Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Aung San Suu Kyi Seeks Elusive Peace in Burma with Panglong Summit

Hannah Beech has written a good piece in the Time on Myanmar government's new effort to bring peace to the divided nation.
She writes, "Nearly seven decades after her father convened a conference on the future of one of the world’s most ethnically diverse nations, Aung San Suu Kyi on Aug. 31 kickstarted a new national reconciliation summit in Burma.
Dubbed the 21st century Panglong—after the town where national hero Aung San held his 1947 confab in the months before Burma’s independence from the British—Suu Kyi’s five-day peace conference boasts a formidable to-do list: ending some of the world’s longest running civil conflicts; reining in a powerful army with little respect for rebel militias; promoting trust among ethnic civilians who have endured decades of repression at the hands of the Burmese army and some of their own insurgents; and encouraging development in frontier lands that, despite Burma’s most bountiful natural resources, remain some of the poorest in an already poor nation...
During a Wednesday speech kicking off the peace effort, Suu Kyi, who is the nation’s State Counselor because an army-backed constitution precludes her from serving as President, struck a momentous tone: “This is a unique opportunity for us to accomplish a great task that will stand as a landmark throughout our history,” said the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) now runs much of the government. “Let us grasp this magnificent opportunity with wisdom, courage and perseverance and create a future infused with light.”"

She continues, "Separately, tensions remain high between ethnic Rakhine (or Arakanese) in the country’s far west and a mostly stateless Muslim population that calls itself the Rohingya. Since ethnic unrest broke out in 2012 in Rakhine (or Arakan) state, local authorities have confined some 120,000 Rohingya to squalid camps; thousands have tried to escape the country by a dangerous sea route. The 21st century Panglong conference, however, will not address the fate of the roughly 1.1 million Rohingya since they are not one of Burma’s recognized ethnic groups.
So sensitive is the fate of the Muslim minority, which many in Burma consider to be composed of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, that Suu Kyi’s NLD government has advised against even uttering the word “Rohingya.” Instead, the NLD administration has called for the term “Muslims in Rakhine” to be used. During a press conference with Suu Kyi on Aug. 30, U.N. Secretary General Ban described the persecuted group as “Rohingya” and urged equality and harmony for all people in Myanmar. The NLD has set up a special commission to investigate the situation in Rakhine state, which will begin sessions next week headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. There are no Rohingya on the commission.
Aung San, an ethnic Bamar and founder of the modern Burmese army, held his 1947 conference in the hill town of Panglong in order to gain support for independence from some of the former British colony’s most powerful frontier groups: the Shan, the Chin and the Kachin. Ethnic leaders were promised a federalist autonomy and even the possibility of seceding from the union should they prove dissatisfied with the new nation. But Aung San—father to Suu Kyi, as well as an entire nation—was assassinated months later, before Burma became independent in 1948. A coup in 1962, which ushered in army rule for nearly half a century, strangled the promise of Panglong. Many of the ruling junta’s generals earned their stripes battling ethnic militias, like the Karen who rebelled months after Burma became independent."

To read the entire piece, click here.

Myanmar: Investigate death and alleged rape of Rohingya woman

The Amnesty International has issued an appeal below:


The Myanmar authorities must ensure a prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigation into the death and alleged rape of a Rohingya woman. The alleged refusal by the police to investigate the case, and to bring those responsible to justice is a violation of their human rights obligations and sends the message that crimes against Rohingya, including  unlawful deaths, rape and other crimes of sexual violence, will continue to go unpunished.  
On the morning of 18 August 2016, Raysuana, a Rohingya woman in her mid-twenties, was found unconscious in a ditch close to a military compound, named locally as Bandula Hall, in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State. According to local sources, Raysuana’s body was found by military personnel, however, instead of taking her directly to a hospital, they called leaders from nearby Thet Kay Pyin village and asked them to come and pick her up. The village leaders then took her to Thet Kay Pyin clinic, where clinic attendants discovered Raysuana was bleeding from her vagina and mouth, and had bruises and swelling on her back. She died later that evening, at around 7:45pm.  

Local police, called to the clinic, reportedly refused to open an investigation saying that it would be “too complicated” given that she was found close to a military compound. Instead, they ordered villagers to bury her body, which they did the following day. According to credible sources no post-mortem examination was carried out. 

Amnesty International calls on the Myanmar authorities to immediately initiate an investigation into the death and alleged rape of Raysuana, ensuring that it is independent, impartial and effective. The results should be made public. All those suspected of being responsible must be brought to justice before independent, civilian courts, in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness and which do not impose the death penalty. Should any of the suspected perpetrators be members of the Myanmar security forces, they should be immediately suspended from duties.   

Amnesty International also calls on the authorities to secure the crime scene and ensure the safety of any witnesses and those reporting information about the incident. Amnesty International further calls on the authorities to launch an inquiry to into allegations that the police refused to open an investigation into this case; and if this is the case, to institute disciplinary or other measures against those responsible. The authorities must also provide effective remedies and reparations to Raysuana’s family.  

Thet Kay Pyin village is located in an area of Sittwe which is home to tens of thousands of people, mainly Rohingya, who remain displaced four years after violence swept Rakhine State in 2012. The Rohingya and other Muslims living there face severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, and are effectively segregated from neighbouring communities. Because of these restrictions accessing medical care, in particular life-saving medical treatment, can be very difficult. 

Raysuana’s case take place in a wider context of human rights violations against the Rohingya, including unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment and arbitrary arrest at the hands of the security forces. Independent and impartial investigations into such allegations are rare and suspected perpetrators are seldom held to account.  

The case also highlights wider concerns about rape and other crimes of sexual violence against ethnic minority women, which have been well-documented by women’s organizations in Myanmar. In its 2016 Concluding Observations, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) expressed concern about the “wide spread impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of such violence” and called on the Myanmar government to “expedite the investigation and prosecution of crimes of sexual violence perpetrated by the military and armed groups”. 
Ongoing impunity which allows human rights violations to go unpunished only serves to perpetuate the cycle of abuse. The authorities must ensure perpetrators are not shielded from accountability and ensure that victims and their relatives lodging complaints and seeking redress do not face reprisals.

Myanmar ethnic groups attend government peace talks

The news below is reported by the BBC:
The government and military in Myanmar are holding landmark peace talks with armed ethnic groups as part of efforts to bring an end to decades of conflict.
The meeting in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, involving 17 groups, is being opened by Aung San Suu Kyi and attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Negotiations on a permanent peace are expected to last months if not years.
But opening the five-day talks, Aung San Suu Kyi said unity was essential for Myanmar's future.
"So long as we are unable to achieve national reconciliation and national unity, we will never be able to establish a sustainable and durable peaceful union," she told attendees.
"Only if our country is at peace will we be able to stand on an equal footing with the other countries in our region and across the world."
Mr Ban has said the talks are "an important first step".

Why are the talks happening now?

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been plagued by violence since gaining independence in 1948, involving ethnic minority groups seeking independence or greater autonomy and angry at the dominance of the Burman ethnic majority.
The former military-backed government had reached truces with some groups, but has never managed to secure a nationwide deal. Sporadic violence has killed or displaced tens of thousands of people over the years.
Myanmar's de factor leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said securing peace is a priority for her National League for Democracy, which won elections last year.

Who is taking part?

All armed ethnic groups, which have tens of thousands of fighters between them, were invited and most are attending, along with representatives from the government, army, political parties and civil society.
They include the Karen, Kachin, Shan and Wa, all of which agreed to put down their weapons to attend.
But three smaller armed groups have not been invited, because they would not agree to the terms and are still fighting government forces.

What deal is likely to be reached?

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Nay Pyi Taw says the armed groups have been brought to the table by vague promises of a more federal Myanmar with power and resource sharing.
But the military, which still holds 25% of seats in parliament, sees its role as resisting the break-up of Myanmar, so are likely to oppose any such move. It also remains unclear, he adds, how much devolution of power Suu Kyi actually wants.
For it's part the army would like the armed groups to begin disarming as soon as possible, and wants the 2008 constitution which it effectively drafted at the heart of any peace deal. The group would like to hold onto their arms until a deal is reached.
Our correspondent says the complexity and scale of the talks are daunting, but they are almost certainly Myanmar's best chance for nationwide peace in nearly 70 years.

Rohingya 'deserve hope'

Rohingya in a camp in Sittwe, Rakhine (file image)Image copyright AFP
Image caption Tens of thousands of Rohingya are still displaced after communal violence
Mr Ban has also used his visit to Myanmar to raise concern on the separate issue of the plight of the Rohingya minority.
He said the marginalised Muslim ethnic group, who are not officially recognised by Myanmar, "deserve hope".
Tens of thousands of Rohingya are living in temporary camps in northern Rakhine state after being displaced by deadly communal violence in majority Buddhist Myanmar in 2012.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar (31 Aug 2016)Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Ban said the government has assured him it was addressing the Rohingya issue
The government, along with many Burmese, consider the Rohingya to be illegal Bangladeshi migrants. They are not formally recognised by law and have no voting rights.
Mr Ban told reporters on Tuesday the Myanmar government "has assured me about its commitment to address the roots of the problem".
He said the Rohingya "need and deserve a future, hope and dignity. This is not just a question of the Rohingya community's right to self-identity".
Last week, Ms Suu Kyi, who has been accused of ignoring the Rohingya, set up a commission to investigate the issue, led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Death threat against Brahmin historian D N Jha for writing about beef


Beef—it's the oldest shibboleth in the Indian mind. The cow has been a political animal in modern India, but it has become more political under the present BJP governments at the Centre and in some states, which are obsessed with beef bans and cow slaughter. 


It is with textual evidence from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain canons that historian D.N. Jha took on the sacred cow.




Nearly 15 years a go, writing about Prof. Jha, Sheela Reddy said, "For over a month, the mild, balding professor of history, Dwijendra Narayan Jha, has been shuffling to his classroom in Delhi University escorted by a police constable. Teaching ancient history does not usually endanger one's health, but ever since Jha went public with the best-kept secret in Indian history—the beef-eating habits of ancient Hindus, Buddhists and even early Jains in a book titled Holy Cow—Beef in Indian Dietary Conditions—his phone hasn't stopped ringing. "The calls are usually abusive," says Jha, "but sometimes they demand to know what evidence I have, and one day late in July it was an anonymous caller threatening dire consequences if I ever brought out my book.""
The cow as a sacred animal, Jha believes, did not really gain currency until Dayanand Saraswati's cow protection movement in the 19th century". The cow became a tool of mass political mobilisation with the organised cow-protection movement," the historian points out. "The killing of cows stopped gradually with the agrarian society and caste rigidity. The Brahmins found it convenient to say that those who ate beef were untouchable. But they themselves continued to consume it, recommending it for occasions such as shraadh. Simultaneously, they trivialised the beef taboo by saying that eating beef is like cleaning your teeth with your fingers. It was never a sin to eat it, merely an indecorum. There was never a taboo, only discouragement."

With this discovery, culled from ancient scriptures, medical texts, the Manusmriti and religious commentaries, Jha impishly "decided to take the bull by its horns" and publish a book on his findings. "There is a saying in Hindi: Laaton ke bhoot, baaton se nahin maante (Those used to force are not persuaded by words). So I had to give them the shock treatment," he explains.
Only, Jha's "shock treatment" did not stop with Hindus. Buddhists, he claims, citing canonical texts like Mahaparinibbana Sutta and Anguttara Nikaya, also ate beef and other meat. "In fact, the Buddha died after eating a meal of pork," he says. "Vegetarianism was not a viable option for Buddhist monks in a society that loved meat of all kinds—pig, rhinoceros, cow, buffalo, fish, snake, birds, including crows and peacocks. Only camel and dog meat was taboo in India."

Similarly with the early Jains. Citing the Bhagavatisutra, Jha points out that Mahavira once ate a chicken meal to gain strength for a yogic battle with an adversary. "His only condition was to ask the woman who cooked the meal to find a chicken already killed by a cat instead of slaughtering a fresh one," says Jha. "This has upset the Jains, but why are they not upset with the texts that carry these stories? I found these in bookstores run by devout Jain booksellers like Motilal Banarsidass and Sohanlal Jain Dharam Pracharak Samiti."
"Indian society has come to such a juncture," says Jha, "that historians have to play an active role in countering superstitions and unreason." He took up cudgels during the Ayodhya dispute and even objected to the TV serialisation of epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. "It politicised the myths and propagated a value system and religiosity not in keeping with a state-run broadcaster," he says. "Ramanand Sagar's version of the epics is not real history."

"Old and tired out" Jha may call himself, but there's something irrepressible about him. Bans and fatwas haven't stopped him from beginning work on his next book. "It will be called," says Jha with deadpan face, "Adulterous Gods and their Inebriated Women".


The above paragraphs are excerpted from Ms Reddy's piece in 2001.


Now professor Jha is nearly 76 years old. The History professor of Delhi University is getting Death threats.

The twist is... author himself is a Brahmin. His research on Beef eating habits of the Brahmins is what is getting him death threats..

Excerpts: _*"If they want to ban my book, then they will have to ban the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Sutras and the epics*._Where will they stop? I have given evidence, if they have counter-evidence, why don't they come forward with it? But they are so illiterate, they haven't even heard of those texts, let alone read them. I have texts and they go by blind faith," he says. "That is what a historian can and should do: *Counter faith with facts*,"

Source: http://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/a-brahmins-cow-tales/213159

USA Today Editorial: Burkini fasion police take liberties in France


The USA Today's Editorial View is shared below:
The specter of French police patrolling beaches — and ordering women to remove their demure swimwear or leave — raised a lot of eyebrows last week. It also raised a provocative question: How is France, with its national commitment to secularism, any different from Saudi Arabia, with its national religion of Islam?
In Saudi Arabia, as in France, officials have been known to patrol public spaces sanctioning women for their attire — in their case because it is too revealing, not too modest. And in Saudi Arabia, as in France, officials justify their actions based on an overarching national cause.
France’s secularism is not a state religion. But when it reaches the point of police officers telling women what to wear and not wear, it becomes a form of suppression of individual liberties by an overweening state.
Friday's ruling by a top French court — striking down one town’s ban on burkinis, the full-length swimsuits designed for Muslim women — did a real favor for the nation’s image. It also underscored the superiority of America’s approach to religious expression.
The ruling doesn’t immediately affect the 30 other cities and communities, including Nice, the nation’s fifth-largest city and the site of last month's Bastille Day terror attack in which 86 have died, that have adopted similar bans. But coming from France’s highest administrative court, a clear precedent has been set that will make it hard for other cities to continue.
Here at home, Americans treat matters of religion through the awkward lens of the First Amendment. Its two religion clauses — one prohibiting government from recognizing an establishment of religion, and another preventing it from interfering with people’s free exercise of religion — can be cumbersome and sometimes contradictory.
For decades, lawyers and judges have struggled with the question of how to accommodate displays of faith in public settings such as schools without their accommodations constituting a kind of recognition. The Supreme Court was forced to rule several times on such issues as nativity scenes at city hall, Bible study groups at public schools and prayers at graduation ceremonies.
Yet for all its contradictions, the American approach is far better than trying to enforce secularism in public places while allowing people to worship as they please in their homes and religious institutions. In America, the government does not require people of faith to pretend to be something they are not. And it assumes that they can be observant of their own religion while being respectful of other faiths.
The French approach is clearly driven by peoples' fears about terrorism and their apprehension over the growing number of Muslims in the country. The burkini bans have been adopted in the wake of the attack in Nice and one in Paris last November, and five years into a national ban on face-covering burqas in public places. That ban, if anything, has backfired, causing civil rights groups to encourage burqas as a form of protest.
The mayor of Cannes justified his ban on the grounds that the burkini is a “symbol of Islamic extremism” that is “not respectful of good morals and secularism.” If a full-length suit covering everything but the hands, face and feet does not show good morals, then scuba divers should be worried. And if clothing associated with a particular religion is not secular enough, then surely it is also time to ban the religious habits of Catholic nuns.
It is time for France to get rid of its ridiculous bans on burkinis, and hopefully Friday’s court ruling will help sweep them out to sea.

Why We Should All Remain Seated: the Anti-Muslim Origins of “The Star-Spangled Banner”

To read Sam Husseini's piece, click here.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

France’s top administrative court overturns burkini ban


After a month of intense national scandal and heightened international outrage, France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’État, on Friday overturned the burkini ban in a coastal area of the south of France.Imposed in the name of secularism, perhaps France’s most sacred ideal, the highly controversial burkini bans — currently affecting 25 French towns and cities besides Villeneuve-Loubet, which the court primarily addressed — prohibit Muslim women from wearing full-bodied bathing suits designed to respect traditional codes of modesty on the beach.
But in its Friday ruling, the administrative court concluded that the idea of a burkini ban insulted “fundamental freedoms” such as the “freedom to come and go, the freedom of conscience and personal liberty.”
In recent weeks, a network of local mayors and officials across France passed similar bans on the Australian-born bathing suit, casting the burkini as the latest iteration of the burqa, the full-face veil that, in 2010, France became the first European country to ban outright. This 2010 law followed an earlier 2004 law prohibiting religious wear such as headscarves in public schools.
Their principal argument — similar to those employed by the authors and supporters of the previous laws — is that traditional Muslim dress somehow impedes the rights of women in the historic French Republic of liberty, equality and fraternity.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, for example, expressed his opposition to the burkini in nothing less than the language of human rights: the suit, he said, was a means of “enslavement.” By that logic, the French state is duty-bound to emancipate Muslim women not only from the clutches of their religion but also, by extension, from themselves.
For Christian Estrosi, an outspoken supporter of the burkini ban who runs the Provence-Alpes Côte d'Azur regional council, where a significant number of the bans were passed, Friday's decision was a contradiction of precisely those Republican values.
"In that spirit, public space is a place where everyone, without discrimination, can be a free citizen," he said in a statement. "Wearing an outfit that fully covers the body to go to a beach does not correspond to our vision of living together, particularly with regard to the equality of men and women."
Estrosi's office declined to provide additional comments Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Muslim leaders and French human rights advocates celebrated the decision, claiming that the burkini bans represent little but thinly veiled institutionalized Islamophobia in a country that is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, if not its largest.
Marwan Muhammad, the director of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, one of the nongovernmental organizations involved in challenging the burkini ban, called Friday's decision a "huge victory for human rights in France."
"It affirms fundamental freedoms," he said in an interview. "But it's also a political victory: The courts will not give into political Islamophobia. There are a number of judges that will affirm the rule of law. We are able to protect and defend human rights."
After all, a particular reading of Republican values was not the only objection to the burkini.
After the recent terrorist attack in Nice, when a Tunisian resident of the city killed 85 people and injured hundreds more in a truck attack on Bastille Day, the burkini ban, for many, assumed a strikingly reactionary bent.
For a growing number, the burkini represented, in the words of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, a “provocation.” The city of Nice, of which Estrosi was formerly mayor, outlawed the bathing suit because, he said, it “overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks.”
On Tuesday, images emerged of French police officers surrounding a Muslim woman on the beach in Nice, demanding that she remove some of her coverings. The images spread on social media across the globe.
"There's a kind of institutional validation for this racism," Muhammad said. "And this will not go away with this overturned law — it will take a long time to challenge how deeply Islamophobia is embedded in France."

Fresh clashes in Indian Occupied Kashmir

A young man was killed and dozens of other civilians were wounded Friday when Indian government forces fired bullets and shotguns to quell new protests against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
A police officer said thousands of Kashmiris defied harsh security restrictions and joined the protests after Friday Muslim prayers. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of department policy.
Clashes erupted in over a dozen places, including in the main city of Srinagar, between rock-throwing protesters and troops, who fired live ammunition, shotguns and tear gas.
Police said the man died in southern Pulwama town. At least 50 civilians were injured in the clashes.
Earlier, government forces blocked worshippers from offering prayers at large mosques for the seventh consecutive week. However, prayers were allowed at small neighborhood mosques.
A strict curfew, a series of communication blackouts and a tightening crackdown have failed to stop some of Kashmir's largest protests against Indian rule in recent years, triggered by the killing of a popular rebel commander on July 8.
Residents have struggled to cope with shortages of food, medicine and other necessities.
At least 67 civilians have been killed and thousands injured, mostly by government forces firing bullets and shotguns at rock-throwing protesters. Two policemen have also been killed and hundreds of government forces have been injured in the clashes.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. Most Kashmiris want an end to Indian rule and favor independence or a merger with Pakistan. More than 68,000 people have been killed since rebel groups began fighting Indian forces in 1989 and in the subsequent Indian military crackdown.

Israeli Army Says Palestinian Shot Dead Was Not a Terrorist

Official Palestinian medical sources identified the man as Iyad Zakariya Hamed, a resident of Silwad who locals said was married and a father of three children with special needs.
For the full text of the news, click here.

FBI's "Don't Be a Puppet" game targets Muslim youth, teachers' union says

fbi dont be a puppet terrorism game
The main screen of the FBI’s Don’t Be a Puppet online game on extremism, which was launched in February. Photograph: FBI
A controversial FBI program targeting Muslim teenagers has drawn criticism from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), claiming it leads to bullying and profiling.
The union, which represents 1.6 million teachers in the US, sent an open letter to FBI director James Comey earlier this month to call for an end to the agency’s Don’t Be a Puppet program which aims to prevent youth from being radicalized.
“What we saw with the Don’t be a Puppet program, was that it created this broad based suspicion of people based upon their heritage or ethnicity,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said.
Don’t Be a Puppet: Pull Back the Curtain on Violent Extremism is an online game the FBI launched in February. It is set in a dingy basement where students compete a series of tasks to liberate a puppet on strings.
“Increasing ideological policing and surveillance efforts like the Don’t be a Puppet campaign will have a chilling effect on our schools and immigrant communities,” the letter said.
Nineteen civil rights and community groups signed the letter including the National Immigration Law Center and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Several Muslim community leaders previewed the game last year and were instantly incensed.
“It was pretty bad,” said Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee who was at the initial preview. “We felt that it really did target the Arab and Muslim community, and there was no room for it inside a classroom.”
ADC and other groups have actively spoken out against the game, which they say leads to bullying and profiling of Muslim students.
Following the meeting, the game’s release was pushed back but it was eventually rolled out in February, with some minor modifications.
It was met with ridicule and widely panned by gaming publications. In one game, users navigate a goat around virtual obstacles, and are rewarded with a sample text of the “distorted logic” foreign terrorists use to lure youth.
It remains unclear how many – if any – schools have adopted the program for use in the classroom or individuals at home.
“The FBI is aware of concerns raised by the American Federation of Teachers about the Don’t Be a Puppet campaign and plans to engage directly with the group’s leaders in the near future,” said Matthew Berton, FBI spokesman said.
The game is part of a larger counter-extremism program by the FBI. The agency released guidelines in January that provide suggestions to children on how to report others who travel to “suspicious” countries, and those who criticize western corruption.
In a report last year, the 9/11 review commission suggested that the FBI was not “an appropriate vehicle” for producing social programs combating extremism given its role as a law enforcement and intelligence agency.
The state department launched a Twitter campaign in called Think Again Turn Away in December 2013 to combat extremism online, which involved actively engaging with known jihadist accounts on Twitter. The state department’s Twitter handle would chime in on conversations between prominent jihadists accounts’ and attempt to convince them to change their beliefs. It was widely criticized for playing into the Islamic State propaganda as opposed to stifling it.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Annan Commission needs to be successful


On Friday, 19 August 2016, the first World Rohingya Day demonstrations took place around the world. Rallies and demonstrations took place in London, UK; Washington DC, Toronto, Canada, New York, Chicago; Stockholm, Sweden; Boston; Los Angeles; and many other places. The speakers demanded end to the ongoing genocide of Rohingya people who are indigenous people of Myanmar (formerly Burma) living in their ancestral lands.

The Rohingyas of Myanmar are a stateless people who are the most persecuted people in our time. They have been facing genocidal campaigns, especially since 2012, which saw a series of ethnic cleansing drives by the Rakhine Buddhists of Arakan – planned and aided by the local and central government and organized and mobilized by racist politicians and bigoted monks. It was a national project put into practice for the elimination of the Rohingya, who differ in ethnicity and religion from the majority Buddhists in this country of 55 million people. As a result, probably thousands were lynched to death, a quarter million lost their homes, tens of thousands were forced to choose exodus from this Buddhist den of intolerance and hatred, and an estimated 140,000 Rohingya internally displaced persons were caged in concentration camps in and around Sittwe (formerly Akyab).  

So evil was this proto-Nazi criminal eliminationist policy that anytime a fact-finding international aid agency or an NGO tried to voice its concern on deplorable inhuman condition of the Rohingya people, it was not only silenced by hateful Buddhist mobs that quickly rallied with hateful banners and posters, but was also barred from visiting the place next time. In this series of government sponsored pogroms, Ma Ba Tha – the terrorist organization of Buddhist monks, led by Wirathu – naturally played the role of Thein Sein’s hound dogs, and made the life of Muslims, living both inside and outside the Arakan state, unlivable. In essence, the world saw Buddhist Nazism in practice in much of Myanmar, especially in the western state of Arakan (Rakhine), bordering Bangladesh, where the Rohingyas have been living for centuries.

Even the Nobel Laureate for peace, the much hyped democracy icon, Suu Kyi, chose to ignore the serious existential plight of this unfortunate people. An official census taken last year purposefully excluded the Rohingya denying them the voting right in country’s general election. All the political organizations that once represented the Rohingya people were disallowed from contesting in the election, and so were the former elected Rohingya MPs. It was all part of a very sinister plan to eliminate the Rohingya politically, socially and economically.

The fate of the Rohingya refugees did not fare well in the next-door Bangladesh either; not only were they unwelcome there but aid organizations that provide a modicum of relief to Rohingya continue to be doggedly harassed by government agencies.

With the election win of Suu Kyi’s NLD in the general election last year, a flicker of hope emerged within the international community who expected that she would self-correct her inexcusable role and do the needful towards improving the lot of the persecuted Rohingya. She had her own problems, too. Constitutional roadblocks were put on her way by Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government that denied her the right to become the president of the country. But she was able to outmaneuver USDP’s intent smartly by creating a new post with more power.

However, as days turned into months, nothing positive happened even as Suu Kyi took the reign of the government in Myanmar earlier this year.  More problematically, she came under widespread international criticism for refusing to even mention the name “Rohingya” and rebuked an American diplomatic who did. Equally disturbingly, she revealed her own prejudice when after a heated interview with BBC’s veteran journalist, Mishal Husain, she was reportedly heard to say angrily, “No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.” The case of the Rohingya looked utterly hopeless!

Then like a lightning bolt came the latest news: Suu Kyi has solicited the aid of Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, to lead an “Advisory Commission on the Rakhine State.” The Annan-led commission includes both national and international officials who will recommend “lasting solutions to complex and delicate issues” in Rakhine state.

What brought this change of heart? Is it because Suu Kyi’s government has realized that for Myanmar to move forward it must loosen its ties with her problematic past that had earned only bad reputation from the international community? Is it because of the realization that the ongoing abuse and discrimination of the Rohingya is also threatening to undermine Myanmar’s historic opening and democratic transition, let alone delaying the needed economic prosperity?

Whatever may be the true intent of Suu Kyi’s government, there is little doubt that this decision was a timely one, and it was a bold one, too. Many Buddhists inside Myanmar, esp. in the Rakhine state, are die-hard racists and bigots. They resent this decision. They would rather see Rohingya and other religious minorities eliminated altogether from their country one way or another. Decades of falsification of historical truths and hateful propaganda that were propagated by the military government and hate provocateurs like (late) Aye Kyaw and Aye Chan have turned them into killers, justifying and allowing them to do savage crimes against the Rohingya and other Muslims. Forgotten in that lacunar worldview was the hard fact that the forefathers of today’s Rohingya people had settled in Arakan before those of the Rakhine people.

Myanmar needs the necessary foreign investment to move up economically, and cannot allow a delay of that process until investors’ perception of human rights of the country improves significantly. The international community has been dissatisfied with Suu Kyi’s slow response to ensuring protection, fairness, and justice for all of its people, esp. the Rohingya people whose plight is simply inhumane and unacceptable. Human rights groups have long been demanding donors to leverage their aid, and for the broader international community to pressure the Suu Kyi government to end the repression. They have been demanding that Myanmar respect international law, end its complicity in violating Rohingya rights and punish those promoting and carrying out ethnic cleansing whatever their motivation.

Suu Kyi, thus, had to find someone like Mr. Annan with a prudent track record that would provide the necessary positive publicity for her government, let alone infusion of the needed foreign money.

After leaving the UN, Mr. Annan has undertaken a few of these missions. In 2007, a disputed election in Kenya lead to widespread communal violence and threatened to unravel and otherwise thriving country. He mediated between the two parties and helped establish a commission of inquiry that investigated post-election violence, turning its findings over the International Criminal Court. He mediated a power sharing agreement that ended the prospect of further violence.  It was no accident that groups like the Amnesty International have welcomed the decision. “Today’s announcement is a sign that Myanmar’s authorities are taking the situation in Rakhine state seriously. But it will only have been a worthwhile exercise if it paves the way for the realization of human rights for all people in the state,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific said in a statement released earlier.

The formation of the advisory commission should be a matter of celebration. However, as hinted above, many Buddhists, esp. Rakhines (e.g., Arakan National Party – a racist group) are opposed to the Annan commission. They don’t want to solve the Rohingya problem. [The ANP has lately objected to the granting of citizenship of 29 white-card holding Muslims in Buthidaung in the Rakhine state. Prior to the 2015 election, the ANP had thrown its weight behind a successful push to disenfranchise white-card holders. It is worth noting here that according to government figures supplied, there were nearly 800,000 white-card holders in Myanmar at the time they were revoked last year, with over 660,000 in Rakhine State. White cards were first issued as a stop-gap measure in the early 1990s, with many of the state’s Muslims being assured it would pave the way to full citizenship.]

For years, the official Burmese mantra has been that "no foreigner can possibly understand Rakhine's problems". Thus, for the first time, the Burmese government is seeking international expertise to try and solve one of the country's most complex problems. It is a big shift for the government in Myanmar.

Many human rights are also concerned because of the inclusion of Daw Khin Saw Tint - a known racist and bigot - in the commission. She is a Rakhine Buddhist who chairs the Rakhine Literature and Culture Association (Yangon), responsible for promoting intolerance against the Rohingya people. As Burmese human rights activist, Dr. Maung Zarni has shown in his blog, Ms. Khin Saw Tint remains a very hostile, anti-Rohingya zealot who falsely considers that Rohingyas have no history prior to the Burma's independence from Great Britain. I wish Suu Kyi had been more careful in selection of the members of the Advisory Commission.

After being named in the commission, Khin Saw Tint said she believes working together with independent and highly respected international figures will present a clear image of what is happening in Rakhine State to the international community. “The problem can only be solved with a bilateral approach,” she said. I pray that she is not speaking with a forked tongue and does not torpedo the needed task of the commission, which does not include a single Rohingya.

The Annan commission is expected to start work in September and will release a full report, including a set of recommendations on “conflict prevention, prevention, humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, institution building and promotion of development of Rakhine state” by the second half of 2017. However, as we all know too well, the litmus test going forward is whether or not the government will accept and implement those recommendations.

India opens all the gates of the Farraka Dam to worsen flood situation inside Bangladesh

The water level may cross danger level in the next 24 to 28 hours, Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) officials have said.

India opened Farakka's 106 gates to save Bihar from flooding.
At Rajshahi point, Padma has risen by 12 to 13 centimetres each day during the past week, BWDB Administrator Mir Mosharrof Hossain told bdnews24.com.
Padma, the main distributary of the Ganges, enters Bangladesh from India near Chapainawabganj and meets the Jamuna River in Goalonda, Rajbarhi.
The city of Rajshahi, a major metropolitan in the country's north, sits on the banks of the mighty river.
Flowing 120 kilometres ahead, the consolidated stream then meets the Meghna River at Chandpur before flowing into the Bay of Bengal.
The Farakka Barrage, which stands across the Ganges River in the Indian state of West Bengal, roughly 16.5 kilometres from the border with Bangladesh near Chapainawabganj, has been the cause of a long-standing dispute between Bangladesh and India.
Bangladeshi experts and environmental activists have criticised the barrage, saying it affects biodiversity in Bangladesh by cutting off the water supply.
According to the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre, Padma's waters increased by 12cm at Pangkha point, 11 centimetres at Rajshahi point and 13 centimetres at Hardinge Bridge point until 9am Friday.
The figures, however, are still below the danger level by 17, 22 and 21 centimetres at the three points respectively.
Engineer Mir Mosharraf Hossain said: “The water level may cross the danger level (which is 18.50 centimetre) by Saturday night if the flow continues at the same speed.”
The embankment protection dam of the river has already been damaged in some areas in Rajshahi.
“Under the town protection dam in Rajshahi’s Bulonpur area, it has already been damaged at four points, inundating some low-lying areas and homesteads,” said Mir Mosharraf.
Kushtia WDB Executive Engineer Noimul Haque also said the river will cross the danger level within 24 hours if the rise continues.
He said the river Gorhai, a runoff of the Padma, is also rising.
Efforts are on to reinforce the town protection dam. Stones and sandbags are being dumped to stop the slide, he added.
A bulletin of the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre says the water level might continue to rise until Goalonda for the next 72 hours while it may rise for another 24 more after crossing Goalonda.


Can Kofi Annan Bring Peace to a Troubled Region?

The former Secretary General is taking on a new challenge: bringing peace and reconciliation to a desolate, troubled corner of South East Asia.
Rakhine State in Myanmar is a conflict prone region in the western part of the country that has seen widespread abuses against the country’s Rohingya muslim community.  Things became precipitously worse  in 2012, when clashes between various groups killed hundreds and displaced some 140,000 people, mostly Rohingya. Since then, thousands of Rohingya have sought to flee Myanmar, many on rickety boats across the Andaman Sea to Thailand and Malaysia. Many thousands more live in squalid camps in southern Bangladesh.
The Rohingya are essentially a stateless people. They have been long discriminated against by the majority populations in Myanmar, often with official government backing. An official census taken last year included 150 ethnic groups, and purposefully excluded Rohingya. They are most certainly not welcome over the border in Muslim majority Bangladesh, which has harassed aid organizations that provide a modicum of relief to Rohingya. Even as Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi took the reigns of the government in Burma earlier this year, she has come under widespread international criticism for refusing to even mention the name “Rohingya” and excoriated an American diplomatic who did.
Ethnic Rohingya with weapons walking away from a village in flames while a soldier stands by. Rakhine State, Burma, June 2012. © 2012 Private/HRW
Ethnic Rohingya with weapons walking away from a village in flames while a soldier stands by. Rakhine State, Burma, June 2012. © 2012 Private/HRW
Needless to say, the plight of the Rohingya in Rakhine State and beyond is a highly sensitive topic for a number of historical and cultural reasons. But the ongoing abuse and discrimination of the Rohingya is also threatening to undermine Myanmar’s historic opening and democratic transition, and this is probably why Aung San Suu Kyi took the rather bold decision to solicit the aid of someone as high profile as Kofi Annan to lead an “Advisory Commission on the Rakhine State.” The Annan-lead commission includes both national and international officials who will recommend “lasting solutions to complex and delicate issues” in Rakhine state.
Since the leaving the UN, Annan has undertaken a few of these missions. In 2007, a disputed election in Kenya lead to widespread communal violence and threatened to unravel and otherwise thriving country. Kofi Annan, who is from Ghana, mediated between the two parties and helped establish a commission of inquiry that investigated post-election violence, turning its findings over the International Criminal Court. Kofi Annan was personally instrumental in mediating a power sharing agreement that ended the prospect of further violence.  He was able to do so, at least in part, because he is a hugely popular figure in Kenya and carries a great deal of political clout there.
This is probably less the case in Myanmar where he is certainly less well known. Still, groups like Amnesty that have been calling for greater international attention on the plight of the Rohingya are cheering this decision.“Today’s announcement is a sign that Myanmar’s authorities are taking the situation in Rakhine state seriously. But it will only have been a worthwhile exercise if it paves the way for the realization of human rights for all people in the state,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific said in a statement released today.
The commission is expected to start work in September and will release a full report, including a set of recommendations on “conflict prevention, prevention, humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, institution building and promotion of development of Rakhine state” by the second half of 2017.
The key test going forward is whether or not the government will accept and implement those recommendations. But appointing someone as high profile as Kofi Annan to this job is a good sign that the government is prepared to take seriously these recommendations.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Guantánamo’s Quagmire by Cesar Chelala


Chelala writes:
The US Government’s recent decision to send 15 Guantánamo Bay detainees to the United Arab Emirates is the largest and most recent detainee transfer under President Obama. The transfer, however, doesn’t hide the fact that Guantánamo (“Gitmo”) remains a stain in the foreign policy reputation of the United States.
Gitmo was opened in January 2002, under the administration of former President George W. Bush, for the purpose of locking up foreign terror suspects after the 9/11/2001 attacks and subsequent U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. Some 779 men have been brought there since Gitmo opened. Nine prisoners have died at the facility. While most of them were released by President George W. Bush, 161 were released during President Obama’s administration. Only 61 prisoners remain in Guantánamo, of which only seven are facing criminal charges.
Both Republicans and some Democrats claim that Guantánamo prisoners are too dangerous to keep in U.S. soil, totally rejecting the idea of bringing them to the U.S. for trial. Keeping an individual locked up for years under administrative detention is in itself a judicial travesty, however, and maintaining such indefinite deprivation of liberty without bringing criminal charges is a gross human rights violation.
To read the full text of the news report, click here.

The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State

French are one of the most hypocritical nations on earth. The government of France is at war against burkini. Ben Debney writes, "Hilariously enough sales of Burkinis have gone through the roof. Interestingly the designer is Australian; we have something of a love affair with full-length swimwear, eg. champion runner Cathy Freeman, champion swimmer Michael Phelps. They help keep the masses pacified with the provision of spectacles for the old bread and circuses routine though, so not terrorists."
To read the story, click here.

Barrel bombs kill children in Syria

Eleven children were killed on Thursday in a barrel bomb attack carried out by government forces on a rebel-held neighbourhood of Syria's Aleppo city, a monitor said.
"Fifteen civilians, among them 11 children, were killed in a barrel bomb attack on the Bab al-Nayrab neighbourhood" in the south of Aleppo city, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
To read the latest news, click here.

Neocons helped create Trump

Jim Lobe writes, "Prominent neoconservatives, led by Bill Kristol, have played leading roles in trying to block Trump’s nomination or repeal it somehow. They’ve lined up fellow-neocons to sign letters opposing his election and/or declining to serve under him should he actually make it to the White House. Some, albeit a relatively small minority so far, have gone so far as to publicly endorse Hillary for president, if only as the lesser evil. Among the most outspoken in the latter group are Bob Kagan, Max Boot, Bret Stephens, and Eliot Cohen. Indeed, it’s very difficult to find a neocon at the moment who publicly supports the Republican candidate.
As I wrote previously, the reasons are many: fear of “America First” isolationism and all it implies for U.S. foreign policy and alliances; the bromance with Putin; the crudest kinds of nativism, racism, and misogyny expressed at his rallies (and the fear that anti-Semitism can’t be far behind); authoritarian tendencies (to say the least); shocking ignorance; lack of self-restraint; hyper-narcissism—all valid points with which I can’t find much fault.
But what disturbs me is the refusal—even among those who say they’ll vote for Hillary—to admit their own contribution to the rise of Trump and Trumpism. Their attitude recalls what happened after the Iraq War went south. With a few exceptions, neocons denied that they anything to do with getting us into the greatest U.S. foreign policy debacle since at least the Vietnam War. Or they maintained that the invasion was still a great idea, but the occupation (for which they also insisted they bore no responsibility) was botched. Or they argued that the “surge,” which they also promoted, was a total success, but the Obama administration subsequently blew it. As with Iraq, neocons have so far refused to take any responsibility for helping create the environment in which Trump’s rise has been made possible."


But it is these neocons who helped create Trump to rise to the top within the Republican voters. To find out, click here.
Consider this recent op-ed published in The New York Times by Boot, entitled “How the ‘Stupid Party’ Created Trump.”
During the Reagan years, the G.O.P. briefly became known as the “party of ideas,” because it harvested so effectively the intellectual labor of conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation and publications like The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Commentary. Scholarly policy makers like George P. Shultz, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick and Bill Bennett held prominent posts in the Reagan administration, a tradition that continued into the George W. Bush administration — amply stocked with the likes of Paul D. Wolfowitz, John J. Dilulio Jr. and Condoleezza Rice.
In recent years, however, the Republicans’ relationship to the realm of ideas has become more and more attenuated as talk-radio hosts and television personalities have taken over the role of defining the conservative movement that once belonged to thinkers like Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and George F. Will. The Tea Party represented a populist revolt against what its activists saw as out-of-touch Republican elites in Washington.
And here’s Boot’s conclusion:
Even if we can avoid the calamity of a Trump presidency, however, the G.O.P. still has a lot of soul-searching to do. Mr. Trump is as much a symptom as a cause of the party’s anti-intellectual drift. The party needs to rethink its growing anti-intellectual bias and its reflexive aversion to elites. Catering to populist anger with extremist proposals that are certain to fail is not a viable strategy for political success.


Jim Lobe writes: "Neoconservatives may now denounce Trump, but they helped create Trumpism with their relentless attacks against “elites” and “political correctness,” their Manichean and apocalyptic rhetoric, their Islamo-Arabo-Iranophobia (due in major part to their Likudist sympathies), and their championship of U.S. exceptionalism, military power, and unilateralism (which is not unrelated to isolationism). They clearly abhor Trump’s authoritarianism, isolationism, and nativism (and latent anti-Semitism, as noted ruefully by Stephens last March). But that’s what they get for forging alliances with—and helping empower—the Jacksonians and the Christian evangelicals who gave Trump the Republican nomination."


He concludes, "Although the neoconservatives now want out, their fingerprints are all over the scene of the crime." I agree.
 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Persecuted Christians in India - the case of Kandhamal


Kandhamal: Long Wait for Justice
 
 Ram Puniyani
 
 
Today, nearly a decade later when we are remember with pain the horrific violence of Kandhmal in 2008, many issues related to the state of affairs of communal violence, state of minorities, the state of justice delivery system come to one’s mind.
 
The incident
 
Just to recall, Orissa witnessed unprecedented violence against the Christian minority in August 2008. On August 23, 2008, Swami Laxmananand along with his four followers was killed, probably by a group of Maoists. Immediately, anti-Christian violence began on a big scale. The way it began it seemed as if preparations for it were well afoot. It was systematic and widespread. It sounded as if preparation was already there just the pretext was being awaited. (1)
 
 
Christians in India
 
Christians are a tiny minority in India. Contrary to the perception that British brought Christianity to India, it is one of the oldest religions of India. Its spread has been slow. Not much was heard against this minority till the decade of 1990s, when suddenly it started being asserted that Christian missionaries are converting. Anti-Christian violence has been occurring more in the remote-interior places and is accompanied by another phenomenon, that of Ghar Vapasi (return home), which is the conversions of Adivasis into the fold of Hinduism, by Vishwa Hindu Parishad-Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram. (2)
 
It is from 1996, that this phenomenon of conversion-anti Christian violence has captured the attention of all of us. Suddenly, as if from nowhere has descended the ‘threat of conversion to Christianity’ by force or fraud. Simultaneously, attacks on priests and nuns increased in distant interior places. It has been a peculiar phenomenon that while these attacks in remote places were being undertaken, the Christian institutions in cities – schools, colleges and hospitals – were hard pressed to cope with the demands on their services related to education and health. The selective targeting of Christian missionaries in distant places was a matter of serious attention, concern and introspection.
 
Social Common Sense
 
As the ‘social common sense’ started accepting, ‘yes, they are converting’, ‘they have been converting’, a sort of silent approval of layers of society and state officials did accompany these attacks on the missionaries. One was used to hearing about attacks on Muslim minorities so far. How come a new minority came to be perceived as the ‘source of trouble’ and hence started being targeted? (3)
 
Anti Christian violence did begin with isolated incidents like the attack on the Catholic Health Centre of India near Latur (1996), burning of Bibles and attacks on the Christian congregations. But most shocking was the burning alive of Pastor Graham Steward Stains (1999, January) along with his two sons, Philip and Timothy, aged 9 and 7 years, who were sleeping in a jeep after a village festival. Gradually the pattern of these attacks started emerging. In the remote places where Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams (Society for Welfare of Forest Dwellers), an outfit of RSS, have been active and doing the propaganda work along with starting of Ekal schools and have been Hinduising Adivasis, the incidents were more pronounced and intense.
 
Anti Christian Violence: Characteristics
 
The violence against Christian missionaries has by now become a matter of routine. Unlike the anti Muslim pogroms-violence, it has been scattered and generally low key, occurring at sporadic intervals. Barring few dastardly acts like Pastor Stains’ burning and Rani Maria’s being hacked to death the incidents were medium in intensity and did not take the shape of carnage or pogrom against the community till the one in Orissa (December 2007 and later August 2008). The occurrence of these incidents was mostly in places that are having rampant poverty and illiteracy. The apathy in highlighting these core issues, deprivations, by a section of media was appalling. At the same time, by word of mouth the propaganda against Christian Missionaries was intensified.
 
 
The message has been spread that Christian missionaries working in remote places are soft targets and one can get away without much reprisals. Also the anti-Christian mobilization of Adivasi youth through cultural manipulation was the groundwork on which the anti-Christian violence could sustain. In the atmosphere created by the activities of RSS progeny, local communal groups have felt emboldened to pick up any small issue and to make a violent incident out of it. Its’ frightening effect on the victims is tremendous. It also begins to polarize the local communities into Christian and non-Christian camps amongst whom the seeds of tension are sown.
 
Cultural:  Agenda
 
The physical violence has been accompanied by cultural manipulation in these areas. The silent work to Hinduise Adivasis through religio-cultural mechanisms has been stepped up from last three decades. People like Swami Aseemanand (Dangs), Swami Laxmanand (Kandhmal, Orissa), followers of Asaram Bapu (Jhabua, MP) began their work in popularizing Hindu gods and Goddesses in the region. The choice of Gods/Goddesses from the vast pantheon of Hindu religion was a clever one. Here Shabri (Symbol of poverty and deprivation) was the main goddess, the idol for Adivasis. Temples in her names were started and regular Kumbhs (mass religious congregation of Hindus) were organized in her name. Kumbhs have been a tradition in Hinduism on fixed interval of time on the banks of Holy rivers; Ganges in particular. Modifying that tradition, these Kumbhs were organized in Adivasis areas. Here the work of conversion to Hinduism, the spread of ‘Hate against’ foreigners’, particularly Christians, was spread. In addition an atmosphere of terror was created against those who do not toe the line of Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram. (4)
 
Similarly the God Hanuman, the foremost devotee of Lord Ram was also made popular, by spreading his lockets and through different stories around him, in the Ekal Schools and Sarswati Shishu Mandirs. It created an atmosphere of divide in the Adivasi areas; Adivasis turned Hindus, the Hindu dalits and upper caste versus the Christians. It is this atmosphere of divisiveness, which has been at the root of the violence in these areas.
 
Political Agenda
 
This has been a part of the different activities undertaken by RSS combine to promote the agenda of Hindu nation. While RSS has floated many a organizations to communalize different sections of society, BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal, etc. it has also unleashed a set of cultural activities, set of educational institutions along with infiltration in media, bureaucracy, police and military. They are gradually imposing the idea of Hindu nation and accompanying culture and ideas. The culmination of this has been the violence against minorities, polarization of communities along religious lines and ghettoization of minorities. While all this is going on the violence against minorities’ is the most visible part of this phenomenon.
 
The role of state agencies has been no different in these incidents than what it has been in the anti Muslim violence. In most cases, the administration has looked the other way when communal goons were on the rampage. The administration most often provided enough leeway for them to wreck havoc, indulge in intimidation, violence and to get away with that. The Adivasi areas, which were so far peaceful, started witnessing communal tensions. The area of violence in Adivasi regions is synonymous with the map of spread of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams and Vishwa Hindu Parishads in an indirect way.
 
 
RSS had been floating different organizations for different sections of society; Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, to Hinduise Adivasis was founded in 1952 and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad founded in 1964 was to play an important role in the anti Christian tirade in times to come. Another RSS progeny which, directly supported violence against Christians, Bajrang Dal, was founded by RSS in 1984. After the intimidation and browbeating of Muslim minorities, especially after the post Babri demolition Mumbai riots, they stepped up their social dominance and needed another community to target their trishuls for further expansion of their social and electoral base, and that was done by the bogey of forced conversions and accompanying anti Christian violence, which started coming to the fore from 1996 onwards. The targeting of minorities has played an important role in polarizing the communities, in consolidation of the majoritarian politics in various ways. (5)
 
 
The burning of Pastor Stains, in that sense was a turning point for Human rights groups, who so far were trying to grapple and respond to the anti Muslim violence. With this many concerned groups took up the investigations of the violence against Christians in the right earnest. As such, the first major cover up had to be undertaken by the BJP led NDA Government itself, in the aftermath of Stains murder. Initially, as a fire fighting measure, the functionaries of the NDA government tried to give a clean chit to the RSS combine. After the murder, the then home minister Lal Krishna Advani stated that he knows Bajrang Dal very well and this act could not have been done by that organization. To put a veil on the episode, the three cabinet ministers, George Fernandez, Murli Manohar Joshi and Navin Patnaik rushed to the site and proclaimed that the murder of Pastor is an international conspiracy to destabilize the BJP Government. This way they tried to bypass the real issue, i.e. involvement of Dara Singh, an activist of Bajrang Dal. (6)
 
Struggle for Justice: People’s Tribunals 
 
The case of Orissa was specifically investigated by India Peoples Tribunal, led by Justice K.K.Usha (retired) of Kerala High court in 2006. (7) This tribunal forewarns about the shape of things to come.  This tribunal assessed the spread of communal organizations in Orissa, which has been accompanied by a series of small and large events and some riots…such violations are utilized to generate the threat and reality of greater violence, and build and infrastructure of fear and intimidation. It further noted that minorities are being grossly ill treated; there is gross inaction of the state Government to take action. The report also describes in considerable detail how the cadre of majoritarian communal organizations are indoctrinated in hatred and violence against other communities it holds to be inherently inferior. If such communalization is undertaken in Orissa, it is indicative of the future of the nation… the signs are truly ominous for India's democratic future.
 
It is in this backdrop that when the Kandhamal carnage took place, the offense of RSS affiliates, the lapses and partisan behaviour of state machinery, the lack of rehabilitation and deliverance of justice came as a big jolt to the victims and became the matter of concern for human rights groups. The lack of proper investigation and other actions on the part of state were the key for getting justice for the victims. While many a sincere, scattered efforts to help the afflicted were undertaken by different groups. These efforts were effective but inadequate in their reach. The tribunal organized for Orissa violence under Justice A. P.Shah (Retd) brought out the truth of the carnage. The hope was that the victims will be suitably rehabiliatated and get justice. (8) 
 
This tribunal observed, (excerpts)
“The appalling feature of the Kandhamal violence, where rescue and relief work by non-profit, charitable and humanitarian organizations was prohibited through a government notification, indicates the impunity with which the state government acted, and its scant respect for rule of law and human rights of the victim-survivors of the violence.”...
“The dismal conditions in the government-run relief camps  are clearly indicative of the indifference of the state government to the plight of victim-survivors.”...”The testimonies of victim-survivors as well as the reports presented to the Tribunal indicate that victim-survivors were forcibly sent back to their villages, or abandoned near their villages, with total disregard to their safety.”...“Peace-building Initiatives: The fact that many victim-survivors are unable to return to their villages due to threats and intimidation by perpetrators, and many of those who have returned continue to live in constant fear and security, lead us to conclude that the state government’s peace initiatives have been a dismal failure and nothing more than an eyewash.”
It also made lot of recommendations about relief, rehaibilation, compensation and justice. This excerpt is very telling “Implementation of State’s Duty Towards Peace-building, Voluntary Return and Reintegration:  The State should recognize the Internally Displaced Persons’ right to return to their homes and create all possible enabling conditions to facilitate such safe return in accordance with the above standards. The state ought to discharge its duty of creating a conducive, safe and peaceful environment that can sustain return or re-integration of victim-survivors through access to public services, legal and personal documentation, and to livelihoods and income-generating opportunities without any form of discrimination.”
As usual the recommendations of the tribunal remain in the limbo. The heartening feature of struggle for justice in Kandhamal is the dogged determination of the victims and human rights activists to get the justice. This is also the time to understand that justice is a long term goal also which requires a programmatic alliance between the struggling sections of society, be it dalits, Adivasis, women, workers or struggling sections of society. In the light of growing intolerance in society, in the light of the growing stifling of the democracy society the need to build social alliances to preserve democracy and human rights is all the more crucial at this juncture.
 
Foot Notes