Saturday, February 29, 2020

Contemporary Nationalism in India

Ram Puniyani

Like most of the political phenomenon, even the practice of Nationalism is not a static one. It changes with the changing political equations of the political forces and assumes the expressions which are very diverse. As such the phenomenon of Nationalism has a long journey and various state policies in particular have used it for purposes which relate more to the power of the state ‘vis a vis’ its people, power of the state ‘vis a vis’ the neighboring countries among others.

In India there has been a certain change in the practices of the state which have transformed the meaning of Nationalism during last few years. Particularly with BJP, the Hindu Nationalist outfit gaining simple majority, it has unfolded the policies where one can discern the drastic change in the meaning and application of Nationalism in regard to its citizens, particularly those belonging to minority community, with regard to those who are liberal, and with those who stand with the concept of Human rights.

Our former Prime Minister of Dr. Manmohan Singh hit the nail on the head when he said that “Nationalism and the "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" slogan are being misused to construct a "militant and purely emotional" idea of India that excludes millions of residents and citizens. Former Prime Minister recently stated this in an apparent attack on the BJP.” The occasion was the release of a book, ‘Who is Bharat Mata’, edited by Purushottam Agarwal and Radhakrishna. This is a compilation of significant extracts from writings of Nehru, and important assessments of and contributions of Nehru by prominent personalities.

Dr. Singh went on to add "With an inimitable style…Nehru laid the foundation of the universities, academies and cultural institutions of Modern India. But for Nehru's leadership, independent India would not have become what it is today," This statement of Dr. Singh has great importance in contemporary times, as Nehru is being denigrated by Hindu nationalists for all the problems which India is facing today and attempts are on to undermine his role and glorifying Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. This is also significant as it gives us the glimpses of what Nationalism meant for Nehru.

As Singh’s statement captures the present nationalism being practiced by BJP and company, the Hindu nationalists, immediately shot back saying that Dr. Singh is supporting the anti India activities at JNU and Jamia and his party is supporting the anti India nationalists. They asked whether Singh likes the nationalism of the likes of Shashi Tharoor or Manishankar Ayer who are provoking the Shaheen Bagh protest rather than making the protestors quiet. Whether he likes the anti national protests which go on at JNU or Jamia? As per them there is no Nationalism in Congress. One more example being cited is the private visit of Shatrughan Sinha who talked to Pakistani President during his visit there recently!

Most of the arguments being used to oppose Dr. Singh are very superficial. What is being referred to; is not opposition to Indian nationalism and its central values which were the core of anti colonial struggles. While ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ may not be acceptable to a section of population, even the book he was releasing has the title ‘Who is Bharat Mata’. What is being stated by Singh is the twist which slogan ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ has been used by Hindu nationalists to frighten the religious minorities.

Indian nation came into being on the values, which later were the foundation of Indian Constitution. Indian Constitution carefully picked up the terminology which was away from the concepts of Hindu or Muslim nationalism. That’s how the country came to be called as ‘India that is Bharat’. The freedom of expression which was the hallmark of freedom movement and it was given a pride of place in our Constitution. It respected the diversity and formulated rules where the nation was not based on particular culture, as Hindu nationalists will like us to believe, but cultural diversity was centrally recognized in the Constitution. In addition promoting good relations with neighbors and other countries of the World was also part of our principles.

JNU, Jamia and AMU are being demonized as most institutions so far regard the freedom of expression as a core part of Indian democracy. These institutions have been thriving on discussions and debates which have base in liberalism. Deliberately some slogans have been constructed to defame these institutions. While Constitution mandates good relations with neighbors, creation of ‘Anti Pakistan hysteria’ is the prime motive of many a channels and sections of other media, which are servile to the ideology of ruling Government. They also violate most of the norms of ethical journalism, where the criticism of the ruling party is an important factor to keep the ruling dispensation in toes.

A stifling atmosphere has been created during last six years. In this the Prime Minster can take a detour, land in Pakistan to have a cup of tea with Pakistan PM, but a Congress leader talking to Pakistani President is a sign of being anti National. Students taking out a march while reading the preamble of Indian Constitution are labeled as anti-national; and are stopped while those openly wielding guns near Jamia or Shaheen Bagh roam freely.

Nationalism should promote amity and love of the people; it should pave the way for growth and development. Currently the nationalism which is dominant and stalking the streets has weakened the very fraternity, which is one of the pillars of our democracy. Nehru did explain that Bharat Mata is not just our mountains, rivers and land but primarily the people who inhabit the land. Which nationalism to follow was settled during the freedom movement when Muslim nationalism and Hindu nationalism were rejected by the majority of people of India in favor of the Nationalism of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Maulana Azad, where minorities are equal citizens, deserving affirmative action. In today’s scenario the Hindu nationalists cannot accept any criticism of their policies.        

Friday, February 28, 2020

UN concerned over rights abuses in Bangladesh

UN Expresses worry with situations in India, Pakistan, Myanmar
Diplomatic Correspondent
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has expressed concern over the continuing allegations of torture, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh last year.

"Continuing allegations of torture, arbitrary arrests and almost 400 extrajudicial killings last year are concerning, as are reports of intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, and constraints in the context of recent local elections," she said while addressing the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.

She also called for reforming the Digital Security Act, which was criticised by rights groups and journalists who feared the act would curb independent journalism and freedom of speech.

The UN human rights chief encouraged action to strengthen the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh.

She also lauded the country for its commendable record of working with the UN -- particularly in receiving the Rohingya refugees. 

Some 750,000 Rohingyas fled brutal military crackdown since August 2017, joining some 300,000 others who had fled waves of violence, especially after Myanmar denied citizenship of the Rohingyas through a citizenship law in 1982.

Talking about a recent report on Myanmar, Bachelet said discrimination and exclusion against religious and ethnic minorities have characterised many of the laws and policies of Myanmar for over half a century. 

They have contributed to and perpetuated violence, extreme poverty, exploitation and dispossession. Notably, the 1982 Citizenship Law rendered stateless a significant proportion of the Rohingya and other Muslims, compounding their vulnerability, she said.

"Moreover, ethnic and religious minorities across the country have to varying degrees, suffered serious human rights violations at the hands of the military, whose counter-insurgency policies and tactics have at times included the deliberate targeting of civilians," said Bachelet.

Democratic deficits in Myanmar, as well as entrenched impunity, weak rule of law, and the lack of civilian oversight over the military, have been major enabling factors, she said. 

"The recent upsurge of xenophobia and violence can also be partly attributed to the stresses and uncertainties of Myanmar's current transition from decades of authoritarian rule.  

"The dramatic expansion of public access to social media has enabled extremist and ultra-nationalist movements to propagate messages inciting hatred and violence, fueling communal tensions."

The UN human rights chief urged the Myanmar government to take action to address escalating prejudice and incitement against Rohingyas and other minority communities.   

Bachelet also expressed concern over the Citizenship Amendment Act of India and the reports of police inaction in the face of attacks against Muslims by other groups, as well as previous reports of excessive use of force by police against peaceful protesters.

At least 42 people have lost their lives and more than 250 were injured as armed mobs rampaged through parts of northeast Delhi from Sunday till Tuesday, looting and burning buildings and attacking residents.

"I appeal to all political leaders to prevent violence," she said. 

She mentioned that religious minorities in Pakistan continue to face violence, repeated attacks on their places of worship, and discrimination in law and practice. 

The government, despite recommendations from international human rights mechanisms, has not amended or repealed blasphemy law provisions, which have led to violence against religious minorities, as well as to arbitrary arrests and prosecution, the UN human rights chief added.   

What Happened in Delhi Was a Pogrom - The Atlantic

The violence unleashed against Muslims in Delhi by armed Hindu mobs during President Donald Trump’s visit to India is a portent and a lesson. As Trump sat down to dine with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, on Tuesday, Hindus in the same city were beating and shooting Muslims, and Muslims were fighting back, trying to defend their homes and businesses from looters and arsonists. More than 40 people were killed—including an 85-year-old woman too frail to flee her burning home—and more than 200 people, mostly Muslims, were injured.
The Delhi police, who report directly to Home Minister Amit Shah, either stood idly by or escorted the mobs. Videos of police breaking CCTV cameras and taunting prone and bleeding Muslim men while filming them with their smartphones circulated on social media. The violence echoed that of 2002, when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat and authorities there did nothing to stem carnage that killed some 1,000 people, the majority of them Muslims. It also brought back memories of the revenge killings of at least 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.
In all these cases, mobs targeting a single religious group were allowed to run riot, unchecked by police. This is the definition of a pogrom.
More than an echo of the past, the recent violence in Delhi is a lesson aimed at Indian citizens who, since December, have dared to resist the transformation of the secular Republic of India into a Hindu state, a transformation accelerated by Modi’s reelection last May.
In August, Modi’s government revoked the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir that allowed the state to make its own laws, rounded up elected leaders and thousands of citizens, and put them in detention, where they languish still. Kashmir was put under an internet lockdown that was only partially lifted five months later to allow access to a carefully curated set of sites handpicked by the government. Also in August, the conclusion of a National Citizens Registry (NRC) in the northeastern state of Assam resulted in some 2 million people, mostly Muslims, being stripped of Indian citizenship after failing to produce sufficient documents to prove their nationality. What brought these geographically distant developments home to Indians in Delhi was Shah’s promise, in November, to implement the NRC nationwide, followed by the December ratification by both houses of India’s Parliament of a Citizenship Amendment Act that fast-tracks Indian citizenship for non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. The new law opens the door to legal discrimination against Muslims.
These existential threats to the constitutionally guaranteed equality of Indian citizens regardless of religion, and the specter of legions of newly stateless persons stripped of their citizenship, prompted many Indians—Muslims, but also students and other alarmed citizens—to engage in peaceful protests. They waved the Indian tricolor flag, sang the national anthem, and recited the preamble to the country’s constitution.
For a moment it seemed the Modi government had gone too far. On February 8, after waging a hateful campaign that included a rally at which people chanted “Shoot the traitors,” referring to protesters, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, suffered defeat in Delhi’s legislative-assembly election. Shah admitted that the hateful rhetoric had hurt rather than helped. But the remedy, it appears, was to take hate to a new level.
On Sunday, February 23, the BJP’s Kapil Mishra, who lost his seat in the recent Delhi election, focused his ire on a sit-in by Muslim women in the north of Delhi that was blocking a road. If authorities didn’t clear the road of demonstrators before Trump left India, Mishra warned, his supporters would clear it after the U.S. president’s departure. Loath to wait, the mob set to work within minutes, quickly moving into the adjacent neighborhoods, beating and killing Muslims and looting and burning their property. It little mattered that the American president was still in town: Trump conveyed in his praise of Modi’s defense of “religious freedom” that he either didn’t know or didn’t care what was happening in the country.
Arvind Kejriwal, the newly reelected chief minister of Delhi, proved himself powerless to contain the violence in his city. Too weak to put himself physically on the line—as Mahatma Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru did not hesitate to do when Hindus and Muslims clashed during the fraught years before India’s independence—his appeal to bring in the army to ensure public safety was refused by Modi’s government. On Tuesday, February 25, Justice S. Muralidhar of Delhi’s high court summoned police to berate them for failing to file a complaint against Mishra and two other BJP politicians whose hate speech had fired up the mob. The next day, Muralidhar was transferred out of Delhi to a court in the Indian state of Punjab. That same day, India’s Supreme Court deferred hearing petitions on the violence that rocked India’s capital to the Delhi high court, now bereft of Muralidhar.
The message from the BJP is clear: Elect whomever you like. We are still in power. Call the police; they work for us. Appeal to the courts; we’ll neutralize any judges who don’t toe our line. Continue to dissent, and we will set the mob on you.
Modi’s 2014 electoral victory was initially hailed as the triumph of a free-market reformist who may have erred during the riots of 2002 but who had made up for it since with a proven economic track record in Gujarat. That image of Modi remained largely intact during his first term in office despite ominous signs to the contrary, including multiple lynchings of Muslims by emboldened Hindus on the suspicion of eating beef and the hounding, even the assassination, of journalists and free-thinkers by Hindu extremists that went unpunished. Most ominous of all was the appointment by the BJP of the rabidly anti-Muslim Hindu cleric Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, after the party won legislative elections there in 2017. Dressed in saffron robes, Adityanath had peddled the notion that Muslim men were plotting to steal away Hindu women by means of “love jihad,” had mounted a private army of militants called the Hindu Yuva Vahini, and had threatened to drown in the sea anyone who refused to perform a yogic salutation to the sun. Since his appointment as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath has presided over a reign of terror against Muslims in his state. Ambitious BJP politicians such as Kapil Mishra are merely following Adityanath’s example of what it takes to rise within the ranks of their party.
Modi’s image as a pragmatic, business-oriented leader who has eschewed Hindu extremism now lies in tatters. India’s economy is expected to grow at a rate of just 5 percent this year, its lowest rate in 11 years. The poverty rate in India is rising again. More than one-third of India’s more than 1.3 billion people are from the ages of 15 to 24. They have little hope of finding a job. The sex ratio in India remains skewed in favor of boys; girls are considered a drag on a family’s resources. A reservoir of frustrated young men in India yearn to feel empowered, to have purpose in their lives, to take revenge for their thwarted dreams. Many Hindu youth have been radicalized. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—a paramilitary organization affiliated with the BJP that is explicitly modeled on the Nazis, and of which Modi has been a member since the age of 8—has indoctrinated and trained thousands.
All it takes in Modi’s India to marshal a mob, as Kapil Mishra demonstrated this week in Delhi, is a word. And all it takes to turn the mob’s rampage into a pogrom against a religious minority is the complicity of police and state authorities. Yet, across India, brave citizens continue to occupy public spaces in peaceful protest. They know that all they have left to save their democratic republic is one another. They know that, any day, the mob can come for them too.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Myanmar: The Rohingya crisis

Genocide and hypocrisy
By James Clement, Editor, February 28, 2020 

On January 23rd, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) made a landmark ruling on the Rohingya crisis, demanding that the government of Myanmar take “all measures within its power to prevent genocide”. While such an official acknowledgement of the genocide carried out against the Rohingya people is of course welcome, this will not put an end to the appalling crisis.
Background to the crisis
In 1948, Myanmar, then called Burma, gained independence from Britain, although the promised autonomy to the Rohingya people (who are mainly Muslim), as well as other ethnic groups like the Shan and Kachin people was never granted. Instead, military-government led persecution and theft of land have been their lot. The Rohingya people were stripped of their nationality in 1982, and subsequently labelled as ‘Bangladeshis’.
Since 2012, especially in 2015 and 2017, there were several outbreaks of vicious attacks on the Rohingya people by the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military forces, which forced over 700,000 to flee from Rakhine province into refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh. More than a million Rohingyas live in the squalor, disease, and poverty of the refugee camps in southern Bangladesh, having fled from appalling violence and rape or sexual abuse.
According to “Physicians for Human Rights”, Rohingyas in the camps had been subject to being beaten or injured with weapons, hit by grenades or mortars, or raped or sexually assaulted. For example, in 2017, 6-year-old Abdul Wahid was shot in the head and left leg; despite surviving the attack after surgery in Bangladesh, walking is now an extreme difficulty for him. 21-year-old Rabia Basri lost five relatives when fired at by military forces, and is now unable to walk or even carry loads without the use of crutches.These examples are but the tip of the iceberg.
There are currently around ten refugee camps in Bangladesh, each housing anywhere between 9,000 and 600,000 Rohingyas. The largest camp, Kutupalong, has the highest number and contains an expansion site of makeshift camps.
International hypocrisy
The government of Bangladesh is, of course, not a benevolent force intervening in the crisis; it previously provided the Myanmar government with tens of thousands of names of Rohingyas marked for repatriation, following a joint agreement signed in 2018.
Voluntary repatriation has been refused by many Rohingya refugees over fears of further violence or sexual assault when back in Rakhine province. The government of Myanmar has also steadfastly refused to grant full citizenship to the Rohingya people, instead offering only the concession of ‘part-citizenship’.
Worse still is the hypocrisy of the ‘international community’ on the Rohingya issue. In March 2018, then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull hosted leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member state, in a summit aimed at increasing economic and security ties. This is despite a 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper making the claim of being a “determined advocate of liberal institutions, universal values and human rights.”
Japan’s government has also taken a hypocritical stance, having aided the Myanmar government in ‘whitewashing’ the crisis, while cosying up to the regime. For the capitalist class, much would be at stake; Japan ‘leads the way’ in trade with the ASEAN bloc, while Myanmar received half of the non-repayable grant from Japan given for projects across ASEAN.
When the military dictatorship of Myanmar accepted partial elections and included former opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the government in 2016, world leaders lined up to visit the country and develop more economic links. Exploitation of natural resources was a key element in this.
The former Nobel prize winner was invited to the White House by Barack Obama and to the EU institutions in Brussels. The fact that Aung San Suu Kyi didn’t speak out against the genocide of Rohingya people was largely ignored, as all regional and international powers tried to strengthen their own position in Myanmar against their competitors. Since then Aung San Suu Kyi has gone further: she no longer remains silent on the genocide, but actually defends the Myanamar regime. She voluntarily went to The Hague during the procedure of the International Court of Justice in December as a spokesperson of the army and its government.
There can be no faith in the capitalist class — despite their hypocritical moralising — to really act in the interests of the oppressed classes anywhere.
Ethnic conflict and the national question
The Bangladeshi government’s willingness to cooperate with Myanmar over repatriations is driven by fear of the radicalisation of Rohingya youth in the refugee camps.
In the words of Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, a retired Air Commodore: “Nearly 200,000 young jobless males are in the camps growing up with little or no education and an uncertain future. They can easily be misguided to join the terrorist groups or just local criminal gangs or drift into drugs and drug trades…The longer the Rohingya stay in the camp, the greater is the danger of them turning into a potential time-bomb”.
The brutal army violence against the Rohingyas in 2017 was, the government claimed, to drive out terrorists. Over 500 villages were burnt down in response. Of course, this state sponsored violence could drive more youth into supporting the low-level insurgency that had continued in the region over many years, led by organisations such as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which have been attacking army bases, police stations and troops. Ceasefire talks have failed as the Myanmar military insist that that ARSA refuse to give an assurance that the region will not secede from the ‘union’ of the federal Myanmar state.
Unfortunately, the methods that ARSA uses not only provoke the state, they do not offer a strategy to defeat the oppressive regime. This requires an organised mass movement, based on the unity of working people to defend the different nationalities and groups from state violence.
Self-determination — what we say
The national question — from Northern Ireland, to Israel-Palestine, and to Hong Kong — is a crucial issue for socialists, and demands an absolutely correct position.
Many who earlier supported Aung San Suu Kyi as a determined opponent of the military regime have been horrified at her justification of the massacre of the Rohingyas by the army. But this is not just a moral question. She is a pro-capitalist politician, who has no plan or strategy to break away from either the interests of business in Myanmar, or the governing structures introduced to defend the role of the military, and its hard-line Buddhist collaborators.
To defend the rights of the Rohingyas, as well as those of other oppressed minorities in Myanmar, a unified, mass campaign needs to be built to oppose not just the attacks of the military and right wing nationalists, but to campaign to end the rule of capitalism, and the world imperialist system in which it is enmeshed. Until this is done, there can be no lasting solution to the problem of the national question or the plight of the oppressed peoples of the region.
Socialists stand for the right of all peoples and nationalities to self-determination, with full rights for all minorities. No privileges for any one group or language; for the right of all nations to self-determination under a voluntary federation of democratic socialist Asian states!