VKAs, instated in 1987, worked to Hinduise Kondh and Kui Adivasis and polarise relations between them and Pana Dalit Christians. Kandhamal remains socio-economically vulnerable, a large percentage of its population living in poverty. Approximately 90 percent of Dalits are landless. A majority of Christians are landless or marginal landholders. Hindutva ideologues say Dalits have acquired economic benefits, augmented by Christianisation. This is not borne out in reality.

In October 2005, converting 200 Bonda Adivasi Christians to Hinduism in Malkangiri, Saraswati said: “How will we… make India a completely Hindu country? The feeling of Hindutva should come within the hearts and minds of all the people.” In April 2006, celebrating RSS architect Golwalkar’s centenary, Saraswati presided over seven yagnas attended by 30,000 Adivasis. In September 2007, supporting the VHP’s statewide road-rail blockade against the supposed destruction of the mythic ‘Ram Setu’, Saraswati conducted a Ram Dhanu Rath Yatra to mobilise Adivasis.

In 2008, Hindutva discourse named Christians as ‘conversion terrorists’. But the number of such conversions is highly inflated. They claim there are rampant and forced conversions in Phulbani-Kandhamal. But the Christian population in Kandhamal is 1,17,950 while Hindus number 5,27,757. Orissa Christians numbered 8,97,861 in the 2001 census — only 2.4 percent of the state’s population. Yet, Christian conversions are storied as debilitating to the majority status of Hindus while Muslims are seen as ‘infiltrating’ from Bangladesh, dislocating the ‘Oriya (and Indian) nation’.

The right to religious conversion is constitutionally authorised. Historically, conversions from Hinduism to Christianity or Islam have been a way to escape caste oppression and social stigma for Adivasis and Dalits. In February 2006, the VHP called for a law banning (non- Hindu) religious conversions. In June 2008, it urged that religious conversion be decreed a ‘heinous crime’ across India.

‘Reconversion’ strategies of the Sangh appear to be shifting in Orissa. The Sangh reportedly proposed to ‘reconvert’ 10,000 Christians in 2007. But fewer public conversion ceremonies were held in 2007 than in 2004- 2006. Converting politicised Adivasi and Dalit Christians to Hinduism is proving difficult. The Sangh has instead increased its emphasis on the Hinduisation of Adivasis through their participation in Hindu rituals, which, in effect, ‘convert’ Adivasis by assuming that they are Hindu.

The draconian Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (OFRA), 1967, must be repealed. There are enough provisions under the Indian Penal Code to prevent and prohibit conversions under duress. But consenting converts to Christianity are repeatedly charged under OFRA, while Hindutva perpetrators of forcible conversions are not. The Sangh contends that ‘reconversion’ to Hinduism through its ‘Ghar Vapasi’ (homecoming) campaign is not conversion but return to Hinduism, the ‘original’ faith. This allows them to dispense with the procedures under OFRA.

The Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960 should also be repealed. It is utilised to target livelihood practices of economically disenfranchised groups, Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims, who engage in cattle trade and cow slaughter.

In fact, a CBI investigation into the activities of the VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal is crucial as per the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Groups such as the VHP and VKA are registered as cultural and charitable organisations but their work is political in nature. They should be audited and recognised as political organisations, and their charitable status and privileges reviewed.

The state and central government’s refusal to restrain Hindu militias evidences their linkage with Hindutva (BJP), soft Hindutva (Congress), and the capitulation of civil society to Hindu majoritarianism. How would the nation have reacted if groups with affiliation other than than militant Hinduism executed riot after riot: Calcutta 1946, Kota 1953, Rourkela 1964, Ranchi 1967, Ahmedabad 1969, Bhiwandi 1970, Aligarh 1978, Jamshedpur 1979, Moradabad 1980, Meerut 1982, Hyderabad 1983, Assam 1983, Delhi 1984, Bhagalpur 1989, Bhadrak 1991, Ayodhya 1992, Mumbai 1992, Gujarat 2002, Marad 2003, Jammu 2008?

The BJD-BJP government has repeatedly failed to honour the constitutional mandate separating religion from state. In 2005-06, Advocate Mihir Desai and I convened the Indian People’s Tribunal on Communalism in Orissa, led by Retired Kerala Chief Justice KK Usha. The Tribunal’s findings detailed the formidable mobilisation by majoritarian communalist organisations, including in Kandhamal, and the Sangh’s visible presence in 25 of 30 districts. The report did not invoke any response from the state or central government.

In January 2000, The Asian Age reported: “‘One village, one shakha’ is the new slogan of the RSS as it aims to saffronise the entire Gujarat state by 2005.” Then ensued the genocide of March 2002. In 2003, Subash Chouhan, then Bajrang Dal state convener, stated: “Orissa is the second Hindu Rajya (to Gujarat).”

We all know what has happened in Kandhamal December 2007, and again now. The communal situation in Orissa is dire. State and civil society resistance to Hindutva’s ritual and catalytic abuse cannot wait.

The writer is associate professor of anthropology at California Institute of Integral Studies and author of a forthcoming book: Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present, Narratives from Orissa

Anatomy of the Kashmir crisis

September 8, 2008

Interview: Sanjay Kak

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Kashmir as Indian security forces impose a round-the-clock curfew across the valley.

More than 30 unarmed Kashmiri protesters have been killed by Indian forces in the last few weeks in an effort to stamp out mass demonstrations that have shaken the disputed region, which is partitioned by India and Pakistan, and where India has maintained a military occupation in the section it controls.

The demonstrations were sparked by the announcement of the transfer of 100 acres of public land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, but have since snowballed into a province-wide revolt. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have taken to the streets demanding “azadi” (freedom) and their right to self-determination. In response, Indian military and paramilitary forces imposed a curfew and media blackout, and have fired on large, unarmed rallies, killing dozens and injuring hundreds.

Sanjay Kak is a filmmaker whose recently completed documentary, Jashn-e-Azadi (How We Celebrate Freedom) was made over a period of several years in Kashmir. On August 16, days after the mass protests erupted, he spoke with Nagesh Rao.

Protesters demanding "azadi" confront riot police on the streets of Jammu in KashmirProtesters demanding “azadi” confront riot police on the streets of Jammu in Kashmir

WHAT IS the significance of the Kashmiri uprising?

I THINK part of the problem is that in India, our attention always comes in at the tail end of the story. Here it comes in when there is an explosion of resentment against the granting of lands to the Amarnath Shrine Board, and then we all act mystified: “How can there be so much resentment against something so small?”

That’s because no one paid attention to what’s been happening in the year prior, or the five years prior or, indeed, 18 years prior to this event. So there’s a kind of structured amnesia about what events bring us to this place.

And this is not an accident. Particularly when it comes to Kashmir, in India, it is a structured amnesia.

You’ve got more than 500,000 Indian soldiers in Kashmir. They are sitting in literally every street and village and by-lane and crossing and water-point, and then you begin thinking that peace has returned to Kashmir. But it hasn’t. You’re just sitting on top of people.

Then the media dutifully starts wheeling out the spin, and you’re told, “Oh, tourists are returning to Kashmir, all is well, the militancy is gone.” And everybody begins to believe it.

I once had a conversation with an army officer, and he said, “Things are very peaceful here now. As a Kashmiri, you should come and visit, as often as you like.” “Peaceful” is not a word I would use to describe what was around us, even where were sitting, in the officers’ mess, with a breathtaking view of the grand Wular Lake.

“But colonel, there’s a soldier with an AK-47 every 30 feet,” I said.

“No, no,” he said, “we’ve got the situation under control.”

“So when will you leave?” I said, “You know, troop reductions–cut by, say, 20 percent?”

“No, no, that’s out of the question,” he replied. “Everybody would be out on the streets, there would be an uprising.”

On the ground, that colonel commanding a military unit in Kashmir knows the score. The Indian security apparatus has taken 18 years to build a stranglehold on Kashmir, to control every aspect of daily life over there. That is the kind of “peace” that they hammered onto Kashmir.

In the wake of the armed uprising of the 1990s, which was represented as “terrorism” and an “Islamic jihad,” they managed to do what they had to do, because Indians–and the rest of the world–were a little confused about what was happening. But what are they going to do now, when there are no weapons in this uprising? There are just hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets. What are they going to do? Are they going to just start firing? And how many will they kill?

This is the real significance of what we are seeing. Until now, even ostensibly sympathetic Indians would throw the question at the Kashmiris: “Why did you take to the gun? You took to the gun, and you alienated the Indian people.”

This time around, they haven’t brought the gun out. They are coming out in vast numbers and demonstrating for what they believe in. They are coming out in the ways that Indian democracy ought to believe in. Only this time, the same liberal intelligentsia who wanted them to give up the gun are now calling these vast assemblies “violent mobs” of “extremists”!

In a sense, the Indian state is hoisted on its own petard, flummoxed. [Indian rulers] do not know how to react to this situation.

Continued . . .

Playing with fire in Jammu & Kashmir

August 17, 2008

Praful Bidwai | The News International, August 17, 2008

Jammu and Kashmir is burning. Jammu has witnessed an intensely chauvinist, communal and violent agitation for over seven weeks over the cancellation of an order transferring 100 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. This is pitting Jammu against Kashmir, ethnic groups against other ethnic groups, and Hindus against Muslims in dangerous new ways.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has politicised and exploited the agitation cynically. It imposed an economic blockade which closed the Jammu-Srinagar highway for weeks and brought goods transportation to a halt, causing great public suffering.

The explosion of intolerance in Jammu is reproduced like a mirror-image in the Kashmir Valley, where mainstream parties joined separatists in marching to Muzaffarabad with the ostensible aim of selling perishable fruit in Pakistani Kashmir—just when the blockade was lifted. More than 20 people were killed in condemnable, highhanded police action.

The twin agitations threaten J&K’s unity and plural, multi-cultural, and multi-religious character in unprecedented ways. In less than two months, the BJP has succeeded in driving an emotional and political wedge between Jammu and Kashmir—something that jihadi separatists working with Pakistani agencies couldn’t achieve in the nearly 20 years of the azadi movement.

The origins of the present ferment go back to the state government’s decision to establish the SASB, thus interfering gratuitously with spontaneous Hindu-Muslim cooperation in organising the pilgrimage for decades. It has promoted this on a gigantic scale.

Matters came to a head last May when the Congress-People’s Democratic Party government illegally transferred forest land to the SASB. This triggered militant protests in the Valley.

Hurriyat moderates and the PDP joined hardline separatists in giving a communal colour to the land transfer, prompting its cancellation—only to provoke counter-protests in Jammu, which were taken over by the BJP through the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti.

The twin agitations have deepened communal polarisation, and radicalised both Hurriyat and Hindutva hardliners.

The Centre failed to enforce the law and open the Jammu-Srinagar highway until it was too late. Its belated attempt to defuse the situation through an 18-member all-party committee hasn’t made headway.

The SASS wants the land re-transferred to the SASB and Governor N N Vohra removed. Such demands are vindictive or totally devoid of political rationality. This only shows that the BJP wants to prolong the Jammu crisis and milk it politically.

The SASS, a 28-group network, is basically a Sangh Parivar enterprise. Its three top leaders—Leelakaran Sharma, Mahant Dinesh Bharti and Brig (Retd) Suchet Singh—have RSS backgrounds and are closely linked with the J&K National Front, which demands the state’s trifurcation: Jammu and Kashmir as separate states, and Ladakh a Union Territory.

The demand is despicably communal. No wonder the RSS national council backed it in 2001. In the 2002 Assembly elections, the RSS supported the Jammu State Morcha, which demands statehood for Jammu.

Any division of Jammu and Kashmir along religious lines is a recipe for the separation of the Kashmir Valley from India. It will harden and freeze two opposing identities—a “Muslim Kashmir,” and a “Hindu Jammu.” Nothing could better help the Valley’s discredited pro-Pakistan Islamic separatists like Syed Ali Shah Gilani, who oppose a pluralist, secular identity for Kashmir.

The demand for trifurcating J&K will play straight into the hands of Pakistani hardliners who want to erase whatever progress has been made in informal talks seeking a solution to the Kashmir problem without redrawing boundaries, and who want to retrogress to the perspective of securing Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan—as part of “the unfinished agendas of Partition.”

Why has the BJP embarked on this dangerous course? It’s desperate to rescue its sagging fortunes by finding any issue on which to win support. It’s organising traffic blockades on the Amarnath issue nationally and mouthing shopworn clichés like “injustice to Hindus.”

The BJP even brazenly denies that there ever was an economic blockade in J&K! General secretary Arun Jaitley calls this “a myth” and contends that the Jammu agitation is entirely peaceful.

Yet, Jammu’s protestors, who increasingly resemble Hindutva’s storm troopers in Gujarat-2002 in appearance, have indulged in stone- and acid-throwing attacks on truck drivers. According to the far-from-hostile state government, Jammu has witnessed 10,513 protests and 359 “serious incidents of violence” on the Amarnath issue, in which 28 government buildings, 15 police vehicles and 118 private vehicles were damaged.

Eighty cases of communal violence were registered, in which 20 persons were injured and 72 Gujjar homes were burnt.

As many as 117 police personnel and 78 civilians were injured in the Jammu violence, and 129 cases were registered and 1,171 arrests made. Schools, colleges, government offices and hospitals were paralysed.

Grievances in Jammu, many of them legitimate, took this regrettably violent expression thanks to communalism’s baneful effect.

The BJP was pivotal in planning and executing this violence. Its leaders have gone Back to Basics—unembellished, crude, super-sectarian Hindutva.

L K Advani just can’t wait to become prime minister. His speeches have become shrill, and his body language has changed. This is no longer the Advani who wanted to inherit the “moderate” Vajpayee legacy. This is the Advani of many past Rathyatras—aggressive, warlike, spewing communal venom, and leaving a trail of blood.

Advani will now stoop to any level to collect political brownie points, regardless of the issue. The other day, the issue was the UPA government’s alleged weakness in the face of terrorism. Then, it was the India-US nuclear deal, the culmination of a long process the BJP itself initiated, and which its urban-middle-class core constituency supports.

Now, Advani is drumming up Hindu-chauvinist hysteria over 100 acres of land, laying claim to it on the specious ground that the Hindus must have the first claim to land anywhere in India by virtue of their numerical majority—and hence primacy.

This is an egregiously, if not classically, anti-secular proposition.

Why is the BJP so desperate? Barely one month ago, after a series of Assembly wins, it had primed itself up into believing that its victory was imminent in the next Lok Sabha. It even started announcing candidates.

But the BJP was badly checkmated during the confidence vote. It lost it—despite trying every trick in the book. Worse, Advani was eclipsed by Mayawati’s dramatic emergence as an alternative.

The BJP’s plans went awry. The victorious and now aggressive Manmohan Singh couldn’t be convincingly depicted as “India’s weakest-ever prime minister.” The BJP botched up its in manipulative political act, where it’s supposedly unmatched.

It wanted to create a Bofors out of the cash-for-votes “sting.” But after the CNN-IBN tapes’ telecast, that looks like collusive but ineffective “entrapment.”

The highest number of MPs defying their party whip during the confidence vote were from the BJP. Thanks to its MPs’ involvement in the “cash-for-questions” scam, human trafficking, and the latest acts of defiance, the BJP has lost 17 of its original 137 Lok Sabha seats.

The National Democratic Alliance once had 24 members. Now it’s down to five.

As trouble brews in all of its state units, the BJP will use inflammatory tactics to buoy up its fortunes. The Indian public will have to pay the price—unless it sends the party packing.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights
activist based in Delhi. Email: prafulbidwai1@yahoo.co.in


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