Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pakistan: Sectarian Divides

Ram Puniyani

South Asia has been in the grip of sectarian violence since fairly long. During last three decades and more particularly during the last decade this violence has been intensifying in degree and spread. It was sad news to hear that the Christian Community of Joseph Colony,
Badami Bhagh Peace Rally
Badami Bagh Lahore was the victim of one such violence recently (March 2013). In this violence 178 houses of the low-income community, as well as shops and three churches were looted and burnt to ashes. The local Pastor was attacked and the father of Savan Masih, the youth falsely accused of blasphemy, was beaten up and subsequently arrested.

In Pakistan both non Muslims and some Muslim sects have been harassed on religious grounds. As such the major victims of such violence are the sects of Islam, Shias and Ahmadis. The Ahmadis has been declared as non Muslims through an act of Parliament. As such Shias, Barelvis, Sufis, Ahmadis, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus are the religious minorities who have facing the wrath of dominant communal forces in Pakistan. At the time of Partition, creation of Pakistan, the percentage of religious minorities was close to 23% and gradually it declined. The foundation of communal violence was very much there in the social thinking which regarded Pakistan as a Muslim state. Non Muslim minorities and some sets of Islam has been the victim of this violence. This violence picked up for the worse, during Zia ul Haq regime, when the Khakis and beard-cap came into a firm embrace, an alliance, which mutually boosted the power of both these groups.

In the decade of 1980s the other factor which contributed to the rise in divisive thinking was the setting up of Madrassas, richly funded by United States for its goal of control over oil resources, for countering the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. With these Madrassas, the US-Saudi support strengthened the Salafi, Wahabi version of Islam and this not only targeted the non Muslims but also the Shias and Ahmadis, the former being a substantial in number.

This targeting of intra Islam minorities also had some external support in the region, the Sunni factions being promoted and funded by Saudis and Shias by Iran. The Christian and Hindus were easy enough targets for these forces. In later decades this violence at social level came to be supplemented by the terrorist violence from sections of Al Qaeda...  

The large number of Christians there belongs to scavenger castes. Not only they are looked down upon, and most of the times the aim of violence is to dispose them of their lands. This is a very vulnerable social group. The blasphemy law has come in handy for attacking these communities. One recalls the case of Asea Bibi, who is in jail for her alleged remarks against Prophet Mohammad. She has been sentenced to death. Her appeal is pending in the Punjab High Court. When Salmaan Taseer, the former Governor of Punjab, spoke about reformation of the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, he was killed by a member of his own security guard.

Every sectarian force develops its own tools and pretexts for attacking the minorities. Asea had fetched some water from a well, and a Muslim crowd chided her for “polluting” the water since she was a “dirty (low caste) Christian”. The twist of arguments led to her death sentence.  Similarly in Aug. 2012, Rimsah Masih, the young, mentally challenged 14 year old girl was arrested for burning the pages from the Koran.

And now this mob of Muslims, which was coming out from the Masjid, broke into and destroyed the belongings of several Christian homes, because, as alleged by the one Muslim man who had a argument with one Christian man, the Christian had blasphemed against Islam. Quick mob justice, punish the community for the alleged work of one!

The pretexts notwithstanding the pattern are similar. The Muslim communal groups have been on the rise since the Zia regime. The degree of intensity of their boldness can be gauzed from the fact that they openly take the credit for such violent acts. This to some extent shows their clout and acceptability in the system.

The trajectory of communal forces in three major countries of South Asia has been parallel but very distinctive. In India the Hindu communalism, vitiated the peace and the regular targets were the non Hindus, Christian and Muslims. In between Sikhs were also subjected to massive violence. The increase in anti Dalit violence during this period cannot be visibly linked up with the anti Muslim and Anti Christian violence. Still the study of history of this violence tells us that the intensification of anti minority violence in early 1980s began with violence against dalits in 1981 and 1986. In Bangla Desh and Pakistan the non Muslims are targeted and differing sects of Muslims are also subject to this violence. In Pakistan, it seems the minority sects of Muslim and Christian and Hindus seem to be sailing in the same boat.

It will be infesting to note that unlike the perceptions prevailing here that all Muslims are anti Hindus and supporting violence what came to be noticed in recent anti minority violence was that the condemnation of these attacks against religious minorities by the secular groups in Pakistan. The case in point is the recent anti Christian violence in Lahore, the people to condemn this have been the activists from Forum for Secular Pakistan, articulating the wish for a secular state in Pakistan and upholding the secular values in that country. To condemn this attack in Lahore the Jamia community in Delhi organized a candle vigil and Khudai Khidmatgars issued strong statements condemning the violence against Christians n Pakistan, Many other groups have also added to the voices against such an insane act of violence.

While condemning one type of violence, the criticism dished forward is ‘why you criticize only this communalism’? As such the comments and criticism of democratic elements are directed against the acts which take place irrespective of the religion of offenders and victims. The secular groups and commentators who raise their voices against violence are dubbed as being against being this or that religion, being one sided and what not? The real issue is to be against all sort of targeting of religious minorities and intra religion groups. We seem to be in a downward phase of history where the communal elements are getting more powerful through the dastardly violence against the vulnerable groups, more often poor of the community, but not necessarily so.
Issues in Secular Politics
IV March 2013
Response only to ram.puniyani@gmail.com

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Mr. Modi, you are not welcome: Wharton Debate

Ram Puniyani

Ram Puniyani

The withdrawal of invitation for Narendra Modi to speak at Wharton Business School of Pennsylvania (March 2013) has been looked at in different ways by different commentators. Those who are opposing the invitation withdrawal, point out that it is a violation of the norms of freedom of speech. They say that Modi is an elected person in Indian system and his views on development of Gujarat under his leadership need to be heard by the people from business circles.  Those opposing his invitation argue that inviting him is like giving legitimacy to his total record. His role in Gujarat violence, his failure to prevent the carnage and give justice to the violence victims cannot be delinked from his so called development. They point out that as far as debating and engaging with Modi is concerned it cannot be achieved by inviting him as a key note speaker; this invitation already gives a high pedestal and recognition to him. He should be interrogated, engaged and debated with on different forums which give equal ground to those wanting to debate with him.

They also point that Gujarat’s development is a lopsided one, it is projected more than what the reality is. In Gujarat the levels of malnutrition, child and maternal mortality is higher, Gujarat is comparatively low on human growth index. The anti SC/ST atrocity cases are one index of human rights record of the state. In taking these cases of atrocities against SC/ST Gujarat is lowest on the rung, with only 25% convictions. According to analysts the growth of Gujarat is more of propaganda as many other states have done much better during this period. The lowest in the scale of development in Gujarat are minorities and SC/STs.

Modi was invited by the students of Wharton to speak on Gujarat’ development. After this a few Professors circulated a petition asking for withdrawal of the invitation. Within just few hours the petition got a massive response and was signed not only by the professors, many others: alumni, the students, doctor’s lawyers and other stake holders also supported the petition. The large number of signatures and the logic which the petition put forward clinched the issue and students, who are the ones to decide, withdrew the invitation.

The United States has denied VISA to Narendra Modi since 2005, despite his being an elected Chief Minister of the state. The Commonwealth countries so far have been keeping him at arm’s length, but after his third victory, these countries want to mend the relationship with him, as his projection as the Prime Ministerial candidate are floating around in a strong manner. US had denied him VISA for his role in the carnage of 2002, and the denial continues.  Similarly due to popular pressure after sustained campaigns; the activists groups succeeded in stopping the huge dollar funding from US to the RSS affiliate ‘India Development Relief Fund’ was collecting huge amounts and supporting the political work of RSS combine in the garb of cultural work. This RSS combine’s work is essentially to build up Hatred against minorities, through its various organizations.

While one is aware about the role of America in the promotion of politics of terror, in the formation of Al Qaeda in particular, while it is also known that US is out to attack other countries to promote its political-economic interests, at the same time there are various norms which different wings of American state follow. There are various civic norms which are stringent and are aimed to sustain and promote democratic values. The Civil society has also been campaigning to use this space, democratic-liberal one provided by these provisions of US system and try to stop the violation of human rights and retrograde activities in different places. This is a contradictory situation. The state by and large in its foreign affairs is like a Big Brother, violating all the laws of international behavior and laws and intimidating the smaller powers. There is no doubt about its role in international affairs, as a super power; it is undermining the global democracy; it has mauled the emerging global democracy amongst nations, which was getting expressed through rising clout of United Nations, has been sabotaged by US in particular. As a state it has promoted dictators and has been thick as thief with different dictators and autocrats.

At another level, the civic society has come up steeped in civility with respect for the norms of modern democracies, to some extent. So we see the dichotomous processes going on here. It is due to this pressure of prevailing norms and civil society campaigns that US is denying Visa to Modi. Is this denial of Visa to Modi an insult to our country? No way. It just shows us the mirror of the state of affairs in our country. Many a US bodies do keep monitoring phenomenon like, Religious freedom in other countries. Many of them keep making a list of terrorist organizations. All this monitoring is showing the diversities of our societies. In the same set up we are seeing two contradictory phenomenons.

Coming back to Modi, Wharton student’s body has gone more by the norms of civil society; has recognized that Modi may be claiming and many others may be buying his story of development, but the truth lies somewhere else. The petitioners opposing the Modi invite correctly point out that Human rights issues and development cannot be separated.  As far as Modi being a democratically elected person is concerned, the analysts can point out that his victory has been based on his politics of polarization, not on the inclusive politics. He has successfully scared the majority community about the threat of minority community. This goes on and on to make the foundations of his victory and there by his followers claiming that he has been elected, so all is well. Only thing they ignore at this point is that even Hitler had come to power through democratic means.

As far as his development is concerned it is de facto the development of industrial houses. One such industrialist, Adani, was the sponsor of Wharton meet. He withdrew his sponsorship the moment invitation to Modi was withdrawn. Modi’s mode of ‘development’ means giving all freebees to Tata, Adanai, Ambani and company while the poor one’s are getting more marginalized. This invitation being taken back just reflects that Modi’s propaganda has been punctured and a reminder that the violation of human rights violation of the weak cannot be exonerated at any cost. 

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bangladesh: Resurgence of Communalism

Ram Puniyani

Khaleda Zia
The acts of violence led by the Islamists, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) are tormenting our neighboring Bangla Desh, more than 50 dead, injuries and destruction of Hindu, Budhha temples amongst other losses. Its spill over is also being felt in Kolkata to some extent (Feb-March 2013). In Kolkata a strong crowd owing allegiance to Muslim communalism, different organizations like Minority Youth Federation, and others went on rampage. All this in response to the death sentence given to Delawar Hossian Sayedee, the Vice President of JI by a war crimes tribunal after he was found guilty for mass killing, rape and atrocities during the nine month war against Pakistan.

He is the third office bearers of JI to have been convicted of the crimes during Muktijuddha (liberation war) of 1971 of the then East Pakistan people’s resistance against the atrocities of Pakistan army.  Sheikh Hasina Government has set up the tribunal from last three years and now the verdicts of the tribunal are being handed down. Currently in Bangla Desh a large number of youth, believing in democracy are demanding stricter action through protest at Shahbagh against those who were hands in glove with Pakistan army while Jamaat wings are out on streets opposing the sentence to the guilty of 71 liberation war. In India also the Jamaat-Islami has opposed the Shahbag movement and is opposed to punishing the JI elements that are guilty of 1971 war crimes. JI was opposed to the 1971 liberation war led by Mukti Bahini under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and supported by most of the people from Bangla Desh. The attack by Pakistan army led to the killing of nearly three million people, rape of nearly 200000 women, by rough estimates. During this period the East Pakistan’s intellectuals and many political workers were done to death.

The tragedy of partition has a long and painful tale, which is refusing to die down even now more than six decades after the painful event. India was partitioned on the strange ground, Pakistan in the name of Islam and India as a secular democracy, apparently to solve the communal problem. British have left a long and painful legacy of politics in the name of religion, violence in the name of religion, which is continuing to dog the sub-continent. The twin pillars of success of British policy of ‘divide and rule’ were the persistence of feudal classes, in the face of rising industrialization and the deliberate British ploy to recognize Muslim League as the representatives of Indian Muslims right since its formation in 1906. Muslim League was initially formed by the declining sections of Muslim Nawabas, Landlords and later was joined by the section of Muslim educated classes and elite. In no way it represented Indian Muslims. Similarly the Hindu Mahasabha, the body parallel to Muslim League, came up from amongst the Hindu Rajas, Jamindars and later joined in by the section of educated classes and elite castes. Their agenda was totally opposed to the one of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, which was the foundation of freedom movement of the country.

There are lot of parallels between both these communal streams (Muslim and Hindu), they could join hands in forming coalition ministries in Sindh and Bengal just before the partition, they kept aloof from freedom movement and opposed the social transformation of caste and gender relations of the society. Their lip service to some social reforms notwithstanding, they stuck to the status quo in matters pertaining to social norms and political relations.

After partition the Pakistan (East and West) came to be dominated by the West Pakistan economic and political elite who occupied important positions in the army, bureaucracy, economy and polity. In the elections held in 1970 the Awami League (East Pakistan) led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman swept the polls, and emerged as the majority party in Pakistan. Still, army backed by Zulfiqar Bhutto did not permit the formation of Awami League Government. Here one can see the difference between religion and politics. While Islam calls for ‘all men are bothers’ the politics in the name of Islam coming from Pakistani regime, discriminated not only against people of other religions, Hindus in particular, but also against the others Muslims. Muslims of East Pakistan were being dominated and suppressed by the dominant ‘Muslims’ of West Pakistan.

With Awami League being denied the formation of Government and in the absence of democratic channels of protest, alienation grew in East Pakistan and Mujibur Rahman launched civil disobedience movement. Massive protest erupted all over in East Pakistan and Pakistani army, cracked down on its own citizens. In East Pakistan, army unleashed a reign of terror; murders and rapes. Hindus and Muslims both were targeted. The citizens from East Pakistan were regarded as enemies and rampage went on till the Mukti Bahini, with the help of Indian Army succeeded in defeating Pakistani army to declare the formation of People’s Republic of Bangla desh.

The formation of Bangla Desh decisively and irrefutable proved the futility of the theory that Nations are synonymous with religions, that religion can be the basis of nationalism. The ‘Two Nation theory’ that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations met its graveyard in the formation of Bangla Desh. Still the communal elements were not wiped out from the country and they do keep coming up now and then. We had also noticed the response of Muslim Communalists from Bangla Desh when they wanted to march to India, in response to the demolition of Babri mosque. The plight of minorities in Bangla Desh is pathetic. Many of the Hindus and Muslims became refugees and came to different parts of the country. Part of this contributed to the Hindu communalist’s propaganda and creation of scare about Bangla Deshi immigrants. The issue of sub continental politics has been presented on communal lines.

Sixty years down the line the seeds of communal politics which came up from the declining sections of landlords, were given ideological veneer by section of elite-upper castes, and were cleverly nurtured by the British. As such actually it was these communal elements that fed in to the British policy of ‘divide and rule’ and led to partition of the country. In the three countries which emerged in the subcontinent, the degree of communal poison today; is of course very different in intensity. Pakistan suffered maximum at the hands of colonial-imperialist powers, the minorities there, Hindus and Christians are having intimidating time. In Pakistan the army has become the ally of communal forces and keeps opposing the democratic aspirations of large sections of society. In Bangla Desh, the democratically rooted parties have to face opposition from the communal elements.

India, not to be left behind is being gradually weekend by the Hindu communalists, who have been harping on the identity issue like Ram Temple. They have given communal hue to the ‘left over’ problems of colonial rule. Bangla Desh is seen as the source of infiltrators, despite the fact that the poor Hindus and Muslims who fled the country in 1971 had to leave to escape the brutality of Pakistan army. Kashmir, which again partly is a leftover colonial parting kick supplemented by the ultra nationalism of Pakistan-India on one side and communalism on the other. Tragically this issue is also seen through the prism of Hindu and Muslim alone.

Thus all the three countries in the subcontinent have to grapple with this communal demon. To obfuscate the difference between religion and politics has been the biggest ‘success’ of communalists, cutting across the religious divides. Criticizing these communalists can easily give you a label of being against that religion. Does it need a rethink on the part of the democratic people of these countries to collaborate with each other to bury the demon of communalism, politics in the name of religion? Will communalists, who are dominating the scene in India, or Pakistan or Bangla Desh let it happen? Communalists are adept at creating the tempest of hysteria in the name of their religions, and can do the intense breast beating that the secular democratic efforts are a threat to their ‘religion. The task to save or promote democracy in the subcontinent is a mammoth one. Can those elements yearning for a freedom and democracy in the sub continent come together on this agenda?  

Issues in Secular Politics
II March 2013
Response only to ram.puniyani@gmail.com