Category Archives: South Asia Bulletin

Hindutva terror and Indian double standard


India owes answers to the world for Samjhauta blasts : Gurpreet Singh

( Photo Courtesy : Indian Express)

Guest Post by Gurpreet Singh

India which has always claimed to be a victim of terrorism for all these years owe answers for one of the worst terrorist incident that is hardly discussed by the anti terror activists across the world either due to silence over Hindutva violence or Islamophobia that continues to grow in the post 9/11 environment.

Ten years have passed as the families of the victims of Samjhauta blasts continue to wait for justice.

On February 18, 2007 explosions aboard Samjhauta rail express that connects India and Pakistan left 68 people dead and about 50 injured. At least 42 of the victims were Pakistani citizens most of them returning to their home country after visiting relatives in India. The rail service was started to connect the families divided by partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 and promote people to people contact between the neighbouring nations that have gone to two major wars in 1965 and 1971.

The Indian government had initially blamed Pakistan- based Islamic extremists for the incident. In fact, several Muslims were rounded up for investigation. The Indian establishment had claimed back then that this was done to undermine the relationship between the two countries by the radical Islamic elements in Pakistan. Not surprisingly, the media too accepted the narrative and the incident was taken as another instance of terrorism aided and abetted by a hostile neighbour from across the border. It seemed that everyone in India was convinced that it was a handiwork of the Jihadists killing their own Muslim brethren.

True. There is no dearth of such elements in Pakistan, but India too is home to Hindu radicals who do not want Indo-Pak relations to improve either. They too have been protesting in the streets against any peace initiative and efforts to strengthen economic and cultural ties between the two countries. But mainly because of the prejudices against Muslims and Pakistanis within the Indian intelligence and security agencies this scenario was completely overlooked or may be deliberately glossed over to give legitimacy to Hindu extremists. This is despite the fact that majority of victims were Pakistanis.

Thanks to the honest investigation by some thoroughly professional police officers, the network of Hindutva terrorists involved in the crime was unearthed. Several suspects were eventually rounded up as it was revealed that they wanted to turn India into a Hindu theocracy through armed uprising and creating fear in the minds of the Muslim minority. One of them Swami Aseemanand had confessed to his involvement not only in Samjhauta case, but other explosions as well. All these bombings were aimed at Muslim communities and their places of worship in different parts of India. He and his associates claimed that they were doing this to retaliate against the bombings of Hindu temples and communities by the Jihadi terrorists.

Interestingly, these startling revelations came when India was being ruled by the secularist Congress government that also wanted to isolate Pakistan internationally for supporting subversive activities on its soil. Since the existence of Hindutva terrorists weakened its case, the investigators were forced to look into other possibilities and rather go slow. Nevertheless, it was difficult to conceal the truth.

Unfortunately, things started moving into wrong direction ever since right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014 under Narendra Modi. There were apprehensions that the prosecution and the courts might be pressurised to dilute the cases against these people. The first indication came when a former prosecutor Rohini Salian spilled the beans in 2015. She revealed that she was asked by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that is handling these investigations to go slow against the Hindutva extremists. After all, BJP strongly believes in Hindutva – an ideology that sees India as a Hindu nation. There is every reason to believe that they have been patronising such elements for political considerations and shared ideology.

Modi – who was previously the Chief Minister of Gujarat is widely blamed for the 2002 anti Muslim massacre, though he was never charged. It is pertinent to mention that Modi had publicly condemned the arrests of Hindu activists in connection with the bomb blasts. So much so, he was pictured alongside Aseemanand at a public event. Aseemanand has once been active in Gujarat where he targeted Christian missionaries.

Another glaring instance of NIA’s lack of will to deal with Hindutva terrorists is the absence of the names of Hindu extremist outfits from its list of banned terror groups. Barring the Sikh, Muslim, Maoist extremist groups and those representing other sub nationalities, there is no mention of any Hindu nationalist group, including those involved in Samjhauta blasts on the list on its website. And if the latest development in one of the cases against Aseemanand is any sign, the current government certainly lacks will to punish them.

Only recently Aseemanand was acquitted in the Ajmer blast case. The October 2007 bombing had occurred near the famous Muslim shrine in Ajmer, Rajasthan that left three people dead and 15 injured. This was one of the many acts committed by Hindutva supporters to terrorise Muslims. Like in Samjhauta case that too was initially blamed on Pakistan -based Jihadi groups.

Reacting to his acquittal, Pakistan expressed its displeasure and asked India to bring perpetrators of the Samjhauta blasts to justice. In response to this, the Indian government accused Pakistan of interfering in its internal affairs.

One may argue that Indian judiciary can solely take care of such cases, but Pakistan is within its right to ask for the answers for an incident that left its citizens dead. If India is really worried about its image, it should rather set its house in order and deal with the Hindutva terror with a similar zeal that is shown while dealing with other terror groups. The least the Indian government can do to silence Pakistan or its domestic critics is punishing those guilty of Samjhauta blasts instead of giving them back door amnesty. This whole approach only reflects selective justice of the Indian state that lacks courage to stand up against majoritarian democracy and that’s the reason why Hindutva extremists have continued to grow over the years.

Instead of cursing Pakistan all the time and blaming it for terrorism within India, the Indian government should look hard at itself in the mirror. Even if one believes that terrorism is being fully supported from across the border, which is not deniable, India must take blame for providing reasons for compelling its citizens to become recruits for Jihadi movement. Particularly, the BJP and its cohorts are to be blamed for pushing the Muslims to the wall and forcing them to take to militant paths. They led a movement which led to demolition of an ancient Muslim mosque in 1992 and have been repeatedly harassing Muslims for eating meat and if nothing accusing them again and again of being Pakistani agents and unpatriotic. In a way, they themselves have been feeding the demon called Jihadi terrorism. The recent appointment of Yogi Adityanath – who is known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh following spectacular victory of the BJP in the assembly elections leaves no doubt that India is heading towards becoming a Hindu state. It is only a matter of time when the Indian constitution is amended to replace Hindutva with secularism as one of its preamble. All this suggests that Hindutva terror that resulted into tragedies like Samjhauta episode is not going to die soon and will continue to gain more acceptance under the Modi administration.

The argument that Pakistan is interfering into the internal matters of India is weak and speaks volume about the double standards of a government which had not very long ago showed its concern over the increased hate attacks on Indian immigrants in US. For the record, India has time and again raised eyebrows over the softness shown by Pakistani judiciary and the government toward Jihadi extremists involved in terrorist incidents within the Indian territories. Maybe India needs to be reminded that those who live in glass houses should never throw stones on others.


Democracy and Elections


Dear Irom Chanu Sharmila

Democracy is more than elections. Mere numbers cannot undermine your contribution to India.

Written by Basant Rath | Updated: March 29, 2017 4:53 pm

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Irom Sharmila. Express photo by Oinam Anand.

India’s democracy, with all its problems and polemics, owes you a huge thanks. You are an inspiration. You are a hero to millions of students of democracy and believers in the might of a human being who is willing to sacrifice everything for a worthy cause. You are my hero. You will always be my Iron Lady. A number can’t define your name. Election results can’t define your political contribution. And they should not. They won’t. Heroes don’t come from a school of political arithmetic.

In the history of human civilisation, written or otherwise, heroes never had it easy. No matter how great their causes, notwithstanding their personal sacrifices. Jesus of Nazareth left this planet on a cross, bleeding real blood and breathing real breath, after soldiers hammered nails into his body. Prophet Muhammad left earth after living a life of insults, insinuations and daily tribulations. Martin Luther King Jr. left after a single .30-06 bullet fired by an assassin felled him. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Mahatma to his millions of followers, left after bullets were pumped into his chest by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fanatic who has been an evil inspiration to his ever-growing number of unabashed admirers in these times of cow nationalism and cinema hall patriotism. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the Mahar boy who made the single largest contribution to India’s Constitution, left as a disheartened man despite his efforts to give justice to the Dalit Bahujan masses.

You are a great human being, Iromji. You have been a name and a voice for millions of people who are faceless and voiceless. You invite us to see beyond our drawing rooms, compel us to go beyond a Twitter handle here and a Facebook like there. In an age of selfie leadership, you are a lone selfless voice. In times of corporate-funded media houses and their direct-to-home shouts and criminal silences, you are a whisper, soft, yet soothing and sublime.

Iromji, Hitler, that failed painter-turned-mass killer, a megalomaniac monster and a vegetarian to his last day, came to power through elections and electoral machinations. This is how the business of politics takes care of its bottom line. Oratory has no time for a truth spoken in whispers. Elections, as important as they are in a democracy, are no guarantee that only selfless, public-spirited leaders will enter the political executive. Let’s not forget that too many criminals, real or potential, have come to power in too many countries after winning elections.

As of May 2014, the 16th Lok Sabha has the highest number of MPs with criminal cases. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which analysed the election affidavits filed before the Election Commission, 34 per cent of new MPs face criminal charges. The percentage in 2009 and 2004 stood at 30 and 24 respectively. Among the elected leaders to Parliament, as many as 112 have declared that they have serious criminal cases.

Nine leaders in Parliament have murder cases, while another 17 have attempt to murder against them. There are two MPs who have cases related to crimes against women.

With all its warts and weakness, election-based democracy is still the best model of governance. But, Iromji, democracy is as much about principles as about elections. Justice for the voiceless, accountability of the state machinery and the legitimacy of institutions can’t be reduced to a numbers game. You are a spiritual and political force to reckon with. This country of Rohith Vemula and millions of Ambedkarites deserves you. India’s students, who are fighting for democratic space, deserve your time and energy.

As of today, every third district in this country experiences some sort of armed rebellion against the state. More often than not, these districts are blessed with rich natural resources and populated by the deprived and dispossessed. Not all of these armed groups are a direct or indirect result of Pakistan’s attempts to destabilise India. These extremist groups put a strong question mark on the credibility and legitimacy of the country’s democratic institutions. Media conglomerates, fuelled by corporate money, have always spoken about bringing these districts to the mainstream. None of them have ever expected the mainstream to go to these districts and their people.

You made the mainstream go to the periphery. You were the one who made New Delhi’s media stars go to Manipur with their iPads and OB vans and take note of a worthy cause. Without bloodshed. Without organised PR networking. Without any help from a political party, local or national. Without unaccounted corporate donations. At a time when surnames make leaders out of spoilt brats and communal riots make statesmen out of criminals, you have been a glimmer of hope. When even the colour of an apple from an orchard in Sopore is political in the eyes of the buyers in Delhi’s Azadpur subzi mandi, the photograph of you, having refused food and water and having been force-fed through a tube, sitting on a hospital bed, your eyes looking into the television cameras with determination, will stay etched in India’s collective memory.

Iromji, I’m not too worried about what you will do after this election, how you’ll chart your political future and where your decisions will take you.

This is a humble attempt to convey my gratitude to you. Elections come and go. Candidates win and lose. Never has a person deprived herself of food and water for so long, for a cause that affected millions. You did that for 16 years.

Heroes like you don’t come by easily. Stay strong, my inspiration. Take care of yourself. India’s democracy and its elected representatives and their embedded media houses would do well to remember your name. You’ll always be “Mengoubi” (the fair one) in my book of prayers.

The writer is an IPS officer and DIG, Jammu and Kashmir police. Views expressed are personal

Copyright © 2017 The Indian Express [P] Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Gurmehar Kaur forced to retract protest by rape threat

Gurmehar Kaur’s retraction of campaign shows how women who voice dissent are gagged in India

From Kaur to Zaira Wasim, those who’ve challenged authority or seemed to have ‘displeased’ it, have received hate threats and been forced into submission
Written by Radhika Iyengar | Updated: February 28, 2017 7:16 pm

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Let’s cut through the chase and not call ourselves a “democracy” anymore. Let’s put a lid on the debate regarding this so-called “freedom of expression” we proudly claim to have – for when it comes voicing dissent, we are the first to jump to quell it. Particularly when the dissent comes from a woman. Past incidents hold evidence that whenever women in India have tried to voice an opinion, which have contradicted or clashed with the opinion held by right-wing political authorities, women have been held by the collar and verbally beaten down into silence.

WATCH | Gurmehar Kaur Withdraws Save DU Campaign: Here’s What Happened

When Gurmehar Kaur raised her voice against the appalling violence spawned, stirred and inflicted allegedly by the ABVP (RSS’ political student arm) in Delhi University last week, she did it in the simplest, hard-hitting manner. Her activism – of a mug shot with a placard stating: “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP” – did not defame ABVP. The language in the message was not anchored in ridicule or abuse. All it did was challenge ABVP’s authority.

Kaur’s message – the vortex of her political activism – spiraled into a viral storm. It fulminated a backlash from right-wing conservatives, of colossal proportions, against her. Troll messages grounded in disturbing, unfounded misogyny, ricocheted off her Twitter page.

Kaur went on record to say that she received rape threats.

Rape has been used as the universal instrument to subjugate, silence and conquer women. In patriarchal societies, women asserting themselves has been viewed as toppling the ‘norm.’ The only way to maintain the norm, is to rein in their tongues. Instilling a paralyzing sense of fear through rape, or rape threats, is the most convenient and preferred modus operandi for those who wish to uphold the patriarchal order. Violating a woman’s body violates her identity and her sense of being. You trample over that and she’s conquered, quietened down. The only way to control her – is to sexually humiliate her.

WATCH | Virender Sehwag Tweets Following Kargil Martyr’s Daughter’s Anti-ABVP Post

What is disappointing is that it works. Kaur retracted from her #SaveDU campaign today on Twitter saying, “I’m withdrawing… Congratulations everyone. I request to be left alone. I said what I had to say.. I have been through a lot and this is all my 20 year self could take :)”.

Kaur is not alone. A little over a month ago, sixteen-year-old Zaira Wasim, who performed the role of wrestler Geeta Phogat in Dangal, was publicly berated on Twitter for meeting Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Wasim received countless death threats from Islamic conservatives, which bullied her into publishing an apology on a social platform. “I know that many people have been offended and displeased by my recent actions or by the people I have recently met,” she wrote in January. “I want to apologise to all those people who I’ve unintentionally hurt and want them to know that I understand their sentiments, especially considering what has happened (in Kashmir) over the past six months.”

Then of course, there was the all-girl’s rock band called Praagaash (From Darkness to Light) from Jammu and Kashmir, which disbanded in 2013 after a Muslim cleric issued a fatwa against them saying it was “un-Islamic” for teenage girls to sing in front of unknown men in public spaces. The girls were diabolically trolled on social media, receiving multiple rape threats.

WATCH VIDEO | Olympian Wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt Tweets Against Gurmehar Kaur

Kaur’s withdrawal, Wasim’s apology, Praagaash’s disbanding are indicators of forced submission; a push to align to the norm maintained a male-reigned world. Disconcertingly, their submission perpetuates the age-old narrative, that through threats steeped in violence, particularly rape, women can be gagged.

Last year, JNU student and activist Shela Rashid received rape threats when she participated in a protest opposing a seminar by Yoga guru Ramdev in JNU on Vedanta. The protest led the seminar to be cancelled but Rashid got a letter addressed directly to her. ‘The letter, written anonymously, called me everything under the sun…. I have been trolled and abused by people on Twitter, and I have learnt to ignore them. But this letter tried to create a fear psychosis,” Rashid had told The Telegraph in 2016. She too, had noted that such threats were used to control women: “This is a threat of physical abuse. This is not just about one letter, it is about broader women’s issues. The kind of language used in the letter or the rape threats on social networking sites against women deter them from entering public spaces. It also forces women who oppose to shut up.”

In the midst of bellicosity launched against Kaur – primarily by men – her older messages have been excavated. Daughter of a soldier who died fighting in Kashmir, Kaur back in April 2016, had released another string of placard messages that described her stance against war. However, one particular message from her campaign – “Pakistan did not kill my dad. War did” – has been strategically pulled out of context and is being looked at in isolation.

Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju asked who had been “polluting” Kaur’s mind. Actor Randeep Hooda too, went ahead and ridiculed Kaur, saying that she was a “poor girl” being used as a “political pawn” by political leftists.

WATCH |Randeep Hooda Writes An Open Letter After Being Accused Of Trolling Kargil Martyr’s Daughter

Two important, troubling things emerge in this context: One, that a woman cannot build or have her own political opinion – if she does, she has been “taught”. It trivializes not only a woman’s right to voice her opinion, but also her ability to build one. Disappointingly, Kaur has been man-interrupted for her views, because no one saw the context of her older campaign relating to her comment on war. At that time, the intent of her campaign was not one that supported Pakistan, but one that supported peace. It was a message aimed at both Indian and Pakistani governments, requesting them to not embroil in wars, because countless fathers were lost in such ordeals.

Here’s the larger point to think about though: If we, as Indians, threaten to rape our own women under the garb of nationalism, then we carry an alarmingly warped sense of nationalism. Our definition of nationalism is being disintegrated into a despicable charade and no one is doing anything about it.

While there have been the likes of many, like Javed Akhtar, who have voiced solidarity with Kaur, the unfortunate reality of things persists: women who voice dissent will be gagged or pushed into a corner to retract. And that’s what happened with Gurmehar Kaur today.

The Roots of Savagery

ACCORDING to the high priests of public morality, many normal Pakistanis have become so heartless that they rape and kill little girls or sell deadly poison under the label of essential drugs, or foodstuffs — because the moral order has collapsed. But they are unlikely to offer this explanation for the recent carnage in Sehwan.

Such simplistic answers prevent identification of the material factors contributing to the wave of savagery in the country and make remedial action difficult, if not impossible.

The foremost cause of the rise of beastliness in society is that the law has ceased to be a deterrent to crime. The state’s effort to meet this situation by making penalties for offences harsher misses the point that the majesty of the law rests not so much on punishments as it does on the public belief that nobody can escape paying for his misdeeds. In today’s Pakistan, most wrongdoers believe they can get away with anything.

One major cause for this is a sharp fall in the conviction rate, generally believed to be less than 10pc. The main contributing factors are known to be: primitive and flawed investigation, inefficient and corrupt prosecution, and the privilege of the rich and the influential to beat the law.

For example, in a recent case of illegal trade in human organs the defence team comprised about 60 advocates, headed by one of the country’s most talked about lawyers. The ability to engage the topmost lawyers is considered conclusive proof of a party’s being in the right. A glance at the legal armada assembled for the defence of Lahore’s Orange Line train project is enough to confirm this.

In murder cases, however, the conviction rate is much higher than the average. But resourceful offenders are able to secure reprieve by buying out key witnesses and often the complainants too. The recent instances of complainants’ dropping the charges against rich young men should have surprised only the less informed citizens. The use of money and social/political power to defeat justice has been going on since ancient times.

The foremost cause of the rise of beastliness in society is that the law has ceased to be a deterrent.

The capacity of the legal system to punish for murder has been grossly undermined by making the offence compoundable and a private affair between the killer and the victim’s family. Anybody who has resources to pay blood money to the victim’s family or who is capable of causing the latter further harm can get off scot-free at any stage, from within days of the occurrence of murder to minutes before the time of hanging. Stories of corruption in judicial ranks, often confirmed by the superior courts, have done not a little to rob the law of its grandeur.

Pakistan is also paying for the disconnect between its legal code and socially accepted practices. The law says the giving away of minor girls to compound a crime is an offence, but the state has done little to undercut the social sanction for such transactions in large parts of the country. Women’s vulnerability to offences against them has been aggravated by ignoring the social and psychological fallout of discriminatory laws, such as Zia’s evidence law. By prescribing capital punishment for rape, gang rape and abduction, the state has given the offenders an incentive to kill their victims and thus dispose of the most essential prosecution witnesses.

Besides, the law has suffered considerable decline after the emergence of pressure groups in support of its violators. The public clamour against houbara hunting has no effect because influential waderas and sardars have hitched their economic fortunes to this game. They ensure that the stock of houbaras on their lands is not depleted by indigenous poachers; they also provide the foreign princes with local guides and trackers who like to stay in five-star hotels, ride in luxurious vehicles and get expensive gifts.

Further, Pakistan always had a tendency to follow the theory of the ends justifying the means. The use of tribals in missions that could be disowned became an excuse for keeping them out of the mainstream. Gen Zia did a great deal to sanctify this theory. Charlie Wilson’s role in the Afghan war justified his being draped in the field marshal’s uniform and the grant of a licence in Zia’s own handwriting to hunt any endangered species. The general saw no harm in socialising with thieves and smugglers who did his bidding. One doubts if such blatant circumvention of the law has ceased.

We must also realise that many of those who excel in callousness began with petty crime when they were denied fair opportunities to make a living, or their merits were rejected, or they simply wanted to emulate the ways of privileged sections, including the rulers themselves. While lamenting the progress of a criminal from petty larceny to direct or indirect homicide, it is perhaps equally necessary to question the non-criminal sections of society about their guilt in passively tolerating much that must never be tolerated. The principle that society must accept a part of the responsibility for each crime an individual commits is inviolable.

As if all this were not enough to wreck the system of retributive justice firmly embraced by Pakistan , we are now challenged by a new breed of zealots who justify their utterly brutal acts as a duty enjoined by their faith. They have turned the principles of jihad upside down and given everybody a licence to slit the throat of anyone suspected of nonconformism.

Mausoleums and shrines have been targets of these extremists for years. The massacre in Sehwan, which the orthodoxy will not attribute to a collapse of moral values, was the inevitable follow-up of the bloodshed at the Noorani shrine in Balochistan, and the latter was the inevitable follow-up of the attacks on the Rahman Baba shrine and others. Mischief tolerated at its birth grows exponentially.

How long will it take for the custodians of power to realise where the roots of organised savagery lie?

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2017