New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

30 November, 2007

No Indian university in top 100: six from China are among 13 from Asia

There are 13 institutions from Asia among the top 100 universities in the THES-QS World University Rankings 2007, compiled and published earlier this month by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), based on research conducted by the Quacquarelli Symmonds (QS) network. There is none from India.

The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) and the QS Educational Trust have been publishing the list of top universities of the world since four years.

The QS network was created by Nunzio Quacquarelli, Glockner Prize for Management winner at Wharton, consultant and journalist, whilst at business school – through an award-winning series of publications and research reports. Today, it claims to be the world’s leading independent network for higher education and related careers.

Since 1991, QS, in partnership with The Times and Sunday Times, has been providing regular supplements focused on the latest news and trends in management education. It now partners with over 120 newspapers and magazines, over 200 web sites, and 4 TV channels.

The 2007 Rankings point to increasing internationalization of higher education around the world, with 27 universities from 14 different countries entering the top 200 for the first time.

The UK and USA dominate the top 10. Harvard University, Cambridge, Oxford and Yale retain the top four positions for the second year. University College, London, and Chicago join the top 10 for the first time.

With the addition of the Netherlands, 12 countries figure in the top 50, compared to 11 in 2006. The institutions which have entered the list for the first time this year include Brown University, Bristol, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Osaka, Boston and Amsterdam.

The top 100 sees the number of Asian universities increase to 13 (12 in 2006) but the number of European universities has dropped to 35 (41 in 2006). North America’s share has gone up to 43 from 37 in 2006.

Universities of Tokyo, Hong Kong, Kyoto, National University of Singapore, Peking, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Tsinghua and Osaka lead Asian higher education, all featuring in the top 50.

China proper has three institutions with Fudan University joining Peking and Tsinghua Universities in the top 100. Three institutions from China’s Hong Kong region are also in the list.

23 November, 2007

The Courts and the Varna System

The Indian judicial system is afflicted by three D’s – delay, detention and death, says Amit Chamaria, a freelance journalist, in an article contributed to Countercurrents.org.

Citing official statistics, he points out that the worst sufferers are the Adivasis, the Dalits and others at the bottom of the social hierarchy under the Varna order.

He adds, “A convention seems to lend support to it as well. People are asked to swear inside the courtroom by the Gita – a text that upholds Varna Ashram.”

The Gita owes its exalted position as the book by which Hindu witnesses swear in court to the former colonial masters. The British, accustomed to swearing by the Bible, wanted an Indian counterpart for it. They had already decided that all Indians who were not Muslims or Christians were Hindus. From out of the body of Indian religious texts, they picked the Gita for the honour of being the Hindu bible.

Over to Amit Chamaria’s article, "3'D' In Judiciary"

22 November, 2007

Communal elements shift focus from Nandigram to Taslima Nasrin

TASLIMA NASRIN


KOLKATA witnessed mob violence on Wednesday in the wake of a protest called by a little known group called the All India Minority Forum. Although the group was ostensibly protesting against the CPI (M) atrocities in Nandigram, Islamic fundamentalists shifted the focus to their campaign against Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin.

Nandigram has a large Muslim population. Several Muslim organizations were cooperating with the Bhoomi Uchched Samiti, which spearheaded the agitation against eviction.

Taslima Nasrin, author of several best-sellers, had fled Bangladesh in 1994 after extremist groups in the country targeted her and she lost her job as doctor at the Dhaka Medical College.

The fundamentalists were annoyed with her as she had said religious scriptures were out of time and out of place. She had also called for a uniform civil code that accorded women equality and justice.

An organization by the name of Soldiers of Islam issued a fatwa against her and set a price on her head. Fourteen political parties and religious organizations jointly called a general strike and demanded that she be hanged. There were several street demonstrations in Dhaka, and newspapers which published her writings were attacked.

After spending a few years in exile in Europe, Taslima Nasrin came to India and took up residence in Kolkata. Islamic fundamentalists have been opposing her stay in the country since then. Last August, goons led by three MLAs of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen attacked her at the Press Club in Hyderabad, when she went there to address a press conference.

Apparently the harassed CPI (M) leadership is ready to appease the communal forces. The party’s State secretary Biman Bose said Taslima Nasrin must leave the State to ensure that violence did not recur.

Taslima Nasrin’s current visa expires on February 17 next year.

In a statement, the Mumbai-based group EKTA (Committee for Communal Amity) deplored the fundamentalists’ demand for Taslima Nasreen’s expulsion.

EKTA said, “The linking up of this demand with protests against the state-sponsored bloodbath in Nandigram is highly intriguing, to say the least. We join our voices with all voices of sanity in decrying this act of criminal insanity seriously threatening the social peace and equilibrium in the city.

“We do highly welcome the decision of the State government to deploy the Army to restore peace and also confidence of the common citizens. We do, however, strongly deplore the call given by the CPI(M) State Secretary and the ruling Left Front Chairman, Biman Bose, before TV cameras that Ms. Nasrin should leave the State forthwith in theinterest of peace. We consider such comment highly provocative and downright nauseating.

"The reported offer by the city police to the Bangladeshi writer tomove her out of the State cannot but be linked to the comment made by the LF Chairman. We do strongly protest such move.”

Official website of Taslima Nasrin at http://taslimanasrin.com/

PS: CNN-IBN reports that West Bengal police has moved Taslima Nasrin to Rajasthan.

PPS: Biman Bose withdrew his statement a day later. This was done after the West Bengal police removed Taslima Nasrin to Rajasthan. It is nevertheless welcome as it indicates his – and, hopefully, his party’s – readiness to respect public sentiments.

21 November, 2007

US right-wing scholars make out case for military intervention in Pakistan

Frederick Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon, scholars associated with two think tanks promoting conservative ideas, have raised the issue of possible US military intervention in Pakistan.

Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In an Op-Ed article, published by the New York Times on November 18, under the heading “Pakistan’s Collapse, Our problem”, they argue that the US cannot stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descends into the abyss. They indicate two possible courses of action. One is a Special Forces operation with the limited objective of preventing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into wrong hands. The other is a broader option involving support to the Pakistan army to hold the country together.

Commenting on the Kagan-O’Hanlon thesis, Pakistan affairs commentator Abid Ullah Jan says: “In the plans of American warlords, the time for Pakistan is up.”
Abid Ullah Jan, who is the author of “The Musharraf Factor: Leading Pakistan to its Inevitable Demise”, writing in Countercurrents.org, calls upon Pakistan’s religious, military and political leaders to take a note of the impending war on Pakistan and make the necessary course corrections.

20 November, 2007

Brazil shows the way to energy independence

AS crude oil price soars to $ 100 a barrel, one developing country is not worried in the least. That is Brazil, which along with India and China, is a candidate for recognition as an economic power. The reason: it has made a transition from petroleum to ethanol.

In a commentary, written for New American Media, Louis E. V. Nevaer narrates the story: “Amidst World Oil Crisis, Brazil Declares Energy Independence”.

19 November, 2007

Please think it over, Asok Mitra tells CPI (M) leadership

The Soviet Union sent troops to quell an uprising in Hungary in 1956. Twelve years later it sent troops to Czechoslovakia to oust a regime which stepped out of line. The two events shocked many of its admirers.

If the Soviet leadership had the good sense to introspect over these developments and take appropriate corrective action, the collapse of Communist regimes all over East Europe and in the Soviet Union itself two decades later could possibly have been averted.

Nandigram poses before the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leadership a challenge similar to that Hungary and Czechoslovakia posed to the Soviet leadership. The initial reactions of General Secretary Prakash Karat and Politburo member Sitaram Yechury indicate that it is no better equipped to face the challenge than the Soviet leadership was.

Against this background, the measured response of Ashok Mitra, who was Finance Minister in Jyoti Basu’s early Cabinets and a CPI (M) member of the Rajya Sabha later, comes as a refreshing contrast.

“Till death I would remain guilty to my conscience if I keep mum about the happenings of the last two weeks in West Bengal over Nandigram,” he wrote in the leading Bengali daily Ananda Bazar Patrika on November 14. “One gets torn by pain too. Those against whom I am speaking have been my comrades at some point of time. The party, whose leadership they are adorning, has been the centre of my dreams and works for the last 60 years.”

He goes on: “My ardent appeal to the central leadership of the party, which I still love to think to be mine: please think it over. You shiver at the terror of Maoism. Will that shivering compel you to throw West Bengal into the gutter of fascism?”

I have taken these lines from an edited extract from the article, translated into English by Debarshi Das. It appeared in The Hindustan Times on November 18, 2007 under the heading “The party’s over”. Over to the article.

17 November, 2007

India votes against UN Committee resolution for moratorium on death penalty

NOT UNEXPECTEDLY, in the UN General Assembly's Third Committee, India on Thursday voted against a resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions. The Committee, however, adopted the resolution, which was sponsored by 87 states, with 99 members voting in favour, 52 against and 33 abstaining.

The resolution, which drew support from countries in all regions, is expected to be endorsed by the General Assembly at its plenary session in December.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives voted with India against the resolution.

Explaining the reasons for voting against the resolution, an Indian delegate said, “It is the sovereign right of the countries to determine their own legal system.” He pointed out that courts in India imposed the death penalty only in the rarest of rare cases in which the crime was so heinous that it shocked the conscience of an entire nation.

He added, ''Further death sentences in India must be confirmed by a superior court and an accused has the right to appeal to a High Court or the Supreme Court as also to file a mercy petition before the Governor of the State concerned or the President of India.''

Amnesty International, which had campaigned globally in support of the resolution, described it as a “major step towards the abolition of the death penalty worldwide". AI Secretary General Irene Khan called upon all countries to establish a moratorium on executions “as soon as the General Assembly endorses the resolution”.

In 1971 and 1977 the General Assembly had adopted resolutions which simply said it was "desirable" for states to abolish the death penalty. This year’s resolution goes further, calling on states that still maintain the death penalty "to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty".

It also urges these states "to respect international standards that provide safeguards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty" and "progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed."

It further requests the UN Secretary-General to report to the General Assembly in 2008 on the implementation of the resolution.

Although the resolution is not legally binding on states, it carries considerable moral and political weight, as it was adopted by the UN's principal organ in which all members of the organization participate.

So far, 133 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Only 25 countries actually carried out executions in 2006. Data gathered by AI showed a decline in the number of executions to 1,591 from 2,148 in the previous year. Of the known executions, 91% were reported from China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and the United States.

Human rights defenders oppose the death penalty because it negates the right to life. It is not so much punishment as a form of social revenge, which originated in primitive society.

16 November, 2007

Modi And Buddhadeb: A Comparison

Satya Sagar, writing at countercurrents.org, draws an interesting comparison between Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

This is what the website says about itself: "Countercurrents.org stands for peace and justice. Our sympathies are with all those who are engaged in struggles for economic, political, social, cultural, gender, environmental ….. justice. Our aim is to strengthen all these movements. Our conviction is that the driving force of social change is these small counter movements and struggles!"

Contact address:
Countercurrents.org,
PB No. 5,
Kumaranalloor PO,
Kerala,
India
PIN 686 016
e-mail: editor@countercurrents.org
website: http://www.countercurrents.org/
Now, over to Satya Sagar.

15 November, 2007

HELP FIGHT HUNGER

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I learnt of this site from a friend's posting in a group of which I am a member. I am taking the earliest opportunity to pass on the information to my visitors.

What Nandigram says to CPI (M) and to India

THE COMMUNIST PARTY of India (Marxist), which has written a new chapter in the history of parliamentary democracy by remaining in power in West Bengal continuously for more than three decades, is facing a severe crisis today. The way it resolves this crisis will be decisive so far as its future is concerned. It may also influence the course of the nation.

Trouble started in Nandigram when the State government decided to acquire land for three special economic zones. One has a proposed area of 12,500 acres (5,059 hectares), another 10,000 acres (4,047 ha) and the third 3,000 acres (1,214 ha). The CPI (M) initially opposed SEZs, viewing them as part of the globalization process. As the local leadership decided that the State’s problems can only be solved through large-scale industrialization, the party changed its policy. Last year party general secretary Prakash Karat commended West Bengal’s SEZ policy as a model worthy of emulation.

When land acquisition began the people of Nandigram voiced opposition. It is a constituency that voted for the CPI (M) even in the last election. Most of the people there are beneficiaries of the land reforms introduced by the Left government. When they said they would not part with the land, CPI (M) leaders let loose goons. The party’s foes rushed to the people’s rescue. Apart from the Trinamool Congress, the main Opposition party, left-wing groups like the CPI (M-L) and the Socialist Unity Centre of India and Muslim and Dalit organizations came out on their side. A Bhoomi Uchhed Pratirodha (Land Eviction Resistance) Committee, in which they are also partners, came into being.

Nandigram has a large Muslim population. The local CPI (M) legislator is also a Muslim. The Sachar Committee, which was appointed by the Centre to study the status of the Muslim minority, had recently reported that even after 30 years of Left rule Muslims in the State remain very backward. The presence of Muslim and Dalit organizations in the Nandigram agitation makes it clear that essentially it is a movement of economically and socially backward people for survival. It must be remembered here that the CPI (M) in West Bengal is a party under upper class leadership.

On January 3, as word spread that officials had come to a panchayat office for talks on land acquisition, a mob attacked the office and destroyed roads and bridges to prevent the arrival of the police for forcible eviction. CPI (M) activists who supported eviction also came under attack. Following this, about 2,500 party members and supporters fled the village. The attack on Nandigram the other day by police and armed party cadres was to rehabilitate them.

There has been much violence on both sides. The CPI (M)’s list of martyrs includes a panchayat member who was burnt to death on January 7, a policeman killed in Haldia on February 7, a school girl who was raped and killed on February 10 and a party sympathizer who was gang-raped on March 3. At the top of the other side’s list of martyrs are 14 persons killed by police and an army of goons on March 14. That list also includes rape victims.
All forms of violence violate human rights. But all violence cannot be treated alike. The state enforcing a policy unacceptable to the people through use of force by the police is not the way of democracy. Violence perpetrated by the ruling party by mobilizing armed groups under the shadow of power and violence occurring in the course of the weaker sections’ struggle for survival are not of the same kind. While both are deplorable, the former is more despicable. The reign of terror in Nandigram under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is not different from what occurred in parts of Gujarat under Narendra Modi. In both places the police and the ruling party let loose violence in a planned manner. The ideologies are different, but the style of functioning is the same. This style already has a name: fascism.

The other Left parties, which have stood by the CPI (M) in its struggles and in the administration, have rejected the unilateral actions of that party and the government. Prakash Karat is pointing fingers at Mamata Banerjee and the Maoists ignoring this. If he keeps his eyes open he can see in the ranks of those who have made common cause with the people of Nandigram such distinguished Bengalis as Mahasweta Devi, Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh. Most of them had stood with the Left at all times. Aparna Sen and Ghosh boycotted the film festival saying they would not be part of an activity organized by a government that had committed violence. Aparna Sen said in an interview that CPI (M) men, who prevented Medha Patkar from proceeding to Nandigram, had dragged her by the hair and hit her on the head. She then asked, “Are we living in the middle ages?” That is a question which Nandigram is asking the CPI (M).

The CPI (M) has to make timely changes in its policies and programmes. But it must have the prudence to understand that moving from the side of the exploited to that of the exploiter is not the change that the time demands. After the March violence, the government said it would abandon the SEZ in that area. However, the people have not taken the statement at its face value. The state-sponsored terror strengthens their suspicion. The latest reports are that the situation there is returning to normal. To ensure that peace prevails, the government must abandon the project and convince the people about it.

Nandigram has a message for the nation too: projects that are against the interests of the masses are unacceptable. The government may have no desire to resist globalization. It may even be powerless to resist it. But it has a responsibility to protect the marginalized.

Based on the Nerkkazhcha column appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated November 15, 2007

Lest we forget

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.

These words of Rev. Martin Niemoller (1892-1984), often quoted by human rights defenders, tell the story of the Germany of the 1930s. Niemoller, whom the Nazis arrested in 1938, wrote these words on his release at the end of World War II. They remain valid today, mutatis mutandis.

14 November, 2007

Aparna Sen's report on Nandigram protest


Leading film personality Aparna Sen, who boycotted the film festival to protest against the State-sponsored atrocities in Nandigram, takes on the role of Citizen Journalist and reports to CNN-IBN on protest bandh in Kolkata . http://cj.ibnlive.com/index.html

West Bengal government promoting organized crime

A woman injured in the Nandigram violene. Photo: Courtesy www.sanhati.com

The following is the text of a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, on November 13, 2007

NANDIGRAM, a remote village in West Bengal state of India is once again in front page news in the country.

This remote village in West Bengal was in the news 11 months ago when violence erupted in the village. The Communist party led state government used force to silence the protesting farmers who were agitating against the proposed acquisition of their land by the state for establishing a special economic zone. The state government, with the aid of the local police and its party cardres, silenced the protest using brute force. The violence resulted in heavy loss of life and property, which is still not completely accounted for.

On 10 November, 2007, violence erupted again in Nandigram. This time too the violence was spearheaded by the party cadres of the ruling political party of West Bengal state – the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM).

On the first instance and even now, the state government is defending its position of justifying the use of force. The only exception is that this time the local police remained confined to the police station when the party cadres shot at will on protesters. The death toll is yet to be ascertained and the villagers are in the grip of fear.

The state government on both occasions said that the use of force was to bring the region back within the control of the state administration. While debates are underway arguing for and against the state government and its actions, for an ordinary person the incidents reported from Nandigram raises a few questions. Had the state administration consulted the local people before it decided to acquire their land? If yes, whether such an acquisition is justifiable? Had there been any credible procedures and mechanisms in place to compensate those who could lose their land? If the administration had withdrawn from the proposal of acquiring the land what erupted the current tragedy? What prevented the administration from resolving the issues in Nandigram through legitimate means? Why did the state government employ party cadres to ‘repossess’ its control of the area? Was the ‘repossession’ for administrative control or an action looking forward to the oncoming local body elections? Even then what justifies the use of illegal force by party cadres? What happened to those who lost their relatives and property in the earlier incident? What will happen to those who suffered in the recent incident? Will the government and the justice mechanisms in the state be able to prosecute those who are responsible for loss of life and property? Which law in India authorise organised violence to curb protest?

Above all what is that matters to the state government of West Bengal – the people or the party?The government in any country or region has a constitutional obligation to promote and protect the life and property of the people within its jurisdiction. Whatever be the political ideology the government believes in or follows, such ideologies must not supersede the paramount law of the country – the Constitution. While the Constitution of India guarantees certain rights and privileges to the state administration, it equally guarantees the citizen certain rights, which the government by oath and mandate is bound to protect and fulfill.

Nandigram as of today is the sad reminder that the state government of West Bengal has failed in their duty. By justifying violence the state government has breached the inalienable constitutional guarantees of the people and has played fraud upon the people and the Constitution of the country. Such a government is promoting organized crime.

On these counts the CPM led West Bengal government is no different from its counterpart in Gujarat led by Mr. Narendra Modi. No one other than the West Bengal state government and their political think tanks and their supporters will concur with the idea of using organized violence to curb protest. A government which has played fraud upon the Constitution that it has sworn to protect and the people it is duty bound to serve has no legitimacy to continue in authority.

# # # About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

12 November, 2007

The Sociology of the Churidar

An astrologer consulted by the Guruvayur temple authorities recently reported that the deity was not happy about women coming there in churidars. When a Malayalam daily, Kerala Kaumudi, contacted prominent women for comments, many criticized the astrological finding, while a few were ready to accept it. The issue is discussed in the article below, based on my column Nerkkazhcha in Kerala Kaumudi.

WHEN I READ the report that astrological consultation has shown that the Lord of the Guruvayur temple does not like women coming in the churidar and the responses of some distinguished ladies to it, I had a feeling that another unnecessary controversy was being created. But they help us to understand which way our society is moving.



Three Ravi Varma paintings: Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Lakshmi, a woman in mulakkacha
Before coming to devotees’ dress, let us look at the costumes of the gods and goddesses in our temples. They are not what people wear today. They must have been designed in the distant past on the basis of what people wore in those days. People’s clothes have changed, but those of gods and goddesses have remained unchanged. Tradition demands it.
The images of Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati in our minds are different from those of the temple goddesses. They are actually based on the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, which became familiar to us through calendars. Ravi Varma stayed in Pune and did the paintings using locally available models. So the goddesses are dressed like the Marathi women of his time. Orthodox elements castigated him for dressing them up in the sari. Today a sari-clad goddess is no problem for the traditionalist. If Ravi Varma had stayed on in Kilimanoor and painted, Lakshmi and Saraswati might have been wearing mulakkachcha (“breast cloth”, worn by aristocratic women of Travancore in his time).
Stage, film and television serial directors have played a part in shaping the images of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama which we now cherish. In serials based on the epics, Rama and Krishna appear without upper garments while the lowly retainers in their courts wear tunics that cover the whole body. How this came about is not clear.
The universally recognized figure of Jesus Christ is the contribution of European painters. Some efforts are now on to recreate Jesus as a West Asian or even a black. Since Islam forbids the use of image, no such problems arise in the case of Prophet Mohammed.
All societies strive to retain traditions. The stronger the sense of pride in one’s tradition the greater is the desire to maintain it. As part of culture, tradition certainly deserves respect. This, however, does not mean it should be preserved without change. What we consider tradition is not something that originated with man and has come down to us without change. It has been shaped over time by changing circumstances. That is an endless process.
We must make changes in tradition if new circumstances demand it. It must be done prudently, though. The change must benefit the society. At least it should not harm it. Changes we make in the best interests of the society will become part of tradition for future generations. A society which is incapable of making the changes that circumstances demand is doomed to die.
Kerala’s feudal period was filled with extreme cruelty. Those who introduced the caste system in this part of the country did not even act honestly. The absence of the Vaisya testifies to this. The Kshatriya, too, is almost absent. Only a few rulers were given Kshatriya status. The other rulers and the men who bore arms for the rulers were retained as Sudras. All that became part of tradition. A century ago it was changed. It is foolish to imagine that those changes made everything secure and no more changes are needed. The Renaissance ideals of equality and fraternity are yet to be realized.
While Kerala left the rest of India behind in social progress, it still lags in certain areas. Temple affairs are among them. Restrictions on devotees’ dress in force in the State do not exist elsewhere. The attempt to bar the churidar from the Guruvayur temple is part of an attempt to roll back the changes that have already occurred.
The responses that have appeared in the media indicate that some women are ready to accept a ban on the churidar. They see the issue merely as one of temple tradition. Sports star P. T. Usha, movie star Navya Nair and poet O. V. Usha, who ought to be role models for the new generation, must recognize the social dimension of the issue. The wide acceptance that the churidar received among women of Kerala in the recent past has helped promote the concept of equality. The churidar gained recognition without the aid of any power centre or social reform movement. This must be seen in the context of the process of emancipation and empowerment of women.
Respect for temple traditions must not come in the way of recognizing the anti-women attitude of those who are trying to create an impression that the churidar is not fit to be allowed into a place of worship. Even those who consider the Thanthri as the final authority on temple affairs must keep in mind some historical facts. It was the Zamorin of Calicut who appointed the hereditary Thanthri of Guruvayur. The Zamorin lost his authority two centuries ago. The scandals relating to the Thanthri of the Sabarimala temple are a reminder of what happens in hereditary institutions.

10 November, 2007

Bharatiya Janata Party achieves a breakthrough in the South

FOR several decades, the Bharatiya Janata Party has been the Congress party’s major challenger for power in India. However, its credentials for acceptance as a truly national party remained suspect for two reasons. One, it did not command much influence south of the Vindhyas. Two, it opted to remain an essentially Hindu party. With the disappearance of the obstacles to B. S. Yeddyurappa’s elevation as Karnataka’s Chief Minister, it is all set to break through the first barrier.


In the first general elections after Independence several Hindutva outfits were in the arena. The most prominent among them was the Hindu Mahasabha, which now describes itself as a religious and cultural body, but had been active in electoral politics in the pre-Independence days. In fact, it even shared power with the All India Muslim League for a while.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who had expounded the Hindutva philosophy and was the President of the Hindu Mahasabha for years, was still around at the time of the 1952 elections. But he was under a shadow, having been arraigned in the Gandhi murder case as a conspirator. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, floated in 1951 by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, a former Mahasabha leader and minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's government, eclipsed the rest and emerged as the main instrument of Hindu politics.


On the eve of the 1977 elections, the BJS merged in the Janata Party, which was put together with Jayaprakash Narayan’s blessings, to take on the Congress. When the Hindutva elements came out of the Janata Party to work under the banner of Bharatiya Janata Party some who had been part of other streams like Sikander Bhakt, Yashwant Sinha and Sushama Swaraj also joined them.


The BJP, like the BJS, was at loggerheads with the secular parties. It branded them pseudo-secular and accused them of appeasing the minorities, especially the Muslims. On their part, the secular parties were reluctant to have any truck with it. Two factors helped the BJP to overcome this disability. One was the respectability the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the spearhead of the Hindutva movement, had acquired as a result of its association with JP and his associates before and during the Emergency. The other was the willingness of even the Left parties to collaborate with it to keep the Congress out of power. The V. P. Singh government was sustained by the support it received from both the Left and the BJP. Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and BJP President, L. K. Advani were members of an informal coordination committee that met once a week in Singh’s residence.

A.B.VAJPAYEE

In the 1980s, the BJP increased its religious support base by championing the cause of constructing a temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. On December 6, 1992 RSS volunteers demolished the mosque. By the mid-1990s the BJP emerged as the ruling party in several States and the likely alternative to the Congress at the national level. As elections threw up a hung parliament, making it difficult to form a stable government, parties which did not want to be seen in its company until then started softening their stand. In 1996 the BJP was able to put together a coalition government at the Centre with A. B. Vajpayee as the Prime Minister. It, however, lasted only 13 days. In 1998 Vajpayee became the Prime Minister a second time. This time the government lasted 13 months. In the elections of 1999, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance secured a comfortable majority and Vajpayee became the Prime Minister once again. This time the government served a full five-year term. Vajpayee’s affable personality, which earned the party friends across the political spectrum, played a part in the BJP’s ability to form and hold together a coalition of two dozen parties.

E. V. RAMASWAMI
In the south, the BJP was able to find allies like Telugu Desam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. It could also develop pockets of influence in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. However, it could not make headway in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Clearly the Hindutva image posed a major problem for it in these States because of the lingering impact of the anti-caste movements of Periyar E. V. Ramaswami and Sree Narayana Guru.

NARAYANA GURU

In the 2004 elections, the BJP emerged as the largest party in the Karnataka Assembly with 79 of the 224 seats. The Congress came next with 65, followed by the Janata Dal (S) with 58. The Congress and the JD (S) came together with a view to keeping the BJP out of power. Dharam Singh of the Congress became the Chief Minister and Siddaramaiah of the JD (S) the Deputy Chief Minister. Early last year JD (S) President and former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda’s son, H. D. Kumaraswamy, struck a deal with the BJP to share power for the remaining term of the Assembly. Kumaraswamy was to be the Chief Minister for 20 months and Yeddyurappa for the next 20 months. When the time for handover came, Kumaraswamy reneged, hoping the Congress would help him to stay on so as to keep the BJP out. However, the party found it necessary to honour the commitment to the BJP in order to avert a split in its ranks.


Will the BJP be able to get rid of the other blot on its credentials as a national party, namely its pandering to communalism? It is not the first or only party to have played the communal card to gain support. However, democratic decency demands that a party in power must rise above such narrow loyalties. M. A. Jinnah, after achieving the goal of Pakistan, had called for a secular democratic polity. Of course, the effort came too late and failed. The BJP leaders do not have the courage even to try.

B.S.YEDDYURAPPA

Until recently the Karnataka BJP leader used to write his name as Yediyurappa. The chief ministership, which he almost lost, comes to him after he changed the spelling to Yeddyurappa last month, reportedly on astrological advice. J. Jayalalithaa had added the last 'a' to her name under similar circumstances. How come an Indian politician’s fate depends upon how he writes his name in English?

07 November, 2007

Human Rights defenders in custody in Pakistan

Asma Jehangir

Hina Jilani





At least 55 human rights activists were detained in Pakistan following the Emergency declaration on November 3. Among them are Ms. Asma Jahangir, Mr. Iqbal Haider, Mr. I. A. Rehman, Brigadier (Rtd) Rao Abid Hameed, Ms. Shahtaj Qizilbash and Mr. Imran Qureshi

Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have expressed concern over their safety and health and urged that appeals be sent to the Pakistani authorities for their immediate release.

Asma Jehangir is Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), which has rendered yeomen service during the past many years facing heady odds. She was placed under house arrest following the state of emergency declaration and later the Government of Punjab served an order placing her under detention for 90 days. Aleading lawyer and human rights activist, Ms Jahangir is UN Special Rappateur on freedom of religion or belief.

A 90-day detention order has also been reportedly issued against Ms. Hina Jilani, UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights defenders. Her house has been surrounded by police and there is grave concern that she will be detained on her planned return to Pakistan.


According to media reports, a number of civil society activists were arrested on November 4 while attending a meeting held at the HRCP office in Lahore to discuss the situation in the country following the state of emergency.

Mr. Iqbal Hiader, HRCP Secretary General and former attorney general of Pakistan, and HRCP Director I A Rehman, were among those detained. They were subsequently placed under house arrest.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:
Acting in his capacity as army chief of staff, General Musharraf suspended the bulk of the Constitution, including the rights not to be arbitrarily deprived of life and to be guaranteed a fair trial. He assumed powers to amend the Constitution without any parliamentary procedure and proclaimed a Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). This order prohibits any court issuing an order against the President, Prime Minister or any person exercising powers under their authority.

Under the order, existing members of the superior judiciary are effectively suspended until they take a new oath to uphold the PCO. Only five of 17 Supreme Court Justices have taken the oath. Many Supreme Court and Provincial High Court Justices are now effectively under house arrest.
By November 5, hundreds of lawyers, human rights activists and political workers had been arrested or arbitrarily detained across Pakistan. Independent TV and radio news channels have been prevented from broadcasting within the country since Saturday. New laws restricting freedom of print and electronic media were issued, breach of which attracts three to four years imprisonment and heavy fines.

RECOMMENDED ACTION:
Please send appeals to reach as quickly as possible:

-- expressing concern for the safety of human rights defenders and others who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained under the country's preventive detention orders;

-- urging the authorities to ensure that no one is subjected to torture or any other form of cruel inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment;

-- urging the authorities it immediate provide medical treatment to detainees who are suffering from ill health;

-- calling on the authorities to release immediately human rights defenders and others arrested under preventive detention measures, who are not charged with recognizably criminal offences, or are detained solely for the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association or assembly;

-- urging the authorities to cease arbitrary arrests and detentions under the state of emergency;

-- calling on the authorities to protect and uphold the constitutional human rights guarantees, including safeguards on life and liberty.

APPEALS are to be sent to:

President Pervez Musharraf,
Pakistan Secretariat,
Islamabad,
Pakistan.
Fax: 011 92 51 9221422 E-mail: via website: http://www.presidentofpakistan.gov.pk/WTPresidentMessage.aspx
Salutation: Dear President Musharraf


Mr. Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao,
Minister for the Interior,
Ministry for the Interior,
Room 404, 4th Floor, Block R,
Federal Secretariat,
Islamabad,
Pakistan.
Fax: 011 92 51 9202624
E-mail: http://uk.f504.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?To=minister@interior.gov.pk OR http://uk.f504.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?To=secretary@interior.gov
Salutation: Dear Minister


Mr. Zahid Hamid,
Minister of Law, Justice and Human Rights,
Room 305, S-Block,
Pakistan Secretariat,
Islamabad,
Pakistan.
Fax: 011 92 51 9202628011 92 51 9201631
E-Mail: http://uk.f504.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?To=minister@molaw.gov.pk
Salutation: Dear Minister

04 November, 2007

Pakistan moves into a critical phase

WITH Gen. Pervez Musharraf staging a second coup, Pakistan has entered a critical phase. He has cited the security situation as the reason for the crackdown, but his action is widely seen as an attempt to save his own position. The fact, however, is that both his future and his country’s are at stake.

I wish to draw attention here to two articles on the Pakistan developments, published by http://www.countercurrents.org/

In 'Judicial Activism' Triggered Emergency Rule In Pakistan, well-known Pakistan journalist Beena Sarwar examines the development in the context of the recent interventions of the Supreme Court.

Beena Sarwar, who focuses on human rights, gender, media, and peace, has extensive experience with the print media and television in Pakistan and abroad. She was Features Editor of The Frontier Post, Lahore, founding editor of weekly The News on Sunday, Op-Ed Editor of daily The News and Contributing Editor in Pakistan for monthly Himal Southasian, Kathmandu. After doing her Masters in Television Documentary in London in 2001, she made several documentaries and worked as a producer with Geo Television, Pakistan's first 24-hour news channel, in Karachi.

She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University (2005-06), and Fellow at Harvard University's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy (2006-07). She is currently based in Karachi working on a book about the struggle for democratic spaces in Pakistan.
Her article appears at http://www.countercurrents.org/sawar041107.htm

In Don’t Let Musharraf Live With What He Has Just Done, well-known scholar Abid Ullah Jan speculates on the US role in the developments in Pakistan. He notes that Musharraf’s declaration of emergency coincides with the US military exercises in the Gulf and Condoleezza Rice’s visit to China. Maybe the US could not afford a civilian government setting in Pakistan when it goes to war on Iran. While the imposition of emergency is directed at the Supreme Court in particular, it also serves US interests in the region, he says.

Abid Ullah Jan is the author of several books on international affairs. Among them is one titled “The Musharraf Factor: Leading Pakistan to Inevitable Demise”, published in 2005. His article is at http://www.countercurrents.org/jan041107.htm

01 November, 2007

UAE deportations: ASian Human Rights Commission appeal

The following is an appeal issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission on November 1, 2007:

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that more than 4,000 workers, mostly from South Asian countries, are being deported from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates following a protest demonstration on October 28 seeking improvement in their working conditions. Most of the workers are from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Some 2,000 workers are reportedly going to be retrenched and the deportation process has already started. The AHRC urges you to immediately intervene in this large scale deportation.

CASE DETAILS:

According to media reports, thousands of construction workers went on protest on Sunday, October 28, 2007 over harsh working conditions and labour shortages. The Ministry of Labour and employers of the construction and petroleum companies involved instructed them to stop the disruption and threatened to deport them otherwise without paying their dues, including wages and gratuity.

It is also reported that more than 1,500 workers have already been served with retrenchment letters and cancellation of contracts from their sponsors. These are mostly non-unionized workers and they were involved, according to authorities, in the protest outside the work places and destroyed some property.

The 4,000 workers who are facing threats of deportation to their countries, without their entitled legal benefits, are from AI Habtoor Engineering Co, Dubai and Sun Engineering & Contracting and Construction Co, Dubai. These companies claim to pay skilled workers US$ 177 a month and unskilled workers US$ 149. However, the workers say that they have not been paid more than US$ 150 and US$ 100 respectively. On the other hand their working hours have been increased to 12 to 14 hours a day in the hot weather, reducing their break times from 2 to 4 hours to one hour only.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

In terms of a decision taken in June 2007, Dubai has already deported about 280,000 workers who were staying without legal documents. There has been a tremendous shortage of workers to work, despite the booming construction industry. This shortage has led to deterioration of the working condition of the workers who remain there. Workers with legal documents face long working hours, hard work and low wages. Besides, they are continuously facing threats of cancellation of sponsorship and deportation.

Migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates comprise 85 to 90% of the workforce. Federal Law No. 8 of 1980 allows the right to collective bargaining and raising of labour disputes and their solution through specific structures. However, this law does not apply to migrant workers.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write letters to the authorities, demanding that they stop the deportation and repression against workers who sought improvements in their working conditions and respect labour rights.

To support this appeal, please click here

Conflict between Religion and Politics

IF religious institutions and political organizations recognize the limits of their respective spheres and remain within them, there will be no conflict between them.

This essentially means that the political party must confine itself to politics and the religious institution must stay within the bounds of religion. On both sides, there are many who accept this principle. However, not all of them are able to observe the principle in practice. There are religious establishments and political outfits who do not accept the principle at all. They believe that everything under the sun comes within their purview. When they compete with each other for men’s minds, conflict becomes inevitable. As a matter of tactics, they may maintain friendly pretences. There can be no true friendship between them so long as they believe that their realms have no boundaries.

Basically the realm of religion is the relationship between the individual and his god. If a person is able to act according to the dictates of his religious mentors in matters of religion and the directives of his political masters in matters of politics, he can maintain good relations with both without any difficulty. But many religious institutions and parties demand the right to have the last word on all matters. The former does this in the name of god and the latter in the name of ideology. That throws the hapless individual in a quandary. Reflections of this state can be seen in Kerala, where tussle is on between the Catholic Church and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Such problems have risen in many parts of the world in the past and intelligent people have found solutions for them. Anti-Communist sentiments are strongest in the Catholic Church. Yet the largest Communist parties of Europe are to be found in Italy and France, the two countries of the continent with the most Catholics. And there you don’t see the spectacle of spear-wielding party secretaries tilting at priests who utter holy lies. Of the countries that came under Communist rule after World War II, only one, Poland had a Catholic majority. For four decades the Church and the Polish Workers Party maintained the pretence of friendliness. The Solidarity movement, which successfully challenged the party, was backed by the Church.

The Soviet Union restricted the activities of the Church for seven decades. After the collapse of the Soviet regime, the generation that grew up under Communist domination started going to church to demonstrate its faith in public. In 1988, while visiting an old Buddhist temple in Shanghai, this writer saw a woman lighting a lamp and offering prayers in front of the Buddha idol. By incorporating in the party constitution an amendment that recognizes religion, the Communist Party of China has come to terms with a reality.

The other day Dr. T. M. Thomas Isaac, a member of the Central Committee of the CPI (M) and Finance Minister of Kerala, recalled Jesus’ advice to give unto Caesar what is his and unto God what is His. Those words are certainly as relevant today as when they were first uttered. But who is today's Caesar? Party secretary is Caesar only to party members.
Based on an opinion piece written for Veekshanam, Malayalam daily