Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is there a 'Kashmir' in China?

Recently Mr.S.Gurumurthy wrote an article in the New Indian Express comparing India's Kashmir problem with that of Islamic insurgency in China. The article titled " A tale of two Kashmirs made me think about the different aspects of the problems faced by two of the World's most populous Nations. Here are some excerpts from the article [in orange]and my thoughts [in black]about it.

That China too has its Kashmir and problems with Islamist separatists identical to India’s Kashmir is not widely known. ‘Xinjiang’, actually pronounced as ‘Sinkiang’ for postal purposes, is China’s Kashmir. Xinjiang actually shares borders with Ladakh in India’s Kashmir. But unlike Kashmir it is not a small area. Its size is 1.8 million sq km; almost one-sixth of China; half as much as India. India’s Kashmir measures some 2,65,000 sq km. Of which some 86,000 sq km is under Pakistan; some 37,500 sq km under China; the balance, 1,41,000 sq km, is with India. The disputed part of India’s Kashmir, some 1,45,000 sq km, is less than one hundredth of Xinjiang. So China’s Kashmir is physically 100 times bigger than India’s and therefore its problem too is bigger. Yet many do not know about it.

Here Mr Gurumurthy is claiming that as the area of Xinjiang is physically 100 times bigger than the area of Kashmir the problem of insurgency is/was also bigger. Is this true? Gurumuthy has not given any such indication in his article.

Let us look back at the history of the origin of Kashmir conflict.
The Kashmir Conflict arises from the Partition of India in 1947 into modern India and Pakistan. Both the countries have made claims to Kashmir, based on historical reasons and religious affiliations of the Kashmiri people. The state of Jammu and Kashmir, which lies strategically in the Northwest of the subcontinent, , was a princely state with a majority Muslim population,ruled by Hindu King,Maharaja Hari Singh, under the paramountcy of British India. In geographical and legal terms, the Maharaja could have joined either of the two new Dominions. The Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten urged the Maharaja, to determine the future of his state before the transfer of power took place, but Hari Singh delayed his decision.. In October 1947, Pakistani tribals with help of the Army entered Kashmir intending to liberate it from Hari Singh's rule. Unable to withstand the invasion, the Maharaja signed The Instrument of Accession with India.

The resulting war over Kashmir, between India and Pakistan, lasted until 1948, when India moved the issue to the UN Security Council. UN Security Council passed Resolution 47 on April 21, 1948. The resolution imposed that an immediate cease-fire take place and said that Pakistan should withdraw all presence and had no say in Jammu and Kashmir politics. It stated that India should retain a minimum military presence and stated "that the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations". At that time, the Indian and Pakistani governments agreed to hold the plebiscite but Pakistan did not withdraw its troops from Kashmir thus violating the condition for holding the plebiscite. India also did not want a Plebiscite. Plebiscite never happened and the dispute is continuing.

Xinjiang never had similar history. There was never a partition of China as it became independent like the way that happened in Indian sub continent. Several Chinese dynasties had ruled over the area.Many a time local leaders had declared independence but their attempts were short lived.After Chinese revolution and making of Xinjiang an autonomous province of People's Republic no other Country made any claim for the territory. Sporadic separatist protests were there but were put down by the autocratic Government with an iron hand.
So to say that China's Xinjiang 'problem' is similar to and is much bigger than India's Kashmir conflict is according to me not true.

Yes, China does have problems with Islamist separatists, extremists and terrorists. But it has, by diplomacy and action, ensured that it remains an internal problem, unlike India, which has on its own made Kashmir an international issue. China has also changed the religious and political demography of Xinjiang by ensuring that 41 per cent of the province’s population is non-Muslim.
Instead of working to change the demography in favour of India as China has done, the Indian government could not even prevent the expulsion of
Hindus from the Valley. While Xinjiang is half filled by Han Chinese, Kashmir has been cleansed of Hindus. The result is that India has to defend Kashmir with the army instead of the people.

An issue becomes International when there is a dispute between two Nations that could not be solved bilaterally. So the Kashmir conflict was always an International issue. India did take it to the UN with the belief that UN will readily uphold India's rights to the territory of Kashmir.That did not happen and in retrospect the decision to take it to UN may have been wrong. But to say that India's action was the sole reason for the issue becoming International is far from the truth.In case of Xinjiang there was only an internal separatist movement.So chances of it becoming International was/is less.

China did change the ethnic and religious demography of Xinjiang so that the Han Chinese became a dominant force. They could do it deliberately because of the autocratic functioning of the Chinese Government. They do not have democracy nor the Judiciary is independent of the Government.In contrast India had a functioning democracy almost all the time after Independence expect during the Emergency.

When the Kashmir Constituent Assembly ratified the Indian Constitution and the union to India,Article 370 was a pre-condition for such ratification.Any violation of fundamental rights assured by our Constitution could be questioned in our Courts.So deliberate changing of demographics is not possible anywhere in a country like India,more so in Kashmir.But the whole article never mentions this important difference between India's Kashmir and China.

Actually India is trying to defend Kashmir with the help of secular and moderate Kashmiris with Army protecting them,unlike in China were Han Chinese from other provinces are displacing the Uighurs with the help of brute force of Chinese Army. Which is better?

Should article 370 be repealed? As per the current constitutional provisions it can be done only with the concurrence of the Kashmir Government. If there is such a concurrence it will good to repeal it for proper integration Kashmir to India.

Had India followed the policy the Chinese adopted in Xinjiang, conquering Kashmir back instead of contracting under Article 370, which prevents Indians in other places from migrating to the Valley, today Kashmir would have demographically integrated with India. We would be dealing with internal riots occasionally like China does; but we would not face or fight wars with Pakistan and with terrorists every day.

May be Gurumurthy,who is a well known opponent of Emergency Rule of 1975-1977 must have lost his belief in Democracy. He wants India to conquer Kashmir back without the consent of its inhabitants. Will conquering really integrate it to India,or increase the support for separatist movement? Will it prevent wars with Pakistan or increase the chance of war? Will it reduce jihadi terrorism or increase it? Gurumurthy seems to be deliberately closing his eyes to the reality.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Israeli Soldiers break the silence on Gaza abuses

Until now, the Israeli army was countering all allegations that war crimes were committed during its recent offensive in Gaza by claiming it was Palestinian propaganda.
Even it rubbished the UN accusations of War crimes and is refusing to co-operate with the UN appointed team probing the matter.
[The 22 day military action by Israel on Gaza strip resulted in killing of over 1400 Palestinians including around 400 children]

Now, though, the accusations of abuse are being made by Israeli soldiers.

A Human Rights Group formed by Israeli Army Veterans called 'Breaking the Silence' have collected testimonies from unnamed Israeli Soldiers confirming the fact that Israeli Army forced Palestinian civilians to serve as human shields, needlessly killed unarmed Gazans and improperly used white phosphorus shells to burn down buildings as part of Israel's attack on Gaza last winter.

Some of the incidents Soldiers described included those in which Israeli forces killed an elderly woman carrying a sack,unarmed Palestinian carrying a white cloth,an elderly man with a flashlight, and a Gazan riding a motorcycle.

The testimony which also included 16 video clips of interviews with 26 Israeli soldiers offers the most comprehensive proof of Israeli Army's war crimes. Many of the testimonies are in line with accusations made by human rights organisations that Israeli military action in Gaza was indiscriminate and disproportionate.

Yehuda Shaul, a co-founder of Breaking the Silence, said the report didn't identify the soldiers by name because at least half the men quoted were young conscripts who could be jailed for speaking to the media.

Israeli soldiers who were interviewed said they forced Palestinians to search homes for militants and enter buildings ahead of soldiers.

"Sometimes a force would enter while placing rifle barrels on a Palestinian civilian's shoulder, advancing into a house and using him as a human shield,"

According to the soldiers, the Israeli military fired white phosphorus mortars and artillery shells to set suspicious buildings ablaze and destroyed scores of Palestinian homes for questionable reasons.

"You felt like a child playing around with a magnifying glass, burning up ants," another Israeli soldier said. "A 20-year-old kid should not be doing such things to people. . . . the guys were running a 'Wild West' scene: draw, cock, kill."

adapted from BBC reports and adopt resistance blog

Sunday, July 12, 2009

USA's troubled Health Care System

The Health Care System in the World's richest Country,the United States of America is in a mess. The American health-care system, which costs about 16% of the country’s economic output, is by far the most expensive in the world. Even after spending so much money about 50 million people are un-insured and another 25 million are under-insured. Most West European Countries spend half the amount to provide universal Health coverage.

Is such costly health care in USA of high standard?

Comparisons with other rich countries show that America’s health-care system is not only growing at an unsustainable pace, but also provides questionable value for money and dubious medical care. It is characterised by uneven quality of care, inadequate coverage and soaring costs.

Barack Obama has promised far reaching health care reforms so that no US citizen will remain un-insured like this Type1 Diabetes Patient who is dependent on Insulin Pump. The Congress is drafting a new reform legislation but the Health Industry and the Insurance Industry are up in arms against the reforms.

Last month an Insurance Industry insider,Mr Wendell Potter who had quit his job in disgust at the way the Insurance Companies exploit patients, testified before a Congress Committee about how 'the insurance companies confuse the customers and dump the sick so that they can satisfy the Wall Street investors.

Later he also described the reasons for quitting his highly paid job in the Insurance Industry to become a whistle-blower in a TV interview and also wrote about it in his blog.

Here are some excerpts:

While visiting my folks in northeast Tennessee where I grew up, I read in the local paper about a health "expedition" being held that weekend a few miles up U.S. 23 in Wise, Va. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals were volunteering their time to provide free medical care to people who lived in the area. What intrigued me most was that a non-profit group whose original mission was to provide free care to people in remote villages in South America, was organizing the expedition. I decided to check it out.

I borrowed my dad's car and drove up 50 miles up the road to Wise, Virginia. It was being held at a Wise County Fairground. I took my camera. I took some pictures. It was a very cloudy, misty day, it was raining that day, and I walked through the fairground gates. And I didn't know what to expect. I just assumed that it would be, you know, like a health-- booths set up and people just getting their blood pressure checked and things like that.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I reached the Wise County Fairgrounds, where the expedition was being held. Hundreds of people had camped out all night in the parking lot to be assured of seeing a doctor or dentist when the gates opened. By the time I got there, long lines of people stretched from every animal stall and tent where the volunteers were treating patients.

But what I saw were doctors who were set up to provide care in animal stalls. Or they'd erected tents, to care for people. I mean, there was no privacy. In some cases-- and I've got some pictures of people being treated on gurneys, on rain-soaked pavement.

And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care. People drove from South Carolina and Georgia and Kentucky, Tennessee-- all over the region, because they knew that this was being done. A lot of them heard about it from word of mouth.

That scene was so visually and emotionally stunning it was all I could do to hold back tears.

How could it be that citizens of the richest nation in the world were being treated this way?

A couple of weeks later I was boarding a corporate jet to fly from Philadelphia to a meeting in Connecticut. When the flight attendant served my lunch on gold-rimmed china and gave me a gold-plated knife and fork to eat it with, I realized for the first time that someone's insurance premiums were paying for me to travel in such luxury. I also realized that one of the reasons those people in Wise County had to wait in long lines to be treated in animal stalls was because our Wall Street-driven health care system has created one of the most inequitable health care systems on the planet.

The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that, you're heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.

It's the way the American system has evolved, the political system,that the vested special interests, who are so profitable and so powerful, are able to influence public policy in the way that they have, and the way that they've done over the years. And the insurance industry has been one of the most successful, in beating back any kinds of legislation that would hinder or affect the profitability of the companies.

The industry doesn't want to have any competitor. In fact, over the course of the last few years, has been shrinking the number of competitors through a lot of acquisitions and mergers. So first of all, they don't want any more competition period. They certainly don't want it from a government plan that might be operating more efficiently than they are, that they operate. The Medicare program that we have here is a government-run program that has administrative expenses that are like three percent or so compared to the industry's twenty percent.

You know, I've been around a long time. And I have to say, I just don't get this. I just don't understand how the corporations can oppose a plan that gives the unhealthy people a chance to be covered. And they don't want to do it themselves.

Let us hope that with the help of whistleblowers like Mr Potter, Barack Obama and the 'Democratic' Congress will be able to really reform the American Health Care System so that no one is denied high quality health care.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Leftist Budget?

The Union budget that the Indian Finance Minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee presented in Parliament on July 6 was a surprise. With the Left Parties out of the UPA, many expected a budget that will be pro-business and will announce a massive dis-investment plan in Public Sector Undertakings. There were also expectations that there will be throwing open of Insurance and Banking sectors for foreign investment. But the budget was a disappointment for the Stock Market and Foreign investors. Here are some quotes from Finance Minister's speech.

The Public Sector Undertakings are the wealth of the nation, and part of this wealth should rest in the hands of the people. While retaining at least 51 per cent Government equity in our enterprises, I propose to encourage people’s participation in our disinvestment programme. Here, I must state clearly that public sector enterprises such as banks and insurance companies will remain in the public sector and will be given all support, including capital infusion, to grow and remain competitive.
The financial sector is the life blood of any economy. Our Government’s approach to the banking and financial sector has been to ensure robust oversight and regulation while expanding financial access and deepening markets. The merit of this balanced approach has been borne out in the recent experience, as the turbulence in the world financial markets has left the Indian banking and financial sector relatively unaffected. Never before has Indira Gandhi’s bold decision to nationalise our banking system exactly 40 years ago - on 14th of July, 1969 - appeared as wise and visionary as it has over the past few months. Her approach continues to be our inspiration even as we introduce competition and new technology in this sector.

Why the budget was more pro-people than pro-investor?

Congress Party must have realised that their victory in the last election is primarily due to social welfare schemes like the NREGA and NRHM. Large increase in allocation to those schemes and the new Food Security Scheme make it a more Leftitst Budget than most of the previous budgets that Congress Finance Ministers presented.
Also the World economic recession caused by un-bridled Capitalism made the Finance Minister vary of further privatisation and de-regulation.
As Siddharth Varadarajan wrote in The Hindu:
With growth as the target, the Congress high command has two models to choose from: the rent-generating, corporate handout-driven route which the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance followed to disastrous political effect from 1998 to 2004; or an expenditure-driven expansionary fiscal strategy with the emphasis on expanding the consumption entitlements of the poor. Corporate and bureaucratic elites favour the first model, and the Economic Survey reflects this technocratic bias in policy recommendations. But Mr. Mukherjee’s budget reflects the Congress party’s privileging of the political in the widest sense.
At a time when the biggest private banks and insurance companies in the West have fallen flat, it makes little sense to pitch for India to open its doors to them.
The reaction of the stock market to the budget shows how out of touch with sound economic logic the country’s biggest investors are. And their belief that the Congress would use the departure of the Left from the broader UPA stable to veer sharply and immediately to the right betrays an equally poor understanding of the realities of Indian politics.

Was it because of that realisation of Indian Politics that it was Pranab Mukherjee a seasoned Politician and not a technocrat or an economist was choosen as the Finanace Minister?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Why I oppose ban on burqa?

New York Times recently published an op-ed article supporting French President Sarkozy's attempt to ban burqa.

In the article, Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-born commentator on Arab and Muslim issues says, "As a Muslim woman and a feminist I would ban the burqa".

This made me wondering. Was Sarkozy's remark justified? Was I wrong in publishing a post against Sarkozy's attempt to ban burqa? Let me see the arguments of the writer in NY Times and decide. Her points in blue and my thoughts in black.

I am a Muslim, I am a feminist and I detest the full-body veil, known as a niqab or burqa. It erases women from society and has nothing to do with Islam but everything to do with the hatred for women at the heart of the extremist ideology that preaches it.

She hates burqa and hates the Islamists who try to make women wear it. No difference of opinion here. Is it Islamic or not? Actually that is not my botheration as I do not follow that religion, but I feel that religious traditions will change from time to time and place to place. One will say it is Islamic while other will say it is not. Let the believer decide what is Islamic and what is not as long as it do not harm another person.

We must not sacrifice women at the altar of political correctness or in the name of fighting a growingly powerful right wing that Muslims face in countries where they live as a minority.

By saying that women should decide [and not French Government] what she should wear in any way sacrifice them at the altar of political correctness? Right wing Conservatives are always anti-women whether it is in USA, [anti abortion activists], France [Le Pen] or in Iran. So fighting the Right Wing is always pro-women.

But the best way to support Muslim women would be to say we oppose both racist Islamophobes and the burqa. We’ve been silent on too many things out of fear we’ll arm the right wing.

Yes I agree that we should oppose both racist Islamophobes and compulsory wearing of burqa but should never ban either of them. We should oppose Islamophobes politically. Muslim women scholars like the author of the article should be able to convince Muslim women that burqa is not compulsory and is demeaning to women. Actually supporting Sarkozy is like giving away the right of women to wear what she likes.

It is sad to see a strange ambivalence toward the burqa from many of my fellow Muslims and others who claim to support us. They will take on everything — the right wing, Islamophobia, Mr. Straw, Mr. Sarkozy — rather than come out and plainly state that the burqa is an affront to Muslim women.

There is no ambivalence here. I feel the correct liberal view should be opposition to compulsory wearing of burqa. Women should be able to decide everything about themselves with out any interference by Men, Mullahs or Presidents. .

Is burqa an affront to Muslim women?

May be more than the burqa the second citizen status given to women, as a whole in a male dominated society throughout the World, especially in some Islamic countries is an affront to women. Burqa is a part of that. We can propagate that idea but the final opinion should be from the women concerned.

I blame such reluctance on the success of the ultra-conservative Salafi ideology — practiced most famously in Saudi Arabia — in leaving its imprimatur on Islam globally by persuading too many Muslims that it is the purest and highest form of our faith.

Saudi-style Salafi ideology got maximum support not from liberals but from conservative Right wing Governments in the West due to Oil interests. Liberal political movements were destroyed in the name of Cold War. Also the blame should be on the Liberal Muslims who is leaving everything related to religion to be decided by Mullahs.

It’s one thing to argue about the burqa in a country like Saudi Arabia — where I lived for six years and where women are treated like children — but it is utterly dispiriting to have those same arguments in a country where women’s rights have long been enshrined. When I first saw a woman in a burqa in Copenhagen I was horrified.

Actually it is Sarkozy who is trying to impinge on women's right to choose her attire. You have the right to get horrified and write about it.

As a Muslim woman and a feminist I would ban the burqa.

As a Muslim woman and as a feminist she cannot ban burqa. Only Government can ban burqa.She can oppose it verbally and in letters and by legally allowed agitations. But she cannot tear up the burqa off a woman she meets in the street.

The whole point of discussion is not whether burqa is good or bad or whether it is Islamic or non Islamic. The point of discussion is whether a Government has the right to ban Women from wearing a particular outfit in public places. You can have reasonable dress codes in factories, offices, schools, religious places etc, but not in public places.

The sad part of this controversy is both Sarkozy and Mullahs will be happy with this. Sarkozy will get the anti-migrant racist votes while the oppressed Muslim women may turn more and more to burqa as a protest against the West's 'Islamophobia".

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rights of Sexual Minorities

The Union Home Ministry took a step in right direction by publicly saying that the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises homosexuality should be amended or repealed. The Law Minister also confirmed that soon a meeting of the Home,Health and Law Ministers will be convened.He pointed out that many sections of the IPC are outdated and government is exploring possibilities of amending such laws and updating legal provisions so that they were in tune with the times.

But soon the statements of religious Right opposing the move began to appear in the media. The Islamic Clergy, the Christian Church and the Viswa Hindu Parishad came out with statements opposing homosexuality as against God and religion.

"It (homosexuality) is not at all acceptable and agreeable. It is against the tenets of bible. Man and Woman were created in God's own image. Homosexuality is against the society," Rt Rev Abraham Mar Paulos Episcopa, Head of Marthoma Syrian Church of Malabar diocesan told PTI.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad is also opposed to any dilution in the Section 377 of IPC.
"It is against the culture and family system in India. It will result in spread of number of diseases. But we will see what changes, if at all, are introduced in the section," said Vinod Bansal, spokesperson of Delhi unit of the Parishad.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, a prominent body of Muslim community too has hit out at the government's proposed move, saying the repeal of the section would create "sexual anarchy" in the society.

The confused and unsure Government began back pedalling.

While Union law minister Veerappa Moily claimed he had been “misquoted” as saying the government was planning to legalise homosexuality, health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad spoke of the need for “debate and consensus” on the issue before any move.

"I can simply say that there should be more debate -- public debate, Parliament debate," Ghulam Nabi Azad said at a press conference here. "There has to be consensus. The negative and positive has to be evaluated and then a conclusion should be evolved

This is a cowardly way of putting amendments to section 377 in the cold storage as consensus appears unlikely.
The attitude of the new Health Minister is in stark contrast with that of his predecessor Dr Ramadoss who said in August 2008:
"Structural discrimination against those who are vulnerable to HIV such as sex workers and MSM must be removed if our prevention, care and treatment programmes are to succeed," he said. "Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises Men who have sex with Men, must go".
Interestingly it was the then Home Minister Mr Shivraj Patil who opposed it
When the controversy and the tug of war between the Home Minister and the Health Minister occurred regarding this issue last year,the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proved his label of being weak by not taking leadership and coming to a conclusion of his own on what is the correct and progressive measure.Instead he asked the two ministers to reach a consensus on their own which was equivalent to shelving the issue

India is among a fairly large group of countries in Asia and Africa [shown red in the map below]which still has laws criminalising homosexuality. With the UPA Government not showing signs of bravery and statesmanship India may remain in this group for some more time.


Let me conclude this post with quotes from the editorial of The Hindu:

Are the winds of change that seemed to be blowing through the corridors of the central government on the issue of ending legal discrimination against gay sex petering out? Hope that the infamous Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code would be either quickly repealed or suitably amended — raised when the Union Home Ministry boldly described it as an “absurdity in the present day” — have receded with the Law Minister, Veerappa Moily, announcing that the Centre was in no hurry to take such a step. Calls for a parliamentary debate to reach a ‘wider consensus’ on a basic issue of human rights and equal justice are nothing but an excuse to put off a hard decision on ending an obnoxious colonial-era provision that has absolutely no place in the statute book of a modern democratic and secular state

Having promised to review this provision, the government must not give in to the pressure of religious fundamentalists, moral obscurantists, and others who argue that Indian society is not ready to accept such change. Especially on non-negotiable social issues, governments must lead public opinion — not tail its least enlightened strands or go for the lowest common denominator

Let me add that this may be the time for the 'Dynasty' to intervene.If they prove that they are courageous enough to implement this progressive measure in India there may be some justification in them claiming for Jawaharlal Nehru's legacy.