Sunday, January 29, 2012

Remembering Mahatma Gandhi: उड जायेगा हंस अकेला / जग दर्शन का मेला ।।

उड जायेगा हंस अकेला
जग दर्शन का मेला ।।

Kumar Gandharva - Ud Jayega

Why the online obsession with revealing every detail of your life?

By Charlie Brooker: "...I'm all for sharing thoughts, no matter how banal (as every column I have ever written rather sadly proves). Humans will always babble. If someone wants to tweet that they can't decide whether to wear blue socks or brown socks, then fair enough. But when sharing becomes automated, I get the heebie-jeebies. People already create exaggerated versions of themselves for online consumption: snarkier tweets, more outraged reactions. Online, you play at being yourself. Apply that pressure of public performance to private, inconsequential actions – such as listening to songs in the comfort of your own room – and what happens, exactly?
It'll only get worse. Here's what I am listening to on Spotify. This is the page of the book I am reading. I am currently watching the 43rd minute of a Will Ferrell movie. And I'm not telling you this stuff. The software is. I am a character in The Sims. Hover the cursor over my head and watch that stat feed scroll.
You know how annoying it is when you're sitting on the train with a magazine and the person sitting beside you starts reading over your shoulder? Welcome to every single moment of your future. Might as well get used to it. It's an experience we'll all be sharing..."

Friday, January 27, 2012

Noam Chomsky: Remembering Howard Zinn

Editor's note: Today, January 27, is the second anniversary of the death of Howard Zinn. An active participant in the Civil Rights movement, he was dismissed in 1963 from his position as a tenured professor at Spelman College in Atlanta after siding with black women students in the struggle against segregation. In 1967, he wrote one of the first, and most influential, books calling for an end to the war in Vietnam. A veteran of the US Army Air Force, he edited The Pentagon Papers, leaked by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, and was later designated a "high security risk" by the FBI.
His best-selling A People's History of the United States spawned a new field of historical study: People's Histories. This approach countered the traditional triumphalist examination of "history as written by the victors", instead concentrating on the poor and seemingly powerless; those who resisted imperial, cultural and corporate hegemony. Zinn was an award-winning social activist, writer and historian - and so who better to share his memory than his close friend and fellow intellectual giant, Noam Chomsky? 
t is not easy for me to write a few words about Howard Zinn, the great American activist and historian. He was a very close friend for 45 years. The families were very close too. His wife Roz, who died of cancer not long before, was also a marvellous person and close friend. Also sombre is the realisation that a whole generation seems to be disappearing, including several other old friends: Edward Said, Eqbal Ahmed and others, who were not only astute and productive scholars, but also dedicated and courageous militants, always on call when needed - which was constant. A combination that is essential if there is to be hope of decent survival.
Howard's remarkable life and work are summarised best in his own words. His primary concern, he explained, was "the countless small actions of unknown people" that lie at the roots of "those great moments" that enter the historical record - a record that will be profoundly misleading, and seriously disempowering, if it is torn from these roots as it passes through the filters of doctrine and dogma. His life was always closely intertwined with his writings and innumerable talks and interviews. It was devoted, selflessly, to empowerment of the unknown people who brought about great moments. That was true when he was an industrial worker and labour activist, and from the days, 50 years ago, when he was teaching at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, a black college that was open mostly to the small black elite.
While teaching at Spelman, Howard supported the students who were at the cutting edge of the civil rights movement in its early and most dangerous days, many of whom became quite well-known in later years - Alice Walker, Julian Bond and others - and who loved and revered him, as did everyone who knew him well. And as always, he did not just support them, which was rare enough, but also participated directly with them in their most hazardous efforts - no easy undertaking at that time, before there was any organised popular movement and in the face of government hostility that lasted for some years. Finally, popular support was ignited, in large part by the courageous actions of the young people who were sitting in at lunch counters, riding freedom buses, organising demonstrations, facing bitter racism and brutality, sometimes death... Read more:

Yudit Kiss on how Viktor Orbán has crushed Hungary's 1989 dream

Since the April 2010 elections, a political tsunami has swept over the country. The existing regulations and institutions were dismantled and loyal Fidesz appointees were installed in leading positions, implementing the party's policies from economics to the judiciary, from the health system to municipal government, from education to the arts. More than 300 laws and regulations were hastily created (or modified) and pushed through parliament, many of which the deputies did not even have time to read before voting. Opposition parties have been reduced to a walk-on role.
Viktor Orbán's regime combines the extreme centralisation of economic assets (including the expropriation of the private pension funds, of several public foundations and the forthcoming centralisation of the municipal government's assets) and the monopolisation of power in a single party that intends to dominate every aspect of social and private life, turning citizens into subjects. The improvised nature of many of the new laws creates a wide margin for arbitrary decisions that increase dependence and insecurity.
At the same time – through the unilateral rewriting of the labour code, the restriction of union action and collective bargaining rights, the radical dismantling of social welfare nets and independent social care institutions – the government exposed the most vulnerable social groups (the poor, the unemployed, Roma, pensioners, sick and handicapped) to the unfolding economic crisis. Life is precarious for those who live on wages and have no reserves or additional revenue.
By 2012, Hungarians had to realise that their dreams of 1989 – freedom and decent living – had fallen into pieces. No wonder they are disillusioned...

Of course, there is no question of silencing dissent; Klubradio was unable to meet the tender criteria set by the state media authority; those on hunger strike at public TV were dismissed for failing their duties and not because they protested against the manipulation of the news; the system's critics are visited by tax auditors and political opponents are examined for economic wrongdoing in order to ensure transparency, people lose their jobs due to administrative changes and not their political views.

As is customary in authoritarian regimes, the system's ears are sharp and its arms are long; people think twice before signing a petition, a newspaper article or taking part in public actions where they can be identified. Against this background, the large demonstrations of the last few months, as well as multiplying manifestations of civil courage, have an extraordinary value.
According to a recent poll by Szonda Ipsos, the number of Fidesz voters has declined from 34% early last year to 18%, but due to the new election law, the redrawing of election districts and the reshaping of key public posts, only a very wide coalition of political forces would be able to win the 2014 elections and start to reconstruct the country...

The Dreyfus Affair - book review

The Dreyfus Affair 
Piers Paul Read; 

“What a poignant drama," wrote the French novelist Émile Zola about the spectacle of the Dreyfus affair as it unfolded in front of him. In 1898, he wrote an open letter entitled "J'accuse" to alert the public to what Piers Paul Read describes as an infamous miscarriage of justice. Read quotes Zola in defence of his decision to publish another book on the affair, hard on the heels of the excellent account by Ruth Harris, which appeared in 2010. His intention is to tell the story as it stands and he does so vividly and intelligently but he does not add very much to what is already known.

The tale is perhaps as close as history gets to fiction, which may well explain why a novelist of Read's stature has taken it on. The case was a product of its time: a Jewish officer in an army full of Catholic diehards; growing fears and tensions between Third Republic France and imperial Germany; endless stand-offs between a modernising, radical France and the disappointed France of Church, army and gentry, whose world fell apart in 1870 with the end of the Second Empire.

When an incriminating document - the bordereau, or memorandum - was found in a wastepaper bin at the German embassy in Paris, the army hunted around for a likely culprit on the general staff. Captain Alfred Dreyfus was not much liked and his handwriting seemed similar (though clearly, to those involved, not the same) to that on the bordereau. When accused, he made little effort to defend himself and in the subsequent court martial, his behaviour alienated those who might have given him a hearing - one witness reported that "his voice was atonal, lazy, his face white".
As is now well known, there was no case to answer. But the army needed a scapegoat. Dreyfus won no sympathisers and the sentence was life in a penal colony. Devil's Island off the coast of French Guiana was reopened just for Dreyfus; here it was hoped he would conveniently die and the brief tension between France and Germany would be allowed to simmer down.
What is striking, as Read makes clear, is the failure of the French Jewish community to do much to help Dreyfus. It was worried that a strident defence would invite a wave of Jewish persecution in a country where Édouard Drumont's anti-Semitic tract La France Juive had sold a million copies. The army, too, had no real interest in whether Dreyfus was innocent or guilty as long as the spy scandal was solved at a tricky time in international relations. It was uninterested when new evidence appeared showing that a shallow, impoverished officer, Count Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, was the author of the memo. New documents were forged that appeared to confirm Dreyfus's guilt and Esterhazy was told to lie low. Miscarriages of justice almost always suit somebody; otherwise, they would not happen.
The interesting question raised by Read's account is how the few who came to realise that there had been such a miscarriage were able to circumvent all the efforts to stifle inquiry...

How the Inquisition ignited the modern police state

In our imaginations, we offhandedly associate the term “inquisition” with the term “Dark Ages”. But consider what an inquisition – any inquisition – really is: a set of disciplinary procedures targeting specific groups, codified in law, organised systematically, enforced by surveillance, exemplified by severity, sustained over time, backed by institutional power and justified by a vision of the one true path. Considered that way, the Inquisition is more accurately seen not as a relic but as a harbinger...
On a hot autumn day in Rome not long ago, I crossed the vast expanse of St Peter’s Square, paused momentarily in the shade beneath a curving flank of Bernini’s colonnade and continued a little way beyond to a Swiss Guard standing impassively at a wrought-iron gate. He examined my credentials, handed them back and saluted smartly. I hadn’t expected the gesture and almost returned the salute instinctively, but then realised it was intended for a cardinal waddling into the Vatican from behind me.
Just inside the gate, at Piazza del Sant’Uffizio 11, stands a Renaissance palazzo with a ruddy ochre-and-cream complexion. This is the headquarters of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose job, in the words of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus, promulgated in 1988 by Pope John Paul II, is “to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals throughout the Catholic world”. Pastor bonus goes on: “For this reason, everything which in any way touches such matter falls within its competence.” It is an expansive charge. Every significant document or decision emanating from anywhere inside the Vatican must get a sign-off from the CDF. The Congregation has been around for a very long time, although until the Second Vatican Council it was called something else: the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office. From the lips of old Vatican hands, one still hears shorthand references to “the Holy Office”, much as one hears “Whitehall”, “Foggy Bottom” or “the Kremlin”.
But before the Congregation became the Holy Office, it went by yet another name: as late as 1908, it was known as the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition. Lenny Bruce once joked that there was only one “the Church”. The Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition was the headquarters of the Inquisition – the centuries-long effort by the Church to deal with its perceived enemies, within and without, by whatever means necessary, including the most brutal ones available.
The palazzo that today houses the Congregation was originally built to lodge the Inquisition when the papacy, in 1542, amid the onslaught of Protestantism and other noxious ideas, decided that the Church’s intermittent and far-flung inquisitorial investigations needed to be brought under some sort of centralised control – a spiritual Department of Homeland Security, as it were. The Inquisition had begun in the Middle Ages, to deal with Christian heresies, and been revived in Iberia, under state control, to deal with Jews and Moors. Pope Paul III considered the task of his new papal Inquisition so urgent that construction on the basilica of St. Peter’s was suspended and the labourers diverted so that work could be completed on its headquarters. At one time the palazzo held not only clerical offices but also prison cells.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith inherited more than the Inquisition’s DNA and its place on the organisational charts. It also inherited much of the paper trail. The Inquisition records are kept mainly in the palazzo itself, and for four and a half centuries that archive was closed to outsiders. Then, in 1998, to the surprise of many, the Vatican decided to make the archive available to scholars.
Any archive is a repository of what some sliver of civilisation has wrought, for good or ill. This one is no exception..

Monday, January 23, 2012

REMEMBER THIS LADY - In memory of Irena Sendler

Look at this lady - Let us never forget!
Irena Sendler (1910-2008) was a Polish Catholic social worker who served in the Polish Underground and the Żegota resistance organization in German-occupied Warsaw during World War II. Assisted by some two dozen other Żegota members, Sendler saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto, providing them with false documents, and sheltering them in individual and group children's homes outside the Ghetto.

During WW II, Irena got permission to work in the Warsaw ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist. She had an 'ulterior motive'. She knew the Nazi's plans for the Jews. Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried and she carried in the back of her truck a burlap sack (for larger kids). She also had a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto.

The soldiers of course wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises., During her time of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants., She was caught, and the Nazi's broke both her legs, arms and beat her severely., Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she smuggled out and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived it and reunited the family. Most had been gassed. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.

In 2003, Pope John Paul II sent Sendler a personal letter praising her wartime efforts. On 10 October 2003 she received the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest civilian decoration, and the Jan Karski Award "For Courage and Heart," given by the American Center of Polish Culture inWashington, D.C.. She was also awarded the Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta (November 7, 2001). On 14 March 2007, Sendler was honored by Poland's Senate. At age 97, she was unable to leave her nursing home to receive the honor, but she sent a statement through Elżbieta Ficowska, whom Sendler had helped to save as an infant. Polish President Lech Kaczyński stated she "can justly be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize" (though nominations are supposed to be kept secret). 

On 11 April 2007, she received the Order of the Smile as the oldest recipient of the award.
In May 2009, Irena Sendler was posthumously granted the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award, named in honor of the late actress and UNICEF ambassador & presented to persons and organizations recognised for helping children. In its citation, the Audrey Hepburn Foundation recalled Irena Sendler's heroic efforts that saved 2,500 Jewish children during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. Sendler was the last survivor of the Children's Section of the Żegota Council to Assist Jews, which she had headed from August 1943 until the end of the war.

Irena Sendler in 2005

Irena Sendler died in Warsaw on May 12, 2008. Last year Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was not selected., President Obama won one year before becoming President for his work as a community organizer for ACORN and Al Gore won also -- for a slide show on Global Warming.  Read more:

also see
Ordinary people. The courage to say no

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Caging a Monster: In My Country (Today's China) by Murong Xuecun

A moving and honest plea by a Chinese citizen:
I am a Chinese writer. Allow me to say a few words about my country. Everyone knows that in the past thirty years China has built countless skyscrapers, commissioned countless airports, and paved countless freeways. My country’s GDP is the world’s second largest and her products are sold in every corner of the planet. My compatriots can be seen on tour in London, New York and Tokyo wearing expensive clothes, chattering raucously. My compatriots also fill up casinos and line up to buy LV bags. People exclaim in amazement: China is rising, the Chinese are rich! But behind this facade of power and prosperity there are details of which many people are unaware, and it is precisely these details that make my country a very strange place.

Living in China is like watching a play in a giant theatre. The plots are absurd and the scenarios are unbelievable—so absurd, so unbelievable that they are beyond any writer’s imagination.

My country manufactures powdered milk containing melamine, feeds fish and shrimp contraceptive medications to enhance their growth, uses industrial alcohol in fake wine, preserves beancurd with human excrement, and produces “gutter oil,” the product of a notorious practice in which waste oil from gutters outside restaurants is recycled for human consumption.

In my country, the legal system works like this: countless laws are enacted, and then countless procedures are created, followed by countless enforcement regulations and detailed judicial interpretations, but ultimately it is up to the political leaders to decide who wins and who loses a case. In my country, many cases cannot be pursued in the courts. Even if legal action is taken, courts can refuse to hear a case. Even if the case is heard in court, the judgement is made well before the hearing starts.

In my country, many innocent people disappear, and some people lose their freedom without ever being sentenced by a court. Some people attempt to have their grievances addressed at a higher level by following procedures prescribed in law. These people are branded “petitioners.” In my country, the word petitioner conveys the sense of a nuisance, a mentally ill person, a terrorist. To deal with these petitioners, the government mobilises a huge amount of resources to herd them home, jail them, and in a particularly creative measure, incarcerate them in insane asylums...

In my country, there are many peculiar ways to die in detention and officials are more creative than a novelist like me in coming up with explanations: died playing hide-and-seek; died while dreaming; died of psychosis; died sipping water. But in all cases the bodies of those who die in custody are covered in bruises and wounds

In my country, every city has demolition crews equipped with bulldozers and truncheons. The bulldozers are for levelling people’s homes and the truncheons are for bludgeoning stubborn homeowners. To protect their homes, some homeowners beg on their knees, others cry, and some threaten to kill themselves or even actually self immolate. But nothing can stand in the way of the demolition crews and no official is ever brought to account when demolitions result in deaths.

In my country, elections are a charade—the government decides the results in advance. Their candidates are always elected. Very often people are asked to elect two out of two candidates...

Over two thousand years ago, Confucius said one should only serve the state if it is righteous, otherwise one should eschew serving the state. However, to become citizens of a modern society, I say we should criticize the government if it does not do the right thing, and we should also keep an eye on the government even if it is already doing the right thing. This is my belief and this is what will I do for the rest of my life.

Finally, I hope you believe me that I am not a class enemy, nor an over-thrower of governments. All I want is to cage the monster. Yes, I am criticizing my country, but that doesn’t mean I hate my country. Rather, I love my country. I love her splendid mountains and rivers and her great civilization. I appreciate the suffering she has experienced. In fact, I love my country even more because of the suffering she has been through. Yes, I am criticizing her rotten system, but I do not want to see bloodshed while my country is improving herself. I hope the system will improve gracefully. I hope in the near future, in my country, flowers of freedom will blossom and children will smile without fear. I hope in the near future, my country, an ancient civilization, a land of suffering, will become a nation of prosperity, peace and freedom, for all.

Murong Xuecun

Read the full article:

BORDER PARANOIA by Pervez Hoodbhoy


Six years ago while on a speaking tour of nearly 25 schools, colleges and universities across India, I discovered that only a handful of students had ever seen a living, breathing Pakistani. None had heard an academic from across the border speak. A 12-year-old school student, who obviously did not know Hindi and Urdu were similar, wondered aloud how a real Pakistani could be speaking their language. For these puzzled students, Pakistanis are alien people belonging to an adversary country, not next-door neighbours.

The numerous misconceptions and misunderstandings I encountered must be still greater today. With pre-1947 family links slowly withering away, the two countries are travelling on separate economic and cultural trajectories. As travel barriers become ever higher, their respective populations are becoming progressively more unfamiliar and estranged from the other.

This is by deliberate design. Not long ago, Indian scientists and professionals participated in conferences in Islamabad, cricket matches drew large numbers into either country and schools occasionally sent their students over to the other side. But now tourist and visitor traffic is a trickle. Both South Asian states share the responsibility.

Visas are the obvious control instruments. In principle, technology and ease of travel should have made things easier. Not so. While applying for an Indian visa that would enable me to speak at a conference in Delhi, I was initially pleased to see that I could now apply online instead of the older, cumbersome procedure. But as it turned out, there is a special form for Pakistanis that demands excruciating, irrelevant minutiae. One’s first instinct is to give up on a hopeless task. A technically poor web portal design adds to the frustration.

Why the special treatment for Pakistanis? The Indian establishment says it fears terrorism. But while reasonable caution is understandable, one would have hoped for a sense of proportion and a more reasoned approach. The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis who apply are the aged and the infirm, professors and doctors, businessmen and professionals and the occasional tourist. Armed terrorists from Pakistan have indeed crossed borders. But they have gone by boat, crawled under fences and climbed difficult mountains. To penetrate airports or checkpoints and cross multiple hurdles is not the terrorist route.

But let’s say that you still somehow put together an application. Thereafter, you must present yourself at the Indian high commission. For this, you must somehow obtain permission to enter Islamabad’s “Red Zone”, the highly fortified diplomatic enclave which houses foreign embassies. Getting past the first security checkpoint, bristling with machine guns placed behind concrete barriers, is no easy task. But as I recently discovered, the ordeal will have just begun.

As I attempted to enter the Indian high commission building’s visa section, a swarm of Pakistani intelligence agents surrounded me. Their body language was intimidating, their manner offensive. As with other visa applicants, question followed question. They demanded my personal identification, phone numbers, family details, what was to be discussed in the conference that I was to attend, invitation letters and proof of correspondence. All this while sneering at my patriotism.

Halfway through this interrogation, I lost patience. If I was spying for India, why on earth would I come for a visa interview? But these uncouth men were executing a political agenda and not open to reason. In their frozen mindset – and that of their masters – India was Pakistan’s enemy number one.

Faced with unexpected resistance, the underlings called their superior. Expectedly, he supported his men who, he said, were defending the safety and security of Pakistan. I found his argument unacceptable. What did Pakistan’s national security have to do with harassing visa applicants?

An argument became inevitable. He and his men were unmoved by the fact that their spy institution had spectacularly failed to gather intelligence necessary for protecting the life and property of Pakistani citizens. In fact, it had lost three of its regional headquarters to attacks by religious terrorists and suicide bombers. Home-grown terrorists have killed many more Pakistani soldiers and citizens than were lost in Pak-India wars since 1947.

My admission into the building was refused, a violation of my rights as a Pakistani citizen as well as of international law. They won, I lost. They had achieved their goal of keeping a Pakistani from visiting India. The gulf between the countries grew just a tad wider.

I do not know how it is from the Indian side. Are the requirements for a visa just as dauntingly obtuse? Do RAW (India’s Research and Analysis Wing) agents harass and insult those Indians applying to the Pakistan high commission in Delhi for a visa? Let the angry Indian speak up from his side of the wall, as I have from mine.

(Pervez Hoodbhoy teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad. This article was published earlier in Communalism Combat, November 2011.)


Saadat Hasan Manto’s centenary is being observed quietly by friends and admirers in Lahore. No official recognition or mention. He’s almost become a non-person. Manto died in Lahore in 1955. He was forty-three years old. The life of one of our greatest short-story writers had been prematurely truncated. I was eleven years old at the time. I never met him. I wish I had. One can visualize him easily enough. In later photographs the melancholy is visible. He appears exhausted as if his heart were entrenched with sadness. In these his face displays all the consequences of a ravaged liver.

But there are others. Here his eyes sparkle with intelligence, the impudence almost bursting through the thick glass of his 1940’s spectacles, mocking the custodians of morality, the practitioners of confessional politics or the commissariat of the Progressive Writers. ‘Do your worst’, he appears to be telling them. ‘I don’t care. I will write to please myself. Not you.’ Manto’s battles with the literary establishment of his time became a central feature of his biography. Charged with obscenity and brought to trial on a number of occasions he remained defiant and unapologetic.

It was the Partition of India in 1947 along religious lines that formed his own attitudes and those of his numerous detractors. The episodes associated with the senseless carnage that accompanied the withdrawal of the British from India loom large in Manto’s short stories. A few words of necessary explanation might help the reader to understand the corrosive impact of Manto on the reading public. The horrors of 1947 were well known, but few liked to talk about them. A collective trauma appeared to have silenced most people. Not Manto. In his stories of that period he recovered the dignity of all the victims without fear or favor. Even the perpetrators of crimes were victims of a political process that had gone out of control.

In these bad times when the fashion is to worship accomplished facts real history tends to be treated as an irritant, something to be swatted out of existence like mosquitoes in summer, it is worth recalling that something terrible happened fifty years ago today when India was divided. It is time to recognize it and see if it can be understood and transcended. The survivors owe it to those who perished. At least a million men, women and children lost their lives during the carnage of ‘ethnic cleansing’ that overcame Northern and Eastern India as the Punjab and Bengal were divided along religious lines...

Manto was amongst the few who observed the bloodbaths of Partition with a detached eye. He had remained in Bombay in 1947, where he worked for the film industry, but was accused of favoring Muslims and was subjected to endless communal taunts, even from those who had hitherto imagined to be like him, but the secular core in many people did not survive the fire. Manto came to Lahore in 1948, but was never happy. He turned the tragedies he had witnessed or heard into great literature. He wrote of the common people, regardless of ethnic, religious or caste identities and he discovered contradictions and passions and irrationality in each of them. In his work we see how normally decent people can, in extreme conditions, commit the most appalling atrocities. ‘Cold Meat’ is one such story. In 1952 he wrote: “My heart is heavy with grief today. A strange listlessness has enveloped me. More than four years ago when I said farewell to my other home, Bombay, I experienced the same kind of sadness…”

Years later he was still trying to come to grips with what had happened:

“Still, what my mind could not resolve was the question: what country did we belong to now, India or Pakistan? And whose blood was it that was being so mercilessly shed every day? And the bones of the dead, stripped of the flesh of religion, were they being burned or buried? Now that we were free who was to be our subject? When we were not free, we used to dream about freedom. Now that freedom had come, how would we perceive our past state?

“The question was: were we really free? Both Hindus and Muslims were being massacred. Why were they being massacred? There were different answers to the question; the Indian answer, the Pakistani answer, the British answer. Every question had an answer, but when you tried to unravel the truth, you were left groping. “Everyone seemed to be regressing. Only death and carnage seemed to be proceeding ahead. A terrible chapter of blood and tears was being added to history, a chapter without precedent. “India was free. Pakistan was free from the moment of its birth, but in both states, man’s enslavement continued: by prejudice, by religious fanaticism, by savagery.”


Bangladeshi teacher arrested for placing 'Lajja' in school library

A school teacher was arrested for having left in the school library a copy of a book by Taslima Nasreen

12 January, 2012

Protest Letter - Press Release

We, the undersigned strongly protest the arrest of Mr. Yunus Ali, the Head Teacher of KC Technical and Business Management College of Pirojpur, on 4 January, 2012. Mr. Ali was arrested or having allegedly kept a copy of writer Taslima Nasreen's novel "Lajja" ("Shame") in the college library. This arrest is a clear breach of the right to freedom of speech and shows the presence of a broad range of communal and generally reactionary forces in our society.

We believe that the banning of books clearly violates the right to freedom of thought and expression, which constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic and pluralistic society during the information age of the 21st century and is enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh. Dissenting ideas and opinions should be faced through a healthy debate, not censorship and arrest. A state’s weakness, intolerance and imprudence are revealed when a literary work is banned in this manner.

Only a tolerant, secular and democratic atmosphere will ensure maximum participation of everyone in public life, enrich our culture and maintain the spirit of the liberation war. On this basis, we demand that all charges against Head Teacher Mr. Yunus Ali be immediately dropped.

Signed by:
1. Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, Ain O Salish Kendro
2. Hameeda Hossain, Chairperson, Human Rights Activist
3. Khushi Kabir, Coordinator, Nijera Kori
4. M. Zafar Iqbal, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology
5. Anu Mohammad, Jahangirnagar University
6. Gitiara Nasreen, Dhaka University
7. Sonia Amin, Dhaka University
8. Ferdousi Priyobhashini, Human Rights Activist
9. Sara Hossain, Advocate, Supreme Court
10. Dina Siddiqi, Hunter College, New York
11. Meghna Guhathakurta, Research Initiatives Bangladesh
12. Bina D’ Costa, The Graduate Institute, Geneva
13. Shapan Adnan, Independent Scholar
14. Zakir Kibria, Solidarity Workshop
15. Faustina Pereira, Advocate, Supreme Court
16. Robaet Ferdous, Dhaka University
17. Asif Saleh
18. Jyoti Rahman, Editor, Drishtipat Writers’ Collective
19. Sultana Begum, Human Rights Activist
20. Khodeja Sultana, Human Rights Activist 

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Communalism feeds on itself

Our intention was not to offend anyone's religious sensibilities, but to give a voice to a writer who had been silenced by a death threat. Reading from another one of his books would have been meaningless. The Satanic Verses was the cause of the trouble, so The Satanic Verses it would have to be. We did not choose passages that have been construed as blasphemous by Muslim opponents of the book – this would have been pointless, as these passages have overshadowed the rest of the content of the novel, which concerns the relationship between faith and doubt, and contains much that has nothing to do with religion whatsoever. We wanted to demystify the book. It is, after all, just a book. Not a bomb. Not a knife or a gun. Just a book... I refute absolutely the accusation of Asaduddin Owaisi, the Hyderabad MP who has accused me of "Islam-bashing under the guise of liberalism". I stand on my public record as a defender of the human rights of Muslims, notably my work for Moazzam Begg and other British Muslims detained without trial in Guantánamo Bay., To Mr Owaisi, and others who feel that the notion of "freedom of speech" is just a tool of secular western interests, a license to insult them, I say that the contrary is true. Freedom of speech is the sole guarantee of their right to be heard in our complex and plural global culture. It is the only way of asserting our common life across borders of race, class and religion. Just as I reach out my hand to Salman Rushdie, I do so to Mr Owaisi, and to Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, whose seminary is, after all, called the "House of Knowledge", in the hope that, as fellow believers in the vital importance of words, we can resolve our differences – or at least come to understand them correctly – through speech and writing, instead of violence and intimidation... Read more

UPDATE: Petition for lifting the ban on the Satanic Verses
We the undersigned support the right of all artists and writers to freedom of expression and we strongly urge the government to reconsider the 23-year-old ban of the Satanic Verses. The Satanic Verses has not incited violence anywhere; others have used the novel's existence to incite violence to suit their political ends. Within India, in the 23 years since the ban, we have witnessed an erosion of respect for freedom of expression, as artists like MF Husain, Chandramuhun Srimantula, Jatin Das, and Balbir Krishan have been intimidated, and works of writers like Rohinton Mistry and AK Ramanujan have been withdrawn because of threats by groups claiming to be offended.

India is one of the very few countries in the world where the ban stands, placing us alongside Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia, Liberia and Papua New Guinea, among others. We submit with respect that there is a democratic need to review and re-examine the circumstances that led to the original ban of the Verses in 1988, which have changed greatly over time. Read/sign the petition:
Extracted from a comment by Venky Vembu, in First Post
The vice-chancellor of the Deoband seminary, Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, had asked the government to disallow Rushdie from coming to India. But when it became clear that Rushdie did not need a visa, and could therefore come unimpeded, other forms of intimidation were rustled up. The Mumbai-based Raza Academy, which claims to have a following among Sunni Muslims, offered a reward of Rs 1 lakh to anyone who would hurl a slipper on Rushdie’s face during his Jaipur visit. In all this, the passive role of the government – at both the central and the state level – and its buckling to cynical political blackmail shows up the slimy cowardice of the soft state.
Rather than confront this naked incitement of manufactured Muslim rage over a non-issue (as Omar Abdullah himself described it), the government has caved in – and sneakily persuaded the organisers of the literary festival to withdraw Rushdie’s name from the bill of listings. Initially, the government appeared to take the stand that it would not yield to the maulvis’ pressure– & since in any case Rushdie did not need additional documentation to enable him to travel, the government said, it “had no intention to stop him.” But behind the scenes, political leaders in Rajasthan from across the political spectrum (including the Congress and the BJP) were working actively to sabotage Rushdie’s visit

State Congress leaders demanded that Rushdie, who had “insulted Islam”, should be disallowed from coming to the festival. Similarly, the minority cell in the BJP’s Rajasthan unit asked the Congress-led state government not to allow Rushdie to enter Jaipur. “We will make sure he is not allowed to enter the city,” BJP leader Munnawar Khan said. “We will not let such an author, who hurt our religious sentiments by presenting wrong facts about Prophet Mohammad, enter the city.”
The near-unanimity of political parties on this issue – and the fact that even the BJP had, presumably with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh election, gone soft on it – evidently emboldened the state government into sneakily “persuading” the festival organisers to delist Rushdie. The Central and the state governments are probably now preening over their political sagacity: they have pandered to Muslim sensibilities without openly disallowing Rushdie from coming. And, given the curious political circumstances, no party – not even the BJP – wants to make political capital out of it. In its calculation, it’s a win-win proposition. But in fact, with the effective silencing of Rushdie, a self-confessed “arguer with the world”, the Indian state has taken another giant stride on the slippery slope to creeping illiberalism. In the same manner in which the government did not confront the campaign of intimidation against MF Husain when he was targeted by the force of right-wing illiberalism, and in tune with the same censorship instinct that now extends to its targeting of social media platforms, the Indian “soft state” has exposed its rank moral cowardice.. Read the full post:
BJP minority cell opposes Rushdie's proposed visit to Jaipur: Rajasthan BJP's minority cell has asked the Congress-led state government not to allow him to enter the city. The unit is drawing up a strategy to protest the proposed visit of the author. We will make sure that he is not allowed to enter the city, General Secretary of the Cell Munnawar Khan said. “We will not let such an author, who hurt our religious sentiments by presenting wrong facts about prophet Mohammad, enter the city,” Khan said. Other Muslim organisations, including Jamiat Ulma-E-Rajasthan, have also objected to the proposed visit of the author.
Dilip's Note: The Indian governing elite's mode of dealing with communalism should by now be clear: it refuses to implement the rule of law in matters of violence, intimidation, life and death, but is willing to make symbolic concessions that feed the communalists' appetite for 'hurt sentiments'. Thus in Gopalgarh, Rajasthan, the administration failed to protect citizens in September 2011 in an incident that cost nine lives:
Now as if in mock recompense, the same adminstration panders to rank communalists in their drummed up fury against Rushdie. (Interested commentators might also investigate the current Union Law Minister's position on this controversy when it erupted in 1988, and his stance on the hounding of Jamia's then Pro-VC Mushirul Hasan because of his opposition to the ban on Satanic Verses). Our government panders to every type of hooliganism, and trusts us to seek refuge in symbols. 
Here's some information that makes my point: Until 1984, official (GOI) representations of Bhagat Singh were in popular iconic form, clean shaven with moustache hat, and revolver. Then Operation Blue Star (to clear the Golden Temple of terrorists) and the events of October-November 1984 took place. Indira Gandhi was assassinated, and thousands of Sikh citizens of Delhi were brutally murdered. The criminal justice system failed to work. On 23 March 1985, GOI advertisements reminding us of the greatness of the man showed Bhagat Singh wearing a turban & beard, along with Sukhdev and Rajguru wearing some version of Nehru cap. (The change was too obvious not to notice). At the time Delhi police were refusing to register FIR's on dozens of cases of killings of Sikhs in India's capital and the High Court had refused to entertain PUDR's plea that it order the police to perform their functions.
But on March 23, our babus, instead of implementing our Constitution, suddenly discovered that Bhagat Singh was a Sikh! It was so nice of them to remember. Now of course, we are all in the know as to the link between secular justice and iconography..
This institutionalised hypocrisy cuts across political divisions, is rooted in the state structure rather than in parties, and is common (in various permutations & combinations) to all political leadership. Indian secularism has been reduced to a mutual back-scratching  game of communalists - you tolerate my bullshit, I tolerate yours. The central point: of strict implementation of law and criminal justice, of preventing violence and intimidation in the name of hurt sentiment, is avoided by everyone. This cycle of intimidation will continue until public opinion is able to insist upon the fair and even-handed administration of criminal justice.
We are faced with a revival of the culture of the Inquisition. The Inquisition was the name given to so-called "fight against heretics" launched by the Roman Catholic Church in the 12th century. It started the practice of using torture to extract confessions from suspected heretics. Cardinal Saint Roberto Bellarmine (1542-1621) was the Inquisitor who presided over the trial that condemned Giordano Bruno to be burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600; and who in 1616 ordered Galileo to abandon the Copernican doctrine of the mobility of the Earth and the immobility of the Sun. For those who need reminding that the Inquisition is still with us, here's the epitaph on Cardinal Bellarmine's tomb: "With force I have subdued the brains of the proud"

Damn hurt sentiment. Long live blasphemy! - Dilip

Nilanjana Roy: Listening to Rushdie: The real question is, why the Deobandis, who rarely come to literary festivals, should want to stop others from listening to Rushdie’s views. When the The Satanic Verses comes up in debate, it is rarely the book that is discussed. As with many other kinds of forgotten history, the version of the Verses we talk about is moth-eaten, fragmentary, the complexity of a novel about migration, magic, angels and devils, the certainties of religion and madness reduced to the simplistic idea that this is a blasphemous book.. In the two decades since The Satanic Verses was banned, it has become increasingly hard to discuss the idea Rushdie puts forward in his work, which is the idea that doubt is necessary and valuable. But in that time, India has also moved closer to accepting, blindly and without much fuss, a worryingly widespread belief. This is the belief that at worst, questioning any faith or religion is in itself a kind of blasphemy — and at best, it’s an esoteric activity that the majority can safely ignore.

In 2007, Rushdie spoke at Jaipur, to a packed audience. He touched upon the silences in the official histories of Kashmir, on meeting some of the men responsible for the Gujarat riots, on growing up among “extremely practicing but incredibly open-minded Muslims” in his family. He spoke about authors and books, writing and reading, and all the other things you hope to hear from writers. In 2012, I don’t know what he would want to speak about: literature, free speech, fables, memoir writing, perhaps. But I do know that, like so many other readers, I want to hear what he has to say, and it would be a great loss if the manufactured controversy around his visit silenced his voice, yet again.

Rushdie's invitation stands: Will Salman Rushdie attend the Jaipur Literature Festival that begins this Friday, despite security concerns?  Organizers issued this statement today. "Salman Rushdie will not be in India on 20th January due to a change in his schedule. The festival stands by his invitation to Mr Rushdie." Sources say that those coordinating Mr Rushdie's travel are reluctant to share details, given the recent protests against the author. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot met Home Minister P Chidambaram in Delhi today.  Mr Gehlot said that the protests against Mr Rushdie's visit in his state cannot be ignored - nor can the opinions of those organizing them. He also stressed that though Mr Rushdie's visit will trigger special focus on law and order and security, the author cannot be stopped from visiting the country since he has the status of a Person of Indian Origin.

Organizers of the festival denied reports that Mr Rushdie has been privately requested to skip the event.  They said the invitation to the writer stands. Mr Rushdie's book 'The Satanic Verses' is considered by many Muslims to be blasphemous. The controversy over Mr Rushdie's visit arose after Islamic seminary Darul-uloom Deoband, which is based in Uttar Pradesh, said that the Man Booker prize winner should not be allowed to enter India. The author had tweeted then that he didn't need a visa to come to India because he has a Person of Indian Origin card. Mr Rushdie has in the past attended the same literary festival in Jaipur without incident.