West, the breeding ground for terrorism

Syria, more than two years into the foreign-sponsored militancy

 

“There are two ways to approach the study of terrorism,” notes Noam Chomsky in widely-acclaimed book Western State Terrorism. “One may adopt a literal approach, taking the topic seriously, or a propagandistic approach, construing the concept of terrorism as a weapon to be exploited in the service of some system of power. It comes as no surprise that the propagandistic approach is adopted by governments generally, and by their instruments in totalitarian states.” Chomsky maintains that there are many terrorist states in the world, but the United States puts its rivals to shame when it comes to perpetuating ‘international terrorism’. A 2010 research undertaken by Professor Marc Sageman of University of Pennsylvania lends credence to what Chomsky says. The research findings establish the fact that terrorism is a product of the West.

Let’s make no bones about it, the menacing threat of ‘nuclear terrorism’ does not come from some ruthless jihadist cluster, but from the hard-nosed Western nuclear powers who form the core of the NATO alliance, and keeping intimidating and threatening the non nuclear weapon states.The history of US imperialism is replete with stories of unilateral belligerent military strikes, gory massacres and socio-cultural aggression. In this no-holds-barred brinkmanship, the US and its allies have sought to impose their writ on other nations, more so on those who have refused to swear allegiance to Uncle Sam’s hegemony. The blatant war-mongering and sinister desire to inflict suffering on others is best explained by these words of American writer Andre Vltchek. “West has always behaved as if it had an inherited, but undefined, right to profit from the misery of the rest of the world. In many cases, the conquered nations had to give up their own culture, their religions, even their languages, and convert to our set of beliefs and values that we define as ‘civilized’.

Guatemala Civil War that continued from 1960 to 1996 was bitterly fought between the government of Guatemala and ethnic Mayans, in which the government of Guatemala committed worst human rights abuses and engineered genocide of Mayan population of Guatemala. Historical Clarification Commission set up under the Oslo Accords of 1994 concluded that the Guatemala military committed murder, torture and rape with the tacit support of CIA. The commission stated the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some state operations.” Noam Chomsky in his book What Uncle Sam Really Wants writes, “Under Reagan, support for near-genocide in Guatemala became positively ecstatic. The most extreme of the Guatemalan Hitlers we’ve backed there, Rios Montt, was lauded by Reagan as a man totally dedicated to democracy. In the early 1980s, Washington’s friends slaughtered tens of thousands of Guatemalans, mostly Indians in the highlands, with countless others tortured and raped. Large regions were decimated.”

Direct or indirect support for death squads has been an integral part of CIA operations. CIA’s death squad operations in Vietnam led to killing of over 35,000 people. The Vietnam War dominated 30 long years of Vietnam’s history from 1940s to 1970s. President Ford, reacting to Senate and House committee reports, conceded that the CIA had become a ‘rogue elephant’ crushing foreign citizens under foot in its bid to win the Cold War. More than 20,000 Vietnamese were killed during the CIA-guided Operation Phoenix intended to weed out communist ‘agents’ from South Vietnam.

American role in the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected Popular Unity government of Salvador in 1980s was a watershed moment for the country. Bush family loyalists maintain that President Bush senior’s policies paved the way for peace, turning Salvador into a democratic success story. However, it took more than 70,000 deaths and grave human rights violations, before peace was brokered. To crush the rebels, the US trained an army that kidnapped and killed more than 30,000 people, and presided over large-scale massacre of old, women and children.

In the mid-1970s, a major scandal broke out after revelations that President Richard Nixon had ordered the CIA to ‘make the economy scream’ in Chile and to prevent Allende from coming to power. Years later, CIA acknowledged its deep involvement in Chile where it dealt with coup-plotters, false propagandists and assassins. In a review of Lubna Qureshi’s book Nixon, Kissinger, and Allende: US Involvement in the 1973 Coup in Chile, Howard Doughty writes, “The United States and its allies have an unseemly history of hostility to democracy abroad that seems to conflict with their expressed political principles and their stated purpose in engaging in military and diplomatic action abroad. Not only in Latin America, but in Africa, Asia and occasionally in Europe, it has openly and clandestinely supported dictatorships.”

The US government’s cozy relationship with its illegitimate offspring Israel is no secret. It has paid Israel almost one hundred billion dollars over the years, major part of which is used for occupying Palestinian territories, in blatant breach of international laws and umpteen UN resolutions. Veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk draws parallels between Israel and apartheid regime of South Africa. “No matter how many youths are shot dead by the Israelis, no matter how many murders and no matter how bloody the reputation of the Israeli Prime Minister, we are reporting this terrible conflict as if we supported the South African whites against the blacks.”

Likewise, Columbia, arguably one of the most violent countries in the world, is the beneficiary of massive US aid. Some political observers like Professor John Barry are of the opinion that US influence has only managed to catalyze internal conflicts and substantially expand the scope and nature of human rights abuses in Colombia. And ironically, most American people remain naïve about the shady role of their country in Colombia’s historical development and the unremitting violence.

In Cuba, America’s record is again appalling. It has been involved in attempted assassinations of state heads, bombings, military invasions, crippling sanctions et al. And, recent reports suggest that the US government’s covert attack on Cuba’s sovereignty continues unabated. Even after half a century, economic blockade remains in force. The country has been designated a ‘terrorist state’, figuring prominently on the State Department’s list of ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’. The five Cuban political prisoners are still behind bars. Now a report from the US General Accounting Office reveals that money is being pumped into projects directed at changing Cuba’s government.

Washington’s support for the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua between 1981 and 1990 is one of the most shocking and shameful secrets. The heinous terrorist activities contras engaged in had full backing of their masters in Washington. “The decision of the International Court of Justice in June 1986 condemning the United States for the ‘unlawful use of force’ and illegal economic warfare was dismissed as an irrelevant pronouncement by a ‘hostile forum’,” notes Noam Chomsky in Western State Terrorism. “The guiding principle, it appears, is that the US is a lawless terrorist state and this is right and just, whatever the world may think, whatever international institutions may declare.”

On March 8, 1985, in an assassination bid on Sheikh Mohammed Fazlullah by CIA, a powerful car bomb exploded outside a Beirut mosque in Lebanon, leaving 81 civilians dead. Celebrated investigative reporter Bob Woodward says that CIA director William Casey had admitted personal culpability in the attack while he lay on his deathbed, which he said was carried out with funding from Saudi Arabia. In December 1989, almost 27,000 US soldiers invaded a small Central American country of Panama to arrest General Manuel Noriega, a CIA asset-turned-rebel. In the ‘Operation Just Cause’, bombs rained down on three neighborhoods – Colon, San Miguelito and El Chorrillo. El Chorrillo was burnt to the ground and got a new nickname – ‘Little Hiroshima’. As per conservative estimates, between 2,000 and 6,000 people were killed in the events that unfolded. Many of them were dumped into mass graves.

Congo has been through violent times since its independence. Many observers trace it to the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of independent Congo, which was apparently done at the behest by the then U.S. President Eisenhower. In Haiti, the U.S. backed the Duvalier family dictatorship for 30 years, during which the CIA worked closely with death squads, executioners, and drug traffickers. The father-son duo’s three decades at helm was marked by brutally crushing dissent with the assistance of secret police and the Haitian army. Thousands were killed and tortured – many of them dumped in mass graves. Hundreds of thousands fled the country to escape from mindless violence.

The 1983 invasion of Grenada was the first major American military assault since Vietnam War. The news was blocked as the US government didn’t want the world to witness the great superpower bashing up a small island nation. Why did the United States invade Grenada? “Many believe that Grenada was seen as a bad example for other poor Caribbean states,” opines Stephen Zunes, author of Tinderbox: US Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism. “Its foreign policy was not subservient to the American government and it was not open to having its economy dominated by U.S. corporate interests.”

In Greece, America supported a coup against an elected leader George Papandreou, which followed the years of murder, torture, and fear in the late 1960s. In Cambodia, the US resorted to carpet bombing to overthrow President Prince Sihanouk, who was replaced by Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge and that led to millions of civilian casualties between mid 1950s and 1970s. In 1965, which New York Times called ‘one of the most savage mass slayings of modern political history’, US embassy had compiled lists of ‘Communist’ operatives in Indonesia, from top echelons down to village cadres, as many as 5,000 names, and handed them over to the army, which then hunted them down and killed.

Between 1946 and 1958, the US used the Marshall Islands to conduct nuclear tests. All the inhabitants had to flee their homes. It is still not safe to consume food grown there. In the words of Robert Alvarez, “the people of the Marshall Islands had their homeland and health sacrificed for the national security interests of the United States”. The nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 remain the darkest chapter of history. Almost 150,000 people paid for their lives instantly, while millions more died of radiation poisoning later. Truman ordered the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, followed by a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki on August 9. The same day, the Soviet Union attacked the Japanese and, in the following two weeks 84,000 Japanese were killed.

Back in 1953, a joint British-American operation toppled the democratic government chosen by the Iranian parliament, and installed their loyal dictator. The coup restored the Shah to absolute power, initiating a period of 25 years of repression and torture, while the oil industry was restored to foreign ownership, with the US and Britain each getting 40 percent. That was before Ayatullah Khomeini mobilized masses and threw out the Western puppet.

Marjorie Cohn, a professor of international law, in an article written in November 2001 maintained that the bombings of Afghanistan by the United States were illegal. His argument was based on the premise that, according to UN Charter, disputes have to be brought to the UN Security Council, which alone may authorize the use of force. Also, if your nation has been subjected to an armed attack by another nation, you may respond militarily in self-defense. Afghanistan did not attack the United States. Indeed, the 19 men charged with the crime were not Afghans. Twelve years down the line, the foreign military troops are still stationed in Afghanistan, hundreds of billion dollars have been spent, and at least 31,000 people in Afghanistan (civilians, insurgents, Afghan military forces, and others) have been killed in the war.

The myth of the “outside enemy” and the threat of “Islamic terrorists” was the cornerstone of the Bush administration’s military doctrine, used as a pretext to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, writes Michel Chossudovsky, author of The Globalisation of Poverty. More than a decade after US invaded Iraq, it’s still not clear why they did it. But it’s a fact, even acknowledged by the western media, that the war for Iraq was a war for oil. “Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq’s domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. A decade of war later, it is largely privatized and utterly dominated by foreign firms,” reads a CNN report

There is this concept of ‘good terrorism’ and ‘bad terrorism’. For the US and its closest ally Israel, the Tunis bombing was not an act of terror but justifiable retaliation for the murder of three Israelis in Cyprus. The 1985 Iron Fist operation of the Israeli army in southern Lebanon was also guided by the same logic. “From 1945 to the end of the 20th century, the USA attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the USA caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair,” writes William Blum in his book Rogue State. It will not qualify as ‘terrorism’ because the perpetrator is the world’s only super-power. In a 1986 interview, Noam Chomsky argued that the word “terrorism” had been redefined in political and popular discourse to only refer to the violent acts of small or marginal groups – what he refers to as “retail terrorism”. This is in contrast with violent acts performed by the State in its own interest which orthodox terrorism studies often exclude from consideration.

The political leaders and scholars in Muslim countries have to muster courage to condemn the so-called ‘good’ terrorism spearheaded by US and its allies like Britain, Israel, France. On May 09 this year, Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani took the lead, blaming the West for spreading terrorism across Asia, and warning that the policy will ultimately backfire. “This evil phenomenon is the gift of the West to the region, but nurturing terrorist and extremist groups is bad and worrying even for the future of Western countries, notably the United States,” said Larijani.

Today, the war drums are beating again, and this time the target is Syria. “By ordering air strikes against Syria without UN Security Council support, Obama will be doing the same as Bush in 2003,” writes Hans Blix, Swedish diplomat and politician. Blix was the head of United Nations monitoring, verification and inspection commission from March 2000 to June 2003, which searched Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, ultimately finding none.

President Obama and Kerry look adamant even though there is no favorable international climate for a Syria strike. Arab League has refused to support the call for military intervention. Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and some other Arab countries forthrightly have also denounced the idea. NATO has also expressed reluctance in supporting the strike, citing past experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If the US still goes ahead and launches the military strike against Syria, Iran and Russia will also get into the act and so will Hezbollah, and that will lead to disastrous consequences for peace in the Middle East. But does Obama care? You know the answer.

~ Zafar
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Why freedom is a war-cry in Kashmir

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

On December 17 2012, a 23-year-old college-going girl was gang-raped and ruthlessly assaulted in a moving bus in New Delhi. The incident shook the nation. The irate protesters  mostly youth, poured out on the streets the very next day. As the victim battled for her life on a hospital bed, people across India protested and prayed simultaneously. She was air-lifted to Singapore for advanced treatment and finally succumbed to her injuries there after 13 days. Young protestors in Delhi had to face the wrath of police as they marched on heavily-fortified Raisina Hill, housing President’s official residence. Tear-gas shells, water cannons and lathis were employed against the visibly enraged mob of protesters who were demanding death to the accused and stringent law to deal with rapists.

The degree of outrage and anger against the rape of that girl is heartening. However, this is not an isolated case, and certainly not the first time such a gruesome incident has taken place. It has only brought back the haunting memories of Kunan Poshpora, a small hamlet in North Kashmir, where at least 53 women were gang raped on February 23, 1991 by Indian security forces. Two decades on, there has been no action against the accused cops from 4th Rajputana Rifles.

 

The 2009 Shopian double rape and murder case also comes to mind. wo young women, Aasiya and Neelofar, were abducted, gang-raped and murdered in mysterious circumstances on the intervening night of May 29 and 30, 2009 at Bongam, Shopian in North KashmirLocals accused the CRPF personnel of the crime, but the case was carefully shelved to avoid embarrassment for security forces.

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Crimes, perpetrators and inaction

On December 06, 2012, International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) released a report – ‘Alleged Perpetrators – Stories of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir’. The report, a painstaking research work of two years, using data from official state documents and witness testimonies, examines 214 cases of gross human rights abuses and the role of 500 alleged perpetrators. Among the 500 perpetrators include 235 army personnel, 123 paramilitary personnel, 111 Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel and 31 government-backed associates. The list of alleged perpetrators has many heavyweight designations, including two Major Generals, three Brigadiers, nine Colonels, three Lieutenant Colonels, 78 Majors and 25 Captains. The list also includes 37 senior officials of the federal paramilitary forces, a retired Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, and a serving Inspector General. “Cases presented in this report reveal that there is a policy not to genuinely investigate or prosecute the armed forces for human rights violations,” said the press handout by IPTK.

Taking serious cognizance of the report, Amnesty International called for an ‘impartial probe into the allegations of human rights violations made in a report’. The Asian Federation Against Enforced Disappearances (AFAD) said ‘the study clearly points to a high level of command decision, given the involvement of top ranking officers of the Indian Army, the highest of them a Major General. If used to the full, it will go a long way towards the unveiling of the truth, the prosecution of perpetrators, reparation for victims and the non-repetition of human rights violations in this paradise lost”. However, the findings of report, notwithstanding their gravity and seriousness, have gone largely unnoticed in mainstream Indian media.

In a state of perpetual denial

The sense of alienation between the people of Kashmir and India has reached its climax. However, people in New Delhi and other metropolis of India still have one prickly question on their mind which occasionally brings out their patriotic outrage against anything they perceive as ‘anti-national’ and dangerous to the ‘sovereignty’ of India. That is the question of ‘azadi’ or ‘freedom’.

For the people in India, the definition of ‘azadi’ still appears hazy. “What do Kashmiris want,” asks a journalist friend of mine from South Delhi. “Azadi,” I tell him. He appears bemused, almost fuming.  “But what does azadi mean to you. Aren’t you free already,” he asks with a puckered brow. “If living under the specter of terror and breathing through the barrel of Kalashnikov is what you call azadi, then we are more azad (free) than you,” I retort. He retreats, with exasperated looks.

Azadi is not a strange beast or a hydra-headed monster. It means people demand their basic and fundamental right to lead a dignified life. It means breaking free from the specter of repressive laws which provide police and armed forces with extraordinary powers. Azadi means justice for one lakh Kashmiris killed in last two decades of conflict. It means justice for 7000 odd custodial killings, and 3700 odd people who have vanished under mysterious circumstances in past two decades.

Kashmir happens to be the most militarized zone in world, more than Iraq and Afghanistan. The struggle for the right to self determination has a long history, because Kashmir has always been ruled by ‘outsiders’.

Massacres and culture of impunity

The people of India need to be reminded of the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s promise at Lalchowk Srinagar, where he spoke to a large gathering accompanied by his friend Shiekh Abdullah. They should be reminded about umpteen UN resolutions on Kashmir and how successive regimes in New Delhi made mockery of them. Speaking of killings, massacres, carnage; they need to be told about Gaw Kadal Massacre on January 20, 1990. Central Reserve Police Force had opened fire on a group of unarmed Kashmiri protesters, including women and children, leaving over 200 people in pools of blood. Author Victoria Schofield calls it the “worst massacre in Kashmiri history” in her book ‘Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War’. This massacre took place just a day after New Delhi sent Jagmohan as Governor to Kashmir on January 19, 1990.

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Chhatisingpora massacre that took place on 20 March 2000 is another blot on the face of India. Around 15 armed personnel entered the village of Chattisinghpora in Anantnag district, lined up 34 men and boys belonging to Sikh community in an open field and mowed them down in cold blood. This happened on the eve of the then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India. And worse, none of those army personnel were prosecuted in the case.

Five days after the Chattisinghpora massacre, a battalion of Indian troopers gunned down seven men in Pathribal village of Anantnag district, dubbing them as ‘foreign militants’ responsible for Chhatisingpora. This year on 19th March 2012, CBI informed that the fake encounter at Pathribal “were cold-blooded murders and the accused officials deserve to be meted out exemplary punishment.”

Zakoora massacre happened on March 1, 1990, when thousands of protestors decided to approach United Nations Military Observer Group office in Srinagar, next to CM’s Gupkar Road residence, to protest against the policies of governor Jagmohan. They got bullets from army, leaving 26 dead. Tengpora massacre took place on the same day, when 21 more Kashmiri people, totally unarmed, were killed by Indian army at a bus stop in Tengpora, Srinagar. The dead included 5 women. There is also Handwara Massacre, when nine civilians were shot dead by BSF on January 25 1990 in frontier district of Handwara. The list goes on.

The new ‘intafada’

The year 2009-10 brought back the memories of 90s when resistance movement was at its peak. Many people were killed, most of them innocents. A 45-year old physically challenged Abdul Rashid Reshi was shot dead on January 07 near CM’s high-security bungalow in Srinagar. A 17-year old Amina fell to bullets on May 12, 2009 in ‘exchange of fire’. Neelofar (24) and Asiya Jan (17) of Shopian were raped and murdered on May 29 2009. A B.A. final year student Amina Masoodi of Doolipora Trahgam was killed inside her house during the night intervening of July 8 and 9, 2009. Inayat (16) was shot dead on January 08, 2009 followed by Wamiq (13) on January 31 and Zahid (16) on February 05. Habibullah Khan of Handwara, a beggar, was mowed down on April 13 and passed off as ‘veteran militant’. Shehzad Ahmed and Riyaz Ahmed of Rafiabad were mowed down in fake encounter in Machil and dubbed as ‘militants’.

Tufail Ahmad (17), whose death gave fresh impetus to the spirit of rebellion among Kashmiris, was killed while returning from tuitions on June 11 2010. Asif Ahmed Rather, a nine year old from Baramulla was literally bludgeoned to death. Mukhtar Ahmad Sheikh, 68, a father of five children, including three daughters was shot dead by Army’s 21 Rashtriya Rifles in the Bawan Watser forest area. Army said the sexagenarian man was killed in an encounter between militants and the army. These were followed by even more brutal killings of Ishtiyaq Ahmed Khanday (15) on June 29, 2010, Shajat-ul-Islam (18) on same day, Muzaffar Bhat (17) and Abrar Ahmad (18) on July 06. An 11 year old Irshad Parray of Islamabad fell to pallets fired by police while protesting against the earlier incident of women’s beating by police and CRPF. One injured boy died on his mother’s lap near Batamallo bus stand during curfew on August 2010. And the list goes on. There were more than 150 killings, mostly teenagers, in 2009-10 alone.

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Vanished into thin air?

Nazima Jan of Tathmulla Uri in Baramulla district has been waiting for her “missing” three brothers, since past one and a half decades. She, alongwith the kith and kin of other missing persons, gather in Partap Park Srinagar on the 10th and 28th day of every month to register their protest against enforced custodial disappearances in Kashmir. They have formed Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).

A 48-page report ‘Half Widow, Half Wife’ by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) speaks about the conundrum of ‘missing versus disappeared’. It says the fact that men have disappeared and not been declared dead has left thousands of children and women (half-widows) in a hopeless state without no legal protection.

Activists claim that close to 8,000 people have gone missing in the region over the last 20 years. The International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice (IPTK) in Kashmir in its report released in December 2009 revealed 2,700 unmarked graves containing more than 2,900 bodies in more than 50 villages in northern Kashmir. Due to some operational constraints, it was confined to few select villages so they suspect the number could be much higher. In August 2011, the 11-member police investigation team of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) verified 2156 unidentified bodies in unidentified graves in Bandipora, Baramulla, Kupwara, and Handwara districts.

Arrested, persecuted and released

The tales of horror do not stop in Kashmir. Many Kashmiris have faced the music in different states of India. There have been many instances where Kashmiri journalists, academics, artists and students have been abused, vilified, and targeted by state and its agencies outside Kashmir.

Syed Maqbool Shah (32) was 17 when he was arrested by Delhi Police on 17 June 1996 in Lajpat Nagar. He was holidaying in Delhi when was arrested in connection with the Lajpat Nagar bombings of 21 May 1996. He was sent to Tihar Jail, and released on 8 April 2010 after almost 14 years, due to ‘lack of sufficient evidence’.

Mirza Iftikhar Hussain (40) used to run a Kashmiri handicrafts shop in Mussoorie (UP), and had come to Delhi when he was arrested in Bhogal on 14 June 1996. He was also accused of involvement in the 21 May 1996 Lajpat Nagar blasts. He was set free on April 08, 2010 after 13 years, 10 months and 25 days, again for want of foolproof evidence.

Shakeel Ahmad Khan had a government job in Srinagar. He had come to Delhi when he was arrested on 24 April 1992 in Lajpat Nagar for allegedly plotting to kill some BJP politicians. He was released in August 2002 after serving almost 10 years behind bars, again for lack of evidence.

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Delhi University Professor SAR Geelani was arrested in the 2001 Parliament attack case and was later acquitted after some human rights activists took up his case. There are still more questions than answers in the case of Afzal Guru, who has been sentenced to death in Parliament attack case, to satisfy the ‘collective conscience of the society’. What makes the ‘death sentence’ gross and disproportionate, according to legal experts, is the fact that Guru’s case is riddled with many loopholes and he was not defended properly at the trail court.

The case of Kashmiri journalist Iftikhar Gilani is most peculiar. He was arrested in June 2002 for allegedly ‘violating’ the Indian Official Secrets Act 1923. He was accused of being a Pakistani spy, after police found some ‘documents’ from his possession, which otherwise are freely available on internet and could be downloaded easily. He spent nine months behind bars and was finally acquitted for lack of evidence.

Tailpiece:

Life in Kashmir remains crippled. The political leadership has failed and economy is in shatters. No matter what the tourism ministry says, normalcy seems like a far-fetched dream right now. The fate of the strife-torn state hangs in balance. As the youth on streets would tell you, it is no more about the political or economic packages, the half-hearted pronouncements, or the cosmetic confidence-building-measures. The resounding war-cry on the streets of Kashmir is ‘azaadi’, which translates into complete freedom from the specter of oppression, repression, humiliation, and occupation. That is a war-cry.

 

Blatant breach of religious freedom!

By: Syed Zafar Mehdi

Muharram, the month of bereavement and remembrance, is going on. In 680 AD, around 1500 years ago, Husain (as) – the beloved grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – was martyred along with his family and friends in the desert plains of Karbala in Iraq by the armies of tyrant ruler Yazeed. Every year, around this time, massive processions are taken out across the world to pay rich tributes to the 72 martyrs of Karbala.

Reciting soul-stirring elegies and hymns, participants wear black dresses and badges, beating their chests in a spirit of devotion. They carry replicas of Husain’s mausoleum in Karbala, and parade the streets. Big banners and hoardings are put up on every street, alley and pathway, mainly in areas with Muslim population. However, in some countries, its appeal cuts across the religious and ideological divide, because Husain’s uprising in Karbala was not a religious tussle,
a political war or a petty struggle for power. It was a confrontation between right and might, between the forces of truth and falsehood. In many countries, the Muharram commemorations have been effectively used as a psychological weapon and mechanism to mobilize masses against evil, injustice and repression.

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Muharram, contrary to the popular perception, is not merely an event or episode in history, revolving around a grief-centric ritual. It is a philosophy, a concept, and a movement, that will always have contemporary significance, in every time and age. The threat of injustice and tyranny will always have contemporary significance. Muslims of the world commonly observe and commemorate Husain’s sacrifice each year, remembering his redemptive suffering for the
greater good of humankind. Even 1500 years on, these annual commemorations have not lost their significance, but on the contrary have become even more powerful and potent. Mahmoud Ayoub writes in his book Redemptive Suffering in Islam: A Study of the Devotional Aspects of Ashura in Twelver Shi’ism, ‘in the ritualistic moment, serial time becomes the bridge connecting primordial time and its special history with the timeless eternity of the future. The eternal fulfillment of time becomes the goal of human time and history.”

These annual commemorations help the campaigners of justice and truth re-organise their life around the principles exemplified by Husain, in Karbala. It strengthens their ability and resolve to rise up against autocracy, despotism and treachery. Husain’s uprising and sacrifice promote the enjoining of good. It teaches that notwithstanding the exiguousness of power and numbers, if your stand is right, victory will always be yours. Urdu poet Mohammad Ali Jauhar aptly encapsulates it in these words:

Qatl e Husain asl mein marg Yazeed hai, Islam zinda hota hai har Karbala ke baad

(The murder of Husain is actually the end of [his killer] Yazeed, Islam is refreshed by the blood of martyrs of Karbala)

Muharram processions across the world

In the next few days, Muharram processions would be carried out in all parts of the world. Biggest processions are taken out in Tehran, Karbala, London, Sydney, New York, Moscow, Toronto, Karachi, Dhaka, Lucknow etc. In U.S., the biggest procession starts from Park Avenue and culminates in front of the Pakistani Consulate. In Toronto, the procession leaves from Queen’s Park and ends at High Court entrance. In London, thousands of mourners assemble in Central London Marble Arch Hyde Park and take part in the procession. In Iran, millions participate in Muharram processions in all major cities like Tehran, Masshad and Isfahan. In Trinidad and Tobago, it is popular as ‘Hosay’ and not even Sunnis and Hindus participate in these processions, but also Afro-Trinidadians. In eastern Saudi Arabian city Qatif, Muharram
means lot of activity and palpable buzz. In Nigeria, large processions are taken out in Katsina state in northern Nigeria. In Pakistan, major processions are taken out in Karachi. In India, major processions are carried out in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Lucknow, and Kargil.

“These processions are held across the world to send out a clear message that injustice and tyranny ultimately vanishes and truth and justice prevails,” says Syed Raza, a Kashmiri poet, whose soul-stirring nauhas (elegies) are recited in Muharram processions in Kashmir.

Ban in Kashmir: how it all started

In Kashmir, the story is different and grim, and remains unchanged since last two decades. The government’s ban on Muharram processions (Muharram 8 and 10) in Srinagar city is in place since 1990, when the armed rebellion against India gained momentum. Despite the clampdown and curfew-like restrictions imposed by authorities, thousands of young devotees carry out processions and are subjected to brutal police action. They are thrashed, manhandled, cane

charged, and some are even sent to custody. Some of the senior Shia leaders are put under house arrest to prevent them from leading these processions.

Religious processions were being taken out in Kashmir since 1527 when Sultan Muhammad Shah was the ruler. Shia Muslims (minority), with help and cooperation of Sunni Muslims (majority), used to take out two major processions, one from Namchbal to Imambara Zadibal and other one from Alamgiri Bazar to Khushalsar. In 1977, at the request of the then Chief Minister Shiekh Muhammad Abdullah, it was decided to take out a joint procession from Abi Guzar to
Zadibal. “However,” says Hakeem Imtiyaz Husain, “in 1989, the then Governor of J&K imposed a ban on the procession, as part of the sweeping measures to deal with the political unrest. Notwithstanding the repeated pleas by the people of Kashmir, the ban still stands.” Hakeem, retired jurist and writer, is presently working on a book that chronicles the history of Shias in Kashmir.

Legal battle and government inaction

QUDS RALLY AT BEERWAH BUDGAM IN WHICH MUFTI AZAM MUFTI BASHIR UD DIN,AGA ABDUL HUSSAIN KASHMIRI,MIRWAIZ CENTRAL KASHMIR AND MANY OTHER ADDRESSED A RALKLY AT BEERWAHOn Jan 17, 2008, J&K High Court had issued notice to the state government seeking its objections on a petition filed by Ittihadul Muslimeen, a religio-political outfit representing Shia Muslims of state. But government failed to communicate the ban order to them. The petition sought to quash the ban, calling it flagrant violation of international law and denial of religious rights. On December 5, 2009, High Court again issued notice to the state government directing it
to file objections, but to no avail. “Government informed court that processionists must seek the prior permission from authorities, which we did, but the ban was still not lifted. After four years of legal battle, we finally realized that the whole exercise was futile, because they were never interested in listening to our pleas,” Masroor Abbas Ansari, President, Ittihadul Muslimeen, who had filed the petition.

People in Kashmir demand revocation of ban on the grounds that violence has abated and situation has improved considerably. “The ban on Muharram processions, as with the ban on the July 13th procession commemorating the Martyrs of 1931, is simply undemocratic and a denial of the basic rights of Kashmiri people,” says Mirza Waheed, author of critically acclaimed novel ‘The Collaborator’, which is set in Kashmir. Waheed says the ban on Muharram
processions cannot be viewed in isolation. “You have to see it in the context of the larger structure of repression in Kashmir.”

“There is not much we can do other than protest against it. We fought a legal battle and got a green signal from court but government remains unfazed. Every year, in Muharram, our volunteers hold peaceful protests. I have raised the issue in meetings with Indian government authorities and even at OIC,” says Aga Syed Hasan, separatist leader and President of J&K Anjuman e Shariee Shiaan, a constituent of Hurriyat conference.

Muharram and Amarnath Yatra: stark contrastKASHMIR HINDU PILIGRIMAGE

“While the state provides all support for the annual Amarnath Yatra, which it should – and Kashmiris have always supported and welcomed the Yatra – it has consistently curbed the right to assemble of the local population,” says Waheed.

Khurram Parvez, Programme Coordinator, Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, questions the secular credentials of a state that does not allow people the freedom to practice their religion and participate in religious activities. “On one hand, state patronises, organises, partially sponsors Yatra for Hindus of India and on the other hand, it curbs and criminalises the religious programmes of Muslims like Muharram processions, Milad processions etc. Yet the government has the audacity to call itself secular.”

Zafar Meraj, veteran journalist and chief editor of Kashmir Monitor calls it ‘blatant discrimination’. “Government claims the ban is owing to security reasons but what about similar processions taken out in various parts of Kashmir and some old-city localities. If it can provide security to annual Amarnath yatra that attracts lakhs of Hindu pilgrims every year, why not Muharram processions that have never been under any kind of threat.”

“The contrast cannot get any starker,” says Waheed. “The state wants to develop infrastructure to facilitate and possibly expand the Amarnath Yatra — at potentially disastrous cost to the environment — and at the same time, it has for nearly twenty years now, not allowed people to take out the historic processions of Muharram and July 13.”

Brutal police action on ‘peaceful’ mourners

SEach year, police imposes curfew-like restrictions on Muharram 8 and 10 in the parts of Srinagar city, including Lal chowk, the nerve centre of summer capital. Iron barricades and spools of concertina wires are put up at almost every entry point to city centre. The cops do not even allow pedestrian movement in Lal chowk, and tough restrictions are enforced in Rajouri Kadal, Gojwara, Nowhatta and some adjoining areas in old city. Senior leaders are put under house
arrest to prevent them from leading the processions.

However, despite the clampdown, thousands of mourners defy the police restrictions on Muharram 8 and 10 every year and take out peaceful mourning processions in the main city. Each time, they are intercepted by massive contingents of fully-armed police and paramilitary personnel. The cops lob tear smoke shells, resort to baton charge and brutally manhandle the mourners who participate in these processions. “It is our right and duty to protest against the draconian ban in peaceful manner, but that does not mean it will become law and order problem, so brute police action is unwarranted,” says Hasan, who yields considerable clout in Kashmir’s Shia community.

“It is not merely hypocritical but perverse, given that the state itself, appropriating a historic moment of resistance against the tyranny of Dogra rule, celebrates the day with official pomp while keeping the people of Kashmir under virtual siege each year,” says Waheed. “When the state bans Muharram, July 13th, Geelani’s public appearances, while making sure Amarnath Yatra get bigger; it speaks in a language of conquest. And the message is not lost on the people
of Kashmir. They see it as an imperial dictat.”

Mohammad Junaid, doctoral student in Anthropology at City University of New York says the government bans Muharram processions because of ‘old colonialist aspersions’ that such moments of solemn mourning would turn into occasions of political critique and subversion. “Remember that Muharram is observed in memory of those who spoke back to power and refused to submit. Muharram processions illuminate the utter incommensurability of power and
truth, and this is precisely what those governments whose foundations are based on deception and manipulation absolutely fear,” says Junaid. His research focuses on issues of space, violence and militarisation in Kashmir.

Do these processions stoke anti-India sentiments?Sr

The official version that these processions stoke anti-national sentiments and pose security threat finds few takers. “It is hogwash, far from the reality. It only suggests that the tall claims of government about normalcy and peace are false,” says Aga Syed Hadi, Vice-Chairman, Aaytullah Yousuf Memorial Trust, which runs hundreds of schools across Kashmir imparting Islamic education. “You see, it must be examined in the context of the state’s repression of all sentiment that it sees as anti-national,” says Waheed.

Hasan finds the argument frivolous. “Muharram teaches us to be tolerant and steadfast in the face of adversities, and it also teaches us to rise against injustice. Government cannot deny us our right to organise religious activities on such hollow and baseless pretexts.”

It is a sinister attempt to keep Muslims divided in this part of world, feels Meraj. “The ban on main Muharram procession that used to be taken from Abi Guzar in uptown, and was joined by Shias and Sunnis in large numbers speaks volumes about the gross discrimination that has been going on in Kashmir for last over decades, and is an attempt to divide the community.”

‘Official’ version of the story

Aga Syed Mehmood, former minister and senior leader of PDP, the main opposition party in state, says government had to ban these processions in 1990 because of the gravity of situation. “In 1989, when I was part of government, it had decided to put curbs on these processions but we resisted the decision. As the regime fell in 1990 and governor took over to deal with the political turmoil, the ban was announced.” However, he hastens to add that the brutalities unleashed on the peaceful processions every year is uncalled for. “Chief Minister Omar Abdullah calls for the
removal of AFSPA in Srinagar, then what is the problem with a procession that is completely of religious nature,” asks Mehmood.

Tanvir Sadiq, Spokesman of ruling party National Conference says the restarting of procession like the 8th is under the active consideration of the government. “Kashmir is limping back to normalcy, and I am confident and reasonably sure that soon the processions on 8 and 10 Muharram will resume,” says Sadiq. However, he refuses to admit that mourners are subjected to brutal police action and calls it ‘precautionary measure’. “There is no brutal police action. The government has asked the police to ensure that religious processions or mourners are not harassed, but having said that, there are times when the police in order to maintain law and order may have to take some precautionary measures.”

Tailpiece:

pakistan-shia-muslims-muharram-2The unyielding stand taken by Husain in Karbala carries an eloquent message that has gripped the hearts and minds of countless generations throughout history. It gives a sense of hope and optimism to those who believe in the righteousness of their cause. Muharram and Karbala is symbolic, cutting across the barriers of space and time. Today Karbala is Gaza, Karbala is Kashmir, Karbala is Iraq, Karbala is Afghanistan, and so on.

“Every revolution has two visages: blood and the message,” says Ali Shariati, the late Iranian sociologist and revolutionary. “Husain and his companions undertook the first mission, that of blood. The second mission is to bear the message to the whole world, to be the eloquent tongue of this flowing blood and these resting bodies among the walking dead.”

In Kashmir and elsewhere, as people pour out on streets every year in Muharram to remember the martyrs of Karbala; they do not intend to create law and order problem. They are only carrying forward the second mission: bearing the message of blood to the world, lest it remains mute in the history and those who need this message are deprived of it.

Aftermath of Blasts and Riots on Muslims

Syed Zafar Mehdi

The controversy surrounding the arrest of New Delhi-based journalist Mohammad Ahmad Kazmi by Delhi Police’s notorious Special Cell in connection with the recent attack on Israeli diplomat’s car in New Delhi has again brought to fore the disconcerting issue of ‘gratuitous witch-hunts and persecution’ of Muslims in India. The arrest of 50-year old scribe seems to have jolted the Muslim community out of slumber and forced them out on streets, across the country. It has galvanised the community and brought together many warring groups and factions under one banner. It has also re-ignited the age-old debate about the freedom of expression and fundamental human rights, exposing the dubious nature of such arbitrary arrests made on flimsy grounds.

On March 26, a massive protest demonstration was held jointly by many Muslim organisations outside Indian Parliament, protesting against the ‘willful’ targeting of Muslims by Indian police. The march was organised under the banner of Coordination Committee of Indian Muslims (CCIM) comprising Jamaat-e Islami Hind, Jamiat Ulama-e Hind, All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e Hadees, Indian Islahi Movement, Milli Council, National Council of Shia Ulema, Shia Point, Majils-e Ulama-e Islam, Muslim Political Council of India, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, Jamia Coordination Committee, Welfare Party of India among others. The large mass of protestors demanded the unconditional and immediate release of Kazmi and called for an end to arrests and persecution of Muslim youth across country.

Thousands of Muslim youth, carrying banners, chanting slogans, wearing black armbands and simmering with anger, assembled on Parliament Street and demanded the disbanding of notorious Special Cell of Delhi Police. Protesters, blurring the lines of ethnicity and religion, including many high-profile politicians, religious clerics, community leaders and senior members of civil society from across the country unequivocally condemned the targeting and persecution of Indian Muslims by police.

Speakers said Kazmi has been framed on dubious charges and unsubstantiated evidence, because police wanted a scapegoat. “He is a staunch critic of Israel and US and has been making frequent trips to West Asia because of his professional commitments, so he was a perfect candidate for them to be framed and implicated in the case,” said Kalbe Jawad Naqvi, a prominent Shia cleric. Few days earlier, Jawad led a massive protest rally in Lucknow Uttar Pardesh, which saw the participation of around 1 lac people from all walks of life.

The arrest of Kazmi on mere suspicion reveals a familiar pattern, said one of the speakers. “There have been many cases in past where Muslim journalists, academics, artists and students have been abused, vilified, and targeted by state and its agencies. In most of the cases, the ‘accused’ were declared ‘innocent’ and acquitted after months and years of incarceration. Some were declared innocent posthumously.

Imagine the horror of walking out of jail after 14 long years because police failed to produce sufficient evidence against the accused. It happened with four Kashmiri men, who were arrested in connection with 1996 Lajpat Nagar blasts and were released from jail in 2010 after 14 years as ‘innocent’ men.

The case of Delhi University Professor SAR Geelani who was framed in the 2001 Parliament attack case and later given a clean shit, had hogged the headlines few years back. According to Geelani himself, he was targeted because he sported a beard, was a Muslim, was a Kashmiri and taught Arabic. In the case of Afzal Guru, there are more questions than answers. Guru has been sentenced to death in Parliament attack case, to satisfy the ‘collective conscience of the society’. What makes the ‘death sentence’ totally gross and disproportionate, according to legal experts, is the fact that Guru’s case is riddled with many loopholes and he was not defended properly at the trail court. Even legal luminaries like Ram Jethmalani, Praful Bidwai and A G Noorani have spoken out about it.

The case of another Kashmiri journalist Iftikhar Gilani is more peculiar. He was arrested in June 2002, for allegedly ‘violating’ the Indian Official Secrets Act 1923. He was accused of being a Pakistani spy, after police found some ‘documents’ from his possession. Gilani says the documents were not incriminating in nature and were freely available on Internet and could be downloaded easily. He spent nine months behind bars and was finally acquitted for lack of evidence. It was not mere co-incidence that he happened to be the son-in-law of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the veteran separatist hawk in Kashmir, who calls for an end to Indian occupation in Kashmir.

The ghosts of Batla House encounter, that took place on September 19 2008, still haunt the Muslims in Delhi. Two boys Atif Amin and Mohammad Sajid were gunned down and two others were arrested. The detailed report prepared by Jamia Teachers Solidarity Group (JTSG) made it explicitly clear that the encounter was fake. The report exposed the modus operandi of Delhi Police’s Special Cell, and the art of making ‘fake’ look ‘real’.

Ishrat Jahan, a 19-year-old college girl was mowed down in cold blood in 2004 by Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch and dubbed as the Lashkar Toiba operative on a mission to kill the Narendra Modi, who presided over the Gujarat riots of 2002. She was later declared to be innocent posthumously. The magnitude and scale of communal violence in the 2002 Gujrat riots and the abysmally low number of convictions bears eloquent testimony to the fact that minorities in India have always got a raw deal.

Take the case of Mumbai riots that took place between December 2002 and January 2003. While the 100 accused, mostly Muslims, in the Mumbai blasts are languishing behind bars since many years now; the riots accused, all Hindus, have gotten away with it. It’s pertinent to note that over 900 people, mostly Muslim minority, were ruthlessly mowed down in cold-blood on the streets of Mumbai, after the demolition of Babri Masjid in Dec 1992- Jan 1993.

A large number of youth from the minority community were arrested after the Mecca Masjid blast in 2007 and were subjected to ruthless torture until last year when some right wing RSS functionary voluntarily owned up the responsibility for the blasts.

By the definition provided by UN Convention on Prevention and Punishment for the Crimes of Genocide, India is the only democracy in world, which has treated its minorities to not one but four genocide killings in the time span of 18 years. Delhi (84), Bhagalpur (87), Bombay (92), Gujarat (02).

It’s horrendous that even after 50 years of United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR, in the largest democracy, there is still widespread discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, etc. Worse, the members of minority community here continue to be targeted and implicated in cases of terrorism. It is heart-rending to note that every other day there are reports about blood-curtailing incidents of police brutality and barbarism against Muslim youth, committed in utter disregard of humanitarian law and universal human rights as well as total negation of the constitutional guarantees and human decency. “Without policing the police, it’s near impossible to expect protection and promotion of human rights,” says Banojyotsna Lahiri, a student activist from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

The arrest and incarceration of journalist Kazmi, a veteran journalist who has worked with Doordarshan, BBC, IRNA, UNI and is a regular columnist for Urdu newspapers in India, on apparently unsubstantiated charges, has put a big question mark on the functioning of law machinery here. Just the other day, on March 24, the sleuths of Special Cell of Delhi Police presented him before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate at Tees Hazari, without informing his lawyer or his family, three days prior to March 27 when his police remand was expected to end. Court has now remanded him in judicial custody till April 07 and his family is flabbergasted. Police is yet to file a chargesheet in the case, and his supporters have been relentlessly protesting across the country and even abroad. There have been protests in New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Meerut, Lucknow, Ahmedabad etc. On March 23, a large number of Indian students in UK held a peaceful candle light vigil outside Indian High Commission in UK.

Booked under the stringent provisions of dreadful Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Kazmi was sent to unprecedented 20 days police remand. Kazmi’s counsel has said that he was forced to sign on the arrest memo hours after the arrest. The police sleuths who arrested him were not in uniform, exposing the illegal nature of his arrest. His family had complained about the custodial torture and interrogation by foreign intelligence agencies.

The massive protest march outside Parliament is the indication that Muslims in India have finally decided to stand up for their rights and take on the State and its Police. One of the community leaders even warned of nation-wide agitation should the era of human rights violations continue. There is also a buzz about the march of one million being planned by Coordination Committee of Indian Muslims. It would be interesting to see how government deals with it now.

Arrest of Journalist Kazmi: Mere pawn in a sinister game?

Syed Zafar Mehdi

It looks like a classic case of gratuitous police witch-hunt and framing of innocents on dubious, unsubstantiated charges. The arrest of Mohammad Ahmad Kazmi, a Delhi based urdu journalist working for Iran’s state broadcaster IRNA, in connection with the recent attack on Israeli diplomat’s car in Delhi, clearly smacks of a sinister conspiracy. Kazmi was arrested by police on Wednesday, while returning to his home in Jor Bagh from India Islamic Cultural Centre, Lodhi Road. Police claims that he provided the executioner with the logistical support, but did not have knowledge about the entire plot. His family rubbishes the charges as baseless and concocted, alleging that he has been framed because he is an outspoken critic of US and Israel and appears on many TV channels regularly.

Looking at the overall picture, there seems to be more to it than meets the eye. It reminds me of the similar cases framed by Delhi Police against my own Kashmiris in Delhi, SAR Geelani (a teacher at Zakir Husain College, DU) and Iftekhar Gilani (Journalist), who were detained, interrogated and later acquitted.

The suspected bomber, who is the prime accused in the case, has already fled the country, claims police. Kazmi is accused of having been in regular touch with the main suspect, though he had no inkling about the whole ‘terror’ plot. Police claims that the conspiracy was hatched in January 2011, outside the country, and Kazmi was supposed to gather all the information about the diplomat’s car and pass it on to the executioners of plot. Police managed to track Kazmi via technical surveillance system.

Kazmi has been working with IRNA since 1988 and has earlier worked with DD and BBC also, having covered Iraq and more recently Syria as his major assignments. He is also a regular contributor for many prominent Urdu dailies and periodicals. He also volunteers to teach English to underprivileged children at India Islamic Cultural Centre. The journalists who have worked with Kazmi in the past have already expressed their outrage and indignation. He is a widely respected analyst and commentator on Middle East politics and minces no words in calling spade a spade. To my mind, in this case, he is merely a pawn in a rather sinister game.

This act by police is utterly vindictive, but not shocking. Delhi Police is notorious for it. However, it is sad that this time they chose to target a journalist from Urdu media. I wonder how the mainstream English media would have reacted had one of their own been arrested on such dubious charges. Some of his colleagues fear that he might have been on police radar since a week, when he appeared on a national television and blasted US and Israel for their paranoia. (link: http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/prime-time/video-story/223929)

In such a grim scenario where journalists are arrested, tortured and interrogated for expressing their views, which are not in sync with the official rhetoric, freedom of expression is bound to become a serious casualty. In this country, where dissent amounts to sedition and freedom of expression is often sacrificed at the altar of larger ‘national interest’, journalists and writers have to walk a tightrope. This is where Kazmi seems to have faltered. He has made enemies for not toeing the official line on US and Israel and hence has invited the wrath for it.

So far, only few odd voices from Urdu media have come out in his support, which is not surprising. The game has just begun. Media trail will start now. The likes of Arnab Goswamis and Praveen Swamis will go all out to manufacture charges against him. He will be attacked, interrogated, tortured, harassed, ridiculed and finally he will be set free. In the ensuing hullabaloo we may never hear the true story, because we will not be exposed to it, given India’s “strategic interests”. However, one thing is certain, and I can vouch for it: he is merely a pawn in a sinister game.

AFSPA: Kashmir and Northeast quagmires

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Talking of human rights scenario in this country, Kashmir and Northeast quagmires instantly flash to mind. Both so-called “disturbed areas” have been reeling under worst kind of human rights violations for a long time. Army and Police have been indulging in grave human rights abuses, so do the “out-lawed” armed resistance groups. International and national observer groups have been documenting these gross infringements, stressing upon the need to address the “problem” in right earnest. Despite that, the awful juggernaut rolls on. In both places, men-in-uniform enjoy free hand in the garb of stringent and repressive laws granting them immunity from action or punishment. So in the name of fighting resistance groups and terrorists, they end up committing heinous human rights abuses, making mockery of the “noble task” they have been entrusted with.

Kashmir:

“Would anybody who depends on Indian mass media for information know that about 80,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since 1989, most of them Muslims, most of them by Indian Security forces? Most Indians would be outraged if it were suggested to them that the killings and disappearances in Kashmir valley put India at par with any banana republic”, remarks firebrand activist and author Arundathi Roy in her book “Ordinary Man’s Guide to Empire”.

Kashmir insurgency that triggered in late 80’s has so far claimed more than a lakh people, mostly innocent civilians. Incessant human rights abuses and impunity have been a cause and fuel for the simmering cauldron that has over the years turned from bad to worse. “Under Jagmohan’s regime, (who was Governor when secessionist movement picked pace in early 90’s), India’s response to the protests was brutal with indiscriminate firings on unarmed protestors. The atrocities committed by Indian troops in the state has been acknowledged by senior Indian officials including Rajiv Gandhi, Chandershekhar, Narsimah Rao during their tenures and even G C Saxena (when he became Governor later)”, says noted Kashmir expert Balraj Puri (Kashmir: Towards Insurgency; New Delhi, 1993).

Human Rights are violated both by militants and security forces with impunity. Militants have been responsible for indiscriminate bombings, grenade attacks, landmine blasts, targeted killings, kidnappings, and murderous assaults on Indian soldiers and pro-India politicians. Abuses continue incessantly despite several rounds of talks on various official levels and through backdoor channels between the two estranged neighbours. Accountability of Indian troops remains a niggling problem area. Notwithstanding PM Manmohan Singh’s promise of zero-tolerance for human rights abuses, troops continue to indulge in cases of arbitrary detention, custodial deaths, encounter killings, torture, enforced disappearances, extra judicial executions an a much larger scale.

Indian security forces claim to be fighting for and to protect Kashmiri people from militants, “Pakistan sponsored terrorists and religious extremists”. On the other hand, militants claim to be fighting for Kashmir’s independence from “occupied forces”, and to defend Kashmiri masses from “murderous Indian army troopers”. But, the fact is both sides are committing large-scale and horrendous human rights abuses of international humanitarian law, creating among civilian population a pervasive climate of fear, distrust and sadness. Years of impunity have led to vicious cycle of continuing violence. Indian State has officially given its forces a free run; while Pakistan backed armed groups are only making matters worse. In between, the sandwiched common Kashmiri is paying dear price.

It is not possible to gauge the true extent of violations in this troubled state. Detailed information about torture and other abuses are hard to obtain, since access to interrogation and detention centres is restricted even for legal counsels. Most torture testimonies come from villages raided in counter-insurgency operations and from former detainees. Curfews are on for long durations frequently; roadblocks and check posts are at every mile policed by security forces that curb the free movement of people. Indian Identity card is an obligatory thing to carry along when you step out, lest you are taken to task. Even Journalists, Doctors or lawyers are not spared the trouble.

Indian security forces supposed to be custodians of people’s human rights routinely violate them with impunity. And more regrettably, Indian federal govt rarely prosecutes members of army or paramilitary forces for their wrongs in a fair and transparent manner. The net result has been steep increase in rights abuses in the strife-torn state. Dreaded laws like AFSPA, PSA (J&K), DDA have spawned abuses to highest degree and form. Section 197 of Criminal Code of Procedure provides security forces virtual immunity from crimes committed during the course of duty. Draconian law like AFSPA only aggravate the situation. On AFSPA’s 50th anniversary recently Human Rights Watch came up with a 16-page report— “Getting away with murders: 50 years of AFSPA”. It described how AFSPA has become a tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination. Law grants the military wide powers to arrest without warrant, shoot-to-kill, and destroy property in so-called “disturbed areas”. It also protects military personnel responsible for serious crimes from prosecution, creating a pervasive climate of impunity.

“In J&K Police, SOG (Special Operations Group) is particularly notorious for human rights violations. Better known as STF (Special Task Force), they are modelled on Punjab pattern, but suffer from more ills than its predecessor,” says a working group report by Kamal Mitra Chenoy and Co, presented at a seminar organised by Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies in Srinagar few years back. “But the most notorious insurgency group” says the report, “is surrendered militants, known in local parlance as Ikhwanis. They are widely believed to be guilty of every conceivable human rights violation. Some believe they were behind infamous massacre of 35 Sikhs at Chattisingpora many years back”.

Northeastern states:

Over 200 hill tribes live in seven sister states of northeast India. They accuse Indian Govt of neglect and exploitation and thus demand autonomy or independence from it. Some have even taken up arms in that hot pursuit. Security forces were first dispatched to Northeastern states in 1950’s. Ever since, widespread human rights violations have been attributed to army, particularly notorious Assam Rifles, who report directly to Central Govt’s Home and Defence Ministries.

There are many armed resistance groups active in the region like ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam), ULFM (United Liberation Front of Manipur).
Incidents of torture, custodial violence, killings, atrocities, rape and harassment has been reported from these sister states. Though mainstream Indian media has not always highlighted such cases but regional media are full of heart-rending stories of army atrocities, including heinous crimes of people being picked up without any rhyme or reason, women being raped and houses raided at uncanny hours. But as Sriram Ananthanarayanan says, “The hegemony of Indian state in the region doesn’t just have implications along the lines of direct violence and human rights violation but also extremely harsh material conditions of labouring masses and rural poor”. (northeasrdiary.blogspot.com).

Civil liberty organisations have played pivotal role in documenting human rights violations in Northeast. Human Rights Watch reported on Sept 14, 2008, “Indian govt should fully prosecute army, paramilitary and police personnel responsible for killing and torture in Northeastern states especially Manipur”. It added, “human rights violations by Indian security forces have fuelled the army opposition in Manipur. Armed groups have carried out torture, killings, indiscriminate bombings, landmines and engaged in forced recruitment and conducted widespread extortion”.
“If your parents are harassed and killed without any reason, what will be your reaction towards armed forces? When women are made to deliver babies in open ground and men’s anus is penetrated with stick, women are molested and raped in front of their kin, loved ones are shot dead mercilessly, how can people tolerate and bear the situation” asks TK Thouke Pou (nagarealm.com June 03, 06).

It may be recalled that Manipur had hit the headlines when Manorama Devi was allegedly raped and killed by Paramilitary Assam Rifles in 2004. Entire state had erupted in anger, demanding revocation of draconian AFSPA legislation from the state.
Human Rights Watch’s 79-page report “These fellows must be eliminated: Relentless violence and impunity in Manipur” documents the gross failure of justice in the state, where for 50 years, army empowered and protected by AFSPA has been committing serious human rights violations. The report says, “Soldiers and police are protected under laws granting them immunity”. It also details the failure of justice in killing and rape of Manorama Devi by Assam Rifle troops, saying “repeated attempts to identify and punish those responsible for her death have been stalled by the army, which has received protection under immunity provision of AFSPA.

In Assam, situation is equally worrisome. Sanjib Baruah writes in “India against Itself: Assam and Politics of Nationality, Oxford Press”, “There is little doubt that ULFA and other insurgent organisations are remarkably callous about human life… But that doesn’t change the fact that the means Indian state has used to deal with ULFA violates the global and human rights standards and seriously undermines respect for India’s democratic institutions”.

T C Bose writes in his paper, “Human Rights in India and Article 2(7) of UN Charter” in “Human Rights in India” ed Dr Mehartaj Begum, 2000): “In connection with situation in Northeast and Kashmir… People have not only been arrested on suspicion, there have been innumerable cases of rape and ill-treatment of women by army and paramilitary forces for perceived support of armed insurgencies”.

So unless, the thorny and contentious issues of Kashmir and Northeast are not resolved for once and ever, and the whirlpool of human rights abuses by State machinery not addressed in right earnest, the juggernaut would only roll on. More importantly, the already battered “secular” image of this country would take a further beating.

Guru: Pawn in a sinister game?

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

To hang or not to hang! The debate over barbarous capital punishment still lingers on. Many civil rights activists, lawyers, and liberal intellectuals have been arguing against it on humanitarian grounds for a while now. A potent argument against capital punishment is that it has no deterrence effect, with many countries already having done with it. After all, as sane minds argue, sanctity to life should prevail over “eye for an eye” approach. But then some argue, it is warranted in “rarest of rare crimes”. May be. But one wonders, what constitutes these ‘rarest of rare’ cases?

As talk veers to death penalties, the intriguing case of Afzal Guru flashes to mind. Guru, a Kashmiri, is on a death row over his alleged involvement in 2002 Parliament attack case. As his mercy petition lies pending in corridors of Rashtrapati Bhawan, he has become a favourite whipping boy for right wing forces to score brownies over their political adversaries. But, I beg to ask: Does his case fall under “rarest of rare” categories? Does he deserve to die like this? Or more precisely, as Nirmalangshu Mukherji puts it, “Should Guru die?” (Economic Political Weekly, 17 Sept 2005).

Mukherji believes it would be a “travesty of justice to hang Guru “. And, as noted Human Rights campaigner Nandita Haksar rightly affirms, “We haven’t even heard Guru ‘s story”. (Yahoo news, 30 Sept 2006). Death penalty is awarded in only ‘rarest of rare’ crimes, where crime is established beyond any iota of doubt, after a fair trail in accordance to the due process of law and international standards of human rights. But, in Guru’s case, rule was not applied, as it ought to. ” Guru ‘s death penalty violates Supreme Court’s own guidelines, which say that capital punishment should be awarded in ‘rarest of rare crimes’ which doesn’t apply to Guru,” notes activist and columnist Praful Bidwai (News International, 21, Oct, 06).

There are whole lot of loopholes and glaring doubts which merit serious contemplation. Death sentence is doled out to accused only after strictest observance of free trail. So, did Guru get a free trail? He was denied worthwhile legal assistance at trail court—a crucial stage where evidences are produced and examined, which later becomes basis for court’s verdict. Right to legal protection is an inherent right. It is clearly enshrined in UN Declaration of Human Rights or Universal Declaration. Constitution of India also entitles a citizen with right to be defended in court of law.

Prosecution had accused him for being “facilitator”, and not directly involved in the crime. It’s case stood wholly on “circumstantial evidence”, for which death penalty becomes grossly disproportionate. Guru was sentenced to death by trail court on 18 December, 02, and later the sentence was upheld through appeals in High Court and Apex court respectively. But Colon Gonsalves, a senior Supreme Court advocate, who defended Guru at High Court, has a valid argument to make. He says in his report, “When I was brought in to defend Guru in High Court and I studied the trail court proceedings, it was clear that apart from appreciation of evidence, his case rested on two grave infirmities. First was the media trail, which rendered doing justice to Guru impossible, and second was trail court, which had denied him a lawyer”.

It won’t be exaggeration to state that Guru ‘s case is based on unsubstantiated charges and concocted evidence put together by investigating agencies, having their own axe to grind. As per his own admission, Special task force personnel ruthlessly tormented him. Confessions were extracted from him under duress, after being tortured and his family threatened of dire consequences.

The notorious Special cell of Delhi Police used media to brand him a “terrorist”, even before trail. He was forced to confess to crime before media. It followed the media trail in rather brazen fashion, including a film broadcast on Zee TV, apparently previewed and approved by the then P.M himself. It was one of the prime factors in prejudicing the outcome of the trail. As noted legal hawk and constitutional expert, Ram Jethmalani puts it, “To cause prejudice in the minds of public against a person standing trail is worst kind of contempt” (Tehelka, 28 Oct 06).

Delhi High court acknowledged that investigating agencies had fabricated evidence against him, yet it went ahead to uphold the “unfair” verdict against him. Supreme Court was moved but it too rejected the appeal on account of “procedural irregularities” in obtaining it and yet upheld the judgment on nothing more than derisory circumstantial evidence. It though admitted that his direct association with any terrorist outfit couldn’t be proved beyond doubt.

Guru’s case doesn’t meet international standards of a fair trail. Taking all the serious loopholes into account, it violates Article 7, 10, 14, 17 of International Covenant on Civil and Political rights. India being a signatory of the covenant is obliged to protect the rights of citizens guaranteed therein. But has it?

Firebrand activist and author Arundathi Roy adeptly vents her ire in following words, “I joined the protest demo at Jantar Mantar against Guru’s death sentence because I believe his is only a pawn in a very sinister game. He is not the Dragon, as he is being made out to be, he is only dragon’s footprint, and if dragon’s footprint is made to ‘become extinct’, we will never know who the dragon was” (Outlook, Oct 30, 06)

Going ahead with the death verdict would be an absolute miscarriage of justice. As well-known human rights activist Ram Puniyani notes, “Guru’s hanging will reinforce the perception of two set of legal norms prevalent in a society, polarizing fast on communal lines” (Combat Law, Nov-Dec, 06). There is a dire need of fresh trial into Guru ‘s case, where he gets chance to put his side of story before court.

“Has anyone ever heard of a death sentence on a man who was undefended at a trail? This monstrous miscarriage of justice warrants re-trail” believes legal expert and Columnist A.G Noorani (Hindustan Times, 24 Oct 06). He is echoed by another legal luminary Ram Jethmalani, who too believes, “The man was very poorly defended, there is no doubt” (Tehelka, 28 Oct, 06).

So far there is no concrete, foolproof, fully substantiated evidence showing Guru ‘s direct involvement in December 13, 2001 Parliament attack case. A small minority of intellectuals, lawyers, and activists have been vigorously pursuing his case, dubbing the death sentence against him as mockery of justice.

Currently his clemency petition lies pending in Rashtrapati Bhawan. Kalam had steered clear from meddling in troubled waters, perhaps because he has understood the complicity of case. In fact he is f ed up of leading ghettoized existence in jail and disillusioned with the system of justice prevailing in this country .Now the incumbent Pratibha Patil has to make a call. But the question is, can we Kashmiris afford another Maqbool Bhat?

We have the knack of waking up at eleventh hour, when we are left with few options, and cant really avoid the inevitable. So, are we waiting forGuru to cuddle gallows? Plotters are vociferously raking up Guru issue each day on every platform. Hapless Guru may be willing to embrace death for a greater cause, but his 8-year-old son Ghalib needs him, so does the Kashmiri nation. Let’s wake up, lest we lose him.