AFSPA & Kashmir

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Kashmir is in the news again for wrong reasons. Political leaders and parties are engaged in questioning each other’s intentions regarding their stand on Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The issue gained importance when J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah voiced his intention to revoke AFSPA from certain parts of AFSPA. It did not take long for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and right-winged groups associated with saffron brigade to strongly oppose this stand of Abdullah. Congress has also expressed its reservations on Abdullah’s views. Considering that Abdullah heads the J&K government with support of Congress, it has been expressed that before taking any decision on this issue, he needs to hold discussions and take opinion of Congress also. Subsequently, Abdullah indicated that the issue will be taken up by his cabinet after November 7, when the J&K government shifts to its winter capital, which is Jammu.

Clearly, Abdullah has not yet given the impression of having backtracked from his stand on withdrawing AFSPA from certain parts of J&K. At the same time, the political furore raised over the issue also suggests that he probably expressed his own personal opinion on AFSPA without consulting others in his government. There is also the possibility of his having deliberately expressed his stand on AFSPA only to gain an idea of various political opinions regarding the same. Considering that Abdullah is well-aware that withdrawal of AFSPA from any one or more parts of J&K is not in his hands alone, he probably deliberately voiced his intention primarily for some publicity and win over Kashmiris’ support on emotional lines. In other words, withdrawal of AFSPA actually from certain parts of J&K is not his immediate agenda. This point is proved by his decision to take up the issue at the state cabinet meeting after Eid-ul-Zuha. If the issue is taken up, it shall be followed by meetings, discussions, countering opposition and consultations with the central government, which are least likely to be completed in a short period. 

Against this backdrop, it is pertinent to analyze the AFSPA from another angle. Why has it been assumed that Kashmiris are against it? Basically, AFSPA is not confined to J&K alone. In fact, before J&K was covered by it, the armed forces were conferred special powers, as per AFSPA, in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The AFSPA was brought in force in these states soon after the act was passed by the Indian Parliament on September 11, 1958. It was extended to J&K in July 1990. 

Legally, in areas proclaimed as “disturbed,” an officer of armed forces has powers to “fire upon,” “use force, even to the causing of death,” against any person “acting in contravention of any law,” “assembly of five or more persons” and/or “possession of deadly weapons.” The act also allows arrest without a warrant, with use of force against any person who has committed a certain offence or is suspected of the same. The act authorizes the officers to enter and search any premise to make arrests.

The AFSPA also gives army officers legal immunity for their actions. The legal immunity, however, prevails for actions taken as per the AFPSA. This also implies that if army officers falsely justify their acts as per the power granted to them by AFPSA, they can be subject to prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding. Against this backdrop, it is relevant to probe a little into how AFSPA has been understood, rather misunderstood, where J&K is concerned. It may be noted, situations in J&K have usually escalated to stage of crisis due to a confrontation between unarmed civilians and the police. In recent past, the involvement of forces and the militants has not been responsible for any major disturbance in the region. The affected Kashmiris have not yet recovered fully from last year’s tension between the civilians and the state-police. More than 100 people, including school children, fell victim to state-controlled bullets last year. Among the first to fall victim was a student Tufail Ahmad Mattoo. He was hit by a teargas shell fired by the police on June 11, 2010. The police was chasing a crowd of stone pelters at Rajouri Kadal. Mattoo was not a part of the crowd. To this day, his family members are waiting for justice. As per AFSPA or any other law, neither the army nor the state police can “legitimize” use of force that led to death of Mattoo. Not surprisingly, Mattoo’s death triggered protests throughout J&K. It is the death of Mattoo and other innocent civilians, who are targeted by state-controlled bullets that raises the question as to why has strict action not been taken against those responsible for these killings.

The army and police, it may be pointed out, fall under two different departments. Understandably, though AFSPA grants armed forces certain special powers in disturbed areas, it does not grant the same to the police. Also, as mentioned earlier, even soldiers are not granted legal immunity if their actions are not as per the norms laid out by AFSPA.

It may take months, even years before AFSPA is lifted from certain areas of J&K. The issue may remain confined to debates and discussions. In this context, rather than indulge only in deliberations and debates on whether AFSPA should be lifted or not, it is imperative to examine carefully whether the act is being strictly adhered to by the army officers and whether police too are taking shelter under AFSPA for their crimes. Omar Abdullah should ensure that strict action is taken against those accused of violating/abusing AFSPA.

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Gujarat Campaign “Fast” Lane

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

location_map_of_GujaratNEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD: The three-day fast of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, which concluded this Monday (September 19), has raised many eyebrows as well as questions. It is difficult for secular observers and critics to accept reasons given by Modi for his Sadbhavna (goodwill) fast, aimed towards “peace, unity and harmony.” Modi apparently has taken this step with the hope that its political importance and media coverage will help change his own image from that of a communal, extremist to a secular Indian who believes in development of all. In his words: “Every chief minister has a national role. My work is to do something good on Earth. It is for others to give it words.”

Dismissing “news” about this fast being a reflection of ambition to become the country’s prime minister, Modi said: “I want to tell the world that sabka saath, sabka vikas (cooperation of all, development of all) is the way of development. Gujarat has got a name in development. I have worked for development of all. I have given this an ideological base.”

The three-day fast has certainly helped Modi gain substantial media-coverage and socio-political attention. Yet, except for his own political colleagues, the others are not willing to believe Modi’s claims about development of “all.” Besides, three days, even three decades, are not sufficient to forget the 2002 Gujarat-carnage, when the state government failed to provide adequate security to Muslims who were targeted by right-winged elements linked with saffron brigade, with which Modi is also strongly associated. The wounds of Muslim sufferers have not healed yet and will never heal for those who lost their near and dear ones and possessions. The sufferers have not yet received any compensation. There has been no news of Gujarat government having played even a minor role in rehabilitating the troubled Muslims. The criminals have not yet received adequate punishment. In other words, justice and prospects of a better future in Gujarat still remain dismal for Muslims who faced the 2002-carnage. 

Despite Modi having begun his fast on his birthday (September 17), he claimed: “I have never celebrated my birthday. This is the only day of the year I don’t meet anyone, I don’t talk to anyone, I don’t celebrate my birthday. But because Saturday and Sunday was convenient, that’s why I chose this day, this has got nothing to do with my birthday.”

Modi is not unaware of the fact that Gujarat-carnage is projected as a dark chapter in history of India and his political image. Amazingly, the very politician who at one time justified and also allegedly played a prominent role in fuelling the communal carnage now talks in a totally different tone. Refusing to take any responsibility, Modi said: “What moral responsibility for riots am I being asked to take? My government did its best.” He even said: “I have suffered in my heart for those who suffered and were victims of the 2002 riots. We acted with power and toughness to get life back in order.”
Indicating that Gujarat will not witness the 2002-carnage again, Modi said: “I want to assure the country and all communities that we will not go below the parameters of humanity. Every second of my life is devoted to the people of the country.”

Around 30-40 years ago, “there was complete communal disharmony” provoking “violence and curfew” on even small discords leading to, as Modi said: “When a child was born he/she learnt the word curfew before learning mummy and papa.” Now, Modi claimed: “There is no sign of disharmony. Gujarat has realized the strength of brotherhood. And this learning has not come through any preaching or advice, but through the fruits of development. Our growth has assured us that unity is our strength.”

While Modi may have accepted and started saying that “communal politicking” is not his political agenda, his opponents, including political rivals, riot victims and social activists still refuse to accept his rhetoric. Several civil rights activists, a group called Jan Sangarsh Manch (JSM) and a large number of riot victims gathered near a mosque at Narodia Patia to protest against Modi’s Sadbhavana-fast. They called their demonstration Sachi Sadbhavna (True Goodwill). However, even before the event began, the policemen trooped in and detained more than 50 activists for several hours on the ground that they did not have the administration’s permission to protest (September 18).

Not willing to be outdone by Modi, Congress leaders in Gujarat began their fast an hour earlier than him. They also strongly criticized Modi for wasting taxpayers’ by holding a “five-star” fast. “If there is a justifiable cause for fast by the chief minister, we can understand it. He is saying this fast is for sadbhavna, but his fast is based on farce, falsehood and corruption,” Shankersinh Vaghela said.

While Modi held his fast in an air-conditioned hall, Vaghela and Arjun Modhwadia held theirs called, Satyagrah (for truth against misdeeds of Modi government) on a footpath in front of Sabarmati Ashram. Describing Modi’s fast as “corruption,” Vaghela said: “What was the necessity to spend several millions of public money? If he (Modi) wanted to fast, he could have done that at home also.” Modi’s fast was a tamasha (show), Vaghela said.

Questioning Modi’s claims of development, Vaghela listed several allegations of corruption against Gujarat government. Besides, he said: “The state public debt has mounted to billions, about which the people of Gujarat are not aware. This is the kind of development he is talking about.” “We want to show to the people that this is a corrupt government,” Vaghela said.

Referring to Gujarat-carnage, Vaghela said: “Now, Modi wants to project himself as a messiah of the minorities by undertaking such a fast and wants to show that he is their protector.”

Irrespective of what their actual intentions are, with Gujarat to go for assembly polls in 2012, clearly both the parties- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress have begun their campaigns by making lots of voice about their “fasts.”

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Hazare-Drama, Sangh Parivar’s Support Exposed!

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI:  In bits and pieces, the real stories linked with Anna Hazare’s 13-day fast and his supporters’ political background are gradually being revealed. Sources indicate that it was only a political game-show, including the fast, with corruption-issue deliberately selected to attract attention and target the central government. Medically, a person even half of Hazare’s age cannot be on fast for almost a fortnight and yet remain active enough to address the supporters almost daily. The secret behind Hazare remaining almost “fit” has nothing to do with his marital status, that of a bachelor. In reality, he was regularly kept on a liquid diet, particularly glucose. This “news” was deliberately not leaked even by people aware about it as it would have punctured the hype being raised about Hazare’s “fast” before his “mission” was at least partly accomplished.

The real support for 13-day show at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan came from members of saffron brigade and groups associated with them. They were, for instance, taking care of cooking and providing food and drinks to people visiting Ramlila Maidan. In fact, free supply of eatables at the grounds prompted a percentage of visitors to be there and enjoy the food as a part of their picnic.

Though support of saffron brigade for Hazare’s was known as an open secret all along, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) maintained a studied silence on this till the 13-day drama lasted. Now, the BJP and other wings of saffron brigade have openly revealed that their members were the key factions behind Hazare’s movement. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) chief Ashok Singhal has openly asserted that his group was in involved in Hazare’s movement against corruption. He said: “Members of the Dharma Yatra Mahasangh, a wing of the VHP, had opened stalls at Ramlila Maidan to offer food to over 20,000 people every day.”

Interestingly, while Arvind Kejriwal – key member of Hazare team – has expressed “shock” at Singhal’s claims, he has also accepted being unaware of whether the persons taking care of food stalls belonged to any extremist group or not. “I’m quite surprised, I’m shocked. It’s wrong, rather mischievous on Singhal’s part to say such thing. He should not indulge in these things,” Kejriwal said. At the same time, he acknowledged: “Six-seven organizations set up food stalls. They demanded space (at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan) and we gave them. I don’t know if one of them belonged to any political groups.”

With the drama over, now, critics are also deliberating on the similarity between slogans used by supporters at Ramlila Maidan and members of Sangh Parivar. The slogan that has prompted many critics to question secular credentials of key supporters of Hazare-drama is “Vande Matram.”

Having succeeded in attracting attention of people, the Congress-led government and the media, the BJP now plans to gain political mileage from Anna-movement in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the state which is scheduled for assembly elections in less than a year from now. Elaborating on this, a BJP leader said: “The reports of our various wings being with Anna’s movements are true. The movement was a huge success against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.” Earlier, the party was not sure of the movement’s popularity. “Confident,” after success in Delhi, the BJP plans to take forward Anna’s movement in UP, according to Vinay Bahadur Pathak, UP unit’s party spokesperson. With the public sentiment strongly against corruption, Pathak said: “As the Congress at the center and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in UP are openly involved in various acts of corruption, we can certainly use the movement to our advantage.”

The BJP has planned two major yatras (processions) in UP, which will be flagged off from Mathura and Varanasi on October 13. They will culminate in Lucknow on November 21 after traversing most parts of the state. “A week before the main yatra reaches a particular assembly constituency, the local units of the party will start smaller yatras. Since we will hold rallies in each assembly constituency, the smaller yatras will ensure the presence of a large number of people there,” Pathak said.  The BJP has also planned 350 small yatras in UP, said the party vice-president, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. He is in-charge of assembly election management in UP.

Gradually, non-BJP leaders have also started speaking loudly about Sangh Parivar’s backing of Hazare-drama. In words of Lok Janshakti Party president, Ram Vilas Paswan: “Former RSS ideologue Govindacharya and leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have themselves been claiming that the crowd that had gathered at the Ram Lila Maidan comprised Sangh Parivar volunteers.” At the same time, he clarified that this does not imply all supporters of Hazare’s anti-corruption movement are members of Sangh Parivar.

With BJP’s political standing in UP a dismal affair at present, the party is apparently banking on the Anna-wave to turn the political tide in its favor during the coming assembly elections. It is as yet too early to state whether BJP’s Anna-chant will succeed in UP or not. Nevertheless, as the party leaders are revealing their intentions, it is becoming clearer that the 13-day drama at Ramlila Maidan was a part of their political strategy with an eye on UP polls. The BJP and Sangh Parivar are all set to politically cash on this line of action, through yatras, for electoral gains in UP assembly elections!

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Bollywood Scores: Shahrukh Khan Wins

February 18, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: By not simply rallying unitedly in favor of Shahrukh Khan-starrer: My Name Is Khan, but doing so with an amazingly zeal, Bollywood-team set the stage for film-fans across the world to head for theatres screening the movie. So much so, one got the impression that with Shahrukh as their “captain,” the Bollywood-team  was on the “pitch” to give Shiv Sainiks a thorough drubbing. A similar message was conveyed by headlines stating: “Khan scores, Sena misses,” “MNIK wins, Sena loses,” “Khan hits, Sena in pits,”…. Of course, Bollywood team was compelled to display this posture against shrill calls raised by Shiv Sena activists. The latter protested against release of MNIK primarily because Shahrukh had earlier questioned absence of Pakistani cricketers in Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament. Questioning Shahrukh’s “support” for Pakistani players, Shiv Sena issued a diktat saying that theatres must not release the movie- MNIK.

Initially, there were speculations that multiplexes in Mumbai would follow Shiv Sena’s diktat. There were also apprehensions that screening of the movie in Mumbai and other parts of the country would incite violence and create tension. But Shiv Sena’s protest failed to win people’s support even in Mumbai. When 35 of 40 theatres in Mumbai decided to go ahead with the movie’s release (February 12), they received an enthusiastic response from moviegoers. The movie was screened in all theatres in Maharashtra the following day. Though some stones were thrown on Friday at Fun Republic, no damage was caused. Besides, security was tight at all theatres, particularly in Mumbai to check potential violence from Shiv Sena members. 

What stands out is the “secular unity” displayed by movie goers across the world, even in Gujarat. Despite saffron brigade having warned against its release in Gujarat, the movie ran to packed houses in most parts of the state.  The message simply conveyed was that people are in no mood to let saffron brigade and/or its associates decide their movies’ choice. Nor are they convinced by Shiv Sena questioning Shahrukh Khan’s “nationality.” Rather as displayed by their turning out in huge numbers to view the movie, they have asserted that they cannot be taken for a ride by such diktats. In fact in several parts of the country, Shahrukh’s fans displayed their anger against Shiv Sena’s protests by burning effigies of Shiv Sena leaders.

Clearly, MNIK has provided the movie-fans across the world an opportunity to convey their message. The Mumbai-people defied Shiv Sena’s call, asserting that this party has little significance for him. The noise made by certain Shiv Sena leaders in recent past about their Maratha-identity has also received a big blow by the support displayed by the public here for Shahrukh Khan-starrer. Not surprisingly, Shahrukh’s wife, Gauri who watched the movie at Fun Republic with her daughter, said: “Everyone should watch the movie. Shahrukh’s very happy that everyone has come out supporting him.” Admitting that her husband was “very sad” earlier, but was “happy” at the response received, she said: “I think the best way would be to say Jai Maharashtra. We love Mumbai and Shahrukh is really excited.” Guari is co-producer of the movie, directed by Karan Johar.

Interestingly, the Hindi movie with English title, strikes a note of appeal for Pakistani viewers too. It is the first movie, starring Shahrukh Khan, being screened in Pakistan, since the government allowed Indian movies here two years ago. The crowd’s interest here rests partly on the movie’s title and partly on it having aroused a protest from Shiv Sena over Shahrukh’s comments regarding Pakistani cricketers. Also, they support the movie’s message regarding Muslims being labeled as terrorists and being discriminated against in United States after September 11, 2001 attacks.  The movie does not divide the people. Aiming to bridge the post – 9/11-divide, the movie’s hero wants to meet the US President so that he can tell him: “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.”  This particular message, apparently, has people across the world put their regional as well as cultural differences in the background, as it appeals to them emotionally and they understand its underlying meaning. The movie in this context has taken a major step towards bridging the communication gap, which has kept practically the whole world fairly confused and almost at the loser’s end.  The secular, peace-loving and also religious people are against innocents being targeted as suspect terrorists for no fault of theirs. It is time, a Muslim’s religious identity ceased to be linked with terrorism simply because he/she happens to be a practicing Muslim.

With the title saying it loudly and assertively, My Name Is Khan, it is hoped the diplomatic message carried by it is understood by the powers it is addressed to. The raving reviews won by the movie, in addition to raking in millions on the very first day of its screening clearly states that the message has clicked with the people across the world. Bollywood has scored not just against Shiv Sainiks at home but also in taking a lead in successfully conveying the message till date being avoided by Hollywood!

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Vande Mataram Fatwa: Hardly Controversial

November 12, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service India Correspondent (MMNS)

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding all the reservations and bias, they entertain against each other, several groups representing extremist sections of Indian Hindus and Muslims may be blamed equally for needlessly making noise over their stand on the Indian national song- Vande Mataram. The controversy hit the headlines with Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH), a Muslim organization issuing a fatwa against recitation of Vande Mataram, as according to them several stanzas were against their religious principles. The JUH issued the fatwa at its 30th general session held at Deoband (November 3). It did not take long for extremist Hindu groups, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv Sena, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal to immediately protest against the JUH-fatwa. Several leaders associated with saffron brigade also labeled as not singing the Vande Mataram as an act of treason.

Clarifying his stand on the issue, Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid questioned both the JUH-fatwa and the saffron brigade’s stand on it being compulsory for all Indians, including Muslims, to sing Vande Mataram. “During the independence movement, all national leaders, including leaders of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind Hind sat together and resolved that some stanzas of Vande Mataram would be treated as the national song and would be sung voluntarily. Nobody was forced to sing it and this is something which was there in the resolutions of both JUH and the Congress party,” Khurshid said. Just as there was no need for JUH to raise the issue again, as it had been already settled earlier, no individual could be forced to sing the song, he said. “I don’t know why this issue is being raised again,” he commented.

Vande Mataram, song was a part of the novel written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay called Anand Math, published in 1882. When India achieved independence in 1947, it was expected to become the national anthem. Objections raised by Muslim leaders, led to the song (Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak Jaya), written by Rabindranath Tagore become the national anthem.

Considering the fact that issue was resolved several decades ago, there was no reason for any fatwa against it. It would have been different case altogether, had JUH issued the decree in response against any of their members or associates being forced to sing the song. Similarly, the protest raised by extremist Hindu groups would have carried some relevance were the JUH-fatwa legally or morally binding on the entire Indian Muslim community. Or if the fatwa was suggestive of their showing disrespect to the national song. In this context, Vande Mataram is not the only national issue over which controversies have been raised time and again. Officially, though Hindi is India’s national language, it is not binding for government work across the country. Each state uses its regional language, with Hindi being the official language of less than 10 states. Bengali is West Bengal’s official language, Tamil of Tamil Nadu, Marathi – Maharashtra, Gujarati – Gujarat, Telugu – Andhra Pradesh and so forth.

The key point here is that the decision of various states of not using Hindi as their official language is not regarded as an act of treason and/or their showing disrespect to the national language. So why should questions be raised regarding the JUH-fatwa on Vande Mataram? Just as all Indians cannot be forced to use only Hindi, why should hue and cry be raised if some individuals or even groups decide not to sing Vande Mataram? It would have been a different case altogether, if the same was suggestive of such national symbols being abused.

Besides, it is indeed surprising that a lot of noise has been made over JUH-fatwa. One organization’s fatwa has prompted critics to say that it reflects the backwardness of Indian Muslims, their suffering from leadership crisis and their life being still being confined to dictates of their clerics. These points would have had some credibility if JUH was representative of the entire Indian Muslim community. It is not. The error lies in the critics confining their approach to analyzing issues linked with Indian Muslims only to their stereotyped approach, strongly suggestive of the negative bias they still hold against the country’s largest minority community. Just as neither the BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena or any extremist organization linked with saffron brigade or known to project its Hindutva-agenda, be held as representative of the entire Indian Hindu community, no Islamic group – even if claims to – be regarded as the voice of all Muslims in India. The error lies in assuming a few select groups to represent one whole religious community. How can the regional, religious, casteist and other ethnic factors the Indian people across the country are divided into be ignored? This is strongly reflected by numerous political parties, spread across the country. Difference in political culture from north to south, east to west and from state to state also stands marked by the dress, language, even the variety in food, used by Indians. It is indeed amazing, that while making noise against the JUH-fatwa on Vande Mataram, the critics virtually ignored facts such as that organization does not represent the entire Indian Muslim community and singing it is not binding on all Indians, just as using Hindi as the national language is not. The issue, hardly controversial, has been made to appear as such by noise raised over it!

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