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The Tragedies of Dalit Abuse and Honor Killings on the Indian Subcontinent

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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.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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South Asia

When Politics turns Personal; The Toxic Allegations & Accusations become a Norm

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Image source: timeofpakistan.com

There is something happening beneath this political turmoil which is NOT looking good!!

Whenever Political landscape turns into a Personal battleground, defeats become unacceptable. These past few days are a perfect case study to see that how Political elite in Pakistan has done whatever it took it to stay in power. In this power grab scenario, there could be numerous losses including the integrity of institutions. We have unfortunately entered into a very dangerous phase, where some political stakeholders have put all stakes at risk, where they have stretched their limits beyond a constitutional limit, all to gather mass support, all to stay in power and avoid defeat. Is it a threat of losing power? Is it a double game? Is it a practical hybrid war we are fighting?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be good. All is at stake, all is at risk and all is toxic.

As if the political temperature was not noxious enough, Shireen Mazari Saga took place. Once again, accusations, allegations and assumptions started pouring in against the state institutions. Soon after her arrest, her daughter, a lawyer herself Imaan Zainab Mazari alleged that her mother was beaten by male police officers during the arrest. But few minutes later, a video clip surfaced that showed clearly that her mother was arrested by Female Police officers in broad daylight and as per the law. Lie number 1 of the daughter stood exposed. Within moments, without any cogent evidence the lady, known for many controversies in the past targeted state institution for such an act, although the anti-corruption already had taken responsibility of her arrest.

Abuse of power can never be tolerated, regardless of who it targets or from where it emanates. This mantra is true and everyone has an equal belief on it but let’s take a deep dive to see that how politics turned dirty in this case, how blame game took place and how this entire episode was used as a tool to churn propaganda against Army leadership and Armed Forces.

1. The anti-corruption police had arrested Shireen Mazari and she herself accepted that Prime Minister and Interior minister were responsible for my arrest. But the mother daughter nexus brazenly started blaming institutions without any solid evidence. Shouldn’t there be an inquiry on this too?

2. PTI was always of the opinion that why courts were opened mid night to send IK packing while he wasn’t listening to anyone however when same court gave a verdict in favor of PTI ex minister, late night, it was celebrated and much appreciated by Shireen Mazari & IK who have been spearheading anti judicial tirade until recently. Isn’t it blatant hypocrisy? Judicial inquiry has been ordered by the Court which is a positive sign, but the serious allegations which Mazari nexus have raised must also be inquired during this newly formed judicial inquiry. Should the Judiciary not question them on hurling these baseless allegations?

3. The present government, whose Police itself arrested Shireen Mazari disowned this attempt. Attorney General displayed his ignorance about the matter in front of the court. So, somehow the government created this impression in the public eye that they are not to be blamed for the arrest of Shireen Mazari. Was it a double game? Or a deliberate effort to discredit institutions?

Pakistan is already facing serious economic downfall, political uncertainty and civil strife. PTI has also announced Long March to Islamabad on 25th May which is likely to further exacerbate already fragile political and economic instability. It has become quite evident now for achieving petty political ends, our political elite has no serious resolve to address the crisis confronting the country. Country is being deliberately pushed to limits of economic and political dead end. The political immaturity and lack of vision to handle the crisis situation is also hurting the repute of institutions amidst internal political wrangling. If political leadership doesn’t come to grips of the critical situation prevailing which is likely to aggravate further in coming days, people of Pakistan in particular and the country in general are likely to suffer unprecedented damage. Political elite must put its acts together and steer the country out of prevalent political and economic crisis by showing sagacity and political wisdom until it’s too late.

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South Asia

Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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South Asia

The sizzling “Political Matrix”; What will happen now?

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Politics in Pakistan is unfortunately leaving scars that will fade away not that easily. Islamabad today is wrapped in thick political clouds since past few weeks. These last few weeks have altered all assumptions and calculations in the national political matrix.  While the political landscape today is sizzling with intensity, aggression and strain the economy is shattering every day.  Who is to blame for? What will happen now? And will sanity prevail?

The entire edifice of the “conspiracy mantra” which even made PTI commit violation of the constitution stands demolished today. It was one of the worst advices Imran khan could ever get from his party among the list of many others. Sadly he made his entire politics captive to this conspiracy myth.  But today no one questions them on the impact it had on our foreign policy. US today feels betrayed, Saudis not ready to give aid, Chinese worried about their stakes and it continues.  So diplomatically this conspiracy mantra has damaged Pakistan like anything.

Imran Khan’s followers see nothing wrong in what he says and what he does. They absolutely reject all the facts, all the logics and embrace the rhetoric which is fuelling more today with a greater intensity. Imran khan is leading this campaign more aggressively. Khan very well knows that bringing large crowds to Islamabad will have an impact only if there is some kind of aggression.  The leaders on different occasions already hinted towards an aggressive March. He very well realizes that the figure of 2.5 Million is unrealistic but keeping in view the size of Islamabad, 0.1 Million crowd will even be perceived as a bigger crowd. So can he force the early elections at this stage? How will the government react to it? For instance let’s accept this narrative that the pressure of crowd aids PTI in getting an early election call and PTI wins it. So now what next? How will you deal with the mighty US? The economy is already sinking. You need aid to feed it but no one is providing you that. Then how will you stop dollar from going above 200? How will you provide relief from the soaring fuel prices when you won’t have money for a subsidy even? Forget about one lakh jobs and 50 lakh houses.

From the past few weeks we haven’t heard any PTI leader telling any economic plan or any diplomatic plan to revive relations. How will you deal with the IFI’s, World Bank & IMF when they’re all US controlled and as per your narrative you won’t accept “Amreeka ki Ghulami” or USA’s dictatorship.

So now what options the present regime has? The government would of course like to stop this building dangerous momentum of “Azadi March”. They would not like any big clash in Islamabad which results in bigger mess and chaos. The PDM government also has a much bigger fish to deal with, the same sinking economy. They came into power with this narrative to fix economy as former Premiere was unable to do it.  The key cabinet members made more than two different official visits.  The instructions are coming from London today as a decisive power so who will run the government? Who will run the system? Will the IMF aid? What will be the upcoming budget about? This upcoming budget is a bigger risk for this government along with an already announced to Long march call. Khan has already played a dangerous narrative especially with the blame of another conspiracy being made about his Life.   

The stakes, the narrative and the politics of every party is at risk today.  But above that, Pakistan is at risk. The dread is in the air. The end of May will be heated ferociously in Islamabad, whether politically or meteorologically.

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