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DAWN - Opinion; January 25, 2008

January 25, 2008


India’s Hindu Taliban

By Kuldip Nayar

“WILL you arrest anybody and identify him by any name that suits your case?” a judge asked the police while setting Aftab Alam Ansari free. He was imprisoned on suspicion that he was involved in the serial blasts at the courts in Lucknow some two years ago.

He is an electrician working at Kolkata in the government’s power corporation. He was picked up from there. The UP police chief described him as ‘a hard core’ belonging to the Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami. Sheepishly, the police have admitted that it was a case of ‘mistaken identity’.

What Aftab went through in jail is something too familiar in the subcontinent to be repeated. I do not know whether he is suing the authorities for his illegal detention. But this is a case which some NGO should take up to demand not only compensation for him but also punishment for those who misused the law. It has become a practice with the police to arrest anyone without even a semblance of evidence to allay the people’s fear in the wake of a blast.

One more example of the police getting away with ‘false testimony’ has come to the fore. This is the Bilkis Bano case in Gujarat. Eleven people who raped her and killed 14 of her relatives, including her three-year-old daughter, have been sentenced to life imprisonment. At last some persons have been punished, thanks to the persistence of Bilkis and Teesta Setalvad, a human rights activist, supported by the media. Yet, five policemen have been acquitted. Bilkis wants to pursue their case of ‘false testimony’.

The case had to be heard outside Gujarat because of pressures within the state. Yet the main culprit, state chief minister Narendra Modi, who had planned the ethnic cleansing and had it carried out, moves around freely because there is no ‘legal proof’” against him. The Nanavati Commission appointed to find out those responsible for the carnage has been sitting for the last five years; it is still examining witnesses.

Modi, without any qualms of conscience, had the audacity to talk about the centre’s failure to curb terrorism when he was touring Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. What happened in Gujarat was something more terrible than terrorism. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced financial help and his government’s support for concerted action against terrorism. He wants Pakistan to be part of the drive.

But he should know that terrorism is only a symptom, not the disease. Fundamentalism has very much to do with it. The terrorism witnessed in Gujarat was the work of Hindu fundamentalists. Without curbing them or their counterparts among Muslims, there can be little progress on this front.

Gujarat continues to be in the grip of Hindu Taliban. Sainiks destroyed the NDTV office at Ahmedabad a few days ago because the channel reported M.F. Hussain, a world famous painter, as one among the people’s choice for the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award. The land of Modi has such a pathological hatred for Muslims that there is no question of taking action against the culprits because they are the warp and woof of the state’s Hindutva apparatus.

There has been no word of explanation, much less condemnation, from the BJP spokesman, Ravi Shankar Prasad, otherwise an urbane person. When the entire structure of his party, the BJP, has been built upon anti-Muslim sentiments, its youth followers, the sainiks, are only instruments of terror and tyranny, at the beck and call of the party.

The same sainiks or their type broke glass at the NDTV office in Bhopal. This is the capital of the BJP-run Madhya Pradesh. It is assumed that no action will be taken against them. True, it is a minor incident compared to the Ahmedabad one. What the nation must realise is that Germany was not taken over by the Nazis in one day. They nibbled at the country ideologically and socially.

People would shrug their shoulders saying that the NDTV incident did not hurt them. The Nazis too did not take on all the people at one go. Only one set of them was attacked first. Left aside, the other sections asked themselves why they should raise their voice when they had not been touched. Ultimately, when the Nazis came for the last set of people, there was nobody left to speak out.

The Muslims accused in the Godhra train arson case have been denied even a fair hearing and have been deprived of basic freedoms. In all there were 135 accused in the incident. The last bail order was granted by the Gujarat high court on October 30, 2004. The court has not heard any bail application since. Many serious discrepancies in the arrests, including some glaring inconsistencies, have been pointed out to the state which simply refuses to address the concerns.

Compared to the Hindu Taliban, the Muslim Taliban may be less active. But they are very much there. They demonstrated against the Godrejs, a house of industrialists, recently because they had hosted Salman Rushdie, the author of Satanic Verses. The demonstrators demanded a boycott of the goods produced by them.

Not many Muslims were associated with the hooligans. But then nobody in the community dared to speak against them. People were simply afraid of what the fundamentalists might do to them. In fact, the fear they instill in the general public is their weapon. They have already silenced the government of India in the case of Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi author who has been installed in a house in Delhi, isolating her from the outside world. She has protested against the ‘house arrest’ but neither the government nor the Muslim community is sensitive to her freedom.

I do not know why New Delhi is soft on fundamentalists. The example of Pakistan is before us. There was a time when the madressahs and maulvis did not pose any danger. Religious parties would never cross double digits in elections to the provincial and national assemblies. The madressahs went on brainwashing the youth studying there. Thousands of them are now an integral part of Pakistani society. The government did not lift a finger against them.

Now that they have begun to challenge the state, the army has been deployed to curb them. Several suicide attacks on the military have demoralised the army as have beheadings of security officials.

Still, the terrorists have come to occupy a large bit of Pakistan’s territory. Waziristan is under their command. President Pervez Musharraf has tried to convince Europe that the terrorists have been nearly ousted from the country. Very few believe him. That is his and Pakistan’s tragedy. His credibility is zero.

The writer is a leading journalist based in New Delhi.

The heat & the kitchen

ANXIETY will be many Europeans' first reaction to the angry exchanges between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in South Carolina. From a transatlantic perspective, only one thing really matters about the 2008 presidential election: that Americans elect a president who will rebuild US relations with the world after the disastrous George Bush years.

Whether that president is Mrs Clinton or Mr Obama is an important question but one that pales into insignificance beside the overriding concern that Mr Bush should not be succeeded by someone from his own party. When the two leading Democrats attack one another as fiercely as they did on Monday, the reflexive fear is that only the Republicans will gain from it.

In truth, it is no surprise that the contest between the two senators is turning nastier at this point. One of these two trailblazing candidates is only a few steps away from getting a firm grip on the nomination in an election that is the Democrats' to lose. The prize is huge and the primary in South Carolina this weekend will do much to shape it.

If Mrs Clinton wins she will have a hat-trick of primary victories from which Mr Obama will find it hard to recover. If Mr Obama wins he will be firmly back in the race and will fancy his chances of capturing some big prizes when 22 states vote on Super Tuesday two weeks hence. If the race is turning nasty it is because the stakes are very high.

But it is also because there are some genuine issues at stake - about the candidates' mettle as well as their policies. It is sometimes tempting to see the differences between Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama as so marginal that –– particularly from a distance –– it hardly matters which of them wins.

That is a view many Democrats share; they would be happy with either of them. But the point of the primary process is to put the prospective nominee to the test –– and that is what we are witnessing. Is Mrs Clinton able to reach out beyond her core support?

What does Mr Obama really believe in? Which of them will deliver best for Americans on the big issues? The questions matter. So the voters need to see how the candidates take the heat — because the Republicans will not hesitate to apply it mercilessly. And let us not exaggerate: Monday’s clashes were sharp, but they were not brutal.

Mrs Clinton may seem to have more to lose in these confrontations.

—The Guardian, London

The foreign Pakistanis

By Ayesha Siddiqa

IT is quite an experience meeting and talking to Pakistanis abroad. You can find some of the most rabidly nationalist Pakistanis living in Europe and the US. This statement is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with being a nationalist. In fact, there is nothing good or bad about being or not being a nationalist.

It is a state of mind related to a concept which evolved as part of European history and politics. The concept of the nation-state, which must be loved ‘right or wrong’, evolved as a part of the entire scheme of breaking European empires and dividing the continent into states. Each state represented a particular nation or group of people who were connected to each other through a common history, memory, ethos, culture and language. The nation-state, hence, became a ‘political atom’. It could not be broken down any further.

It was about a group of people in control of certain territory who agreed to evolve rules and laws to live together in the state. Relations, hence, were expected to be less conflictual due to commonalities among the people.

It is important to define the concept because most expatriate Pakistanis in the West believe themselves to be nationalistic. They naturally feel concerned about the state of affairs in the country and its future. Surely, the thought process of being a nationalist and feeling concerned about the nation has many shades and colours. But the flavour I found most noticeable or catching pertains to the following two ideas.

First, there is grave concern regarding the future of the state. Many fear that the country will disintegrate as part of some foreign conspiracy. There is a master plan to divide the country into several portions. It is possible because the country is largely ungovernable and suffering from an ethnic and ideological divide. After all, how could the government or Pakistanis be insensitive towards each other if it were not for the involvement of some foreign power?

Another perception is that all the instability in Pakistan is owed to the Indian, American and Israeli intelligence agencies. Pakistani expatriates are unable to believe that Pakistanis living in the country could have a problem or that the internal conflict could be due to problematic domestic policies. The problem in Balochistan, for instance, has nothing to do with the unjustified distribution of resources or the imbalance between the centre and the federating units.Second, most Pakistani expatriates find it hard to believe that the bad press which the country gets abroad, especially in the West, is more than an image issue. For them, life could be much better if people, particularly Pakistanis, would stop mentioning complex socio-political and socioeconomic issues in the country. The gender, ethnic or sectarian imbalance is just a figment of their imagination which must be brushed under the carpet so that the country can have a good image.

Let’s suppose that both these assumptions are correct and what is happening in Pakistan is nothing but a fantastic external conspiracy. The question then arises as to how these expatriates see their relationship with the state which seems to be behind all the domestic mess.

There are quite a few Pakistanis who left the West after 9/11. Those who continue to live in the US or other western countries have no plans to return to the country of their origin. While they find it difficult to leave the countries where they migrated many years ago, there is also a tendency to get angry with conspirators and hide their heads in the sand not recognising the reality of the homeland.

The problem of the generation which initially migrated to the West is that they find it difficult to return to the country of their birth. This is due to the better facilities which they get living abroad and also because their next generation finds it difficult to migrate back to Pakistan. While some adopt the option of sending their children for higher education to Pakistan, others find it very hard to sell the idea of reverse migration to their youngsters.

In any case, many have tried to send their children back and then have come to accept the reality that the children find it hard to adjust back home. The systems which they are used to are very different from what goes on inside the country. The availability of certain basic facilities, rule of law, basic rights and cultural differences are factors which make the return journey difficult.

I recently met a family which could not persuade their daughter to stay in Pakistan. The young child’s problem was that she could not adjust with the fact that girls her age did not have much to do in terms of extra-curricular activities other than chatting on Facebook or discussing Indian soaps with each other. Surely, the family didn’t realise that in Pakistan eating out or attending wedding or even funeral ceremonies fills the gap of the absence of any other structured social activity.

This is not just an issue of the lack of ‘enlightened moderation’ but the development of an overall culture which is extremely restrictive in terms of what it will allow people to do. The politics of cultural emancipation cannot be ignored. The leadership, which has always used religion for political legitimacy, has no plans to encourage healthy cultural activities or a dialogue in the country.

Expatriates generally adopt one of three responses. First, at an emotional or intellectual level most get into a hyper-nationalism mode. They tend to create standards of behaviour for those living inside the country. In their eyes, Pakistan’s main problem is lack of nationalism which can be eradicated if people stopped thinking about their interests and did not make an issue of their problems. The assumption is that those living abroad are far more educated and cultured to create a better society.

Second, there are others who provide material help by contributing to all kinds of charities in the country. While the more conservative give money to religious charities, the secular donate to organisations such as the Edhi Foundation.

Third, the elite amongst the expatriates try to get involved in policymaking through remote control or using connections to temporarily get inside the government.

Hence, it is not surprising that Islamabad is conveniently able to get all sorts of caretaker prime ministers and financial managers from abroad. They always have the option of returning to their safe haven after they can no longer handle the ‘heat’, leaving millions behind to suffer the repercussions of their policies. Pakistan’s Shaukat Aziz is a case in point. The affluent expatriates are mostly technocrats who try to fill a perceived gap of qualified people once there is a crisis in the country.

The emotional turmoil they feel is expressed in their relationship with the Pakistani state and society back home. Perhaps, it would take another couple of decades before expatriates become less ambitious about Pakistan, once they settle down with their new nationalities.

The writer is an independent analyst and the author of the book “Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy”.

Hunger in a land of plenty

By Irfan Malik

WHAT with one thing and another — dogs to walk, bills to pay, books to read — in my declining years I don’t get into as many fist fights as I ought to. Not for want of provocation, mind you, for there is much to raise the hackles and get the blood boiling in Karachi.

It’s just that I am badly out of shape at the fag end of a misspent life and suffering a concussion doesn’t strike me as the ideal way to start an evening, or any part of the day for that matter.

Still, if the level of discourse were to so degenerate that only a right hook could settle the debate once and for all, there is no one I would like more in my corner than my old friend Sallu. Though essentially a benign sort, his strength is that of 10 even after all these years and, in case you’ve never noticed, that always helps in a brawl. In the sepia-tinted days when the blood ran hot I have seen him lay out cold, with a single blow, someone so unsound of mind as to heap insult on his mother (not his own, Sallu’s). I believe he could easily take on an ox, with similarly spectacular results. Not that Sallu would, for he has always been exceptionally kind to animals. Besides, it is only the most ill-bred of livestock that will wantonly badmouth your parents.

So conceive my alarm last week when Sallu trudged to my office, such as it is, and started weeping freely shortly thereafter. Nothing ever fazes this muscleman, you see, and I frankly feared the worst. He had walked the three miles to my office, not because he was feeling particularly chipper (which he clearly wasn’t) or because it was an exceptionally fine winter morning in Karachi (which it was). He couldn’t afford the bus fare, that’s why. I also learned that he had exhausted his credit at the grocery store and that the family had been surviving on rusks and tea for the last four days. It was okay as far as he and the wife were concerned, Sallu confided, but the kids couldn’t understand.

While helping him somewhat on his feet to the best of my ability, I knew that Sallu’s troubles aren’t going to end any time soon. He makes about Rs4,000 a month and that isn’t enough these days to pay the bills, not on time anyway. Two kids in school, another at home, plus husband and wife. Mouths to be fed and gas and electricity paid for. Even then he was managing to stay in the black until a few months ago when prices of everyday food items — and we aren’t talking of daily hunks of meat here — shot through the roof. Unlike many others in his position he didn’t cut back on the children’s education, promptly settling all the various fees and paying for their books. So came the day when there was no food in the house and no means to find it.

Is it altogether appropriate to discuss someone’s deeply personal problems in print? Well, there are three reasons why I can. One, I have Sallu’s permission. Plus that isn’t his real name and consider also that in his circle there is just one other person besides myself who reads English-language newspapers.

I disagree with those who say that the last government was anti-people. To be anti or vehemently opposed to anything implies a degree of contemplation, whereas Shaukat Aziz and his coterie simply didn’t care a jot for the poor and the lower-middle classes. Their interests lay elsewhere — in the stock market (to the marked detriment of small investors), privatisation of state assets (sometimes involving shady bidders alleged to be fronts for certain finance-savvy officials in Islamabad), writing off the loans of the wealthy and in conjuring up multi-billion-rupee ‘development’ contracts. They did this because they were obviously of such dubious bent to begin with but more so because they were not answerable to the people.

Even the most corrupt of genuinely democratic governments know they can go only so far without paying for it at the next hustings. They may, and usually do, fatten themselves no end but starving the middle classes is not an option. Unrepresentative regimes answerable only to their patron saint face no such constraints.

Economic models must be contextual. In a developing country, there is every reason why the state should intervene in the free-market free-for-all to ensure that at least food remains affordable. It seems that such trifling matters were given not even a passing thought in the last five years. As it turned out, the inflationary pressures unleashed by the rapid economic growth that benefited only a fraction of the population made life a misery for all but a few. Rekindling memories of old, the caretaker government has now floated the idea of ration cards that will allow purchases at utility stores at subsidised rates. How this scheme will pan out remains to be seen. Who knows, it may well help the needy who comprise the vast majority of citizens. But to me it also smacks of institutionalising a sub-class that cannot buy its groceries from regular stores, which must queue up for rations and proffer documentation at the time of purchase. I can’t put a finger on it but something is wrong here.

Tragic as it is, there is nothing new about the poor becoming poorer in Pakistan. What has been happening in recent months, however, is perhaps unique. People who were making ends meet are slipping into poverty and their number is growing by the day. They are looking for new homes because three thousand in rent is no longer affordable. They are pulling their kids out of school, perpetuating the cycle of poverty through no fault of their own. The ill are having to make do without medicine.

People are hungry in Pakistan. Grown men are crying.

Amartya has the answers

By Palvasha von Hassell

THE renowned Indian Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen was awarded one of the most prestigious of German prizes for philosophy in the historic city of Cologne in November 2007.

On this occasion he gave a talk on multiculturalism, titled ‘A freedom-based understanding of multicultural commitments’.

As he spoke I recalled, not for the first time, something once said about him: Sen has a mind like a searchlight.

It is fair to assume that at its conclusion, most, if not all of those present, had started having second thoughts about their understanding of the term multiculturalism.

Waves of migration over the years have led to ever-increasing numbers of people with different cultural backgrounds settling in the previously mainly mono-cultural societies of Western Europe. This led to tensions as was evident in the race riots in England in the 1980s, and more recently, in the London underground bombings in 2005. Violence erupted in Paris the same year as the suburbs were set aflame by disaffected French youths from immigrant families.

There has been much controversy and confusion recently about whether headscarf-wearing Muslim women should be banned from educational institutions and the workplace, especially in Germany and France. Whereas the unease with which various cultural communities live side by side predates 9/11, it has grown exponentially since then, leading to much debate on the desirability or otherwise of multiculturalism. What has been lacking is a realisation that one’s approach to the issue may have been flawed. This is where Sen’s valuable and timely contribution comes in:

“The general acceptance of the exhortation to ‘love thy neighbour’ emerged when the neighbours led more or less the same kind of life. But the same entreaty to love one’s neighbours now requires people to take an interest in the very diverse living modes of people who, no matter where their families originated, have now become proximate.” Having, with these words, established that there is no alternative to peaceful coexistence among people of different backgrounds in western societies, Sen went on to methodically dissect the meaning of multiculturalism.

First, he told the audience, it is important to distinguish between two ways of perceiving human beings. Do we see them as captives of the religious and cultural identity of the community in which they happen to be born, or do we see them more openly as free entities with additional societal affiliations of politics, gender etc, deciding themselves which part of their identities they may choose to give prominence to? This fundamental question is closely related to the three ways in which multiculturalism can be perceived, according to Sen.

Seeing human beings only or primarily as belonging to their respective cultures lies at the base of the first two approaches to multiculturalism. The first of these Sen called ‘the potpourri preference’. This approach celebrates a multitude of cultures in a given society, associating individuals with their inherited background whether those individuals like it or not. Thus, while approving of cultural diversity, it leaves out the individual completely.

The second, related choice, termed ‘cultural conservatism’ by him, while taking notice of individuals, expects them to remain within the confines of their inherited culture, thus completely discounting the role of individual choice as a determining factor in identity. Both approaches are unsatisfactory as they hinder the integration of people in mainstream society.

It is the third variety that was Sen’s subject matter. This, a freedom-based approach, focuses on the human being’s freedom to decide what aspects of the cultures present in a society he would like to be identified with. Thus, he is not automatically associated mainly or exclusively with the religion of his ancestors; rather, allowance is made for him to be, say, a Muslim of whatever kind he chooses, plus a socialist, pianist and a student of Baroque architecture.The first two approaches result in what may be called more or less watertight boxes of single cultures coexisting in a society, without there being any fruitful interaction between individuals from different cultures, including most importantly, the host culture.

The freedom-based approach, on the other hand, if coupled with policies of integration for immigrants such as citizenship, the right to vote, access to medical care, is best calculated to prevent alienation by ensuring full participation in the national life of the host country.

Sen illustrated this by contrasting policies followed by Britain to deal with the first wave of immigration in the 1940s and 1950s, which proved greatly successful for integration, with more recent trends to follow the more European line of leaving groups of immigrants to themselves, thus contributing to their exclusivity and alienation from mainstream society.

As if on cue, in January 2008, less than two months after Sen’s address, there started a continuing spate of attacks by immigrant youths on German pensioners, which is being exploited by some unscrupulous politicians as proof of the failure of multiculturalism. Instead, policymakers in this country would be well advised to take Sen’s advice and revise their concept of multiculturalism and grant immigrants more political rights before the situation gets worse.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2008