Category Archives: Forum

The SANSAD Forum is a space for the discussion of issues of urgent concern to members and friends of SANSAD. Its goal is to develop understanding, solidarity, and direction for change. People are welcome to propose issues that concern them, explaining their urgency if necessary, and focusing them into questions as much as possible. Both questions and responses will be published on the site at the discretion of the moderator. People who raise questions are advised to request particular individuals whose response they consider valuable by email. Comments can be posted directly on the site.

Published opinions are solely the responsibility of the authors and may not be attributed to SANSAD.

Silencing human rights defenders in India

SANSAD News Release, December 30, 2016

Condemn the silencing of human rights defenders in India

SANSAD condemns the arrest and incarceration of the seven-member fact finding mission of the Telengana Democratic Forum on December 26 in Chhatisgarh, India, on the false charge of carrying Maoist literature and the charge by the Bastar police against human rights lawyer, Shalini Gera on December 28 of exchanging demonetized notes for the Maoists.

The fact-finding mission of Telengana Democratic Forum, comprising high court advocates, research scholars, and journalists, who had set out to investigate the killing of a thirteen-year old Adivasi child by the Chhatisgarh police, was arrested by the Telengana police on December 25 and handed over to the Chhaitsgarh police on December 26. They were then arrested by the Chhatisgarh police under the draconian Chhatisgarh Special Public Security Act on the false charge of carrying recently demonetized currency and Maoist literature and jailed on judicial remand. People’s Union for Civil Liberties has called this arrest, “illegal, unprovoked, and malicious.”
Shalini Gera, a human rights lawyer belonging to the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group that had been set up to provide the only legal aid available to the hundreds of Adivasis incarcerated in Chhatisgarh jails for years without trial, falsely charged,  or even without charges, had been forced to leave the area earlier this year when the legal aid group was driven by harassment, intimidation and evicgtion to close their office in Jagdalpur. The current charges were laid following Gera’s attempt to oversee the postmortem of Somaru Pottam, an Adivasi who had been killed in a fake “encounter” by the police.

These arrests and the patently false charges are a part of the established pattern of state terror in Chhatisgarh, where the state’s counter-insurgency measures in defense of extractive rights of corporations against Adivasi resistance have established a regime of impunity. Under this regime labelling someone “Maoist” is a license of kill and any attempt to bring this violence to light is  criminalized as aiding Maoists.

SANSAD, an organization of the South Asian diaspora in Canada, strongly condemns these arrests and the entire policy of state repression of which they are part. We demand that the charges against the Telengana Democratic Forum fact finding mission and Shalini Gera be immediately dropped and that an independent investigative commission be formed with the mandate of bringing to justice the people responsible for this abuse of law and justice.
Board of Directors, South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD)

Further information: https://thewire.in/90166/human-rights-lawyer-bastar-police-harassment/

Vandana Shiva in Vancouver: “Seeding the Future”

Seeding The Future : talk by Vandana Shiva

July 14, 2016 at 8pm at St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church. Tickets and more information can be found at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/isf2016-seeding-the-future-an-evening-with-vandana-shiva-tickets-24942162680?aff=affiliate1

Don’t miss physicist and food activist @drvanadanashiva July 14 courtesy of @IndianSummerCDN! – http://ow.ly/qnAi300D6B

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a physicist and social activist, widely regarded as the torchbearer of the international sustainable food movement. In a rare Vancouver appearance, Dr. Shiva will inform and inspire the next generation of environmental leaders in the fight to protect nature and people’s rights to knowledge, biodiversity, water and food.

Dr. Shiva combines sharp intellectual enquiry with courageous activism: her work spans teaching at universities around the world, to working with peasants in rural India. She has won many awards for her work including the Right Livelihood Award (aka the Alternative Nobel Prize), The Lennon/Ono Grant for Peace and the Sydney Peace Prize.

In particular Dr. Shiva campaigns for food security, food sovereignty, and a genuinely democratic and sustainable food system. Many communities worldwide have taken inspiration from her vision and from the work of her organization Navdanya.

ISF16_Social-Seeding the Future

 

Security and justice for hill tribes in Bangladesh

 

#illridewithyou: Bijoy Dibos in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT)
Ramu
RAMU: ANTHOLOGY ON COMMUNAL VIOLENCE

by Kabita Chakma for AlalODulal.org.

Perhaps the spirit of Bijoy Dibosh can rekindle the hearts of millions of Bangladeshis to do what is honourable. Just as #illridewithyou helped assure the safety and security of Australian Muslims, the spirit of Bijoy Dibosh may help bring safety and security to indigenous peoples in the CHT.

On 16 December 2014, I added the tweet #illridewithyou to my Facebook page. Sixteenth December: Bijoy Dibosh; Bangladesh Victory Day; the victory of justice over injustice.

#illridewithyou was a remarkable Australian twitter campaign in support of Muslim women. It began in very sad circumstances.  On the morning of 15 December, a deluded armed man, who media described as ‘self-styled Sheikh Man Haron Monis’, a Muslim cleric with criminal history, took 17 staff and customers hostage at the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, Sydney.  The 16 hour siege in my resident city ended in the early hours of 16 December. It cost the lives of two innocent hostages and the perpetrator.

Following the incident, there was fear of a backlash against members of the Muslim community. There were reports that many Muslims were reluctant to take public transports. A woman named Rachel Jacobs saw a distressed Muslim woman on a train taking off her hijab. When they got off the train, Jacobs went up to the woman and said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with you’.  In response, the woman hugged Jacobs and cried.

A Twitter solidarity campaign #illridewithyou emerged out of social media discussions of Jacobs’ act of kindness.  It voiced support for Muslim women. The support spread throughout Australia.  ABC news
reported that #illridewithyou was ‘rising by hundreds of tweets per minute. Within hours it had been used in almost 120,000 tweets’. The solidarity campaign was also repeated in many parts of the world.

***

Completing my Facebook status, I learnt about the murder of Umraching Marma (Chabi), a Year 8 school girl, on 15 December of last year.  Her throat was allegedly slit by two Bengali settlers, Mohammad Nizam Uddin (aged 19/20) and Masud Rana (aged 19) from a village of Kaptai, in the CHT. She had been working on her family’s jum farm collecting vegetables. The accused confessed that she was murdered resisting rape.

Is murder of minors like Umraching unusual in the CHT?

A 2013 submission on CHT Jumma indigenous rural women, under Article 14 of CEDAW, notes that a high number of indigenous women have been sexually assaulted, raped, and murdered by non-indigenous men during daily activities, such as going to and from work on farms, tending cattle, collecting food and firewood from the forest, fetching water, and going to school, markets and temples.  It stressed that sexual violence against Jumma women by settlers has intensified with the increased mobility of settlers in the post-Accord CHT. Indigenous women of all ages are losing their freedom of movement in the CHT.

Kapaeeng Foundation documented that in the last 7 years, till April 2014, 96% of the alleged perpetrators of violence against indigenous women in the CHT are committed by Bengali settlers and the other 4% are by law enforcement officers. It claimed that while sexual violence against CHT women was used initially as a ‘weapon of war’, and was later used for land grabbing. (Sexual Violence against Indigenous Women, The Daily Star, 21 December 2014).

Police work on the Umraching murder case has been exemplary. The victim’s father was able to file a case with the local police station. In many previous cases filing a case accusing a Bengali man of rape
was difficult.  The police took immediate action to arrest the men and bring them before the court. Earlier this year the alleged rape and murder of 30 year old mother of two Sabita Chakma received different treatment. Police initially refused to file the case.

Amnesty International pointed out that in the Sabita murder case ‘the local police superintendent, when reporting that no arrests had been made, stated that: “The upazila parishad election was our first priority. Arresting someone could have raised Bangalee-Pahari tensions. So, we are taking our time.”’

Amnesty International added that ‘in cases where indigenous women report rape by Bengali settlers, doctors are pressured by the authorities to report no evidence of rape in their medical reports, arguing that a finding of rape would contribute to tensions between Indigenous Peoples and Bengalis.’ (Livewire: Amnesty’s global human rights blog, 24 June 2014).  The well known 1996 Kalpana Chakma abduction case still awaits effective police action.

Since 2009, when the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals came to the CHT, their effective functioning has been insipid.  A 2014 CHT Commission report ‘Marginalisation and Impunity:
Violence Against Women and Girls in the Chittagong Hill Tracts’ recorded a total of 215 cases of violence against women from January 2010 to December 2011. Of these, 166 cases were served with charge
sheets.  Only 9 of these cases were tried, with no convictions. Human rights organisations speculate that absolute impunity enjoyed by perpetrators remains the major reason for continuation of sexual violence against indigenous women in the CHT.

***
The Umraching murder was not the only news on Bijoy Dibosh. A national Bangla daily revealed that on that day there were arson attacks on indigenous peoples of the CHT at Bogachari, in Rangamati, allegedly by ‘some miscreants’.  On that day also hundreds of innocent children were allegedly murdered by Taliban militia in Peshwar.

Later reporting of the Bogachari arson stated that at least 50 homes and 7 shops owned by indigenous people in 3 villages were torched, allegedly by Bengali settlers in the presence of and with the active participation of some military personnel. The arson attackers also vandalised Karuna Kutir, a Buddhist temple, physically abused monks, and looted seven bronze Buddha statues.  Police suggested that the arson attack was retaliation by settlers in response to the destruction of part of Asfar Ali’s pineapple and teak plantation by indigenous persons. Media reporting further revealed that Asfar Ali had previously grabbed the land from Padma Ranjan Chakma.

Grabbing of land belonging to indigenous peoples by Bengali settlers, powerful Bengalis and organisations, often using terror and deceit, has been practiced in the CHT since the late 1970s.  Asfar Ali’s apparent land grabbing again brings sharp attention to the government’s failure to establish a just and functioning Land Commission, which is an important provision of the 1997 CHT Accord. The Bogachari arson poignantly shows how the full implementation of the CHT Accord is necessary to a just Bangladesh.

Harm was done to the people of Bogachari. There has been no judicial investigation. An 11 member probe committee has been set up to inquire about the arson.  Such committees should not replace proper legal procedures. It is the responsibility of the government and its institutions to ensure the law is followed. Those who destroyed the plantations, those who took the law into their own hands by torching 3 villages, vandalising and looting the Karuna Kutir temple, and those involved in land grabbing must be brought to justice.  Those charged with maintaining law and order, but instead thwart it, must also be brought to justice.

In the days after Bijoy Dibosh, we learnt that the arson victim’s families, including babies and the elderly, are homeless in December’s harsh winter. Living conditions for them are harsh, however, they demand nothing but safety and security from the state. They refused to accept relief in the form of food, grain, metal roofing sheets and cash assistance offered by the government on 18 December.  Only when Mostafa Kamal, the Rangamati Deputy Commissioner, made assurances of security, did the victims accept the metal roofing sheets.  It is imperative that all victims of Bogachari be justly compensated.

***
While the events that occurred on and around the Bijoy Dibosh in Australia and Bangladesh are quite different, one connection is that both the Muslims in Australia, and the indigenous peoples in Bangladesh, are minorities in their lands. Both deserve safety and security.

In Australia it was inspiring to see the flood of floral tributes at the hostage site in Martin Place, from people of every walk of life. On 21 December, Manal Kassem, a Muslim bride in her bridal dress and
wearing a hijab and veil, along with her bridal party, visited the memorial site.  She added her wedding bouquet to the floral tributes. au.news.yahoo.com reported that Kassem ‘did it out of respect for her
country [Australia], that will one day be the country of her children and grandchildren.’

There is a reasonably good public confidence in Australia that its law and order system offers safety and security for all.  The mass public campaign #illridewithyou, which touched people’s hearts, will further
strengthen safety and security for the Muslim community in Australia.

Is it possible to achieve the same for indigenous peoples in the CHT?

It may appear difficult. But I have confidence that all Bangladeshis, whether Bengali or non-Bengali, have the capacity to distinguish right from wrong.  They have the capacity to respect justice, to respect humanity, and to stand by the oppressed.

Bijoy Dibosh is significant in marking an end to the injustices of 24 years of cultural, economic, racial and religious oppression suffered by the people of Bangladesh under Pakistan. While the spirit of Bijoy Dibosh, which represents victory over injustice, is weakened by incidents like the Bogachari arson and the murder of Umraching, the police’s dutiful work in bringing Umraching’s murderers to justice is making a difference.

Perhaps the spirit of Bijoy Dibosh can rekindle the hearts of millions of Bangladeshis to do what is honourable. Just as #illridewithyou helped assure the safety and security of Australian Muslims, the
spirit of Bijoy Dibosh may help bring safety and security to indigenous peoples in the CHT.

The significance of Islamist killings in Bangladesh

From theguardian.com


The origins of recent violence lie in the political, social and cultural divisions that define the country’s history

Activists in Bangladesh take part in a torchlight protest against the killing of a secular blogger
 Activists in Bangladesh take part in a torchlight protest against the killing of a secular blogger. Photograph: Zuma Wire/Rex Shutterstock

The recent murders in secular Bangladesh echo this country’s founding tragedy, when Islamist militias killed 116 intellectuals in the final days of the 1971 war for independence. Since then, religious extremists here have often targeted intellectuals; however, it is clear from the most recent attacks on foreigners, publishers, moderate preachers and policemen that they are now widening their scope.

The drive to reverse our liberal ideals was institutionalised with the killing in 1975 of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh. His successor, the military dictator Ziaur Rahman (Zia), founder of the Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP), used religion to bolster his regime; he restored to politics the Jamaat-e-Islami, a party that had opposed the creation of the country and which had collaborated with the Pakistani army. The dictator who succeeded him in 1981 declared that Islam would be the state religion. Zia’s widow, Khaleda Zia, continued an electorally profitable liaison with Jamaat; and as prime minister in 2001 she welcomed war criminals into her cabinet.

The late 1990s saw the onset of violent extremism against targets viewed as un-Islamic, and in the early 2000s Humayun Azad and Shamsur Rahman, two prominent poets, were attacked with knives for their alleged anti-Islamic views.

BNP’s last term (2001-06) saw the rise of terrorist groups such as Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which was behind the grenade attacks that killed leaders of the then opposition Awami League party.

When one side in our two-party system plays the religion card it threatens our secular values. Since 2001, BNP’s abjuring of any allegiance to such an ideal has been devastating.

Yet our culture of pluralism has so far provided the bulwark against intolerant ideologies: tellingly, in a nation that is 90% Muslim, Jamaat has consistently failed to raise its support above single digits. But culture can withstand only so much assault.

The erosion of liberal values in the political sphere has been accompanied by compromises at social levels. The middle class, previously insulated from hardline sermons, is now saturated by these messages via satellite TV and social media. The intrusion of such sentiments at all levels has led to instances such as an imam in a mosque in the capital referring to Shia Muslims as apostates, or a national cricketer compelled to remove a photo of goddess Durga from his Facebook page after protests that he had offended Muslim sentiments.

In a culture that has long prided itself on its pluralism, such incidents were once unthinkable; now they are greeted with apathy or fear: moderate Muslims are afraid to protest against hardliners, wary of being called un-Islamic themselves.

Indeed, the whole of our society has shifted – not quite to a point of no return – but to a parlous state. Progressives have trusted “culture” to take care of them, without doing enough to take care of culture in turn.

Since returning to power in 2009 the Awami League has bravely pursued an international war crimes tribunal focusing on the crimes perpetrated during the 1971 liberation war. Yet at the same time it has pursued a scorched-earth policy against BNP-Jamaat, leaving those parties with little stake in our country’s future. The rise in extremist violence is in part a result of that breakdown of political space. The trials too have angered and given a focus to disparate extremist groups. The Awami League appears shockingly unprepared for the predictable fallout of its hardline tactics.

The League presents itself as a guardian of secular values, but that claim is wearing thin in the party’s meek response to the attacks blighting our country. The government’s failure to protect targets on public hitlists is bad enough. Its half-hearted pursuit of criminals after the event is worse. But its strategic failure shows most deeply after each terrible incident when some minister moans about the need not to offend “religious sentiment”. Having pushed things to breaking point, the Awami League cannot dodge responsibility by blaming the victim.

The Awami League, which appears increasingly opportunistic in its putative defence of secularism, might have the moral satisfaction of knowing itself to be the ill-equipped firefighter, not the arsonist – but only for so long. Make no mistake: this is a fire that shall leave no one unscorched.

K Anis Ahmed, publisher of the Dhaka Tribune and the Bangla Tribune, is the author of fiction works The World in My Hands and Good Night, Mr Kissinger