Sunday, 31 May 2015

Nivedita Menon on the open secret of communal violence at election time

What’s wrong with these headlines? (Answer: It’s Election time, Stupid)


This one image should be issued as a ceremonial postage stamp to commemorate one year of Modi’s rule. We have said it many times already, but here it is, once more, with feeling – this is a bloody, violent Hindutvavaadi regime, with a cool headed, coldly vicious master-mind at its head – he of the Swarovski eye glasses, the 10 Lakh Rupee Suit, the diamond Movado watch – he of the infinite silences on All That Matters.
While Modi spouts the inanity beti bachao beti padhao, his menacing goon brigade massed behind his sheltering shadow, chants bahu lao, beti bachao, trying to whip up a storm over the non-existent “love jihad”.
While Arun Jaitley “meets Christians” and Rajnath Singh meaninglessly snaps, “All those who are in India will stay in India” (in response to the remark by BJP’s tame Muslim, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, that people who eat beef should go to Pakistan) – minorities are being systematically targeted both by mobs and by the state – churches burnt and vandalized, beef banned, homes burnt, innocent people killed for belonging to the wrong religion, businesses targeted, middle class professional Muslims denied residences.
But the key strategy is to foment communal violence around the time of elections, a strategy that failed the BJP in Delhi, but it’s just the way they are trained – the BJP, its baap the RSS and the sundry Hindutvavaadi outfits that run around beating up lovers and women (of all religions) and attacking minorities. They just keep on going, hoping achhi hogi (ab ki baar) fasal matdaan ki.
A reminder follows of some things I have written about earlier on Kafila. But since they keep reproducing their mythology, I guess we will have to keep repeating our counter arguments.
One – there was a spate of ‘communal violence’ in Uttar Pradesh after the Lok Sabha results of May 2014,60 percent of which were near by-poll seats. A ninth of all communal incidents since May 16, 2014 have been Dalits versus Muslims, of which 70 percent were near by-poll seats! This was revealed in an outstanding series of investigative reports by Appu Esthose Suresh in The Indian Express. 
Two major issues were identified by Suresh as triggering violence:
a) Loudspeakers. Groups and political parties have transformed loudspeakers at places of worship into powerful instruments of communal polarisation, leading to clashes between Hindus and Muslims. In as many as 120 of the 600 odd communal incidents, the trigger for violence was seen to lie in a clash involving the use of loudspeakers. In many cases as we know, even when the issue is amicably resolved by the local groups, Hindutvavaadi outfits descend on the scene to ensure that no resolution endures.
b) Elopements. Consider just one example – In Village Gaineridan, Police Station Jahanabad, on May 20th, a Muslim family took away by force their daughter, who had married a Jatav boy. Local BJP leaders demanded security for the Hindu family and the return of the Muslim girl to her husband, leading to tensions.
And compare it to BJP’s response in the case of Village Lisadi, Police Station Lisadi Gate, Meerut, where on May 30th, the local BJP leadership got involved after a Jatav girl eloped with a Muslim boy, to bring back the girl.  (Beti bachao, bahu lao!)
Two – let us refamiliarize ourselves with what Paul Brass terms ‘institutionalized systems of riot production‘. The term ‘riot’ is a deliberate misnomer, suggesting spontaneous and unpredictable mass action.
In fact, ‘communal riots’ in India involve, Brass demonstrated through extensive studies, carefully calibrated activities by people with precisely designated roles and responsibilities – informants, propagandists, journalists who produce propaganda as news.
Brass noted two particularly important roles – that of ‘fire tenders’ who keep embers of communal violence alive by bringing to the notice of authorities, police and the public, situations known to be ‘sensitive’ – genuine or bogus; and that of ‘conversion specialists’ whose job is to convert incidents with riot potential by inciting crowds, or by signalling already planted people to start the violent action.
And now finally, let us look at how those headlines on Ballabhgarh should have read in the first place:
And buried on P 10 in The Hindu (whose front page headline is reproduced above):
Panchayat polls worsen tensions. (On-line, the two stories are one continuing story).
Panchayat polls are coming up in August.
Modi’s criminal gangs are on the prowl again.
That’s all there is to it. Mystery solved.
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NB (from a note I added on Signs and Promises, May 29, 2014) - Mr Baliyan now says he wants people to talk to him 'about sugar or farmers' issues, rather than harp on riots. I want to leave the riots behind, and want peace to return to Muzaffarnagar," (In late March, his co-accused, BJP MP Hukum Singh, of Kairana, said he would not allow Muzzafarnagar riot refugees to vote). This is a tried and tested method of manipulating public mentality - selective memory combined  with contempt for law and justice. Why should we forget, Mr Baliyan? Mr Modi hasn't forgotten, so why should we? A political movement which wants us to always remember 1528 (the date of Babar's alleged destruction of the Ram Temple) - keeps asking us to forget 2002. (No one even asks us to forget 2008, because it is forgotten anyway, who bothers about Kandhamal? Or for that matter the frightening Staines judgement, (2011) which 'forgot' that two little boys were also burned alive along with their father, Graham Staines in 1998?) Now Mr Baliyan wants us to forget 2013. But what does all this mean? Should the FIR vanish? Should the trial be dragged on for decades, like the Babri Masjid demolition case? Should the police forget about the case, as the J&K police have avoided pursuing hundreds of cases of murder of Kashmiri civilians by persons known to have participated in terrorist actions? Or maybe Mr Baliyan is signalling that the police leave out crucial evidence, as they are believed to have done in Zakia Jafris petition? Should men accused of inciting violence and communal hatred be outside the purview of law and justice because they want us to forget what they did? Should the surviving victims of the 1984 carnage also forget about justice? Why have a justice system at all?

Prime Minister Modi's elevation of Baliyan is a signal to all of us who believe in justice and the constitution - it is up to us (including Mr Baliyan) to decipher what kind of signal it is. I'm sure the message has been received, loud and clear. There is a long tradition in India, of elected representatives presiding over violence so massive that even the most efficient crime prevention system would collapse under the weight of criminality - and then asking everyone to forget, move on, not harp on the past. There is an FIR registered against Mr Modi as well, on the orders of the Election Commission. He poured ridicule on the Commission, and the fate of the investigation is anyone's guess, now that he is Prime Minister. Yes, the signs are clear. Some people are above the law, and some kind of crimes must not be cognised as crimes  at all. They are part of the never-ending cycle of communal revenge that our country has endured for many decades. We are a world-class power where genocide has been a common place. 

The Gujarat government has reinstated suspended police officer G.L. Singhal, who was charge-sheeted in the Ishrat Jahan extra judical killings, and was the Investigating Officer who falsely implicated, tortured and framed 6 innocent Muslim men in the Akshardham case. The Supreme Court recently severely castigated the Gujarat police on this count. Even before the election results,the chief supervisory officer investigating the cases was relieved of the charge: See Sleuth probing Gujarat encounters shifted, probe hit

We can see that justice is a top priority for Mr Modi - but what kind of priority? The constitution, to which both Mr Modi and Mr Baliyan and Ms Anandiben have sworn allegiance, still contains a criminal justice system. They may all want us to forget Muzaffarnagar, encounter killings etc, but the justice system is not bound by their wishes Judges and officials are servants of the constitution, not of the government of the day. Let us see whether they stand by their oath. DS

Case filed against social scientist Kancha Ilaiah for asking, 'Is God a democrat?'

NB: Whether or not we agree with Professor Kancha Ilaiah, he has every right to engage in critical inquiry about religion. If it hurts anyone's sentiments, it is just too bad. They have to learn that many of us are equally perturbed about the atmosphere of intimidation and intolerance that has been created by people more interested in power than in God. Respect for religion is one thing, but we are not all obliged to be religious, or to refrain from voicing our doubts about religion. Our constitution allows space for critical inquiry, and if it did not, it would be useless as the statute of a democratic polity. This case should be fought and we should voice our support for Professor Ilaiah's right to publish and debate his ideas. People who don't like them are free to publish their criticisms and even condemnations. 

It is certainly not a matter for the police. What should be a matter of concern for them however, is the very long tax holiday enjoyed by this NGO, which enjoys the status of being a charitable organisation, and which has been brushed under the carpet for decades. The VP Singh government could do nothing about this scandal, as it depended on the BJP for support.
The GoI may be requested to collect arrears, since this regime is desirous of financial stringency - DS

The Hyderabad police have registered a case against renowned social scientist Kancha Ilaiah, after Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists complained that an opinion piece he wrote in the Telugu newspaper Andhra Jyothi had hurt their religious sentiments. They filed their complaint at Hyderabad’s Sultan Bazar Station was filed on May 9, the day Ilaiah’s article titled Devudu Prajasamya Vada Kada? (Is God a democrat?) was published.

VHP activists Pagudakula Balaswamy, Thirupathi Naik and two others accused Ilaiah of comparing Hinduism with Islam and Christianity, insulting Hindu Gods by comparing them to mortals, mocking their worship, and for attempting to trigger clashes between upper and lower classes (by which they presumably meant castes).

On the basis of their complaint, Inspector P. Shiva Shankar Rao wrote a letter to the Senior Assistant Public Prosecutor, who advised the police to register a case under Section 153 (A) and Section 295 (A), which empower the authorities to act against people who commit deliberate and malicious acts aiming at outraging religious sentiment and spreading enmity between groups.

Case under investigation: The public prosecutor’s legal opinion led to a case being filed on May 15 against Ilaiah, the management of the Andhra Jyothi newspaper, its editor and publisher. The case is currently under investigation, at the completion of which a decision will be taken to whether to chargesheet them.

A police officer at the station told Scroll that Ilaiah is in the habit of articulating provocative views in his articles, which can and do hurt the sentiments of people. “Why does he have to make comments against practices which are dear to people?” the officer said, declining to give his name. The central thesis of the article is that a society’s social and political structures are profoundly influenced by its conception of God and by its religious beliefs.

Three conceptions of God: Ilaiah delineates three types of Gods: an Abstract God, one who is shapeless and eternal; individuals who were prophets but were transformed into Gods; and Gods imagined as humans. Each category conveys certain ideas through their attributes, Ilaiah claims.

The Abstract God has democratic qualities, he contended. The first of these characteristics, as expressed in the Bible and the Koran, is that God “has created all human beings equal”. The second democratic character of this kind of God is that humans are created superior to all animals (including the cow), and “nature and its creatures have been created for food and other human purposes”.

Both Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammad propounded these ideas, he said. However, in contrast to the Prophet Mohammad, Christ acquired the status of God, as did Gautam Buddha, he writes. “Buddha and Jesus are against violence,” he wrote. “Their teaching inspired hopes for equality across the whole human race. Both their life stories have extended discussions on societal construction, change in man-woman relationships, desired forms of rule and democratic values.”

However, Ilaiah rates Jesus Christ ahead of Buddha in espousing democratic ideals. “His fight for the freedom of Samaritans (Dalits over there), women, Gentile men and women, slaves and prostitutes, seem to be one step ahead of the Buddha’s democratic values,” he claimed.  “He is the one who clearly stated about the necessity of separating state and religion.”

Separating religion and state: The social scientist wrote that Christ’s teachings have helped Christian countries to evolve democratic principles. By contrast, despite the great emphasis in the Koran on the equality of all humans, there was no separation of religion and state during the life of Prophet Mohammad and during the reign of the four Caliphs. This may be why dictatorships have dominated Muslim countries, which have feeble democratic traditions, Ilaiah suggested.

Next, Ilaiah turns to the third category – God as imagined as humans. Though this type of Gods is found around the world, he says it is only in India they are divided into two entities: “Vishnu and his clan of incarnations” and “Shiva and the divine powers created around him”. The Saiva school’s impact on contemporary India was limited, he writes. It did not really create social-political principles. By contrast, institutions and political parties in India have declared “spiritual and political allegiance to Vaishnavism and its Gods”.

Ilaiah, therefore, suggests that it is more important to study the impact of Vaishnavism on Indian society. The narratives and imagery around Rama and Krishna, who are incarnations of Vishnu, involved violence and weaponry such as the chakram, bow and arrow and the trishul (trident), he writes. This has a bearing on human relations, he contends.

Caste identities: Ilaiah also alleges that these narratives contain what he calls the “counter-democratic process”. The fact that these Gods have identities rooted in the Kshatriya caste “has greatly helped in building an undemocratic system”, he wrote.

The article ends with a few questions: “If the God believed by a person doesn’t have democratic values, where will this person get those democratic values from? In fact, shouldn’t they explain why they create such Gods who are violent, undemocratic and anti-women?” Ilaiah told Scroll that he was not perturbed by the case. “I am into transforming thought,” he said. “Such pressure is expected. I am not scared. My motive is to make the nation rethink its uncivilised conduct.”

Statement of support: He is not without his supporters. On May 27, Andhra Jyothi  carried a statement by 76 Telugu writers, intellectuals and artists  backing Ilaiah. The statement said, “Prof. Kancha Ilaiah wrote an article by describing the democratic values and showing how negative spiritual values come in the way of development of national economic, social and political future.”

His supporters urged his opponents to counter his arguments in articles of their own. “Instead, in order to control Prof. Ilaiah’s ideas, some forces are resorting to legal and coercive methods, which cannot be supported by anybody,” the statement said. The statement concludes, “Today, Kancha Ilaiah’s writings are making the world think afresh. Only the communal bigots are unable to understand those ideas.”

see also:

TAREK FATAH - Khomeini’s savagery celebrated in Canada (June 2013) // Deadly Fatwa: Iran's 1988 Prison Massacre (Report by Iran Human Rights Documentation Center)

Twenty-five years ago this month, 5,000 Iranian political prisoners were executed on the direct orders of the then-Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini. Their crime? They were feminists, communists, socialists, students, Kurds, Baha’is, Ahwazi Arabs, Azeris and Baloch; all arrested for distributing leaflets and organizing protests against the Mullahs who had stolen the 1979 revolution against the autocratic monarchy of The Shah.

It was the summer of 1988. The exhausting eight-year long Iran-Iraq War was staggering to a close. With the UN distracted in drawing up a post-war ceasefire, Khomeini decided to wipe out the existence of any opposition. He issued a fatwa to execute all political prisoners who refused to accept his rule. After 10-minute mock trials, the condemned were the hung on cranes or shot by firing squads, with their bodies dumped in unmarked mass graves.

If Khomeini thought his crime would pass unnoticed in the fog of war, he was wrong. A quarter of a century later, the massacre conducted in the name of Islam and the Islamic Republic is still reverberating around the world. On Wednesday, the Iranian massacre of 1988 will bring Canada’s government and opposition MPs together to make common cause with the people of Iran who still suffer under the brutal dictatorship of the Ayatollahs.

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, an international human rights lawyer, will be joined at a press conference by Paul Dewar of the NDP and the Conservative Party’s James Bezan. They will present a motion to the Commons condemning the mass murder of political prisoners in Iran in the summer of 1988 and label it as a “crime against humanity.” In addition, the motion will call to establish September 1 as a day of solidarity with political prisoners in Iran.

Behind this initiative is the “Massacre88 Campaign.” Their spokesman is Kaveh Shahrooz, a Toronto lawyer who lost his uncle Mehrdad in that massacre. Writing in the Ottawa Citizen last week, Shahrooz said: “As a child, I’d sometimes visit him in prison and recall the signs of gruesome torture on his body. The authorities stopped our prison visits in the summer of 1988. After two months without news of him, my grandmother was called to the prison to collect Mehrdad’s few belongings ... my family has never truly recovered from that loss. My grandmother and mother have both passed away since then, both with the unfulfilled wish of seeing justice in Mehrdad’s case.”

Shahrooz is not alone. Millions of Iranians fled the country. Some came as refugees to Canada and still carry those scars. Mehdi Kouhistani of the Canadian Labour Congress remembers his childhood friend Sadiq Riyahi, who, along with his brother, was hanged in 1988. “I miss my friend even today. He died a brave man. They say he was spared from those condemned to die, but when he saw his brother in the line-up of men being led to the firing squad, he leapt to his brother’s side and gave up his life in solidarity.”

Yet, there are those among us “Canadians” who last Sunday celebrated and honoured the mass murderer Ayatollah Khomeni at the Islamic Society of York Region, waving pictures of the horrid man Iranians label as their Hitler. Imagine an event in Canada to honour Augusto Pinochet or Pol Pot? Would anyone dare even attempt to do so? As these pro-Khomeni Canadians went into the Mosque to celebrate the mass murderer, about 100 Iranian Canadians and their supporters picketed them, chanting slogans against Khomeini and the Islamic Republic. There were white and black, Jew and Muslim, Kurd and Baloch, all representing Canada’s true spirit

For more posts on Iran, click here

In late July 1988, the Islamic Republic of Iran began summarily interrogating, torturing and executing thousands of political prisoners throughout the country. The massacre continued into the fall. Wellplanned and deliberately accomplished in secret, the massacre effectively eliminated any remaining political opposition to then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime. Although the exact number of victims is not known, thousands of prisoners were tortured and executed over the course of only a few months.The victims included prisoners who had served their sentences but had refused to recant their political beliefs, prisoners who were serving sentences of imprisonment, people who had been detained for lengthy periods but had not been convicted, and former prisoners who were rearrested. Many had been arrested when they were teenagers for commission of low-level offenses such as distribution of pamphlets. The political views of the victims stretched from support for the Mojahedin-e Khalq (Mojahedin), a Marxist- Islamic Party that had engaged in violence in an effort to overthrow Khomeini, to support for the Tudeh Party, a secular Marxist party that until 1983, supported the regime.

This was not the first time the Islamic Republic had executed thousands of its political opponents or even the first time the regime had executed its opponents en masse. However, the 1988 massacre stands out for the systematic way in which it was planned and carried out, the short time period in which it took place throughout the country, the arbitrary method used to determine victims, the sheer number of victims, and the fact that the regime took extensive measures to keep the executions secret and continues to deny that they took place. The executions began pursuant to a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini immediately following Iran’s announcement that it had agreed to a cease-fire in the devastating eight-year Iran-Iraq war. The fatwa created three-man commissions to determine who should be executed. The commissions, known by prisoners as Death Commissions, questioned prisoners about their political and religious beliefs, and depending on the answers, determined who should be executed and/or tortured. The questioning was brief, not public, there were no appeals, and prisoners were executed the same day or soon thereafter. Many who were not executed immediately were tortured.

The Iranian government has never identified those who were secretly executed and tortured, and has never issued an official explanation for why political prisoners of different beliefs, many of whom had been imprisoned for years, were suddenly executed in the summer of 1988. By that time, most of the Mojahedin leaders had left the country or been killed, and the majority of the Mojahedin prisoners were from the lower ranks. Tudeh and other leftist parties had basically ceased to exist in Iran. Many of those executed had been convicted of relatively minor offenses—the more serious offenders had been executed in prior purges. The regime knew that the massacre was a violation of international and Iranian law, and that news of the executions would severely damage its reputation. Therefore, it made every effort to keep the interrogations and executions secret… read on:

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Rukmini Bhaya Nair - An IIT Teacher's View on the Madras Controversy

Let's try and take the bull by the horns at the risk of being gored. Here, as far as one can gather, is the narrative so far.

A study circle of students at IIT Madras reads B.R. Ambedkar's classic 'The Annihilation of Caste' and distributes pamphlets that reportedly 'spread hatred' by condemning not just the caste system but all of Hinduism. An anonymous letter to this effect is sent to the HRD Ministry which forwards the complaint to the IIT authorities. IIT Madras then responds by stating that the students have broken an agreed-upon rule that forbids them to use the name of the institution to "garner support or publicize their activities". Finally, the political parties enter the ring like brave matadors - some defending freedom of speech on behalf of the students, and others condemning the apparently wholesale castigation of Hinduism by these same students.

Under these piquant circumstances, how do we interpret that basic 'right to freedom of expression', ironically guaranteed under a Constitution whose chief architect was B.R. Ambedkar himself? In order to address this conundrum, I would like to first turn to a story attributed to a very great champion of Hinduism indeed - Swami Vivekananda.

Vivekananda is said to have prayed fervently at a shrine to the goddess Bhavani in Srinagar. His devotion so pleased Bhavani that she appeared before him and Vivekananda at once agitatedly related to her the desecration of her temple by past 'invaders'. He would never have tolerated such an insult, he tells her; he would have laid down his life to protect her! To all of which the cool goddess replies: "But what if this were indeed the case? What is it to you? Do you protect me or do I protect you?"

Self-deprecating and humour-laden, the anecdote shows how Vivekananda's wise analysis of narrow human enmities still holds lessons for our increasingly cacophonous politics. Taking our cue from it, we might ask: Do our politicians protect the Constitution or does it protect them? Surely, the latter as much as the former.

Extend this argument now to the students of the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle. If the political right to protest is sacred, both inside and outside Parliament where so many 'unacceptable' statements have been made of late, then so is the individual right to dissent. And here, we must make a further key distinction, especially relevant to university environments, between the concepts of 'protest' and 'dissent'.

Dissent is not to be confused with protest. We protest about particular issues or events - say, price rise or a horrifying rape - but dissent is not necessarily issue-based. Unlike protest, we can't just 'stop dissenting' in the way we can cease to protest if and when we achieve our objectives. Dissent is not so much protest as the mental foundation of protest; it represents the idiom of anti-complacency and democratic self-voicing. That is why the idea of dissent is key to university environments.

To return to Vivekananda's Goddess here for a moment, we could see her as a potent metaphor for the concepts that a society holds dear - such as democracy or justice or the 'right to dissent'. As this goddess smartly argues, she does not belong by right to any of the sparring parties who appoint themselves her guardians. 'Enshrined' or 'protected' by greater guarantees, she belongs to the transcendent collective - to 'we, the people'.

It is here that the idea of 'the university', in its modern avatar, becomes relevant. In its earliest usage in English, back in 1300, the Shorter Oxford Dictionary informs us that a university indicated "the whole entire number, a community regarded collectively... the whole body of teachers engaged at a particular place, in giving and receiving instruction in the higher branches of learning".

The noun 'Institute', as in the IITs, derives on the other hand from the Latin verb for 'to establish' and has a relatively modern meaning. The first usage of this word was in 1795 in a post-revolutionary France inspired by the ideals of 'liberty, fraternity and equality'. An 'Institute' is supposed to have a more labour and skills-oriented approach to education and an emphasis on technical specializations. According to the Shorter Oxford again, it designates "a society or organization... to promote some literary, scientific, artistic or educational object".

What is noteworthy about both the pre-modern idea of the 'University' and the post-French Revolution notion of the 'Institute' is their collective orientation and their commitment to learning communes where teachers and students are equal partners in intellectual exploration.

A university is ideally a 'protected' place where ideas, however radical, can be fearlessly presented and debated. In this sense, dissent can be seen as an attitude of mind allied to the 'right' to be sceptical and to sharply question. As a teacher, the classroom is my 'sacred space'. My personal opinion is that no question can, in principle, be rejected in such a space. The query or hypothesis a student presents may be wildly off, yet it must be dealt with, as far as possible, through sustained reason and cooperative argument.

Our relentless examination systems and rickety infrastructure may, over the years, have worn down our capacity to enrich this basic idea of 'universal' questioning, but it must be recognized that the 'right' to dissent remains part of the very architecture of a university.

So even if we grant that the students at IIT Madras violated some rules and their privileges had to be 'temporarily withdrawn', a far more fundamental principle seems at stake. That principle has been already articulated by IIT Madras in no uncertain terms: "The Institute does not curtail freedom of expression". Indeed, as a respected site of education, it cannot and must not.

A colleague at IIT Madras makes three sensible points in this connection in an email to me. One, he was out of town when all the brouhaha happened but, truth to tell, he hadn't even heard of this study group until the recent newspaper reports. Two, this controversy somehow reminds him of the quite different 'kiss-of-love' campaign in November 2014 which spilled over into IIT Madras from other campuses with protests outside the campus gates, as in the present case, and then blew over. Three, his 'hunch' is that the incessant media attention these days simply escalates tensions. Overall, his perspective, as an observer at close quarters, is that dissent is such a 'generic' and integral part of campus-life that it would probably pass unnoticed if the media wasn't hyper-ventilating.

To my mind, however, the implications could be larger. Some of the most exciting academic debates in our country in the tumultuous 21st century are likely to come from the struggles of large marginalized aggregates. Unless we are prepared to take these forms of social dissent seriously in academia, the rule-bound, top-down routines to which we have become so used to are bound to be violently disrupted.

As Dalits, women, endangered language groups and others seek to insert their perspectives, texts and theories and into the accepted public discourses and academic canons, we will need to rapidly move outside our mental comfort zones. And this process of 'empowerment' is already well underway. True, the IIT Madras flashpoint may soon be forgotten but its real significance is that it is yet another wake-up call. Universities and institutes are natural havens where our youth will meet to discuss the excitement, hopes and challenges of the future. If we value that common future, we must protect their freedom to read as they will, to learn, to think and to dissent.

Friday, 29 May 2015

AKHTAR BALOUCH on Daya Ram Gidumal of Sindh — a silent servant, a silent sufferer. A good man

NB - This is a beautiful and moving story. It provides yet another example of human goodness, and reminds us how quick we are to pass it by, to overlook it, because we are so accustomed to negativity, denunciation and animosity. Beneath it (in the original) are scores of comments, most of which are deeply appreciative both of the author, Akhtar Balouch as well as the subject of his story, Daya Ram Gidumal. But some comments show how attached we are to negativity. One person says: Why this chap Akhtar Balouch sole mission is propagating hindus of Sindh? quite evident from his writings through out. Doesn't he have anything to say about the Muslim majority of Sindh? Another says : I wonder if the Hindus and Sikhs of Punjab and Haryana ever feel the sorrow of those millions of Musalmans who were killed, raped and driven out from their homes in 1947? I have never read anything like this from the other side of the border. 

To the latter I responded thus: "why assume the worst, my friend? Human goodness may be found across all lines of division. Here is a trailer for a beautiful film made by Ajay Bhardwaj: Rabba Hun Kee Kariye/Thus Departed Our Neighbours. See it and reconsider: <>

have had similar reactions from Indians. About 2 years ago I posted something on FB on the great humanist and philanthropist, Abdul Sattar Edhi. One person of 'parivar' persuasion instantly denounced him for caring only for Muslims, for which he presented no evidence whatsoever. It was with some effort that I persuaded him that Edhi sahib was devoted to the care of suffering humanity, regardless of their religious identity. We have lost the capacity, it seems, to read or understand anything about society without dipping it into communal animosity. I have analysed this habit here: The Philosophy of Number,
  but more than historical analysis, what is required above all is to remember that human goodness is not attached to any community or ethnic identity. If we allow good and evil, innocence and kindness to be communalised, we shall become zombies. If it touches any readers, the article posted here is a reminder that all of us know a good human being when we see him. Thank you, janab Akhtar, you have rendered a public service - Dilip

Born in 1857, Deewan Daya Ram Gidumal was among those dedicated men and women who became an icon of service to their people. During the days of the British Raj, Gidumal was known to be the ‘godfather’ of Sindhi Hindus. A primary student in the days when the official language of Sindh was Persian, and later having had the opportunity to study in an English school since the age of 10, Daya Ram began planning on improving the education facilities for the people of Sindh. His first idea was to build a higher education institute.

For this, he took his brother Mitha Ram and his friend Jethmal, both of them advocates, on board. Together, they laid the foundation of the famous D.J. Science college in Karachi. They expanded their efforts and built a college in Hyderabad as well – the National College. Daya Ram was not only good at Persian, but was also a master at Gurmukhi and Arabic. He was a judge by profession. His decision-making was appreciated throughout the law community.

Book review: Stalin understood the power of terror so well because he constantly feared for his own life

Stalin Oleg Khlevniuk
Reviewed by Charlotte Hobson 

‘Lately, the paradoxical turns of recent Russian history… have given my research more than scholarly relevance,’ remarks Oleg Khlevniuk in his introduction. Indeed, in Putin’s Russia Stalin’s apologists and admirers seem daily to become more vocal. The language of the 1930s is used in televised tirades against ‘internal enemies’ and ‘foreign agents’. Stalin himself is upheld not only as a strong leader, but also as an ‘effective manager’ who, despite his mistakes, did what was necessary to modernise the Soviet Union; or, contrarily, as a benevolent dictator who was unaware of the corrupt actions of his officials.

In short, there could hardly be a more opportune moment for the publication of this authoritative, fluently written, concise life, the pinnacle of current scholarship on its subject. Khlevniuk, who has spent many years working in the Russian archives, commented in an interview that his aim was to produce ‘a narrative that rests entirely on what we know for certain about Stalin and his time’. So he swiftly dispatches several myths about the man. There is no evidence to suggest Stalin was an informer for the Tsarist police before the Revolution, and none, either, that he ordered the murder of Kirov in 1934; no record has emerged of him refusing a prisoner exchange for his son Yakov during the war, and the most likely cause of his wife’s suicide in 1932 was the combination of her mental fragility and his philandering.

What remains surpasses any fabricated horror. Terror was Stalin’s first choice as a means of government and his early control of the secret police was a key reason for his rise to power. Arbitrary torture and murder, applied via campaigns against various largely fictitious ‘internal enemies’, ‘fifth columnists’, ‘terrorists’ and so on, were used to subdue the country, Stalin’s closest associates, and the security forces themselves. Under Stalin’s aegis, over a million Soviet citizens each year were imprisoned, tortured, executed and exiled; many more — at least 60 million, or a third of the population — were affected by some type of repression.

Far from being unaware of his subordinates’ actions, Stalin was a micro-manager, as determined to oversee every seed sown in his dacha garden as every piece of fabricated evidence. In small details, as in large: ‘We do not know of a single decision of major consequence taken by anyone other than Stalin,’ states Khlevniuk baldly. Quite an extraordinary statement, when one considers the length and eventfulness of his regime.

The sociopathic cruelty of this approach was matched by its incompetence in all other areas. Stalin appears to have been completely ignorant of economics, believing that ‘class war’ and ‘revolutionary spirit’ were all that was needed to industrialise effectively. Fear and turmoil caused by constant purges did not make for a productive workforce, particularly with little or no financial incentive to work. Before the Revolution the Russian economy was growing at one of the fastest rates in Europe. Yet in the reasonably prosperous year of 1952 — after almost 30 years of Stalin’s management — the Central Statistical Directorate made a study of the country’s average daily nutrition. Free Soviet citizens, it discovered, were eating a very similar diet to the inhabitants of the Gulag.

The living standards of the Soviet people were of little concern to their Generalissimo. Khlevniuk argues convincingly that Stalin’s prime obsession was not the advance of socialism, not the might of the USSR, but overwhelmingly ‘the task of bolstering his personal power’. It is all the more extraordinary, therefore, that when Stalin achieved his goal of totalitarian power in 1929 it was only the beginning of the savagery. Thereafter each of his bloody campaigns served a dual purpose — to terrorise the people while dealing a pre-emptive strike against some perceived threat. Millions died for him to score his miserable political victories within the Politburo.

It is tempting to see his paranoid vengefulness as a pathology, and Khlevniuk includes a report from one of his doctors that his personality was affected by the hardened arteries in his brain. Nonetheless, Khlevniuk also shows that Stalin’s first essay in terror came in 1918, long before his illness. What’s more, one of his defining traits was his very lack of mental instability: his iron self-control. Throughout his long life there is no record of him ever hinting at what he knew to be true — that he had murdered dozens of his close friends and family. In the absence of any evidence, I still suspect this corrupt, vicious, lonely man understood the power of fear so well only because he felt it himself so intensely. In Stalin’s library, Khlevniuk finds a quotation that is attributed to Genghis Khan ominously underlined: ‘The conqueror’s peace of mind requires the death of the conquered.’

See also
Book review: new biography of Stalin Reviewed by Donald Rayfield

Anumeha Yadav - Fifty kilometres from Delhi, hundreds of Muslims have become refugees overnight

The normality of the evening was deceptive. A little before 6 pm on May 25, most residents of Atali village in Ballabhgarh, in Haryana's Faridabad district, were out tending to their cattle. A few were in their homes cooking dinner. Zahida Parveen had just settled down on the second storey of her home in preparation for the asar ki namaz. Suddenly, there was a loud noise.

“I looked out and saw 14-15 men enter the gate of the house armed with bricks, sticks and swords,” said Parveen, a slender woman in her early 20s. “I heard them break the door to the ground floor of our house.” She bolted the door to the second floor and hid in a room. The sounds of destruction continued drifting from below, glass being smashed and things being hurled around. She could hear the men rush up to where she was. “They were breaking down the door," Parveen said. "I hid inside the bathroom. They entered my room, shouting ‘Let these people die in the fire, if not at our hands.’”

Parveen doesn't remember how long she stayed hidden while mayhem played out on the other side of the bathroom door. The men smashed a washbasin, overturned furniture and set fire to three cars downstairs before eventually walking away. Parveen and her relatives escaped from the roof when, after what seemed like hours, the police arrived. Three days on, Parveen and her family were still living in fear at the Ballabgarh police station along with 200 other Muslims from Atali.

Refugees in their town: At the police station, the Muslim men sat in groups on a lawn at the entrance, in the blazing heat. Further inside, about a hundred women sat on a rug spread on the asphalt, with a thin cloth tent sheltering them from the sun. Children, many in the school uniforms they were wearing three days ago, huddled around the women. In one corner, there were stacks of bananas and plastic pouches of drinking water provided by social activists.

They all recounted the same tale: on Monday, a 300-strong mob of Jat men went on the rampage in Atali, attacking Muslims and their property. At least 20 Muslims were trapped in the assault, three of whom are still lying in BK Hospital with burn injuries and cuts. Parveen’s sister-in-law Naeema fractured her left foot while trying to escape. Sameena, a neighbour, suffered a big bruise on her arm. Others had injuries on faces and backs from the stones pelted at them.

Nanho, 65, and Sama, 9, narrated how they hid under a cot to save themselves. “Eent barsi thi – they were pelting bricks,” said Sama, dressed in her school tunic. Nassi Begum added: “The Jats brought men from 12 villages to attack us. Our girls had to run to save their honour and their lives.” Zahida’s mother-in-law Haseena Al alleged that she appealed to the policemen present in the village to protect them from the mob but they refused. “I held the policemen’s arm begging him to help my family, but they ignored our plea.”

Most families expressed anxiety about their unlocked houses and their untended cattle back in the village. But they can’t go back. Clashes have continued on the periphery of the village despite the deployment of several police battalions, and the villagers fear for their lives. On Tuesday, when officials suggested shifting them to the village school while their houses were repaired, the villagers refused outright. “The Jat men are keeping a watch, they will trap us inside the school and attack again,” said Ruksana. “Two women went along with the men to the village yesterday in a bus accompanied by the police. They saw the men still standing peering from the roofs.”

Communal politics: At Atali, the scars of the Monday violence weren’t too hard to see. A mosque that was being constructed in the centre of the village, next to a small temple and the village pond, bore the scars of the attack – its scaffolding was damaged and a stone plate bearing the name of the mosque had been blackened.

The villagers said the discord was grounded in the Jats’ opposition to the construction of the mosque. A smaller Muslim shrine had stood on the spot. “After the Mumbai riots in 1992-'93, a smaller structure at the same spot where the Faqir Muslims use to pray was burned,” said Sher Singh, a farmer. “Then later, the villagers had collected Rs 10,000 for its repair.”

Several villagers recounted that in 2010, when sarpanch elections were due, the construction of a new mosque had become a point of contention between the Jat and Faqir Muslim communities in Atali. Most villagers spoke of the 2010 events in the context of the sarpanch elections due again in August. “The Muslims have almost 400 votes,” said Sher Singh. “In the upcoming election, both candidates know that this vote matters in a population of 3,000.” 
Both candidates in the approaching sarpanch election are Jat – Rajesh Chaudhary and Pehlad Singh – the same as the last time. Villagers said that though Pehlad Singh had supported the construction of the mosque in the previous election, this year he was opposing it.

“Every five years, this issue is raked up to fool people,” said the local MLA Tek Chand Sharma of the Bahujan Samaj Party. “This mosque has existed at least 30 years. It is there in all revenue records.” Sharma, the sole BSP MLA in the 90-member Haryana assembly, is allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state.

In 2009, before the previous sarpanch elections, Jat and Pandit villagers filed a case in the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court for an order restraining the construction of a larger mosque. The mosque’s pillars had been erected by then but further construction was stopped. Later, when the court ruled against the petitioners, a second petition was filed before the Sub Divisional Magistrate questioning whether the land belonged to the panchayat or the Waqf Board. The Sub Divisional Magistrate gave a decision this March identifying the land as belonging to the Waqf Board.

A few weeks later, the dispute over the mosque intensified. On May 21, four days before the mob assault, 30 policemen were stationed at the mosque site to allow the construction to begin. A day later, Deputy Commissioner of Police Bhupinder Singh said he presided over a meeting of villagers from both communities at the Ballabhgarh police station. At this meeting, the current sarpanch, Rajesh Chaudhary, gave a statement to Muslim villagers that the mosque construction could go on as permitted by the local courts. But on May 25, as labourers began building the roof over the scaffolding and policemen kept watch, the mob attacked.

Deeper divide: While a few Hindu villagers were injured in the stone-pelting on Monday, the maximum damage was suffered by the half-built mosque and the 17 Muslim homes around it. Inside these abandoned homes, many of which were unlocked, there was still a smell of charred wood. In most of them, fridges and cupboards had been ransacked and overturned, and the floors were littered with bricks, clothes and children’s footwear. In some, half-cooked vegetables lay over the stove.

“The village gets cooking gas through a pipeline and the attackers cut these pipes to ignite the homes on fire,” said DCP Bhupinder Singh. A godown belonging to a Muslim family was set alight after the first wave of attack, he said. The villagers named 20 youths from the village in the First Information Report, but the police hadn’t arrested anyone.

While the Jat own the most land in the village, followed by Pandit and Saini families, most Muslim households support themselves through cattle rearing. Some Muslims own vehicles that they rent out and a few others work as drivers. In conversations with this reporter, most Hindu villagers were defensive. “Why are you asking us?” snapped Yogesh Bhardawaj, a 20-something who works as a gardener in Ballabhgarh. He advised, “Go ask the Muslims,” using a derogatory term for Muslim men. Harish Yadav, a farmer, claimed that the Muslims “pelted stones at our women on Monday. That is when we retaliated”. However, when asked to identify the women, he could not name them.

The two Muslim households that were among the most well-off in the village suffered the maximum losses – the families of Haji Sabir Ali, who own a pumps business and works as a contractor with the Electricity Board, and his relative Isaq Khan. The family’s property was completely damaged, with the mob setting fire to several air conditioners Ali owned and three of his cars. “They were Faqirs, they used to beg and starve,” said Harish Yadav. “Now, it seems they have become contractors.”

The youth in the village as well as local BJP workers showed a WhatsApp message circulating in the area since the previous day, exhorting Hindus to gather in large numbers to fend off impending attacks from Muslims. “Last night, I heard that 15 vehicles full of Muslims had arrived in the village,” said Mahesh Saini, a farmer. “It has become impossible to sleep.” Ten kilometres away, at the Ballabhgarh police station, the Muslim families prepared for their third sleepless night outside their homes, as young men began lining the asphalt road with chadars. “Why did they do this?” asked Rahmati, an elderly farm worker. “Were we not Muslim 100 years back? What has changed now?”

For more reports on communalism, click here

See also
Dhirendra K Jha - After RSS men attacked us, police forced us to forego legal action, say Sonepat Dalits
The Abolition of truth (on the 'parivar's celebration of Gandhis murder)