Young women will die and Dalits suffer unless the world takes notice and forces governments to act
What price honor? Two fathers, heads of their families, shake hands on an agreement, sealing it and the fates of two young children. My word is my bond. I can never dishonor it for dishonor brings ostracism, even death, in a community of mutual help for survival. So it is, where those who bring dishonor must die.
And so it was for Samia Shahid, a 28-year old young woman from Bradford, England died recently in Pakistan under suspicious circumstances. Having been told her father was seriously ill — he was not — she had been visiting her northern Punjab family. Her husband suspecting an honor killing asked for help from the British authorities. He claimed her Sunni family had disapproved of her marriage to a Shia, yet she went ahead against their will, divorcing her first, family-picked husband. Her father said she had a sudden heart attack but an ordered autopsy revealed ligature marks on her neck. Since then her first husband has confessed. The irony in all of this is the indisputable fact that the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was Shia and a secularist.
Such upholding of family honor blights the subcontinent in a swathe running from western Uttar Pradesh through Pakistan and into Afghanistan.
On to the other side of the border in India, where recent events illustrate George Orwell got it all wrong: it wasn’t pigs who were more equal rather cows:
So to the mournful agony of the Dalits. If there is a hell on earth, it is the life of a Dalit, an Untouchable. In rural India, his family dare not drink from the village well — they may have to walk miles to another source; he dare not tread the regular paths of life — he is considered polluted, and any contact with him defiles the other. And the other … rules.
Violation of such unwritten codes can bring a severe beating or worse, even death. Thus a Dalit family skinning a cow carcass were set upon. They often dispose of such in a world of bare municipal services but they were accused of having killed the animal.
Yes, cows are holy — holier than a Dalit, and certainly holier than a Muslim. One might recall that on September 30, 2015, a Muslim farmer named Mohammad Akhlaq was killed and his son injured severely after being savagely beaten by villagers, following allegations he was eating beef. He was not, it turned out. Tough luck!
It was a Shiv Sena patrol engaged in protecting the sanctity of such holy cows that confronted the poor Dalits. The four men of the family were beaten with iron pipes, tied to the back of a vehicle, dragged to the nearest police station, and beaten further outside it. The seriously injured men were hospitalized.
There it would have ended but for a video, a video that went viral. Much as in the US where videos of police shootings have redounded to unanticipated effect, the Dalit video has led to spontaneous demonstrations across Gujarat. The Dalits were beaten on July 11 but the anger instead of abating has continued to grow. Perhaps it was the inherent injustice in the incident as the Dalits were simply doing their job; perhaps it was the rise of the cow vigilante groups — reports number them at near 200 now in Gujarat and harassment by them is growing.
Whatever the reason, the Dalits started their protest with demonstrations. At first ignored by Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, these became increasingly disruptive. And then Dalit men started attempting suicide believing it the only way to persuade the authorities to act. A laborer named Pareshbhai Dayabhai Rathod even attempted self-immolation but was thwarted by the crowd gathered around him. Over 30 suicide attempts have been recorded in the single state of Gujarat alone, and some have succeeded. Such unprecedented numbers signal desperation but they have been effective.
The issue soon became political. The ruling BJP party courting Dalit votes then moved swiftly to arrest the culprits. “… State government is taking strict action,” tweeted the Chief Minister. She has since had to resign.
Meanwhile, leaders of opposition parties soon headed to Gujarat. Congress’ Rahul Gandhi has been in Una to meet with the victimized family. The Aam Aadmi (meaning common man) Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal has met the victims. His party is planning protests across Gujarat.
In an environment where Dalit injustices are often ignored, perhaps there will be justice after all, at least this time.
Back across the border in Pakistan: A prominent model, would-be actress and notorious social media provocateur, admired for her (naive) courage and independence by liberals and vilified by religious conservatives, was murdered recently by her own brother. He was, he said, protecting the family honor. Really! Another “honor killing”, more appropriately “dishonor killing”. Ironic that the unfortunate girl had used her earnings to buy the family their house. It was where she was staying temporarily when killed.
Such is life on the subcontinent in the second decade of the 21st century. Two hundred and forty years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote (in the US Declaration of Independence):
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed … with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness … “
Of course, cows are more equal than men … and men more equal than women. And young women will continue to die and Dalits continue to suffer unless the world takes notice and forces governments to act.
Is Indian Democracy Dying?
The prominent journalist and editor, Shujaat Bukhari was leaving work when he and his two bodyguards were shot and killed. Suffice to say newspapers are the lifeblood of democracy and Indian administered Kashmir under the decades-long grip of a half-million strong security force has a questionable claim. Yet brave journalists, unafraid, write and sometimes pay the consequences.
Following Mr. Bukhari’s murder and the thousands attending his funeral, the security services have raided presses shutting down newspapers. The internet is not quite as easily controlled, so some have been busy updating their sites.
Since Gauari Lankesh was brutally murdered at her doorstep in September 2017, another four journalists have lost their lives. She, too, espoused views contrary to the ruling party’s current philosophy of an India aligned only with the mores of upper-caste Hindus.
Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi, the principal Indian leaders who fought many decades for independence would have been appalled. Gandhi protected low caste untouchables referring to them as the ‘children of god’; they are now known as Dalits. Nehru, a Brahmin by birth, was a socialist in belief. His dream was of a secular, socialist India. The latter is long over, the former under vicious attack as Muslim and Christian minorities are marginalized. In addition to journalists, three heavyweight intellectuals have been killed. All were rationalists, the Indian word for atheists.
Gandhi was assassinated less than six months after independence by a right-wing Hindu nationalist who was angry at Gandhi’s moderate attitude toward Muslims. The assassin Nathuram Godse was a member of the extreme-right Hindu Mahasabha political party, and had his roots in the paramilitary, Hindutva-promoting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Its militancy has led to its being banned three times: after the Gandhi assassination, during the Indira Gandhi emergency rule in the mid-1970s, and for its role in the Babri Mosque demolition. The British also found its beliefs beyond the pale and banned it during their rule.
Not only is the RSS flourishing now but it serves openly as the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Together they continue to push their agenda for a Hindu India tolerating only Hindu culture or beliefs, in other words, Hindutva or Hindu hegemony.
Hindutva scholar Shridhar D. Damle confirms what is quite well known, that the RSS is now exerting its influence in academia, government and cultural organizations. The laws restricting cow slaughter are not a Narendra Modi whim. Mr. Modi joined the RSS at the age of eight, was nurtured and nourished by it, the philosophy seeping into his bones like mother’s milk; any moderation necessitated only by political considerations.
The RSS infiltration of academia is pervasive. Last year, its think tank, Prajnah Pravah, summoned 700 academics including 51 university vice-chancellors (presidents) to Delhi to attend a workshop on the importance of a Hindu narrative in higher education; just one example of influencing what can be taught. A gradual loss of academic freedom has been the frightening consequence of constant interference backed up by its militancy — frightening because dying with intellectual freedom, journalists, writers and thinkers is also Indian democracy … slowly but surely, unless the voters stand up to the RSS sharkhas (volunteers) at the next election.
Nobody knows who killed Mr. Bukhari. But when the standards have been set and a certain climate prevails, does it mean much?
US- North Korea talks: A role model for Pakistan and India?
Shahbaz Sharif — Former PM Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother, current PML-N President, Former CM of Punjab (Pakistan) and the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the general election — while reacting to the meeting between US President, Donald Trump and North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, stated that India and Pakistan should seek to emulate both countries, and explore the possibility of resuming dialogue.
Tweeted Shahbaz Sharif: ‘The US and North Korea talks should be a role model for Pakistan and Indian. If they can return from their previous hostile positions of attacking each other, Pakistan and India can also resume composite dialogue,’
Shahbaz, an astute politician and a capable administrator has generally refrained from commenting on India. More so, after his elder brother, had got into trouble after his remarks on the Mumbai attacks In an interview to Dawn, the former PM had said:
‘Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai”.. Why can’t we complete the trial?’
Nawaz Sharif drew flak not just from the National Security Committee (which includes top civil servants and defense officials). NSC issued a statement, saying:
‘The participants observed that it was very unfortunate that the opinion arising out of either misconceptions or grievances was being presented in disregard of concrete facts and realities. The participants unanimously rejected the allegations and condemned the fallacious assertions.
Some parliamentarians of the PML-N, also said that Sharif’s remarks were ‘inappropriate’. They had to be assuaged by Shahbaz
What are the precise implications of Shahbaz’s statements at this time?
Shahbaz Sharif’s statement is significant because the Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has sought to extend an olive branch to India via his statements — though the ground situation across the LoC has not witnessed a significant change .
Shahbaz Sharif on his part is seeking to send the signal, that he is all for a better relationship with India, and this will go down well with large sections of the population in Punjab (this includes not just members of Civil Society, but the business community as well). As Chief Minister of Punjab (Pakistan), he had visited India (December 2013), and met with then PM, Dr Manmohan Singh, while also visiting his ancestral village Jatti Umrah in (Punjab, India). Shahbaz had also attended the inauguration of the Integrated Check Post at Attari in April 2012. Shahbaz has sought to strengthen people to people as well as economic ties with Indian Punjab.
In 2017, when both Punjab’s and North India was engulfed in smog, Shahbaz had also written to his counterpart in Indian Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, seeking a mechanism to tackle the issue of smog, as well as environmental pollution. Said Sharif, ‘..Let us join hands for securing a prosperous future for the people of our two provinces,”
At the same time, in his recent tweet, Shahbaz also raised the Kashmir issue, and does not want to appear excessively soft or a ‘sell-out’. Especially, vis-à-vis the hardliners and the military. Shahbaz Sharif had tweeted:
‘If the United States and North Korea can return from the brink of a nuclear flashpoint, there is no reason why Pakistan and India cannot do the same, beginning with a dialogue on Kashmir whose heroic people have resisted and rejected Indian occupation.
In April 2018, at a rally Shahbaz had raised the Kashmir issue, saying ‘..we will make Kashmir part of Pakistan,”
Fourth, Shahbaz wants to ensure, that the PML-N sets the agenda of the election campaign with this statement he has also ensured, that PTI will need to make its stance on ties with India clear
Mixed signals from Imran Khan
Imran Khan has so far given mixed signals, on many issues including ties with India. Khan has attacked Sharif’s for being soft on the Kashmir issue, and stated that he will be far more vocal and raise the issue on International Forums. At a rally in 2016, the Pakistan-Tehreek-E-Insaaf PTI Chief and former cricketer stated:
“Human rights are being trampled in Kashmir…And no matter what, we will support Kashmiris morally and politically.
Imran Khan also accused Sharif of having a close rapport with Modi and bartering away Pakistan’s interests in the process. The PTI Chief has also sought an enquiry into Nawaz Sharif’s ‘business interests’ in India on more than one occasion.
On the other hand on occasions, Khan has spoken about the need for improving India-Pakistan ties. Interestingly, during a visit to India in December 2015, Imran had called on Modi, and claimed to have had a constructive conversation on bilateral issues.
What is clearly evident is that Shahbaz, a consummate politician, will essentially follow his brother’s approach of wanting to improve ties with India, while not ruffling feathers with the Pakistan army. Shahbaz, also wants to send a message to both the opposition (especially the PTI) and the establishment (Pakistan military and ISI). While the message to the PTI, is that he will not allow it to set the agenda for the election. To the establishment, Shahbaz Sharif’s message is that he is ready to work with them, but will not play second fiddle.
Pakistan & India’s NSG membership: Challenges and prospects
Both the front runners of South Asia have found a new interest in becoming a part of the international non-proliferation regime. This desire was made public when both the states applied for membership in May 2016. So far both have faced disappointment and as the NSG 28th plenary meeting approaches the debate of whether there will be one winner, two winners or no winner at all, rekindles. The decision is crucial for both because they have their own set of concerns riding on this membership. Indian Prime Minister Modi has made the NSG membership the single most important foreign policy agenda for his regime while Pakistan does not want to be blocked out of the trade group by India if it becomes a member.
With the waiver India gained from NSG somehow got stuck in an illusion that this special treatment will apply to all the aspects of Indo-NSG understanding. The hope was killed when no decision was made in the 2016 plenary meeting. However India being India, did not register this clear signal. Part of its lobbying tactics was to become a part of MTCR. The agenda here was two fold: a)it wanted the support of the 34 MTCR members in NSG and; b). it wanted to help China become a part of MTCR (which it was previously rejected) so that China softens its stance on India’s NSG membership. The latter goal has not been met yet. The real problem is not India’s membership into NSG but its vision of itself as the driving force for the region, and as soon as it is able to get NSG membership, this agenda will be on top of its ‘to do list’ to block Pakistan out. If India was to play on fair lines it wouldn’t be as much of a problem. Its desire of blocking Pakistan out is clear by its insistence on a merit based approach through which it assumes Pakistan will be left out for not fulfilling the merit. What it doesn’t realize is that even to set a merit there needs to be a certain criteria for that.
Coming towards the second candidate for the membership i.e. Pakistan, it has maintained a principle stance over the membership of the trade group. If Pakistan cannot become a part of the NSG because the state is not party to NPT then the same applies to India as well and any special treatment would be nothing more than discrimination. What the international community needs to be communicated is that they it cannot have a biased approach for the state of Pakistan solely for the US and India’s strategic interests. The membership needs to be granted to both the South Asian states otherwise the asymmetry will further increase which will destabilize the peace and security of the South Asian region. Furthermore it needs to be brought into consideration that by granting membership to Pakistan, its nuclear program can be streamlined along with the rest of the recognized nuclear weapon states which will bring it under the rules and regulations of NSG. This is something the international community would want for Pakistan because apparently it has reservations regarding the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear program so why not bring it at par with the rest of the programs where the skepticism regarding illegal proliferation can be eradicated once and for all?
Considering the case of both the states the only rational solution which China advocates in the NSG openly is that first of all the factor of states being NPT members must not be ignored since it is an important cornerstone for NSG however if it is to be overlooked then it must be overlooked for all aspirants alike and country specific approach should not be an option. Joining NSG can solve many issues for Pakistan including its problem of energy shortage as well as financial backwardness. Such an opportunity can prove to be beneficial for Pakistan as well as to the other states of NSG because the forum can also be used for confidence building and mutual understanding of each other’s circumstances. However India would not like this to happen so easily because that means compromising the leverage it gets by becoming the front runner in South Asian politics.
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