Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hazards of helping the poor

Meet Dr Binayak Sen. He is a medical doctor,a Paediatrician.He passed out from the prestigious Christian Medical College,Vellore.

He first worked in a rural health programme in Madhya Pradesh.
He moved to Chhattisgarh in 1981, and began working with the leading mine workers' trade union leader, Shankar Guha Niyogi. The two set up a hospital for mine workers after raising money from the community - the Shaheed Hospital in Dallirajhara is still cited as an example of a pioneering health initiative in India for the poor.
The doctor received a paltry salary of 600 rupees ($15) a month, and helped the facility grow from a small clinic to a 60-bed hospital in four years.
In the early 1990s, Dr Sen and his wife, Ilina, set up Rupantar, a non-governmental organisation training rural health workers, running mobile clinics and campaigns against alcohol abuse and violence against women. Dr Sen's efforts in public health programmes, say local doctors, helped bringing down the infant mortality rate in the state and deaths caused by diarrhoea and dehydration.

He was the recipient in 2004 of the Paul Harrison award for a lifetime of service to the rural poor. This award is given annually by the Christian Medical College, Vellore to its alumni.

He was awarded the R.R. Keithan Gold Medal by The Indian Academy of Social Sciences (ISSA) on 31 December 2007. The citation describes him as "one of the most eminent scientists" of India

He was selected for the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2008. The Global Health Council issued a public statement, "This 58-year-old pediatrician was selected by an international jury of public health professionals for this prestigious award because of his years of service to poor and tribal communities in India, his effective leadership in establishing self-sustaining health care services where none existed, and his unwavering commitment to civil liberties and human rights.

He is an advisor to Jan Swasthya Sahyog, a health care organization committed to developing a low-cost, effective, community health programme in the tribal and rural areas of Chhattisgarh.

He was also a member of the state Government's advisory committee set up to pilot the community based health worker programme across Chhattisgarh, later known as the Mitanin programme.
Finally he was awarded LIFE IMPRISONMENT by the Raipur Sessions Court on December 24,2010 and branded as Enemy of the State.
Here is an excerpt from the article in The Lancet,the prestigious medical journal  about Dr Sen  last year.
Indian doctors typically dodge rural postings. But Sen, a graduate from Vellore's prestigious Christian Medical College, opted to work in the neglected hinterland, where most Indians still live. Rupantar, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) founded by Sen and his wife, set up a weekly clinic in 1997 in a village in central India (now part of Chattisgarh state) plagued by malaria and malnutrition. Local tribal youths were trained to become community health workers. Ever since, the clinic has been providing low-cost medical care to those living within a 50 km radius and who cannot access health services easily. Today, however, the health clinic is denied the services of its creator—the doctor, who once advised the state government on health sector reforms, is now branded an enemy of the state.

Sen's troubles can be traced to his criticism of the Salwa Judum, an anti-Naxalite movement, allegedly initiated by the people of Chattisgarh in 2005, to oppose Maoist violence in the state. “He had highlighted unlawful killings of adivasis (indigenous people) by the police, and by Salwa Judum, a private militia widely held to be sponsored by the state authorities to fight the guerrillas of the CPI (Maoist)”, says Amnesty International. “Dr Binayak Sen questioned those policies of the Chattisgarh State, which has led to large scale displacements of tribal people, their growing impoverishment and starvation deaths”, notes Indian Doctor in Jail, The Story of Binayak Sen—a booklet brought out by Doctors in Defense of Dr Binayak Sen—a group of men and women who personally know Sen and his work. Sen was troubled by the effect of these displacements on the health of tribal people, the report notes.

My Take
When you are doctor you deal with diseases and premature deaths. You realise that diseases and premature deaths are caused by poverty, under nutrition and lack of health care facilities. You realise that you cannot cure diseases and prevent premature deaths by medicines alone.You realise that physical illness is part of  malady of the society. Injustice and exploitation of the marginalised communities have to be stopped if their health has to be improved.

At this stage most doctors will shrug their shoulders and will say 'we cannot help it' and turn away from the issue.They will escape to the cities and treat rich patients.

But Binayak Sen did not do that. He was brave enough to continue his struggle for betterment of health of the poor in Chathisgarh.

It was his attempt to highlight the injustice faced by the  tribals  that made him enemy of the State.

Dr. Sen being the Secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties,Chhattisgarh Unit had helped draw attention to the unlawful killing - on 31 March 2007 - of several tribals in Santoshpur, Chhattisgarh. Upon orders from the State Human Rights Commission, bodies of the victims were exhumed from a mass grave in the week immediately preceding Dr. Sen's arrest. The post-mortem examination proved that the killings were brutal murder of innocent villagers by the police in fake encounters. This was severe loss of face for the State Government. Dr Sen was arrested because he had helped focus attention on these and other unlawful killings by Police and Salwa Judum.

Now Dr Binayak Sen is sentenced to Life imprisonment for helping the poor. In this 'democratic' India it is really hazardous to help the poor.

My old post on Binayak Sen
The Hindu
The Lancet

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Karnataka Police's attempt to intimidate media

Shahina K.K, journalist, Tehelka  has been facing harassment and intimidation from the Karnataka Police for last few weeks. A case has been registered against her at the Somawarpet Police Station (No. 199/10) and Siddhapura Police Station (No. 241/10) under Section 506 for allegedly intimidating witnesses
Tehelka had carried in a recent issue Shahina’s report based on interviews with two witnesses in the 2008 Bengaluru blast case. The report titled 'Why is this man still in prison? 'has raised questions over the police investigation and the arrest of People’s Democratic Party chairman Abdul Nasar Mahdani in the blast case.

Intimidation of Shahina started as soon as she reached Igoor in Karnataka's Hassan District.Here is an excerpt from her report.

ON THE morning of 16 November, I reached Igoor in Karnataka’s Hassan district, along with two translators and met KK Yoganand, one of the witnesses in the 2008 Bengaluru blasts case and a few BJP workers, including the vice-president of the panchayat. They all disclosed that, contrary to the police chargesheet, they had not seen Abdul Nasar Madani in the area.
While on our way from Hosathotta to a secret location where we had planned to meet Rafeeq, another witness, we were stopped by the police. The Circle Inspector of Hosathotta police station, despite being told that we were from the media, warned us that we are not allowed “to do such things here”.
A police vehicle tailed us for a while en route to Madikeri to ensure that we had left. After an hour, we changed vehicles and kept our appointment with Rafeeq.
On our way back, at 9.30 pm, I received a call from the Circle Inspector. The question was simple: “Are you a terrorist?” I did not know whether to laugh or cry. He then explained that the villagers were scared and suspected that we were terrorists. He wanted to confirm my identity by talking to my editor.
The next day, three Kannada newspapers — Sakthi, Prajavani and Kannada Prabha— carried a story about a “suspicious” visit by a “group of Muslims” to the place. The newspapers said that police are not sure about the identity of the woman, though she had showed a TEHELKA identity card!

Soon 2 cases were registered against the journalist.

There has been wide spread condemnation from Journalists Associations and Civil Rights activists against this move of Karnataka Police to harass journalists.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has strongly condemned the criminal proceedings launched against Tehelka reporter K.K. Shahina by the Karnataka police
“The IFJ is shocked that this fine example of investigative journalism has become the grounds for criminal prosecution of a reporter, on charges of pressuring and intimidating witnesses”, IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

As working journalists, we are gravely concerned about what appears to be a clamp down on journalists doing their duty to investigate events and issues in their attempt to uncover the truth and keep the public informed. We believe the false charges framed against Shahina KK is an attempt to silence the press and to dissuade the media from delving into such matters. The trumped up charges against Shahina KK appear to be yet another instance of social profiling based on religious identity that has become all too common in recent years. We think it is imperative to uphold the right and duty of journalists to probe issues relating to human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minority communities who are accused of criminal acts, in the public interest.
By slapping charges of criminal intimidation (which carries a seven-year jail term as punishment) against a journalist the Karnataka Police has attacked the very basis of the freedom of expression, which is vital for the functioning of democracy. .
The Network of Women in Media, India,

This, we feel, is a clear case of infringement of journalistic freedom by the Karnataka police. Howsoever serious a case might be, the media has always had the freedom in this country to meet witnesses and even the prime accused to hear their versions and place them before society. It is this freedom, among many others, that has given our democracy the vibrancy that it has today. By registering a case for criminal intimidation against a journalist, the Karnataka police has cut at the very root of democratic and media freedoms in our country
Senior Journalists from Kerala

The case is not against her as an individual but it is a warning to the entire press community, women and minorities. We strongly condemn the attitude of the police to frame false charges on a reputed journalist in a nationally reputed magazine. We are aware that if the police can go to that extent, what the status of ordinary members of the minority community could be. We also condemn the tradition of some of the members of the press to repeat the false information of the police, which has very deep communal implications. We are shocked at the growing human rights violations in the name of tackling terrorism. Above all, the problems faced by Shahina is also a grave threat to freedom of expression and the incidents also warn us about the fascistic designs of the Sangh Parivar controlled Karnataka Government
Civil Rights Groups

It seems the case against Madani is flimsy and Police is aware of that. That may be the reason for  the need for intimidating the journalist who is fearlessly exposing the flimsiness of the case.

Let us hope that all this adverse publicity generated by this incident will prevent further Police intimidation of the media.

Why is this man still in prison? Shahina's article
Women in media Statement
Civil Rights Group statement

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why shoot the messenger?

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has angered U.S. authorities by publishing secret diplomatic cables, was remanded in custody by a British court on Tuesday over allegations of sex crimes in Sweden.

Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, had earlier handed himself in to British police after Sweden had issued a European Arrest Warrant for him. Assange, who denies the allegations, will remain behind bars until a fresh hearing on December 14.

Journalists and people from other professions from every region of the world joined together to support the whistle-blowing organization Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange who  have provided an extraordinary resource for journalists around the world and made "an outstanding contribution to transparency and accountability on the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars". The journalists organizing this effort continue to support Wikileaks and Assange after the latest release of U.S. State Department documents.

Journalists' statement on attacks on WikiLeaks
[from Global Investigative Journalism network]

Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing organization Wikileaks, is being angrily criticized and threatened for his part in huge leaks of military documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (the 'War Diaries'). He is being accused of irresponsibly releasing confidential military information, of endangering lives of people named in the leaked military reports and even of espionage. Some media organizations have joined in this criticism.

We, journalists and journalist organizations from many countries, express our support for Mr Assange and Wikileaks. We believe that Mr Assange has made an outstanding contribution to transparency and accountability on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, subjects where transparency and accountability has been severely restricted by government secrecy and media control. He is being attacked for releasing information that should never have been withheld from the public.

We believe Wikileaks had the right to post confidential military documents because it was in the interest of the public to know what was happening. The documents show evidence that the US Government has misled the public about activities in Iraq and Afghanistan and that war crimes may have been committed.

Has Wikileaks endangered lives? There was legitimate criticism of Wikileaks for not vetting the Afghanistan documents fully enough, with some names such as informers being released. Fortunately there is no evidence that anyone has been injured or killed as a result. We note that Wikileaks learned from that mistake and has been much more careful with the Iraq documents. Overall, Wikileaks' factual reporting of numerous undisputed abuses and crimes is of far greater significance than the widely criticized mistakes over inadequate redacting.

Mr Assange is being personally pressured because of his involvement in the military leaks, including threats of espionage charges. Mr. Assange is no more guilty of espionage than any journalist or any whistleblower. This is a terrible precedent and one that is contrary to open government.

If it is espionage to publish documents provided by whistle blowers, then every journalist will eventually be guilty of that crime. Mr Assange deserves our support and encouragement in the face of the attacks.

Since it was launched in 2006, Wikileaks has been an extraordinary resource for journalists around the world, furthering transparency at a time when governments are reducing it. Although it is not part of the media, and does not purport to be, its mission of informing the public and reducing unjustified secrecy complements and assists our work. As grateful beneficiaries of Wikileaks and Mr Assange's work, we stand in support of them at this time.

WIKILEAKS deserves protection, not threats and attacks.

[excerpts from the editorial written in The Australian by WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange]

WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?

Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.

People have said I am anti-war: for the record, I am not. Sometimes nations need to go to war, and there are just wars. But there is nothing more wrong than a government lying to its people about those wars, then asking these same citizens to put their lives and their taxes on the line for those lies. If a war is justified, then tell the truth and the people will decide whether to support it.

If you have read any of the Afghan or Iraq war logs, any of the US embassy cables or any of the stories about the things WikiLeaks has reported, consider how important it is for all media to be able to report these things freely.

WikiLeaks is not the only publisher of the US embassy cables. Other media outlets, including Britain's The Guardian, The New York Times, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany have published the same redacted cables.

Yet it is WikiLeaks, as the co-ordinator of these other groups, that has copped the most vicious attacks and accusations from the US government and its acolytes. I have been accused of treason, even though I am an Australian, not a US, citizen. There have been dozens of serious calls in the US for me to be "taken out" by US special forces. Sarah Palin says I should be "hunted down like Osama bin Laden", a Republican bill sits before the US Senate seeking to have me declared a "transnational threat" and disposed of accordingly. An adviser to the Canadian Prime Minister's office has called on national television for me to be assassinated. An American blogger has called for my 20-year-old son, here in Australia, to be kidnapped and harmed for no other reason than to get at me.

Every time WikiLeaks publishes the truth about abuses committed by US agencies, Australian politicians chant a provably false chorus with the State Department: "You'll risk lives! National security! You'll endanger troops!" Then they say there is nothing of importance in what WikiLeaks publishes. It can't be both. Which is it?

It is neither. WikiLeaks has a four-year publishing history. During that time we have changed whole governments, but not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed. But the US, with Australian government connivance, has killed thousands in the past few months alone.

US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates admitted in a letter to the US congress that no sensitive intelligence sources or methods had been compromised by the Afghan war logs disclosure. The Pentagon stated there was no evidence the WikiLeaks reports had led to anyone being harmed in Afghanistan. NATO in Kabul told CNN it couldn't find a single person who needed protecting. The Australian Department of Defence said the same. No Australian troops or sources have been hurt by anything we have published.
But our publications have been far from unimportant. The US diplomatic cables reveal some startling facts:

► The US asked its diplomats to steal personal human material and information from UN officials and human rights groups, including DNA, fingerprints, iris scans, credit card numbers, internet passwords and ID photos, in violation of international treaties. Presumably Australian UN diplomats may be targeted, too.

► King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asked the US to attack Iran.

► Officials in Jordan and Bahrain want Iran's nuclear program stopped by any means available.

► Britain's Iraq inquiry was fixed to protect "US interests".

► Sweden is a covert member of NATO and US intelligence sharing is kept from parliament.

► The US is playing hardball to get other countries to take freed detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Barack Obama agreed to meet the Slovenian President only if Slovenia took a prisoner. Our Pacific neighbour Kiribati was offered millions of dollars to accept detainees.

In its landmark ruling in the Pentagon Papers case, the US Supreme Court said "only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government". The swirling storm around WikiLeaks today reinforces the need to defend the right of all media to reveal the truth

I applaud WIKILEAKS for bringing out the truth.I am sure even if one Assange is arrested more and more Assanges will take his place.

Journalists support
The Australian

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The speech of sedition

Following a court order, the Delhi Police on November 29th  registered a case of sedition against writer Arundhati Roy, hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, revolutionary poet Varavara Rao and others on charges of giving “anti-India” speeches at a convention on Kashmir, “Azadi: The Only Way”, held in Delhi on Oct. 21.
The case has been registered under Sections 124 A (sedition), 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 153 B (imputations, assertions, prejudicial to national integration), 504 (insult intended to provoke breach of peace) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the IPC and Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

What was Arundhati Roy's crime? What had she said? I reproduce below the transcript of the speech taken from The Outlook website

SAR GEELANI: now I request Arundhati Roy to come and speak.

AR: If anybody has any shoes to throw, please throw them now ..
Some people in the audience: we’re cultured…etc..etc

AR: Good, I’m glad. I’m glad to hear that. Though being cultured is not necessarily a good thing. But anyway..
[interruption from some people in the audience (inaudible in the video)]

SAR GEELANI: please will you talk afterwards. Now prove that you are cultured.

AR: About a week or 10 days ago, I was in Ranchi where there was a Peoples’ Tribunal against Operation Green Hunt— which is the Indian state’s war against the poorest people in this country—and at that tribunal, just as I was leaving, a TV journalist stuck a mic in my face and very aggressively said “Madam, is Kashmir an integral part of India or not? Is Kashmir an integral part of India or not?” about five times.

So I said, look, Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. However aggressively and however often you want to ask me that. Even the Indian government has accepted, in the UN that it’s not an integral part of India. So why are we trying to change that narrative now? See, in 1947, we were told that India became a sovereign nation and a sovereign democracy, but if you look at what the Indian state did from midnight of 1947 onwards, that colonized country, that country that became a country because of the imagination of its colonizer—the British drew the map of India in 1899— so that country became a colonizing power the moment it became independent, and the Indian state has militarily intervened in Manipur, in Nagaland, in Mizoram.. (Someone’s phone rings here).. in Mizoram, in Kashmir, in Telangana, during the Naxalbari uprising, in Punjab, in Hyderabad, in Goa, in Junagarh. So often the Indian government, the Indian state, the Indian elite, they accuse the Naxalites of believing in protracted war, but actually you see a State—the Indian State—that has waged protracted war against its own people or what it calls its own people relentlessly since 1947, and when you look at who are those people that it has waged war against— the Nagas, the Mizos, the Manipuris, people in Assam, Hyderabad, Kashmir, Punjab—it’s always a minority, the Muslims, the Tribals, the Christians, the Dalits, the Adivasis, endless war by an upper caste Hindu state, this is what is the modern history of our country.

Now, in 2007, at the time of the uprising in Kashmir against that whole acquisition of land for the Amarnath Yatra, I was in Srinagar and I was walking down the road and I met a young journalist, I think he was from Times of India, and he said to me—he couldn’t believe that he saw some Indian person—walking alone on the road— and he said, “can I have a quote?”, so I said, “yes, do you have a pen? Because I don’t want to be misquoted” and I said, “write down—India needs azaadi from Kashmir just as much as Kashmir needs azaadi from India”, and when I said India, I did not mean the Indian state, I meant the Indian people because I think that the occupation of Kashmir— today there are 700,000 security personnel manning that valley of 12 million people— it is the most militarized zone in the world— and for us, the people of India, to tolerate that occupation is like allowing a kind of moral corrosion to drip into our blood stream.

So for me it’s an intolerable situation to try and pretend that it isn’t happening even if the media blanks it out, all of us know…..or maybe all of us don’t know….but any of us who’ve visited Kashmir know— that Kashmiris cannot inhale and exhale without their breath going through the barrel of an AK-47. So, so many things have been done there, every time there’s an election and people come out to vote, the Indian government goes and says—“Why do you want a referendum? There was a vote and the people have voted for India.”

Now, I actually think that we need to deepen our thinking a little bit because I too am very proud of this meeting today, I think it’s a historic meeting in some ways, it’s a historic meeting taking place in the capital of this very hollow superpower, a superpower where 830 million people live on less than 20 rupees a day. Now, sometimes it’s very difficult to know from what place one stands on as formally a citizen of India, what can one say, what is one allowed to say, because when India was fighting for independence from British colonization— every argument that people now use to problematize the problems of azaadi in Kashmir were certainly used against Indians. Crudely put, “the natives are not ready for freedom, the natives are not ready for democracy”, but every kind of complication was also true, I mean the great debates between Ambedkar and Gandhi and Nehru – they were also real debates and over these last 60 years whatever the Indian State has done, people in this country have argued and debated and deepened the meaning of freedom.

We have also lost a lot of ground because we’ve come to a stage today where India a country that once called itself Non Aligned , that once held its head up in pride has today totally lain down prostrate on the floor at the feet of the USA. So we are a slave nation today, our economy is completely—however much the Sensex may be growing, the fact is the reason that the Indian police, the paramilitary and soon perhaps the army will be deployed in the whole of central India is because it’s an extractive colonial economy that’s being foisted on us.

But the reason that I said what we need to do is to deepen this conversation is because it’s also very easy for us to continue to pat ourselves on the backs as great fighters for resistance for anything whether it’s the Maoists in the forests or whether it’s the stone pelters on the streets— but actually we must understand that we are up against something very serious and I’m afraid that the bows and arrows of the Adivasis and the stones in the hands of the young people are absolutely essential but they are not the only thing that’s going to win us freedom, and for that we need to be tactical, we need to question ourselves, we need to make alliances, serious alliances…. Because… I often say that in 1986 when capitalism won its jihad against soviet communism in the mountains of Afghanistan, the whole world changed and India realigned itself in the unipolar world and in that realignment it did two things, it opened two locks , one was the lock of the Babri Masjid and one was the lock of the Indian markets and it ushered in two kinds of totalitarianism- Hindu fascism, Hindutva fascism and economic totalitarianism and both these manufactured their own kinds of terrorism —so you have Islamist “terrorists” and the Maoist “terrorists”— and this process has made 80% of this country live on 20 rupees a day but it has divided us all up and we spend all our time fighting with each other when in fact there should be deep solidarity.

There should be deep solidarity between the struggles in Manipur, the struggles in Nagaland, the struggle in Kashmir, the struggle in central India and in all the poor, squatters, the vendors , all the slum dwellers and so on. But what is it that should link these struggles? It’s the idea of Justice because there can be struggles which are not struggles for justice, there are peoples movements like the VHP is a peoples movement—but it’s a struggle for fascism, it’s a struggle for injustice, we don’t align ourselves with that. So every movement, every person on the street, every slogan is not a slogan for justice.

So when I was in Kashmir on the streets during the Amarnath Yatra time, and even today— I haven’t been to Kashmir recently— but I’ve seen and my heart is filled with appreciation for the struggle that people are waging, the fight that young people are fighting and I don’t want them to be let down. I don’t want them to be let down even by their own leaders because I want to believe that this fight is a fight for justice. Not a fight in which you pick and choose your justices—“we want justice but it’s ok if the other chap is squashed”. That’s not right.

So I remember when I wrote in 2007, I said the one thing that broke my heart on the streets of Srinagar, was when I heard people say “Nanga Bhooka Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan”. I said “No. Because the Nanga Bhooka Hindustan is with you. And if you’re fighting for a just society then you must align yourselves with the powerless”, the Indian people here today are people who have spent their lives opposing the Indian state. I have, as many of you may know, been associated for a long time with the struggle in the Narmada valley against big dams and I always say that I think so much about these two valleys - the Kashmir valley and the Narmada valley. In the Narmada valley, they speak of repression, but perhaps the people don’t really know what repression is because they’ve not experienced the kind of repression that there is in the Kashmir valley. But they have a very very very sophisticated understanding of the economic structures of the world of imperialism and of the earth and what it does and how those big dams create an inequality that you cannot get away from.

And in the Kashmir valley you have such a sophisticated understanding of repression, 60 years of repression of secret operations, of spying, of intelligence operations, of death, of killing. But have you insulated yourself from that other understanding, of what the world is today? What these economic structures are? What kind of Kashmir are you going to fight for? Because we are with you in that fight, we are with you. But we want, we hope that it’ll be a fight for justice. We know today that this word ‘secularism’ that the Indian state flings at us is a hollow word because you can’t kill 68,000 Kashmiri Muslims and then call yourself a secular state. You cannot allow the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat and call yourself a secular state and yet you can’t then turn around and say that “we are allowed to treat our minorities badly “—so what kind of justice are you fighting for? I hope that the young people will deepen their idea of Azaadi, it is something that the State and your enemies that you’re fighting uses to divide you. That’s true.
[Some ppl in theAudience: “Do you know what happened to the pandits? (not very audible)..etc ..etc..]

AR: I know the story of the Kashmiri pandits. I also know that the story that these Panun Kashmir pandits put out is false. However, this does not mean that injustice was not done.

[Ppl in Audience: interrupting and inaudible, all taking at the same time… “do you know how many Hindus were killed?”… commotion.. no one can hear anyone].

AR: I think…ok let me continue.. [part of the crowd arguing loudly]..

SAR GEELANI: I request everyone to please sit.

AR: Alright, I want to say that, I think this disturbance is based on a misunderstanding, because I was beginning to talk about justice and in that conversation about justice, I was just about to say that what happened with the Kashmiri pandits is a tragedy, so I don’t know why you all started shouting, I think it’s a tragedy because when we stand here and talk about justice, it is justice for everybody, and those of us who stand here and talk about their being a place for everybody whether there’s a minority whether it’s an ethnic minority or a religious minority or minority in terms of caste, we don’t believe in majoritarianism so that’s why I was talking about the fact that everybody in Kashmir should have a very deep discussion about what kind of society you’re fighting for because Kashmir is a very diverse community and that discussion does not have to come from critics or people who are against azaadi trying to divide this struggle , it has to come from within you so it is not the place of people outside to say “they don’t know what they mean by azaadi, do they mean Gilgit and Baltistan, what about Jammu? What about Laddakh?” These are debates that people within the state of J&K are quite capable of having by themselves and I think they understand that.

So, to just try and derail things by shouting at people is completely pointless because I think that people, the pandits in Kashmir, all the time I’ve spent in Kashmir, have only heard people say they are welcome back and I know people who live there, who believe that too, so all I want to say is that when we are having these political debates, I feel I have watched and have been listening to and following the recent uprising in Kashmir, the fact that unarmed people, young people armed with stones, women, even children are out on the streets facing down this massive army with guns is something that nobody in the world cannot help but salute.

However it is up to the people who are leading this struggle, it is up to the people who are thinking to take it further, because you cannot just leave it there— because the Indian state, you know what its greatest art is— it’s not killing people – that’s its second greatest art, the first greatest art is to wait, to wait and wait and wait and hope that everybody’s energies will just go down. Crisis management, sometimes it’s an election, sometimes it’s something else, but the point is that people have to look at more than a direct confrontation on the streets. You have to ask yourselves why—the people of Nagaland must ask themselves why there’s a Naga battalion committing the most unbelievable atrocities in Chhatisgarh. After spending so much time in Kashmir watching the CRPF and the BSF and the Rashtriya Rifles lock down that valley, the firat time I went to Chhattisgarh, on the way I saw Kashmiri BSF, Kashmiri CRPF on the way to kill people in Chhatisgarh. You’ve got to ask yourself— there’s more to resistance than throwing stones— these things can’t be allowed to happen— “how is the state using people?”

The colonial state whether it was the British State in India or whether it’s the Indian State in Kashmir or Nagaland or in Chattisgarh, they are in the business of creating elites to manage their occupations, so you have to know your enemy and you have to be able to respond in ways where you’re tactical, where you’re intelligent, where you’re political— internationally, locally and in every other way— you have to make your alliances, because otherwise you’ll be like fish swimming furiously around a fish tank bombing the walls and getting tired in the end because those walls are very very strong. So I’ll just leave with this: Think about justice and don’t pick and choose your injustices, don’t say that “I want justice but it’s ok if the next guy doesn’t have it, or the next woman doesn’t have it”. Because justice is the keystone to integrity and integrity is the key stone to real resistance.

Thank you.

Arundhati Roy's reaction to court order
My reaction to today's court order directing the Delhi Police to file an FIR against me for waging war against the state: Perhaps they should posthumously file a charge against Jawaharlal Nehru too. Here is what he said about Kashmir:

1. In his telegram to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, “I should like to make it clear that the question of aiding Kashmir in this emergency is not designed in any way to influence the state to accede to India. Our view which we have repeatedly made public is that the question of accession in any disputed territory or state must be decided in accordance with wishes of people and we adhere to this view.” (Telegram 402 Primin-2227 dated 27th October, 1947 to PM of Pakistan repeating telegram addressed to PM of UK).

2. In other telegram to the PM of Pakistan, Pandit Nehru said, “Kashmir's accession to India was accepted by us at the request of the Maharaja's government and the most numerously representative popular organization in the state which is predominantly Muslim. Even then it was accepted on condition that as soon as law and order had been restored, the people of Kashmir would decide the question of accession. It is open to them to accede to either Dominion then.” (Telegram No. 255 dated 31 October, 1947).

Accession issue

3. In his broadcast to the nation over All India Radio on 2nd November, 1947, Pandit Nehru said, “We are anxious not to finalise anything in a moment of crisis and without the fullest opportunity to be given to the people of Kashmir to have their say. It is for them ultimately to decide ------ And let me make it clear that it has been our policy that where there is a dispute about the accession of a state to either Dominion, the accession must be made by the people of that state. It is in accordance with this policy that we have added a proviso to the Instrument of Accession of Kashmir.”

4. In another broadcast to the nation on 3rd November, 1947, Pandit Nehru said, “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir and to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.”

5. In his letter No. 368 Primin dated 21 November, 1947 addressed to the PM of Pakistan, Pandit Nehru said, “I have repeatedly stated that as soon as peace and order have been established, Kashmir should decide of accession by Plebiscite or referendum under international auspices such as those of United Nations.”

U.N. supervision

6.In his statement in the Indian Constituent Assembly on 25th November, 1947, Pandit Nehru said, “In order to establish our bona fide, we have suggested that when the people are given the chance to decide their future, this should be done under the supervision of an impartial tribunal such as the United Nations Organisation. The issue in Kashmir is whether violence and naked force should decide the future or the will of the people.”

7.In his statement in the Indian Constituent Assembly on 5th March, 1948, Pandit Nehru said, “Even at the moment of accession, we went out of our way to make a unilateral declaration that we would abide by the will of the people of Kashmir as declared in a plebiscite or referendum. We insisted further that the Government of Kashmir must immediately become a popular government. We have adhered to that position throughout and we are prepared to have a Plebiscite with every protection of fair voting and to abide by the decision of the people of Kashmir.”

Referendum or plebiscite
8.In his press-conference in London on 16th January, 1951, as reported by the daily ‘Statesman' on 18th January, 1951, Pandit Nehru stated, “India has repeatedly offered to work with the United Nations reasonable safeguards to enable the people of Kashmir to express their will and is always ready to do so. We have always right from the beginning accepted the idea of the Kashmir people deciding their fate by referendum or plebiscite. In fact, this was our proposal long before the United Nations came into the picture. Ultimately the final decision of the settlement, which must come, has first of all to be made basically by the people of Kashmir and secondly, as between Pakistan and India directly. Of course it must be remembered that we (India and Pakistan) have reached a great deal of agreement already. What I mean is that many basic features have been thrashed out. We all agreed that it is the people of Kashmir who must decide for themselves about their future externally or internally. It is an obvious fact that even without our agreement no country is going to hold on to Kashmir against the will of the Kashmiris.”

9.In his report to All Indian Congress Committee on 6th July, 1951 as published in the Statesman, New Delhi on 9th July, 1951, Pandit Nehru said, “Kashmir has been wrongly looked upon as a prize for India or Pakistan. People seem to forget that Kashmir is not a commodity for sale or to be bartered. It has an individual existence and its people must be the final arbiters of their future. It is here today that a struggle is bearing fruit, not in the battlefield but in the minds of men.”

10.In a letter dated 11th September, 1951, to the U.N. representative, Pandit Nehru wrote, “The Government of India not only reaffirms its acceptance of the principle that the question of the continuing accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to India shall be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations but is anxious that the conditions necessary for such a plebiscite should be created as quickly as possible.”

Word of honour
11.As reported by Amrita Bazar Patrika, Calcutta, on 2nd January, 1952, while replying to Dr. Mookerji's question in the Indian Legislature as to what the Congress Government going to do about one third of territory still held by Pakistan, Pandit Nehru said, “is not the property of either India or Pakistan. It belongs to the Kashmiri people. When Kashmir acceded to India, we made it clear to the leaders of the Kashmiri people that we would ultimately abide by the verdict of their Plebiscite. If they tell us to walk out, I would have no hesitation in quitting. We have taken the issue to United Nations and given our word of honour for a peaceful solution. As a great nation we cannot go back on it. We have left the question for final solution to the people of Kashmir and we are determined to abide by their decision.”

12.In his statement in the Indian Parliament on 7th August, 1952, Pandit Nehru said, “Let me say clearly that we accept the basic proposition that the future of Kashmir is going to be decided finally by the goodwill and pleasure of her people. The goodwill and pleasure of this Parliament is of no importance in this matter, not because this Parliament does not have the strength to decide the question of Kashmir but because any kind of imposition would be against the principles that this Parliament holds. Kashmir is very close to our minds and hearts and if by some decree or adverse fortune, ceases to be a part of India, it will be a wrench and a pain and torment for us. If, however, the people of Kashmir do not wish to remain with us, let them go by all means. We will not keep them against their will, however painful it may be to us. I want to stress that it is only the people of Kashmir who can decide the future of Kashmir. It is not that we have merely said that to the United Nations and to the people of Kashmir, it is our conviction and one that is borne out by the policy that we have pursued, not only in Kashmir but everywhere. Though these five years have meant a lot of trouble and expense and in spite of all we have done, we would willingly leave if it was made clear to us that the people of Kashmir wanted us to go. However sad we may feel about leaving we are not going to stay against the wishes of the people. We are not going to impose ourselves on them on the point of the bayonet.”

Kashmir's soul

13.In his statement in the Lok Sabha on 31st March, 1955 as published in Hindustan Times New Delhi on Ist April, 1955, Pandit Nehru said, “Kashmir is perhaps the most difficult of all these problems between India and Pakistan. We should also remember that Kashmir is not a thing to be bandied between India and Pakistan but it has a soul of its own and an individuality of its own. Nothing can be done without the goodwill and consent of the people of Kashmir.”

14.In his statement in the Security Council while taking part in debate on Kashmir in the 765th meeting of the Security Council on 24th January, 1957, the Indian representative Mr. Krishna Menon said, “So far as we are concerned, there is not one word in the statements that I have made in this council which can be interpreted to mean that we will not honour international obligations. I want to say for the purpose of the record that there is nothing that has been said on behalf of the Government of India which in the slightest degree indicates that the Government of India or the Union of India will dishonour any international obligations it has undertaken.”

I cannot help but to admire both Jawaharlal Nehru and Arundhati Roy

The Hindu
Roy's reply

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

'Infidel' and Islam

I had heard about Ayyan Hirsi Ali's famous [or infamous] book 'Infidel' a lot. Only recently I was able to read it.

The book is autobiographical in nature. Ms Ali was born in Somalia. Ali's father, a U.S. educated political leader was thrown into prison by Somalia's despot, Siad Barre. She was raised by her mother, mostly in exile, in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. She was circumcised against the wishes of her father as per the custom of her clan.

Hirsi Ali attended the English-language Muslim school in Kenya. She was attracted to Islamic study groups and started wearing hijab which was unusual at that time. She even sympathized with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and courted a clergy man.

As she grew older slowly she became disillusioned with gender discrimination in Islam. Against her wishes she was married to a Somali Muslim living in USA. While waiting for US visa in Germany, she was attracted to the care free life in Europe. She suddenly realised that she wanted freedom and escaped to Netherlands and was granted political asylum there.

She did many short term jobs and was able to study in college due to the generous policies of the Dutch Govt towards immigrants .She earned a masters degree in Political science in 2000. She began working in a Research Institute linked to Center-Left Labour Party.

Her disenchantment with Islam increased after 9/11 Islamist attack of World Trade Center in New York. She renounced Islam and became an atheist in 2002.She began openly questioning Koran and Islam in many public forums and started receiving death threats. Her opposition to unquestioning financial support by Dutch Govt to Islamic religious schools made it difficult for her to stay with the Labour Party

.She switched to Center-Right WD party and won Parliamentary election. Her main complaint was Dutch welfare state had overlooked abuse of Muslim women and girls. She wanted a comprehensive study of the status of women among Muslim immigrants.

Her comments in an interview that 'by our Western standards Muhammad is a perverse man and a tyrant' created a huge uproar. She received several threats and from then onwards was able to move around only in selected areas that too with a huge security cover behind her.

Her first legislative victory was in passing a law that allowed women who come to Holland to marry legal immigrants to have independent residence papers. [Many of these women, mostly Muslims were abused by their husbands and wanted to get out the marriage. But divorce meant deportation from Holland till then.]

Then she pressed for a motion in Parliament that required Police to register killings/deaths which can be classified as honour killings. The Parliament approved a pilot study in 2 regions. The Dutch society was stunned to see that honour killings were very much prevalent among Immigrants.

Hirsi Ali wrote the script for a 10 minute documentary film Submission Part 1, which was directed by Theo van Gogh which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic society. It depicted 4 women, one flogged for falling in love, another raped by her husband, third physically abused by her husband and fourth raped by an uncle and punished for sex outside marriage. Texts from the Koran which are often interpreted as justifying the subjugation of women were written on the body of the women.

The film was shown on Dutch TV as a part of interview with Hirsi Ali and resulted in big protests. Van Gogh was murdered in broad day light on a street in Amsterdam on November 2, 2004 by an Islamist.

A letter was pinned to Van Gogh's body with a knife and was a death threat to Hirsi Ali.

Hirsi Ali went to hiding and was placed in several hidden locations by the Dutch Police. After a long drawn out citizenship controversy and increasing difficulty in finding a safe hideout in Holland she went to USA and is presently staying there.

Through 'Infidel, My life' Hirsi Ali tries to explain how and why she got disillusioned with Islam. She says

'The Prophet did teach us a lot of good things.............But I could no longer avoid seeing the totalitarianism, the pure moral frame work that is Islam. It regulates every detail of life and subjugates free will. True Islam as a rigid belief system and a moral frame work leads to cruelty...........Their World is divided between 'Us' and 'Them'-if you don't accept Islam you should perish.

It didn't have to be this way. The West underwent a period of religious warfare and persecution, but then the society freed itself from the grip of violent organised religion. I assumed-still assume-the same process could occur among millions of Muslims".


My Take

I can very well understand how Hirsi Ali became disenchanted with Islam. Her personal experience of Islam was so bad, and her experiences in the West were so good that she became an atheist and a strong critic of Islam. Her work for the emancipation of Muslim women in Holland was very praise worthy.

Organised Religions were formed in human society during the feudal or pre-feudal [slavery] phase of economic development. This period was very anti-woman and the religions reflect that position. Scientific revolution in Europe from 15th century onwards changed the methods of production and resulted in Industrial revolution leading to the degeneration of feudal system and development of Capitalism. This resulted in fall of monarchies and the advent of democracy and liberty. It was this change that helped European society to free itself from the grip of organised religion.

Islamic society is still mostly in the feudal era. Presence of cash rich Oil deposits in Arab countries is helping to maintain the feudal system. Also it is in the West's interest to prevent true democracy in Gulf so that they can continue to exploit the resources there. West funded Islamist militancy of the Cold war era is now the main proponent of rigid Islam. These may be the reasons for the inability of Muslims to free themselves  from the grip of organised religion.

So I believe that as the Industrial revolution, democracy and liberty spreads more widely in the Arab Asian and African Countries, population there will find it more and more easier to loosen the grip of orthodox Islam.

Hirsi Ali may sound harsh and provocative in her criticism of Islam, but such brave words should find their own place in a debate on religion and rights of women.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

BJP's attempt to intimidate a free thinker

A large group of BJP Mahila Morcha activists protesting Arundhati Roy's recent remarks on Kashmir broke into the compound of the writer's residence here on Sunday.

The mob assembled outside Ms. Roy's house in the high-security diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri around 11 a.m. and shouted slogans against her for more than half an hour. “Curiously, three news channel vans were stationed outside our house even before the protest began…the mob was abusive and broke through the front gate of the house,” Ms. Roy's husband, Pradip Krishen, said.

Ms. Roy was not in the house at the time of the attack. In a statement, she said the mob numbered as many as a hundred persons. The activists broke a few flower pots kept outside the house and dispersed before the arrival of the police
From The Hindu,Nov 1,2010

We strongly condemn the rising tide of intolerance and hate speech that led to the attack on the residential premises of the writer and social activist Arundhati Roy.

The attack, by elements of the BJP Mahila Morcha on October 31, was reportedly carried out after due advance notice was given to three of India’s leading English news channels, which had their OB vans parked outside Roy’s home. The verbal attacks on Roy began with her participation in a Delhi meeting on October 21 and a subsequent public appearance in Srinagar on October 24, at which she repeated her often quoted and widely publicised views on Kashmir.

We are shocked that responsible media commentators have with few moral qualms brought up the possibility of charging Roy under the law dealing with “sedition”, a discredited legacy of colonial years.

We are shocked, that the media engagement with this issue has stopped short of an unequivocal defence of free speech. The failure to defend the right to dissent will inevitably fuel vigilante attacks. And the old alibi – that nobody can control public reactions to intolerable provocations – will again be advanced by those who should have safeguarded basic rights, but failed colossally to do so.

We remind those who remain silent in the face of this outrage, that this particular alibi has had a long and disgraceful career, including in the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the persecution of other great creative personalities.

In August 2008, a similar attack was carried out on an exhibition mounted by SAHMAT of M.F. Husain’s work. A few months later, vigilantes of the Shri Ram Sene – a freshly minted addition to the Hindutva family – attacked women at a pub in Mangalore, for supposedly immoral behaviour
From Sahmat Press Statement

We may have difference of opinion,but a political party believing in democracy should be in fore front to defend the right of each and every person of the country to have his or her opinion.

Arundathi Roy is one of the foremost free thinker of our Country. She may be classified as an anarchist and do not represent any major political force.It may be easy for India's main opposition party to chase her out of our Country like they did with M.F.Hussein.But her presence in India and her ability to express her opinions freely is very important for Indian democracy.

Today the mob broke flower pots in Arundathi Roy's house. Tomorrow it may burn my house,and the day after it will attack you physically. They will come because you expressed your frank opinion about a subject.That will mean the end of democracy in India. Do we want that?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ayodhya Verdict: a flawed attempt for political compromise by the Judiciary

December 6 1992

 The day when I felt most ashamed of India and its Government.
 The day on which glorious Indian tradition-of tolerance and respect for all-was torn apart by few goons.

Now with the Ayodhya Verdict of the Allahabad High Court I am feeling ashamed again,this time of Indian Judiciary.
The verdict has been analysed in detail both in Print and in Cyberspace.So without going into the details let me make it clear why I am ashamed of this verdict.

Role of Belief and Religion in a Title suit
This was a title suit. What role religion and belief have in a title suit? The court was supposed to look at the legal documents available and come to a verdict. Instead the Court tried to over reach its authority and came up with an  'illegal' political compromise.

Condoning Masjid demolition
The ASI was able to excavate the site because of the criminal vandalism of Hindutva goons.What would have been the verdict if Babri Masjid was still there? Would the Judiciary give a verdict to partition it into 3 parts? By giving a portion to the criminals who demolished it are n't they condoning the demolition? The Hindutva brigade will surely try to get immunity in demolition case citing this verdict.

ASI Report 2003
Findings of ASI after excavating the Babri Masjid site did not prove that the Masjid was build demolishing a temple. It was due to political bias that a wrong conclusion was given in its report by ASI. Many archeologists and historians have challenged this. Here is an extract from the statement released by SAHMAT, an organisation in which many renowned Historians are members.

One decisive piece of evidence, which entirely negates the possibility of a temple, is that of animal bones. Bone fragments with cut marks are a sure sign of animals being eaten at the site, and, therefore, rule out a temple existing at the site at the time. The Report in its “Summary of Results” admits that “animal bones have been recovered from various levels of different periods” (Report, p.270). Any serious archaeological report would have tabulated the bones, by periods, levels and trenches, and identified the species of the animals (which in bulk seem to be of sheep and goats). There should, indeed, have been a chapter devoted to animal remains. But despite the statement in its “Summary”, there is no word about the animal bones in the main text. This astonishing omission is patently due to the ASI’s fear of the fatal implications held out by the animal bone evidence for the temple theory.

....The bias, partisanship and saffronised outlook of the ASI’s Report takes one’s breath away. In almost everything the lack of elementary archaeological controls is manifest. The one-page carbon-date report, without any description of material, strata and comments by the laboratory, is meaningless, and open to much misuse. There has been no thermoluminescence (TL) dating of the pottery; no carbon-dating of the animal or human bones. No care has been exercised in chronology....

...It cannot be overlooked that the occupant of the office of Director-General was changed almost simultaneously with the High Court’s direction to the ASI to begin the excavations in early March. The signal given thereby was obvious; and the present Report should come as no surprise. Politicians gloating over it are precisely those who have got it written.
Location of birth place of Lord Ram
     At least 2 Judges of the High Court seems to have accepted that most Hindus believe Lord Ram was born at a place which fell under the Central dome of the Masjid. What was the evidence to conclude that most Hindus beleived Ram was born at that exact place? The truth is there were many rival places in Ayodhya which had claims to be the birth place of Lord Ram. Only in the 1980s with the advent of strong Hindutva movement that the Mosque was deliberately made the birth place of Rama. 

Political Compromise versus Judicial Compromise

Many well meaning Indians,especially the young feel that as every one have got something we all should be satisfied with it and the Nation should move on. Many believe that the Secular 'fundamentalists' are needlessly creating problems. I disagree.
If it was a political compromise arrived at by religious leaders all of us including me would have been happy to accept it. But when a High Court go back to the period of Panchayath Court system to arrive at an extra-legal compromise in its verdict, it spells trouble for India's democracy and secularism.
Can we change history to justify the politics of present?

What happened in history, happened. It cannot be changed. But we can learn to understand what happened in its fuller context and strive to look at it on the basis of reliable evidence. We cannot change the past to justify the politics of the present. The verdict has annulled respect for history and seeks to replace history with religious faith. True reconciliation can only come when there is confidence that the law in this country bases itself not just on faith and belief, but on evidence
 Romilla Thapar, Historian

Let us hope that some time in future the Supreme Court will rectify this flawed attempt for political compromise by the Judiciary.

Links  on ASI report

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ground Zero and Religious Tolerance

A question from a Washington Post/ABC Opinion Poll in USA

There has been news lately about plans for a Muslim community center and place of worship in Lower Manhattan, near the site of the former World Trade Center. Do you yourself think this Muslim community center should or should not be built at this location? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

--------- Should --------               ------ Should not -------       

NET Strongly Somewhat            NET Somewhat Strongly

 29%       14          15                            66%           13       53         

As per the answer to the above opinion poll question a large majority of US citizens think that there should not be Muslim center of worship in Lower Manhattan in New York.
Very strange indeed to see such intolerance from the citizens of a Nation which swears by the Bill of Rights in their Constitution which allows freedom of practice of  all religions

THE “ground zero mosque,”  is not at ground zero. It’s not a mosque but an Islamic cultural center containing a prayer room.
There are many mosques and Muslim prayer rooms in Lower Manhattan. Now will they want to ban all such places?

Fortunately many sane voices of US citizens could be heard clearly above the din caused by hate-mongers.

"It is my hope that this will help to bring our city even closer together, and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam," said Bloomberg. "Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith - and they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group
New York City Mayor Bloomberg

There has been a mosque on Warren St., a stone's throw from Ground Zero, since 1970, the year the World Trade Center opened. It draws 1,000 worshipers each Friday, according to the group's website, today's complainers now want to expel Masjid Manhattan?

 For that matter, I wonder why they haven't said a word about New York Dolls, a strip club that's as close to Ground Zero as the proposed Park51 center.
The nightly boozing and lap dances do not seem to have disturbed the sensibilities of those now earnestly defending the sacred ground near the World Trade Center site.
For that matter, I wonder why they haven't objected to the space inside the Pentagon where Muslim prayer, holiday celebrations and readings of the Koran have gone on for nearly a decade.
Errol Louis in NY Daily News

The ginned-up rage over the “ground zero mosque” was not motivated by a serious desire to protect America from the real threat of terrorists lurking at home and abroad — a threat this furor has in all likelihood exacerbated — but by the potential short-term rewards of winning votes by pandering to fear during an election season. Their sudden concern for ground zero is suspect to those of us who actually live in New York. All but 12 Republicans in the House voted against health benefits for 9/11 responders just last month.
Frank Rich in NewYork Times

Most important support for the proposed Islamic cultural center came from   Donna Marsh O'Connor
National Spokesperson, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

She wrote in Huffington Post

On Wednesday, the 25th of August I spoke at a press conference organized by a group called New York Neighbors for American Values in favor of the building of an Islamic Cultural Center two blocks away and around the corner from, as it has come to be called, Ground Zero. Ground Zero. Ground Zero. No matter how many times I say it, it doesn't lose meaning. Instead, it accrues meaning. It is the place where my pregnant daughter Vanessa Lang Langer was murdered.

However, as we approach the 9th anniversary of the day I and the thousands of others who lost loved ones to a gang of mass murders will not be able to simply mourn the loss of our children, parents, cousins and siblings. Because until something in our public imagination displaces it, 9/11 will be a political football in the debate over the Islamic Center. Central to this debate, it seems, is the question of what constitutes "sensitivity" to 9/11 families
And, in a heated elections season, some elected officials and candidates  have seized an opportunity to play on our collective fears in order to use 9/11/2001 for political gain. In nine years this has been the habit of our so-called leaders.

To them I ask this: what about the sensitivities of families like mine and hundreds of others who join me in supporting the Islamic Center? Are our loved ones somehow less worthy than those of family members who oppose its construction?
 I am sensitive to what I believe is a threat to religious freedom, to the First Amendment, to our hallowed Constitution. I am sensitive to the notion that, in the name of my daughter, an entire religion is being demonized for the acts of a group of heinous criminals.

Today, at the end of summer, when much of the thickness of the collective air loses its oppressive moisture, when the sun is still bright in the late summer sky, and the air is crisp though still warm, our televisions, our elected officials and candidates for office cannot fail but to remind us of the towers falling in endless clouds of grey matter. They exploit mercilessly our emotions. They use and have used these images to amplify the fears we feel, not of the criminal acts, but of Muslim people.

Here then is my message: if you really care about 9/11 families and their collective sensitivities please leave us to our memories and our pain and stop fanning the flames of hatred and intolerance - to me that would be an act of supreme sensitivity

Let us hope that  such words of maturity and compassion will always prevail in this World.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Prof T.J.Joseph should be pardoned

A teacher of Newman College, Thodupuzha, in Idukki district of Kerala, who was attacked by extremist elements in July on the accusation that he had hurt religious sentiments by setting a question paper with certain blasphemous sentences, was dismissed from service by the college management on Saturday.

T.J. Joseph, who was the head of the college's Malayalam Department, had two more years of service.

The management had suspended him from service in March when the question paper set for an internal examination for B.Com. students created a controversy. A few organisations took to the streets in Thodupuzha and curfew was imposed in the town.

The radical activists, reportedly owing allegiance to the Popular Front of India (PFI), waylaid his car as he was returning home from church, hacked him and chopped off his right palm

The dismissal attracted widespread condemnation in the State. In a statement, six intellectuals, led by poet O.N.V. Kurup, said the teacher had already been harassed for a lapse which took place owing to his carelessness, ignorance or lack of adequate forethought. If it had shocked democratic Kerala, his dismissal was as cruel and inhuman as the chopping off of his hand.

He hoped that the teacher would get the sympathetic support of everyone with conscience.

Other signatories to the statement are K.N .Panikkar, historian, Ninan Koshy, thinker, and the writers U.A. Khadar, P. Valsala and George Onakkkur
from The Hindu

Prof T.J.Joseph has been teaching Malayalam for last 25 years.He was never a controversial figure till March 2010. He had never indulged in activities which can be termed as against or for any particular religion.He drafted a question paper for his 32 students of BCom class. Some thought a question in that paper is hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims.That was his 'fault'. As ONV Kurup and other Intellectuals said it can be termed as owing to his carelessness, ignorance or lack of adequate forethought. He had apologised for it.

 But how did a DTP printed 32 copy question paper came to be printed in large scale and distributed in mosques and educational institutions?
 If you find something derogatory to your religion, will you print it in large scale and give it more publicity? Yes one will do it if one wants to get maximum political/religious mileage out of it.
Communalists are always in search of issues for hate/victim hood campaigns. Such issues are their fuel and they will try to give maximum publicity to it.But in this issue of Prof T.J Joseph my feeling is many secularists also fell into the trap laid by communalists.Without looking deep into the matter many were accusing Prof Joseph of deliberate mischief. In an article in the new issue of Mathrubhoomi weekly Prof Joseph has explained in detail how the question came into being.His explanations are reasonable for any secular minded person.
Prof Joseph's mistake was lack of adequate forethought.He can and should be pardoned. Let us hope that saner voices from Muslim community will be brave enough to rise against fundamentalist/communalist ideologies and pardon Prof Joseph accepting his apology.
If we allow the communal organisations to dictate terms in Kerala civil society, our cultural atmosphere may soon resemble that of Arabian Gulf States or Gujarat.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Some Onam Thoughts

 Onam was my most favourite festival in my childhood.It is the favourite festival for most people of Kerala too. Why?
Is it because it is the time when we as children get new dressess?
Is it because of the 10 days of holidays we get to play and roam around?
Is it because of the 10 days of Pookalams [floral carpets] that we used to arrange on Onam days?
Is it because of the Onam feasts which may last for 3 to 4 days with some delicious preparations?
Is it because of the celebrations we used to have in campuses in the form of contests and cultural programmes?
Is it because of the 4 days of special programmes in Radio/TV?
Is it because of the Onam special editions of  newspapers and periodicals which will showcase the best works of  writers of Kerala?
Is it because of the yearly re-union of most of the family members?

On this Uthradam day morning [ Uthradam in the month of Chingam is considered as the first Onam day]  my thoughts were wandering around these questions.


Mahabali was supposed to be the grandson of Prahlad (son of Hiranyakashipu who was slain by Vishnu in his Narasimha Avataram). Prahlad, though an Asura, was a great devotee of Vishnu. Mahabali learned the love and devotion of Vishnu from Prahlad.
Mahabali became a great emperor and conquered all the 'three' Worlds.The 'Devas' did not like an Asura King conquering the World.They approached Vishnu and he came to the earth as 'Vamana'.
Mahabali was performing the sacrificial rite of the Ashwamedha Yagam. He  declared that he would give anything that anyone sought from him during this Yagam. Vamana asked for an extend of land covered by his 3 foot steps. Mahabali agreed.
Vamana grew in size until he towered above the heavens. With one footstep, he measured all of the earth. With the second, he claimed all of heaven. There was still one foot of territory that Mahabali owed him. Mahabali requested Vamana to place the final step on his head as the third step of land, for he had no other left. Vamana did so and in doing so, pushed him down to Patala, the underworld.
As a last gift, Mahabali was granted permission by Vishnu to visit his subjects once a year. Thus, Keralites celebrate the Onam festival to commemorate the memory of the Great King Mahabali who would keep his promise to visit. Mahabali fulfilled his name as the great martyr for the sake of Truth ("Satya"). The name "Mahabali" itself means Great Sacrifice.


There is mention of Onam celebrations in Sangham Literature dating back to 300 BC. Many European and Arab travellers who came to Kerala between 500 and 1500 AD have mentioned Onam celebrations in their travelogues.
Even though the legend of Mahabali is well known throughout India, the yearly return of the King is never celebrated anywhere else in India.Why?
Was it because Mahabali ruled only in Kerala?
No explanations is readily available from history or mythology.

The folk songs of Onam describes the rule of Mahabali like this.

When Maveli  ruled the land,
All the people were equal.
And people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
There were no illnesses.
Death of the children was never even heard of,
There were no lies,
There was neither theft nor deceit,
Measures and weights were right;
No one cheated others.
When Maveli ruled the land,
All the people were equal.

Did such an utopian rule by a King ever exisited in Kerala?

Most probably a popular King of Kerala must have been defeated  [may be by treachery] by a conquerer from other part of India.The new rulers must have connected it to the Vamana legend so as to legitimise their rule.

Is Onam celebrations a protest against Vishnu's action of dethroning a benevolent ruler?

The pyramid shaped idols made of mud/wood that is put up in front of most of the houses of Kerala on Thiruvonam day is called Thrikakara Appan.It is generally believed that Trikakara Appan is Vamana The temple at Thrikakara is a Vamana Moorthy temple.Many believe that the idols were originally meant to be that of Mahabail. The new Rulers who de throned Mahabali might have changed the rituals.The spread of Brahmanical Hinduism may have slowly changed the practice of offering 'pooja' to Mahabali to that of offering 'pooja' to Vamana,the original 'villain'of the myth. It is also said that originally Thrikakara temple was a Buddhist shrine.

 It is believed that Mahabali will visit each and every home in Kerala on that day.So the houses are cleaned,new dresses are worn and beautiful floral designs are put up in front of each and every house to welcome him. So certainly Mahabali is the hero here,receiving a hero's welcome from his country men.

Onam can thus be called a festival celebrating sub-nationalism of Malayalam speaking people of India. Is this the reason why Hindu Nationalistic organisations like RSS always downplays Onam? They always try to project Sri Krishna Jayanthi and Ganesholtsvam in Kerala which occurs around the same time,which are mainly North/West Indian festivals unheard of in Kerala before 1970s.

So why I like Onam so much?

Onam is a colorful festival in many ways. It is more of a celebration of life than most other festivals. It is not related to a religion as such but to a region. It was closely related to agriculture and harvest. It has a powerful mythology behind it. It is mostly about reminiscenes of a real or imaginary past in which Kerala was an utopian land with everybody happy and contented.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Imposition and banning of burqas. Two sides of the same coin

I had protested against the burqa ban imposed by the French Government in two posts titled 'Sarkozy's Fatwa?' and 'Why I oppose a ban on burqa
Now the other side of the same coin.

'A teacher of Aliah University was allegedly barred from class and then transferred because she refused to bow to the “diktat” of the students’ union to wear a burqa.

Aliah University, an autonomous institution under the West Bengal State government’s Department of Minority Affairs and Madrasa Education, was set up in 2008. It has been granted the status of a minority educational institution. Though the university does not prescribe a dress code, the West Bengal Madrasa Students’ Union insisted that all women teachers wear burqa in the classroom.
Sirin Middya was appointed a lecturer in March this year. In April, she was told by the Students’ Union that she would be allowed to conduct classes only if she wore a burqa.
“The students have no business imposing such a diktat on teachers when the university guidelines clearly state that there is no dress code. I will wear a burqa only when I feel like,” she told The Telegraph. “I was first barred from the classroom and then transferred to the university’s Salt Lake campus,” she said. There, for the past three months, she has been limited to library work though she was appointed as a Bengali teacher.
The students’ union of the university alleged that the teacher was “indecently dressed” and she would not be allowed to teach if she did not get into a burqa.“We admit there is no dress code for teachers in the university, but considering the character of the institution we insist that lady teachers wear only traditional dresses,” said Siamat Ali, the state general secretary of the West Bengal Madrasa Students’ Union. The teacher wrote to vice-chancellor Syed Samsul Alam, Anwar Hussain Dafadar, the university registrar, and Abdus Sattar, the minister of state for minority affairs.
Sirin Middya could now be allowed by the university to continue her classes, thanks to the intervention of the State Minister. “I have spoken to the Vice-Chancellor of the [Aliah] university. Such an imposition is a violation of the Constitution and it goes against our culture and will under no circumstances be tolerated….The issue will be sorted out shortly,” Minister for Minority Development Abdus Sattar told The Hindu..
On Monday, Ms. Middya received an assurance from the university that she would be allowed to conduct classes on the main campus even if she chose not to wear the burqa.
“I have received a verbal assurance, but not received any official confirmation,” Ms. Middya said.
Though pleased with the development, she said she had not yet been given a date on which she could resume her classes.

Imposing the burqa by Right-wing Islamist student Unions and banning burqa by Right-wing French politicians are two sides of the same coin of Communalism/Fundamentalism .Both should be fiercely condemned..