Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Finally, a reprimand for Ma Ba Tha

It only took the slightest hint of an official challenge for Ma Ba Tha to back down from their inflammatory rhetoric. Why didn't it happen years ago? Here below is an article that explains the reasons.

TWO years ago this month, groups of men descended upon a teashop in Mandalay armed with knives and sticks, hurling rocks and shouting abuse. Even after the police moved in to disperse the crowd, the tense atmosphere lingered in the royal city. Over the following few days, two people were killed and dozens more injured.
The riot had an unmistakable provenance. The Muslim proprietor of the teashop was accused of raping a Buddhist employee, an allegation that would have most likely otherwise gone unnoticed had it not been published by U Wirathu on Facebook. Unfazed by the violence, Wirathu – who had spent almost a decade in jail under the military junta for his anti-Muslim sermons – defended his use of social media, telling the Wall Street Journal that he only ever posted “verified information for the protection of race and religion.”
The post about the alleged rape was not verified. Five people were sentenced to long prison terms for concocting what transpired to be a totally false accusation: the two brothers who had masterminded the scheme were business rivals of the teashop owner, who had conspired to put him out of business.
Wirathu was unchastened. Last year he was forced to recant another accusation of a Muslim man sexually assaulting a Buddhist women. It later transpired that the perpetrator was himself Buddhist, but Wirathu defended his claim, saying the man committed the act because he had the mind of a “kalar” – a derogatory term for people of subcontinental heritage.
It is an indisputable fact that Wirathu has a history of bending the truth to suit his ends. He has always denied responsibility for fomenting anti-Muslim unrest, but a report by US rights group Justice Trust in 2015 noted a pattern of events preceding bouts of violence in several cities that have claimed the lives of hundreds since 2012: a rape allegation and a subsequent appearance and public sermon by none other than — you guessed it — Wirathu. Following the horrific violence in Meiktila in 2013, he claimed in an interview with The Irrawaddy to be committed to working with Myanmar’s Muslim community. At the same time, he was leading a campaign to encourage the boycott of Muslim businesses.
For centuries, Myanmar and Buddhism have been intertwined. The religion plays a key role in the lives of its population. Its pagodas are objects of awe and beauty. The history of its clergy is inextricably linked with the tumult and struggles of its recent history. One need only to step into the street early one morning to witness the reverence Myanmar people pay to its monks and nuns.
But Wirathu is not the custodian of this history; he is not the defender of these traditions. He is someone who has preyed upon the resentment and anger of his follows for violent and capricious ends.
The message Wirathu and his acolytes spread did not emerge from a vacuum, but Ma Ba Tha lent legitimacy to these widespread fears and gave succour to those who used them as a pretext for violence. The previous government truckled to Ma Ba Tha; some of its senior members were prominent supporters. Leading monks who criticised the tenets of Ma Ba Tha’s message were ostracised, ignored or targeted for abuse, while religious authorities stayed aloof.
For that reason, it was surprising – and a touch gratifying – to see the Sangha and leading political figures issue such a public and unreserved rebuke of Ma Ba Tha last week. On the back of this, news emerged that Wirathu was facing possible criminal charges for comments made about a UN representative last year. Ma Ba Tha’s abrupt decision to call off the absurd threat to launch nationwide protests denouncing Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, much like its feeble intervention in last year’s election, indicates that the broader public does not share the group’s priorities and paranoid worldview.
This rebuke was long overdue. Lives were needlessly lost, and communities divided because the previous government had neither the inclination nor the courage to confront Ma Ba Tha and Wirathu earlier. Those deaths were a collective failure that deserve to weigh heavily on many consciences. Let’s hope they are a thing of the past.

Ethnic Rohingya Muslims Are Entitled to Enjoy Their Fundamental Rights

To read the article in the Huffington Post, click here.

More on Gandhi killing

Teesta Setalvad is co-editor, Sabrangindia. She comments on a new book on Gandhi.
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The murder of Mahatma Gandhi, or more dramatically put, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was the first act of terror committed in independent India, as I wrote in the introduction to the volume, Beyond Doubt-A Dossier on Gandhi’s Assassination (2015, Tulika). It was also, I wrote, a declaration of war and a statement of intent.
It was a declaration of war by a section of society which remained largely on the fringes during the independence struggle and was committed to religion-based nationhood, and wanted India to become a Hindu rashtra.This was a section that bore visceral dislike toward the idea of composite culture and inclusive nationhood advocated by the Mahatma.
It is this ideology that unashamedly rules India today.
Any discussion on the assassination, therefore, needs to address the issues around the killing, the motives of the assassins. It should also examine further why Gandhi and what he stood for posed such a dire threat to the worldview of the killers.
Whenever the murder is discussed, and the factors responsible for the killing tossed around, public memory can often become carelessly selective, unwarrantedly perhaps spawning a dangerous ambivalence. I refer here specifically to the July 21 article that deliberately or otherwise skips crucial bits of the event. There are also several inaccuracies in the report that has carelessly quoted from earlier published articles.
Setting the record straight
There is need to set the record straight. The killing of Gandhi was not an isolated act but the last successful one of a series of attempts that began as early as 1934. Since the first attack on June 25 1934, there had been a total of five attempts on Gandhi’s life: in July and September 1944, September 1946, and January 20, 1948, ten days before he was actually shot dead.
Nathuram Godse was involved in two of the previous attempts besides the last one – that is, in a total of three, completely upsetting the comfortable narrative of Godse’s actions not being pre-meditated and coldly and carefully planned.
This aspect is completely missing from the article that fails to ask (while superficially relying on a sinister justification for the killing that Godse’s belief that “Gandhi helped create Pakistan” was the reason behind the killing) why some groups of persons found Gandhi and his beliefs so thoroughly repugnant that they had to eliminate him.
It was Gandhi’s commitment to composite nationhood as opposed to a religion-based state (Pakistan or Hindu Rashtra) and his support for the law against untouchability (he made a historic speech in the Central legislature in 1935) that made him enemy No 1 for all those who dreamt then – and conspire even today – to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra.
One of the crucial reasons for editing the volume Beyond Doubt was to bring to readers in English the seminal work of senior journalist and writer Jagan Phadnis who researched the killing back in 1998 as also the important contribution of Chunibhai Vaidya from Gujarat. These works along with historian YD Phadke’s analysis of the Kapoor Commission Report published in Communalism Combat are crucial reading for serious readers on the subject, and are included in the volume.
That the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was banned by the government of India within two days of the assassination, through a Government Resolution dated February 2, 1948, is surely a critical part of the narrative, which is absent in its recounting 68 years later. The language of this resolution, reproduced in Beyond Doubt, is unequivocal when it speaks of the determination of the government of India
“to root out the forces of hate and violence that are at work in our country and imperil the freedom of the Nation and darken her fair name. In pursuance of this politics [the GR says] the GOI has decided to declare as unlawful the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the Chief Commissioner’s Provinces. Similar action is also being taken in the Governor’s provinces.”
The banning of the RSS within five months of India becoming independent and within two days of the dastardly killing of Mahatma Gandhi has been linked to the ‘undesirable and even dangerous activities carried out by individual members of the Sangh who have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunition. They have been found, “circulating leaflets exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against the government and suborn the police and the military….The objectionable and harmful activities of the Sangh have, however, continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh has claimed many victims. The latest and the most precious to fall was Gandhiji himself.” The GR was first published in the August 2004 issue of Communalism Combat, as part of the cover story, titled Hey Ram.
Ban and lifting the ban
The story does not end here. The communications between the Government of India through then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister Vallabhai Patel with the RSS also show up the falsehoods perpetrated by the Sangh, which has tried to distort even this part of history.
On September 11, 1948, the famous letter written by Patel to RSS chief MS Golwalkar strongly decries the systematic hate tactics of the Sangh before and after Gandhi’s assassination. This letter has been quoted in full in Desraj Goyal’s Rahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh (First published in 1979, Revised edition in 2000, Radhakrishna Prakashan Pvt Ltd, New Delhi).
More importantly, this and another letter written by Patel to the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee dated July 18, 1948 make clear the links between the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha.
The September 11, 1948 letter is of particular significance as it outlines the kind of activities the RSS was observed to indulge in.
“But the objectionable part arose when they, burning with revenge, began attacking Mussalmans. Organising Hindus and helping them is one thing but going in for revenge for its sufferings on innocent and helpless men, women and children is quite another thing……..All their speeches were full communal poison. It was not necessary to spread poison and enthuse the Hindus and organise for their protection. As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the valuable life of Gandhiji. Even an iota of sympathy of the Government or of the people no more remained for the RSS. In fact the opposition grew. Opposition turned more severe, when the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death. Under these conditions it became inevitable for the Government to take action against the RSS.”
A government of India press note of November 14, 1948 relates to the outright rejection of a representation by Golwalkar to lift the ban on the RSS by the Home Ministry, refers to the "anti-national, often subversive and violent activities of the RSS”.
This press note, also obtained from the archives of the government of India, was first published in the August 2004 issue of Communalism Combat, as part of the cover story, titled Hey Ram.
The government of India took into account the considered opinion of provincial governments before arriving at its decision to ban the RSS. An article of The Indian Express dated February 7, 1948 reports that an RSS leader from Nagpur who had presented Godse with the revolver with which he killed Gandhi had been arrested. Other persons arrested included Professor Varahadpande of the City College, Nagpur.
This news report states that another professor of Nagpur had told his students a day before the assassination that “Gandhiji would be murdered”. An associate of the gang of conspirators, Devendra Kumar, was reported by the same newspaper to have surrendered to the District Magistrate, Mirzapur and taken to Lucknow under armed escort.
There is more such material which forms part of the annexes to the Kapoor Commission which will form part of the second volume of Beyond Doubt that I am currently annotating and editing. For the record, towards the end of the judgement in the Gandhi Murder case, Special Judge Atmacharan made the following remarks in regards to the conduct of the police with relation to the bomb attack on Gandhi on January 20, barely ten days before the day he died.
“ I may bring to the notice of the Central Government the slackness of the police in the investigation of the case during the period between January 20-30,1948... Had the slightest keenness been shown in the investigation of the case at that stage, the tragedy could have been averted.”
The terms of reference to the Kapoor Commission clearly show that it was not within its ambit to investigate whether or not the RSS was involved in the murder. It would be pertinent to again quote from the Government communiqué dated 11 July, 1949 provided in Appendix IV to Desraj Goyal’sRahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh which laid down the conditions for lifting the ban on the RSS.
“The RSS leader has undertaken to make the loyalty to the Union Constitution and respect for the National Flag more explicit in the Constitution of the RSS and to provide clearly that persons believing or resorting to violent and secret methods will have no place in the Sangh..”

Among other conditions was that the RSS would function only as a cultural organisation.
Hindu rashtra
A genuine understanding of the motivations behind the ideology that killed Gandhi cannot skirt around the fundamental issue of religion-based nationhood. The contempt for the Indian Constitution is writ large in MS Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts, which is proudly available on the RSS website even today (for example, see Page 119).
Despite its assurances to the government of India, the Indian tricolour remained anathema to the Sangh for 52 years after India became independent. It was only on January 26, 2002, that the RSS hoisted the tricolour on its headquarters. Until then it was always the bhagwa dhwaj,representing the Hindu nation.
In fact, the English organ of the RSS, Organiser (dated August 14, 1947) carried a feature titled “Mystery behind the bhagwa dhawaj” which, while demanding hoisting of the saffron flag at the ramparts of Red Fort in Delhi, openly denigrated the choice of the Tri-colour as the National Flag in the following words:
“The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the Tricolour but it never be respected and owned by Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.”
It became even more brazen once the first RSS-driven government in New Delhi under Atal Behari Vajpayee came into power as the organisation’s mouthpiece Organiser proudly advertised the books published by Surya Bharati Prakashan, Gandhi Ji’s Murder and After by co-accused and brother of the assassin, Gopal Godse, as also May It Please Your Honour,by Nathuram Godse.
Both the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha have made money by glamourising the killer of Gandhi and claimed proud privilege for the reasons for the killing.
The crux of the issue for the Sangh and those who have opposed its supremacist ideology has always been about who has or has not the right to equal rights and citizenship in the India of today. On this issue Gandhi and the RSS stood on the extreme opposites ends of the spectrum. Not only can no one deny this, but it is this crucial issue that remains central to the debate around which forces were responsible for the murder of the Mahatma.
Teesta Setalvad is co-editor, Sabrangindia.

Brief Summary of the talk given by Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf on “Critical Issues in Muslim-Buddhist Dialogue in Contemporary Asia

Summary prepared by Pratiksha Nair, Programme Coordinator, CSSS

     The Centre for Study of Society and Secularism along with G.D. Parikh Centre for Educational Studies organised a talk by Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf on the topic “Critical Issues in Muslim-Buddhist dialogue in Contemporary Asia” on 22nd July 2016 at J.P. Naik Bhavan, University of Mumbai, Kalina Campus, Mumbai.
Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf is the Director of Centre for Buddhist-Muslim Understanding in the College of Religion Studies, Mahidol University, Thailand. He specializes in Religion with a focus on Islam in Thailand & Southeast Asia and also Muslim-Buddhist dialogue.
       In the lecture he said, the religions of Buddhism and Islam both have common theological grounds. The growths of both religions were parallel, while Islam flourished in Central Asia and Middle-East, Buddhism flourished in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Encounters between Islam and Buddhism are as old as Islam itself. It dates back to the Muslim engagements with the Asian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism due to the commercial relations, immigrations and political interactions between the worlds of Islam and Asia. Buddhism has been a non-theistic religion, whereas Islam has been a monotheistic religion. They both believe in liberation and following the middle path. In religious terms, this led to the meeting between the Hindu view of moksha (liberation) through the Hindu notion of monism, the Buddhist notion of Dhamma (truth) through the realization of sunyata (emptiness), and the Islamic concept of fana’ (passing away of one’s identity by its merging into the Universal Being) as expounded in the monotheistic pantheism of the Sufis.
Buddhism and Islam are essentially parallel religions that share values like morality, liberations equality, justice and freedom. They have always coexisted peacefully in South Asia and Southeast Asia for so many centuries. Despite the long record of Muslim-Buddhist interaction, such contact is at present non-existent or rare, largely due to the strong trend of reified interpretations of religion in the contemporary world – interpretations which in turn overlook the historical exchanges between both the religions.
       However it is during the colonial period that the boundaries of nation-states were drawn and this led to the construction of the concept of minority-majority. The resulting aspirations of power by the majority led to the creation of fear of the minorities or ‘the other’. This creation of fear helps consolidate power in the hands of the few. Religion had taken a back seat during the colonial rule but post-colonization these new nation-states, who were grappling with issues of identity, saw in religion the possibility of building a new identity. Thus religion came back but came back with a vengeance, stronger and more powerful. Dr. Yusuf believes that today, ideology has become religion and religion has become an ideology and the fine balance between the two have been lost.
       Today Islam and Buddhism have taken a strong ritualistic and ethno-nationalistic identity and are concerned about maintaining their ethno-religious identity and protecting and preserving their political status as citizens in the face of rising conservative Buddhism or Islam. In Theravada Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka due to their ritualistic orientation, do not have enough space for dialogue and tolerance with other religions. Whereas, in Mahayana Buddhist states like Taiwan, Korea and Japan, Buddhism assumes a more spiritual and philosophical orientation giving more space for dialogue between religions. The most critical way of maintaining stable, non-violent relations between religions is by having constant dialogue between them. Dr. Yusuf believes that dialogue is an enriching experience. It is about learning about oneself first and then the other, growing and changing. Understanding oneself and one’s own religion is the first step towards dialogue. Conversion is not and should never be the purpose of dialogue. We need to understand and learn about the other religion and no one should be a spokesperson of any religion. We need to understand problems and conflicts from the other person's perspective and try to analyse how we would react if something unfair and violent were to happen to us. Both religions need to be understood in their own terms, individually.
       According to Dr. Yusuf, one response to rise of religious conflicts, violence and hatred is to educate the positive role of religions rooted in spiritual and humanistic traditions of Islam and Buddhism. Inter-religious dialogue is necessary to improve understanding and tolerance among people. Muslims need embark on a continuous process of critically reviewing and revisiting their understanding and practice of Islam in the light of the conditions and requirements of our age and the clarifications provided by our collective historic experiences. There is a need to strengthen the Muslim reformist tradition and to create bridges between the Muslims and the rest of world.
       Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf furthered stressed on the importance of educating the youth about ways of expressing support and dissent within democratic means. Inculcate democratic values through school curricula early on to form and develop a culture of democratic tolerance in young minds. There is a need to realize and accept plural identity. This would lead to a much needed multicultural citizenship. He fears that the world today is headed towards ‘global’ fascism which is not limited only to the German borders anymore. He also emphasizes on the need to promote science, economic development and Human Resource development. Lastly he concluded by saying, there two types of interreligious ignorance – One is when the followers of one religion do not know the other religion and second is when one does not want to learn the religion of others. It's up to us to make a choice.
        The audience that consisted of approximately 40 well-known academicians, professors, journalists and students raised questions about the status of women in both religions, extremism prevalent in both religions, the rising intolerance for diversity leading to the domination of certain communities in a religion and about creating a platform for humans to realize humanity and embark on a journey of spiritualization and natural humanization.

It was one of the most enigmatic lectures held as part of the Study Circle under CSSS’s Dr. Asghar Ali Memorial Activities, with an engaging Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf delivering a humanistic, enlightening talk that left us thinking about our ways of dealing with religious conflicts and diversity.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Israel destroys 20 Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem

Israeli authorities demolished 20  single- and multi-family homes in East Jerusalem overnight Monday, the most extensive house-demolition in the Palestinian sector of the capital in recent years.
Violent protests carried on through much of the night in the village of Qalandiyah, where most of the demolitions took place. Border Police fired sponge-tipped bullets, stun grenades and tear gas against some of the rioters, but there were no known injuries. Early Tuesday morning the troops accompanied Finance Ministry building inspectors to carry out the remaining demolitions.
“I have been in this business 20 years, and there was never such a widespread operation,” said Ahmad Subalaban, an area coordinator for the NGO Ir Amim, which promotes Jewish-Arab equality in Jerusalem. He added that in the past, “at most they would demolish four or five structures.”
Hassan Salameh, who owns a two-story building in Qalandiyah that was demolished, told Haaretz the demolition order was received only on Monday morning, and that it had been stuck onto the door of the building during the night. “All my brothers, seven families, lived in the building. Not even 12 hours passed from the moment we saw the demolition orders and the time the bulldozers arrived. They destroyed everything, the furniture and everything that was inside. If they had given us warning, we would have had a chance to speak to them, we would have brought all the papers. ... They destroyed my life. What will we do? I’ll stay with my children until we rent an apartment or I’ll put up a tent. I’m in shock,” Salameh said.
A treasury official said authorities removed possessions from the Salameh house. “I personally removed a refrigerator and shoes. We insisted that they take out their clothes,” the official said.
According to Ir Amim, the number of house demolitions of Palestinians has increased sharply. This year to date, 78 homes have been demolished (not including homes of terrorists), as opposed to 74 in all of 2015. In 2014, 52 homes were destroyed.
An enforcement official confirmed that house demolitions were on the rise. “Enforcement against illegal housing starts was always high preference for us,” the official said. “Lately there has been a wave of illegal housings starts, for example in Qalandiyah and Walajeh, in south Jerusalem. All the building that we demolished in Qalandiyah popped up at once over the past month and a half. We don’t want to get to the point of high-rise buildings, which ruins things for everyone, also in terms of village planning. Second, there is indeed a decision to increase enforcement.”
Salameh said people living in the area are residents of Jerusalem who own apartments and land within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, but a few years ago found themselves on the other side of the separation barrier, cut off from the city. He said many residents thought they did not need building permits to construct new homes in the area beyond the barrier.
“After they built the fence people said, ‘Come on, let’s build.’ I personally had a building permit that had expired, and my only fault was that I didn’t renew it. But a lot of people thought this place belonged to the West Bank, not the municipality [of Jerusalem]. Big villas were destroyed here tonight. People spent all their money to live in these houses,” Salameh added.
Ir Amim said the demolitions reflected the municipality’s “cruel policy.” “From a survey of the planning situation we made, it emerges that the Jerusalem municipality does not prepare detailed plans for the Palestinian neighborhoods of the city and brings about the failure of any plan the residents make on their own initiative,” said the NGO. But Regavim, which fights against illegal structures built by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, welcomed the operation, saying, “The government of Israel proved to itself tonight that the expression ‘rule of law’ is not an empty cliché, and that it can restore sovereignty to every corner of Israel.”

Who killed Gandhi?

The revelations
  • Delhi police CID report: On 8 Dec, 1947 Golwalkar said RSS had the means to silence Gandhi
  • Lucknow CID's letter: On 1 Dec, 50 RSS men met at Mathura, allegedly discussed assassinating Congress leaders
More in the story
  • How Nehru and Patel differed on RSS role in Gandhi's assassination?
  • Golwalkar's threat that not a single Muslim will be left in India

  • The Supreme Court, in its oral observations, has upbraided Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for his statement that "RSS people" killed Mahatma Gandhi. In the apex court's wisdom, young Rahul Gandhi could not make a "collective denunciation" of the RSS or the Rashtirya Swayamsewak Sangh.
    It is a moot point whether it is for a court of law to give a clean bill of health to the RSS, 68 years after the assassination of the Mahatma.
    Two important questions, however, remain unanswered: Did the RSS threaten to kill Mahatma Gandhi? And, did the RSS have the capability or the means to do so?
Reports available in the public domain in the Delhi Police Archives say that the RSS did threaten Gandhi and claimed that it had the means to silence him. These are the secret source reports of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Delhi Police for the months preceding Gandhi's assassination.
Here are some extracts from the verbatim copy of a police report of a crucial RSS meeting where The threat was made.
The CID source is identified only as "Sewak" (perhaps an impish play on 'sewaks', the term for RSS volunteers) and filed by Inspector Kartar Singh of the department:

Buddhist Monks Lead Genocide in Myanmar

Here is an article on the subject.