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Gory amendment in India’s citizenship law

Amjed Jaaved

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West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and some other states in India’s North East were a simmering cauldron against compilation of a so-called National Register of Citizenship (NRC). Oblivious of national and international furor, Indian House of People (lok sabha) and Council of States (rajya sabha) passed a controversial amendment, Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), to its Citizenship Act, 1955. It naturalises non-Muslim refugees as Indian citizens but excludes Muslims.

The amendment sparked country-wide protests. Different states welcomed or abhorred the refugees for different reasons. Assam had the grievance that the amendment violated Assam Accord that ended agitation over six years. Gory agitation took thousands of lives, disrupted the economy and toppled several governments. The Accord barred `illegal immigrants’ from entering the state without an Inner Line Permit. In India’s home minister’s parlance, immigrants are variously described as `persecuted non-Muslims’ or `Bangladeshi infiltrators’ or `termites on Indian economy’.

Tripura had concerns about tribals and non-tribals. Much of the migration into Tripura occurred before the creation of Bangladesh. The 1993 tripartite accord signed by the Government of India with the All Tripura Tribal Force that envisaged repatriation of all Bangladeshi nationals. They included those who had come to Tripura after March 25, 1971 and were not in possession of valid documents.

The chief ministers of five Opposition-ruled states, that is, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Punjab’s Amarinder Singh, Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel and Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, opposed both the CAB and NRC. They declared that they would not implement the amendment in their states. Later, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik also joined their ranks. Communist-Party-of-India charismatic leader Kunhaiya Kumar (Bihar) warned `if you do not consider us citizens, we do not consider you the government’ (Indian Express December 17, 2019). Andhra Pradesh also has expressed ennui on the new law.

Stung by the brutal police action in Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, students hit the streets in Chennai, Puducherry, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kolkata and Guwahati in solidarity. Simultaneously, political leaders held rallies and sit-ins (dharnas) against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). Twenty five students were killed, 18 in Uttar Pradesh alone.

Mamta Bannerji, flamboyant chief minister of West Bengal,  called the NRC an act of “deliberate destructiveness and political vendetta” of the BJP-RSS (Bharatya Janata Party-Rashtraya Swayem Sevak Sangh).She alleged that railway stations in West Bengal were set ablaze by ruling party’s hooligans. She remained unruffled by pro-BJP governor’s letters and tweets forbidding her to publish anti-NRC/CAA advertisements in the press. To governor’s chagrin, she herself participated in a mammoth rally and a seven –mile long three-day anti-CAA protest. She challenged the Centre to dare dismiss her state government.

Students could not remain silent spectators to malafide legislation. Voolcanic protests erupted in several states including Assam, Delhi and Tamil Nadu. Students of Jamia Millia were brutally beaten. Police was accused of resorting disproportionate use of force. They entered the campus and thrashed all and sundry. They did not spare even female students, and even the prayer leader (imam) inside the campus mosque. The vice chancellor of Jamia Millia had to address a press conference to highlight police brutality. Videos of police highhandedness went viral. Even Oxford University students expressed solidarity with their Indian fellows.

Myopic view of consequences: The amendment embodies Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s rhetoric that no Hindu can be a “foreigner” in India. It ignores the broader perspective, emerging ramifications, particularly secular fabric of Indian democracy. It marks a historic departure from India’s disavowal of the Two Nation Theory that led to creation of Pakistan.  The opposition regards the law as a dark chapter in India’s history, a vindication of Jinnah’s two-nation theory.

It is a selective faith-based amnesty for a large segment of the 1.9 million people not included in the just-completed NRC in Assam. It excluded only Muslims from its privileged domain.  Those excluded risked being declared `infiltrator’ and pushed back into Bangladesh, as India’s home minister had threatened.

Even in the absence of the new law, Hindus had been entering into India from the porous East Pakistan, now Bangladesh border.  As such, Hindu population in Bangladesh dropped from   22 per cent of the total population in 1951 to 12 per cent in 1981, down to nine per cent in 2011.

The law does not promise Indian citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus. Yet it may quicken Hindu immigration to India with concomitant effects on India’s North East. Simultaneously, anti-Hindu sentiments might rise in Muslim Bangladesh. Life for affluent Hindus in Bangladesh may become harder. The have-nots may be eager to prowl upon properties and possessions of the Hindu minority. Antipathy to India in Bangladesh could rise pari passu with return of so-called Bengali-Muslim `infiltrators to Bangladesh from India. Simultaneously, some North Eastern States could become restless at hordes of Hindus fleeing from Bangladesh. Already, Assam is afire. Manipur is furious.

USA’s ennui: Even the independent bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed ennui on the citizenship amendment bill, while on the anvil, now enacted. According to a press note released by the Commission the bill amounted to a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction” and ran “contrary to the secular values enshrined in India’s Constitution” (Livemint, December 11, 2019). The agency had even forewarned of recommending US sanctions against India’s home minister Amit Shah, if the bill was enacted.

Fascism unmasked: Obviously, Modi followed Hitler and Mussolini’s fascist playbook dot for dot.  Fear, terror and intimidation are favourite fascist tools. Modi wants to create fear so that his incompetence and dismal economic performance remained out of focus.

Fascist ideology envisioned a regimented nation in grip of a totalitarian ruler. It extirpated everything inimical to monolithism. Fascists abhorred a freethinking civil society, political opponents, brave journalists, fearless academics and an independent judiciary.

A page from German and Italian history: Five-yearly censuses took place, 1871 onwards, in the newly founded united Germany under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The 1930 census happened to be postponed owing to the Great Depression.

Adolf Hitler began the census shortly after seizing power on April 12, 1933. Then, computers not being available, it was a huge manual enterprise. By the end of 1939, all orthodox Jews had been identified, pinpointed to their abodes, twice over. The purpose of Census was to first locate the Jews (67 million, or one per cent of the populace) and then “cleanse” them. The Citizenship and Denaturalisation Law of July 1933 empowered Nazi Reich to divest the undesirable” of citizenship. The Jews, even in professional services were outlawed, and pauperized by seizing their belongings. The object of both the 1933 and 1939 censuses was to isolate Jews both in the German heartland and the occupied territories before they were ghettoised, deported and eventually liquidated.

Hitler’s Fascist comrade Benito Mussolini, also, introduced a racial census for both the Jews and the Roma people of Italy. The headcount enabled Mussolini to initiate xenophobic laws in 1938.

A Hindu rashtra (nation):  A hundred years back, Savarkar scribbled these words on the walls of a prison, later published in 1923 in his book on Hindutva. “With India for their basis of operation, for their Fatherland and for their Holy land… bound together by ties of a common blood and common culture (Hindus) can dictate their terms to the whole world.” He envisioned inevitable civil war with Muslims. So, he exhorted Hindus to join the British Army, not to fight fascism, but to prepare for the eventuality.  He declared Muslims and Christians could never be loyal citizens. Not all those who are residents are a part of the nation, and not all outside the territory are outside the nation’.

Unconstitutional: The religion-based amendment may be in keeping with Bharatya Janata Party’s manifesto, but it violates the Constitution. Indian parliament enacted the Citizenship in 1955. It did not lay down religion as criteria. But, the newly-enacted Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 does. It amended certain provisions of the 1955 Act.

Manifesto not the Constitution: The BJP derived inspiration from its manifesto, not from provisions of India’s Constitution. Take the CAA. The BJP election manifesto vowed to enact a citizenship law “for the protection of individuals of religious minority communities from neighbouring countries escaping persecution”. Earlier, It revoked `special status’ (Article 370) for the disputed Jammu and Kashmir State. Bifurcating the State into two Union territories was in line with the BJP’s manifesto. It states, `we reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh to the abrogation of Article 370’. Now, they have embarked upon building a sky-touching temple on the site of demolished Babri mosque. That too stood codified in BJP’s Sankalp Patra (manifesto). The manifesto states BJP would “explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution and make all necessary efforts to facilitate the expeditious construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya’. BJP may implement other dangerous promises in its manifesto like

Pan-India NRC and revival of dead Sanskrit and other languages to create a Hindu nation (rashtraya). The excerpt on NRC declares,  `There has been a huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local livelihood and employment. We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in these areas on priority. In future, we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country’. The excerpt outlining language goals states `We will constitute a National Task Force to study the status of all written and spoken languages and dialects in India. We will also work towards revival and promotion of vulnerable or extinct dialects and languages’.

India’s faulty persecution hypothesis: The whole superstructure of the Indian government’s citizenship amendment bill, now enacted, is erected on the claim that religious minorities had been brutally persecuted and were still being discriminated, in Pakistan since 1947 and also in Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

The persecution hypothesis is based on faulty statistics. India’s Union Home Minister Amit Shah claimed non-Muslims comprised 23 percent of Pakistan’s population at the time of independence. By 2011, their proportion dropped to 3.7 percent. Concerning Bangladesh, he claimed that Muslims comprised 22 percent of the population in 1947, and their proportion in 2011 fell to 7.8 percent.

 In West Pakistan, the non-Muslim population was just 3.44 percent, while it was 23.20 percent in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). He insisted Pakistan and Bangladesh had witnessed a decline of up to 20 percentage points in their populations of religious minorities. But how true are his figures?

Adulterated figures: The BJP used the 23 percent figure of non-Muslims in Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) in 1951 and compared it with the 3.7 percent figure of non-Muslims in Pakistan in 1998. This adulteration of figures led to the fallacy that the population share of non-Muslims fell from 23 percent to 3.7 percent in Pakistan.

Myth of religious persecution: The fact is that not only non-Muslims but also Muslims migrated from Bangladesh to India. Better economic opportunities in India were the dominant lure for both non-Muslims and Muslims alike. India’s home minister did not quote the source of his data. He probably picked up the figure from co-authored Farahnaz Ispahani and Nina Shea’s article Thwarting Religious Cleansing in the Muslim World. The authors postulate,

`The percentages of Pakistan’s Ahmadi, Christian, Parsi, and Hindu communities have all plummeted over the past 30 years, with non-Muslims declining from 5 percent of the total population to just 3.5 percent. If Shiite Muslims are taken into account, the number of those emigrating from Sunni-majority Pakistan as a result of religious persecution is even greater’.

Naz expressed similar views in her another Husson-Institute article titled ‘Cleansing Pakistan of Minorities’ published in 2013. Be it marked please that Naz is married to Husain Haqqani, a senior fellow, and director for South and Central Asia at Hudson Institute. After resigning as Pakistan’s ambassador to the USA, Haqqani kept participating in functions, particularly those held in India,  that portray Pakistan in poor light. A judicial commission’s report (Memo Gate) alleged that he was not loyal to Pakistan.

Past Censuses: The only credible information emanates from the 1951 Census. In West Pakistan, the non-Muslim population was just 3.44 percent, while it was 23.20 percent in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). As per the 1951 census, the share of Muslims in Pakistan’s overall population was 85.80 percent, while that of non-Muslims was 14.20 percent.

In 1951, Muslims comprised 96.56 percent of the total population in the territory that is today known as Pakistan. The next census in Pakistan was carried out in 1961 which indicated the non-Muslim population in West Pakistan had fallen to 2.83 percent of West Pakistan’s total population.

By 1972 when Pakistan carried out its third census, East Pakistan had had become Bangladesh. The 1972 census showed non-Muslims in Pakistan comprised 3.25 percent of the total population. This was higher than their share in 1961.By the time the next census was done in 1981; Pakistan’s non-Muslim population registered a small rise from 3.25 percent in 1972 to 3.30 percent in 1981. After the 1981 census, Pakistan did not carry out a fresh census for more than 15 years and the next census was carried out in 1998.

As per this census, Pakistan’s non-Muslim population stood at 3.70 percent of the total population in 1998. Pakistan carried out a fresh census in 2017 but its religious tables have not been published.

Inferences from West-Pakistan Census data:

1: The proportion of non-Muslims was never 23 percent of Pakistan’s total population.

2. Non-Muslim population in undivided Pakistan was 14.2 percent in 1951.

3. Non-Muslims accounted for 3.44 percent of the population in West Pakistan.

4: Census data show that the share of non-Muslims in Pakistan remained 3.5 percent over the decades.

5. There was no appreciable migration due to persecution.

Inferences from East-Pakistan (now Bangladesh) Census data:

1.      Non-Muslims formed 23.20 percent of erstwhile East Pakistan’s total population in 1951.

2.      Share of non-Muslims in East Pakistan fell by 1961 to 19.57 percent, then to 14.60 percent in 1974, to 13.40 percent in 1981, to 11.70 percent in 1991 and 10.40 percent in 2001.

3.      BJP cherry-picked and mixed-up data for the then East and West Pakistan to corroborate its hypothesis

Bangladesh’s latest census was carried out in 201. It reflected that the share of non-Muslims was below 10 percent of the country’s overall population. In 2011, non-Muslims constituted 9.60 percent of Bangladesh’s population. Thus, from 1951 to 2011, the population of non-Muslims dropped from a high of 23.20 percent to a low of 9.40 percent. Bangladesh has promised to take back all illegal immigrants provided India proves its point. It also pointed out that minorities in Bangladesh felt safer in BD than in India.

Data refutes BJP’s claim: Official data does not bear out BJP’s claim that:

1: Population of non-Muslims in Pakistan dropped from 23 percent at the time of Independence to 3.7 percent in 2011.

2: Population of non-Muslims in Bangladesh was 22 percent at the time of Independence and fell to 7.8 percent in 2011.

3: The decline in the population share of non-Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh was due to widespread religious persecution.

Statistical inferences: Based on Pakistan’s Census 1951, the BJP cherry-picked and mixed-up data for the then East and West Pakistan to corroborate its hypothesis of minority persecution. Non-Muslims in East Pakistan’s population constituted 23 percent, not in both wings, as the BJP claimed.  Clubbed together (East and West Pakistan), the share of non-Muslims was 14.20 percent (the highest ever) in 1951. BJP’s claim that non-Muslim share fell from 23 percent to 3.7 percent in Pakistan is incorrect. It averaged about 3.5 percent from the first census onwards. That is, 1951: 3.44 percent,1961: 2.80 percent,1972: 3.25 percent,1981: 3.33 percent, and 1998: 3.70 percent.

Partial truth:  As alleged by BJP, the non-Muslim population did decrease significantly in Bangladesh, but not exactly as pretended by the BJP. It fells from 23.20 percent in 1951 to 9.40 percent in 2011, not from 22 percent to 7.8 percent, as alleged.
Citizenship  vs. Indian Constitution (Jus solis vs, jus sanguinisi:

The opposition, spearheaded by Congress, pilloried the iffy bill as a violation of the Constitutional provisions about `Freedom of Religion’ (Articles 25 to 28).These articles provide `all religions are equal before the State and no religion shall be given preference over the other. Citizens are free to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice’. A five-bench Supreme Court judgment observed `It is clear from the constitutional scheme that it guarantees equality in the matter of religion to all individuals and groups irrespective of their faith emphasising that there is no religion of the  State itself’. The Preamble to India’s  Constitution,  read with Articles  25 to 28 states `it is in this  manner the concept of secularism embodied in the constitutional scheme as a  creed adopted by the Indian people has to be understood while examining the constitutional validity of any legislation on the touchstone  of the Constitution’.

`Secularism’, even if a later innovation, is intertwined into golden architectural design of the Indian Constitution, It is rooted in ethos of freedom movement and deliberations of the Constituent Assembly.  The design embraced diversity and pluralism with reservations for disadvantaged groups to cultural rights for religious minorities.

The faith-based discrimination militates against spirit of Indian Constitution. It may lead to unforeseen injustices. Ready instances are sealing/confiscation of properties in Yogi Adityanath’s la-la land, Uttar Pradesh, and deportation of foreign students epitomized by  ilk of German student Jakob Lindenthal, studying at Institute of Information Technology, Madras, (Tamil Nadu). Indian Express, dated Dec. 24, 2019 reported `Speaking to The Indian Express from the Chennai airport shortly before his scheduled flight back home, he disclosed he received “oral directions” to leave India from the Foreigners Regional Registration Office in Chennai’. Modi denied existence of any detention centres in his Ramlilla, New Delhi speech. But, The Hindu dated December 23, 2019 reported there are six jails, including Goalpara (Assam) that serve as detention centres also. An ex –army officer Mohammed Sanaullah, on bail, declared them “Hell”. Now, a detention centre has been reported in Karnataka also.

The Articles (5-11) on citizenship in the Constitution of India and Citizenship Act1955 embodied freedom-movement sentiments .The Constituent Assembly held the principle of jus soli (citizenship based on birth on the soil of a country) to be the more “enlightened modern civilised” principle, as compared to the “racial” principle of jus sanguinis (citizenship based on descent). The Citizenship Act of 1955, though a combination of jus solis and jus sanguinis, is compatible with Constitutional design. Yet, it confers equal rights on all citizens without discrimination on grounds of caste, creed, tribe or gender. However, under Atal Behari Vajpayee, then prime minister, an amendment was enacted to undermine jus soli in favour of jus sanguinis. It excluded people born in India with one illegal-migrant parent. Modi 2.0 could have followed Germany that moved in a more inclusive direction, combining elements of both jus soli as well as jus sanguinis, instead of majoritarian Donald Trump, fearing minorities.

Sloganeering and reforms: lessons from Modi 2.0:  Modi won by riding wave of slogans.Amendment in citizenship laws is aimed at diverting popular attention from his performance.History of elections in both India and Pakistan tells that slogans helped win gullible vote banks _ roti, kapra aur makan (bread clothing and shelter), or tabdeeli (change). Likewise India has seen numerous slogans in 16 general during 72 years of independence_ Nehru’s slogan of “aaraam haraam hai.” (rest is not kosher), Lal Bahadur Shastri’s “jai jawan jai kisan” (long live farmer, long live soldier),  Indira Gandhi’s   “garibi hatao” (eradicate poverty),  post- 1977 echo of “Indira hatao, desh bachao” (remove Indira, save the country),  post-Indira-assassination (October  31, 1984) “jab tak suraj-chaand rahega, Indira  tera naam rahega” (till sun and moon shines Indira will live on) , BJP (1996) slogan “sabko dekha baari-baari, abki baari Atal Bihari” (now it’s Bihari’s turn), BJP (2014)  “achchhe din aane waale  hain” (good days are in the offing), BJP (2019) Modi hai to mumkin  hai (If Modi is there, then it’s possible).

Modi brazenly bags credit for all achievements of previous Congress governments. Yet the fact remains that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who abolished the zamindari system.  He had the nerve to face the reality that minor kings, riyasats and feudal landlords were still quite influential shortly after independence. It is Nehru, not Modi, who set up space centre that catapulted India’s ASAT Shakti. A new class of political leaders, hands in glove with corporations, replaces the royals and zamindars. Like our nouveau riches they are unchallenged.

Yet, a bitter truth is that we had to drift away from doorsteps of Medina State to knock at IMF portals. But, Modi 1.0 and 2.0 stayed the course.  In its very first cabinet meeting, Modi enhanced educational scholarships, and extended scope of his income support to farmers. Now 14.5 crore farmers, instead of previous 12.5 crore owning two hectares or less land get dole of Rs. 6,000 a year.. The step will cost the government an additional Rs. 12,000 crore. The total cost to the exchequer in 2019-20 under the Indian-PM- kisan (farmer) scheme is now estimated to be Rs 87,217.50 crore. Besides, several ministries have been merged in newly-created jal shakti ministry to provide piped water supply to every Indian by year 2024. Let’s hope our `welfare’ government, also, could do something to ameliorate lot of the common man.

Is Modi 2.0 magic waning in India? Despite populist reforms and slogans, Modi’s magic appears to be waning.Jharkhand is the fifth state in which opposition parties have managed to unseat the saffron party in the past one year, starting with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh to Maharashtra.  Modi himself participated in election rallies to cast his spell. But, it was in vain. At least six states are hostile to his faith-based citizenship amendment.Now, even Andhra Pradesh, seventh in the row,  has refused to support the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Anti-Congress wave is petering out. In national elections, saffron snatched away even Congress-ruled Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Even Rahul Gandhi lost its citadel, Amethi. In the gory West-Bengal contest, the formidable Mamta Bannerjee lost many seats to BJP. Congress has proved it is not just a dynasty. It embodies an ideology of secularism socialism and pluralism. It could still throw up a surprise in coming mid-term polls or state assembly elections.

To win national elections, the BJP hoodwinked Muslims. Muslim munch, distributed RSS leaflets at RSS enclaves. Even after winning the elections, BJP stalwarts visited Madrassa Deoband. Modi captivated popular imagination as a strong leader _ Modi hai to mumkin  hai (If Modi is there, then it’s possible). Modi gave tickets to nine Muslim candidates who lost because of banal Muslim caste –structure (ashraf, ajlaf and arzal).

Modi brazenly bagged credit for all achievements of previous Congress governments. Yet the fact remains that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who abolished the zamindari system (we could not do so being blocked by Supreme Court’s Shariat Appellate Bench’s decision).  It is Nehru, not Modi, who set up space centre that catapulted India’s ASAT Shakti. Modi 1.0’s  economic- progress figures were plain cookery.

Indira Gandhi, a charismatic leader, fell because of her authoritarian attitude and reliance on intelligence agencies. Modi2.0, also, is threatened with resurgence of authoritarianism and Hindutva nationalism in his party. Legislators were sworn in amid shrill ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans.  Even Muslim MPs Asaduddin Owasi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Shafiqur Rahman Barq of the Samajwadi Party were heckled with Jai Shri Ram slogans. Owaisi defiantly shouted “Jai Bheem, Allahu Akbar, Jai Hind. The hooted Trincomalee Congress MPs chanted Jai Maa Kali: In stark contrast, Modi2.0 bowed his head in worshipful namaskar, before a bedecked copy of the India’s Constitution. Modi2.0 showcased ‘Jai Constitution’ pledge. However, BJP MPs displayed allegiance is to ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Modi’s confidante Amit Shah has directed intelligence agencies to report directly to him. RSS leaning is now sine qua non for appointment to political offices.

Modi2.0 has a Herculean challenge to realise his tall promises. Congress has opportunity to capitalise on unfulfilled expectations to rout BJP in coming elections

Indo-Bangla bonhomie unmasked! The NRC unmasks India’s equivocal policy towards Bangladesh. She suddenly banned export of essential commodities like onions to Bangladesh. During her recent visit to India, BD prime minister quipped “I’ve asked for food without onions” She contended that `the Government of India ought to have alerted the countries that import the commodity before rather abruptly announcing the decision’ (The Statesman October 11, 2019). The onion ban was Modi’s knee jerk to BD’s hesitation to supply natural gas to Tripura (India).

India dubbed over 19 lakh Bengali refugees or settlers in Assam after 1951 as `infiltrators’.

The citizenship register establishes genealogical family trees going back until 1951. The forbears of some Assamese Muslims date back 500-700 years. But they possessed no document to prove their nationality. Most of the settlers were sheltered during 1971 war as precious raw material for mukti bahini (freedom fighters). While disenfranchising Bangladeshis, India would grant `citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India’. The citizenship criterion violated provisions of Article 14 of the Indian constitution.  The article guarantees `equality before the law and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth’. The persecution argument more aptly applies to Nepal (Rohingya), Sri Lanka (Tamil settlers) and Bhutan (whence Christians trek to Indian churches for worship).

Anti-Christian animosity predates Muslims’: The Christians in India have hailed the new piece of legislation. They are oblivious of Hindu fanatics’ hatred of their own community. Baptist Press dated November 22, 2019 reported `Hindu extremists hit in the head with an axe 68-year-old Lakhpati Devi, the mother of pastor Basant Kumar Paul, in an attack on Paul’s home-based church Nov. 12 in Jharkhand’.  Many churches have been rampaged. Several states have passed anti-conversion bills.

When Narendra Modi was chief minister of Indian state of Gujarat, he made several attempts to collect personal data of Christians living in the state. In February 1999, survey of the Christians living in northern and central Gujarat was started. It was withdrawn after protests.  The same was the fate of the survey, conducted in March 2003 and May 2003 in Christian-inhabited areas (Ahmedabad, Sanaskantha, Jabarkantha, Kutch, Rajkot, Patan, Vadodara, Anand and Banaskantha).Indian Express dated June 13, 2003 (dateline Ahmedabad, June 13, 2003), reported Gujarat police had again started a survey of Christian localities.  The Christian community in Indian state of Gujarat came to know of the survey when policemen in plain clothes visited a few institutions in Kheda district of central Gujarat and made enquiries about their source of funds, origin and items of expenditure.

The Christian community was rueful at the recommencement of the survey.  To them, it negated the state’s then chief minister Narendra Modi’s assurance to visiting team of the National Commission for Minorities,  “No survey or census of Christians or other minorities would be carried out in the state”.

The policemen allegedly had a list of 42 Christian institutes, including Don Bosco School and Pushpanjali Society, in  Kheda district.  The Don Bosco is a secondary school run for poor students from nearby villages, with 150 boys staying in the boarding. Puspanjali is a medical centre with boarding capacity for 60 girls studying in the school.

The Christian trustees refused to give information for fear of harm at the hands of the fanatic Hindus. The Christians believed that Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat state,  harboured a xenophobic phobia not only towards the Muslims but also against the Christians.

Surveys were conducted some year ago also when Sangh Parivar stalwarts targeted Christian tribes in the Dangs area. Such surveys are akin to door-to-door survey of Jewish localities in pre-World-War-II Germany.

Let the Christians not forget anti-conversion laws, enacted in several states to bar Hindus from converting to Christianity. The down-trodden (dalit) find Christiantiy a whiff of fresh air out of Hindu caste-based system (varna).Indian Express (dateline New Delhi, June 6) reported that the Hindu extremist party, Rashtriya Swayem Sevak Sangh, bitterly criticised the Pope for his alleged remarks against anti-conversion laws in India.  The RSS claimed, “The Pope’s utterances were tantamount to a direct challenge to India and its pluralist tradition” It urged the government ‘‘to register their protest to the head of Vatican for his intemperate remarks on Indian laws’’.

At a press conference, RSS spokesman Ram Madhav quoted the Pope as having said to some Indian bishops: ‘‘Unfortunately in some regions, state authorities have yielded to the pressures of extremists and have passed unjust conversion laws’’.  Mr. Madhav defended anti-conversion laws promulgated in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.  He stressed such laws were needed in other states too ‘‘because the activities of missionaries for converting people to their faith are leading to tensions and posing serious threat to peace and harmony”. The RSS spokesman justified forced-conversion activities of the VHP and other Hindu bodies.   He termed such conversions as ‘‘homecoming’’, bringing back people to the Hindu-fold.

The Indian bishops had told the Pope that the anti-conversion bills contravened the UNO’s charter of human rights, signed by India also, and protection of religious freedoms as under India’s `secular’ constitution.

Plight of Muslims under quasi-Hindu caste system: In post-election India,  the Muslim is being `lynched, shot at and told to “go back to Pakistan” simply for having a  Muslim name, carrying or eating beef’ or `wearing a  prayer  cap and made to shout slogans in praise of Hindu gods’ (Aljazeera, and Organisation for World Peace dated June 4, 2019). Hindus even demanded that eid prayer-goers should not spill over on adjoining roads. BJP MLA Narendra Mehta, affiliated with dangerous bajrang dal, has started live weapons training at his Seven Eleven Academy. A Facebook user Prakash Gupta shared pictures of live-weapons training on Facebook from May 25 to June 1. NGO, Democratic Youth Federation of India, has filed a complaint with Navghar police station (Thane Rural police station). BJP President Amit Shah referred to undocumented Muslim immigrants as termites”. Nathu Ram Godse killed `Mahatma’ Gandhi `for supposedly cowing to Muslim demands’.  He is being glorified as a patriot. Modi himself as then chief  minister of Gujarat in 2002, `presided a pogrom that killed over 1,000  people; in 2011, a senior police officer testifying in the Indian Supreme  Court stated that Modi defended this violence at the time as a legitimate route through which Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger’. He described refugee camps housing Muslims displaced by riots as “baby-making factories”.

Modi’s first five years in office were marred by a rise in violent attacks on minority groups, particularly the Muslim. According to the Sachar Committee Report, conditions of the Muslim in India are worse than that of dalits (downtrodden/untouchable). But, the Muslim itself is to blame for its current plight. The Muslim literacy rate ranks well below the national average and the Muslim poverty rate is only slightly higher than the low-caste Hindu. The Muslim makes up only four per cent of the undergraduate student body in India’s elite universities. He falls behind other groups in terms of access to credit. So is the case despite the fact that the self-employed Muslim population exceeds other groups.

According to Islam, the Muslim society is homogeneous. There is no hierarchical caste-system in Islam, like the Hindu varna system of social stratification.  In Sanskrit, varna means type, order, colour or class. The term refers to social classes in dharma-shastra  (religious text) books like the Manusmriti. Hindu literature classifies society into four varnas: (a) Brahmins: priests, scholars and teachers. (b) Kshatriyas: rulers, warriors and administrators. (c) Vaishyas: agriculturalists and traders. (d) Shudras: laborers and service providers. Communities which belong to one of the four varnas or classes are called savarna. The dalits and scheduled tribes who do not belong to any varna, are called avarna. This four-fold division is a form of social stratification distinguished from jati or the European term “caste”. The varna system is discussed in Hindu texts, and understood as idealised human callings. The concept is generally traced to the Purusha  Sukta verse of the Rig Veda.

Contrary to these textual classifications, many Hindu texts and doctrines question and disagree with the Varna system of social classification. Unlike the Hindu caste system, where it is easy to discern the stratification, caste identities among Muslims are not defined rigidly. As such, the reservation quota and other benefits, available to scheduled castes, do not trickle down to the needy Muslim.

It is bitter reality that the Muslim in India could not remain immune from Hindu caste-system. The Muslim is divided into ashraf (Muslims of foreign lineage) and ajlaf (local converts). The ashraf are regarded as the superior group and are mainly endogamous, while the ajlaf are considered to be inferior. Some scholars use another category, arzal, to denote the Muslim who converted from the lowest strata of society (bhangi, doom, choora or sweeper).

To ameliorate the lot of the downtrodden Muslim (arzal or ajlaf), there should be a caste-based census to identify those deserving `reservation’ in scheduled caste. Is such a census in accordance with definitive text of Holy Quran Allah. “O you, who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.” (Al-Baqarah : 208).

Some Indian scholars justify Indian caste system according to Islam.At the top of the hierarchy are the ashrafs (nobles), of Arab, Persian, Turkish or Afghan origin.  They lay claim to a prestigious lineage that they trace back to the Prophet (in the case of Sayyids) or his tribe (in the case of qureshis). The shaikh (descendants of the Prophet’s companions), the pathan  (descendants of migrants from Afghanistan), and even the Mughal (originating in Central Asia and Iran) can also be included in this group. Many ashraf are either ulama in the case of the sayyid, or else landowners, merchants or business people. One’s birth group constitutes a major criterion for defining social status. At the middle level, the ajlaf (low-born) represent the masses. His status is defined by both his profession (pesha) unlike the ashraf.  Many castes of intermediate status fall into this category, such as farmers, traders and weavers (ansari and julaha). Social elite of many ashraf in rural areas believe that this category is not part of the Indian Muslim community (millat).

At the bottom of the social scale is the arzal (vile, vulgar). It is a group comprising non-untouchables and converted “untouchables” who, as in Hinduism, practise supposedly impure trades. This was the case of slaughterers, laundrymen (dhobi), barbers (nai, hajjam), tanners (chammar), and so on.

Like the Hindu caste-ridden society, relations between Muslim social groups are governed by a social taboos _ sharing a table, marriage, sociability) and spatial restrictions (access to domestic areas and places of prayer, segregation in cemeteries and neighbour-hoods.

The ashraf opposes caste based count of Muslim community. But the ajlaf and arzal support it. The ashraf, being a “creamy layer”, obstruct any step that may improve lot of the downtrodden. The Indian Supreme Court decided to exclude the “creamy layer” from the quotas in 2008. But, it was never implemented. Questions about Islam mostly relating to ibadaat  like hajj are asked in Indian parliament by the non-Muslim. No question about economic justice for all and sundry is asked.

Though Islam preached homogeneity, social stratification among the Muslim in India is a fact. The Muslim caste system has hampered their progress in various realm of life. The Indian Muslim is impervious to whatever happens in Kashmir, or in the world.

Where should the excluded go?  Muslims in India are already ghettosied, not `termites’ on economy as Amit Shah thinks. Islam did away with caste superiority. Yet, the Muslim in India could not remain immune from Hindu caste-system. The Muslim is divided into into ashraf (Muslims of foreign lineage) and ajlaf (local converts). Some scholars use another category, arzal, to denote the Muslim who converted from the lowest strata of society (bhangi, doom, choora or sweeper).

Would Amit Shah detain them in concentration camps akin to those in Germany? If so, for how long? Could Bangladesh, already under Rohingyas burden, or India retain the stateless people under international covenants? Amit Shah says Rohingyas (as also Baluchis and Ahmediyya) could still apply for citizenship under Foreigners Act. But, his statement sounds like an eye-wash.

Kashmir under Hindutva citizenship: The laws in the state grant hereditary pushtini) certificates to its citizens. As such, only the hereditary residents are entitled to express their voice in a plebiscite to be held to determine future stats of the disputed state. To scuttle UN mandate and to dilute the demography, Modi government has decided to grant domicile certificates to even non-hereditary residents.

Modi government’s sinister lies on citizenship: In his Ramlila-Maidan speech, Indian prime minister reiterated “no detention centres in India” to “no plans for nationwide National Register of Citizenship. Though it is eerie that these `plans’ are incorporated in ruling Bharatya Janata Party’s manifesto. Amid protest that took 25 lives, 18 in Uttar Pradesh alone, India’s  Union Cabinet approved (24 December 2019), funds to 

the tune of over Rs 3,941.35 crore to update the National Population Register. Both the Union minister and home minister vehemently denied  any connection between the NPR and the NRC.

Yet, the brutal truth is that several official statements, including those in parliament, corroborate that the NPR is the first step towards planned NRC. On  July 23, 2014 Kiren Rijiju,  former Minister of State for Home Affairs, replying to B K Hariprasad in Rajya Sabha said, “The government has now decided to create the National Register of 

Indian Citizens (NRIC) based on the information collected under the scheme of NPR by verifying the citizenship status of all individuals in the country.” On 26 November 2014, Rijiju, once again, reiterated the aforementioned point in Rajya Sabha in response to a question  by Dr. T N Seema.  On April 21, 2015, a press release by home affairs ministry iterated “logical conclusion” of the NPR is the creation of NRIC. “It has been decided that National Population Register (NPR) should be completed and taken to its logical conclusion, which is the creation of National Register of Indian Citizen (NRIC) and National Identity Cards would be issued to citizens by verification of citizenship status of every usual resident in the NPR. The proposals for the same are under consideration of the Government.” Rijiju replied in the Rajya Sabha on 31 July 2019 `NPR is linked to CAA as it seeks to implement the citizenship requirement under the Citizenship Act i.e., to prove that one parent is an Indian citizen’.

It is eerie that USA has again blinker-eyedly designated Pakistan, earlier on watch list, as violator of religious freedom. No focus on India where several states enacted anti-conversion laws, a pastor was axed dead right before eyes of his son, menstruating women not allowed to enter Sabarimala temple despite court’s orders,  dalits hacked for daring enter high-caste temples. Interestingly, a court held that a mosque was not necessary for offering prayers.

Let jaundiced eyes turn to religious repression in India.

Conclusion: The amendment in the citizenship law violates spirit of Indian Constitution. Spearheaded by students, it has engulfed many states. Already, 25 students have been killed, some buried incognito by police. Flabbergasted by violence, Modi and his coterie are giving contradictory statements that are adding fuel to the fire.  Several renowned intellectuals have been arrested. Muslims’s properties are being sealed. And, they are being served notices to make good fictitious damage to property. Student amity transcends ethnicity and religious leanings. Hindus shielded Muslims while they offered prayers on roads.

However, an enduring problem in India is that Muslims are not united. They are  highly stratified. The upper affluent layer is sold out to ruling party. It never expressed sympathy with Kashmiris under Indian yoke, nor Muslims being perxecuted. Similarly, Christians are lukewarm to Hindutva onslaught on Indian Muslims. The minorities need to coalesce to avert extinction.

The Muslim should learn from the Christian. To ruling Bharatya Janata party’s chagrin, Christians are the second most educated religious group in India after the jain. Today, the Christians live all across India, particularly in the South and the southern shore, the Konkan Coast, and Northeastern India. They include former and current chief ministers, governors and chief election commissioners

The paradox of belonging to Islam, a religion that is premised on the notion of equality, and at the same time imbibing local traits which affirm inequality has to be admitted. Muslims are segmented into different status categories on the basis of income, occupation, education and lineage.

It is the Muslim himself who can change his lot by following Islam in full. They should resist stratification and demand equality from their community. The Muslim world at large should help them with funds. Unless they are united, they can’t survive Hindutva aggression, manifested in legislation or in social life.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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Pakistan’s War with COVID-19: A Victory for Now

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From rethinking health care systems to the redefining of global movement and migration, the coronavirus has undoubtedly changed the world – Pakistan being no exception. However, Pakistan, one of the highest populated countries in the world and a developing nation, somehow weathered the storm far better than most countries in the world – leaving many international experts and doctors questioning how.

A state of panic and chaos gripped Pakistan when the first two cases of the novel coronavirus were registered near the Iranian border, back in February of 2020. With flimsy healthcare infrastructure, insufficient public awareness and overcrowded urban spaces succumbing to grisly sanitation system, Pakistan was globally perceived to be a misfit for this kind of war, and also thought to be amongst the brutally hit ones. The notable trust deficit between the government and public, and the ignorance of both could make matters even worse.

The concept of social distancing, not new to the modern world, was alien to a mighty chunk of the masses. Pakistan, one of the only two countries still battling polio, was forecasted by prominent experts to fall deep into a quagmire, if timely actions were not taken. During May the cases began rising and in June, they peaked – hospitals were put on high alert and fear enveloped the populace. Pakistan’s already frail economy also struggled due to the coronavirus – specifically due to the nationwide lockdown that began in March 2020.However, soon after the country hit its peak, the plans finally started to kick off well; active cases began dropping by the end of June. Miraculously, Pakistan has accelerated its recovery rate to 96% in a matter of 6 months, which is surprising, given the current economic and demographic situation of the country.

Out of the 307,000+ active cases registered, more than 6,400 infected have fell victim to this disease so far, according to the Government of Pakistan. Pakistan’s surprising comeback from the pandemic has prompted World Health Organization (WHO) to declare Pakistan as an influential player in the fight against Covid-19.But how was Pakistan able to avert this public health crisis with a handful of resources and poor health infrastructure?

Source: Wikipedia

Graphical Analysis: The trend shows that the country witnessed the peak of the epidemic by mid-June as a result of direct or indirect violations of SOPs by the general public, especially during the Islamic month of Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr. However, the country observed a decline in daily cases by the end of June.

CLOSED CASES*(Recovered/Discharged +Deaths)298,719
Recovered/Discharged292,303 (98%)
Deaths6,416 (2%)

*As of 21st September                         Source: Worldometer

Lockdown Policy

Amidst the national outcry for straining financial capacity, Pakistan’s healthcare infrastructure stood tall like a “Jenga” tower, with the government’s sensitive decision-making on one hand against the public’s negligence. The opposition politically capitalized on the public’s doubt about the government’s capability in dealing with a catastrophe of this scale initially, given the past experiences in dealing with natural disasters, like floods and earthquakes. Under such pressure and insecurity, PM Khan came up with a different solution.

After imposing a complete lockdown in March, a popular containment strategy, Pakistan pursued partial lockdown by closing down vicinities. The ruling party in consensus with other major elements also decided to keep crucial sectors of the economy, the livelihood of millions of wagers, open for economic activity. The government’s take on the countrywide lockdown seemed like a catalyst for an economic, social and political collapse, especially for a developing country like Pakistan.

Despite so many fingers raised at the government’s approach, PM Khan staunchly defended his position by explaining how it could give birth to greater problems like unemployment and eventually push the country into mass starvation. Reports about recession and market crashes from the neighboring India further emboldened the government on its anticipated approach – the smart lockdown.

While many believe that the policy was successful in slowing the spread of the disease in the country, notable health experts believe that the lockdown policy has only saved the country from an economic crisis, and not the disease itself yet. They believe other factors, like demography, have a bigger role to play in the country’s defense so far.

Youthful Demography

The major factor to consider is the demographic structure of Pakistan. Pakistan stands in the list of the countries with the highest number of independent population (youth, adults) against its dependent population (children, old-aged). In other words, Pakistan is home to a large number of youth or working age population; the number of old-aged individuals is significantly less.

Although COVID-19 can fatally affect people of all ages, analysis of the global death figures from the virus in the developed countries in light of the data of median age from the developed countries taken from Global health observatory data (WHO), specifically Italy, UK, France, suggests that the virus has caused more deaths in countries with the average age above 40. According to the above mentioned source, average age in Pakistan is 22; which means that the number of people with stronger physiological immunity is high, and the virus eventually dies down when the transmission occurs between large communities of young people. Thus, it can be said that the youth aspect of Pakistan’s demography might have a key role to play in the apparent success so far.

The Reporting Conspiracy

Pakistan’s testing capacity has also been subject to criticism, with claims that the health system is not sufficiently testing its population on a daily basis. Despite the Prime Minister’s sole credit to the government’s micro-lockdown policy, the data reveals an evident relationship between the decline in testing and reduction in new cases. The statistics released by Our World in Data indicate that Pakistan’s daily tests per thousand people, by July 16, was 0.1. The above source also shows that figure was estimated to be 0.13 back in June, the peak-month; the figures reveal a notable decline in overall testing from June to July.

Misreporting at the district level might have understated the official figures, but the notable thing is that even if we consider the fact that the country’s general testing has declined, it has still managed to show a positive rate less than 5%, according to Al Jazeera. According to the World Health Organization, any country with a positive rate less than 5% is in control of the disease outbreak.

Vulnerability to the Virus

By June, the disease spiraled out of control and started spreading at a very rapid pace. Due to religious gatherings in the month of Ramadan despite the lockdown restrictions, and the lifting of lockdown few weeks after Eid Ul Fitr, the country witnessed a boom in new cases. If we analyze the trend in the aforementioned graph, we can see that the number of cases almost tripled in a month. However, you can also see that after hitting a peak (6,825) in new cases, the rate of new infection steadily begin to decline over the next few days.

In an interview to Al-Jazeera, a health professional in Pakistan suggests that despite the highly contagious nature, the vulnerability to getting infected by the virus varies from individual to individual; a concept known as “population heterogeneity” in epidemiology.

Polio Response Force to the Rescue

With a big question mark on the healthcare’s capacity to accommodate sufficient ventilators for patients nearing respiratory breakdown, Pakistan defied all odds by deploying its polio eradication infrastructure to grapple the virus from spreading. The infrastructure, solely built to combat polio in rural and remote areas, has borne a great deal of innovation and research over the years due to immense pressure from the global health authorities to extirpate it.

Without the presence of a digital integrated health information system on a national level, Pakistan marched forward by integrating its polio eradication system with the COVID-19 monitoring system, an effort highlighted by the World Health Organization in a press conference. Highly trained health workers who were tasked to visit every door around the country for polio vaccination, were now directed to strategize exceptional practices that could effectively monitor, trace and contain the virus.

Even though the healthcare system does not have many epidemiologists in its infantry, Pakistan’s unique strategy has been able to considerably counter the virus than the countries widely accredited for their breakthroughs in the domain of disease control. Pakistan has received much deserved worldwide recognition in its unanticipated yet effective battle against the contagion.

The War Continues…

Pakistan might have pulled a narrow victory in what is considered as the first round of the pandemic, but the threat of the second wave still lurks around the corner. Health officials are continuously ringing bells for a potential disaster and advising the government to brace for it early on. They have also requested the government to pursue a total lockdown, if the country goes through a second wave, in the coming months as historical data suggests that second waves have usually taken a higher toll on the population as compared to the predecessor waves, like that of the Spanish influenza.

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Curfewed Night- Book Review

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Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer, Vintage by Random House India, 2009

Kashmir – A Paradise Lost?

In ‘Curfewed Night’, Basharat Peer, launches his core narrative, with the remark, that it was from a very early age that he had a “sense of the alienation and resentment that most Kashmiri Muslims felt and had against Indian rule” (p.11). It is from this vantage point that the reader is catapulted in to an evocative account of a Kashmir he knows (so intimately), in a style which seamlessly switches between nostalgic reminiscing and straightforward reportage. As he tells us, it was the absence of “books about the Kashmiri experience” (p.95) which invoked in him the desire to “write about the people and places that had haunted him for years” (p.96). Basharat spent his formative years under the watchful eyes of his grandfather enjoying the company of books introduced to him by his father. It was January 1990, when he was 13 years of age that his war of adolescence began and events were set in motion which were to change Kashmir forever.  

In this intensely personal account of Kashmir, Basharat, goes on to describe the transformation of Kashmir from a land of immense natural beauty, into one where “armoured cars and soldiers” (p.229) were now casting an ominous shadow on the once idyllic landscape. According to him, the night of January 20,1990 marked a watershed in the Kashmiri demand for freedom, from an oppressive central government. On that night the paramilitary  had come down heavily to crush what was seen to be an “incipient rebellion” (p.14) and the infamous Gawkadal Bridge massacre was to follow just a day later(Haq, 2019).  Starting with the consequent spurt in growth of home grown militancy under the aegis of the pro-independence JKLF, he in the course of the book then traces the changing complexion and complexity of militancy as it moved to one which endorsed a pro-Pakistan stand as advocated by Hizbul Mujahideen and later the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. As a concomitant we are exposed to his references to the growing presence of the Indian Armed Forces and the consequent, at times unspeakable atrocities.    

While still in school, Basharat Peer, could have said to have been lucky when he heeds the words of his grandfather, who tells him that “you don’t live long, in a war son”(p.28). This takes place when he aspires to join the militants in a moment of boyish hero worship, only to be thwarted in his attempt through active intervention by his family. The irony lies in the fact that in the same time frame, Tariq, his cousin meets a violent end after having embraced militancy. This inevitability of a violent end, in case of militancy, is later underlined by Basharat when he mentions that, “even Yusuf had not gotten out alive” (p.221). Yusuf was his childhood acquaintance who had various dalliances with the law, militancy and politics before being gunned down. It is indeed thought provoking and sad to find that the graves of those killed in the conflict were mostly those of the young, really young.

With this early brush with militancy, it is not long before, Basharat is sent away to study at the Aligarh Muslim University followed by enrolment at a university in Delhi. This leads him to a job as a reporter and a mellowing phase in his personal development when he discovers, the “various Indias that existed” (p. 69). All along visiting and keeping in touch with the valley it is a militant attack on his parents which unnerves him and prompts his return to the valley after having resigned from his job as a reporter. Wanting to write an intimate account of Kashmir, he now spends his time tracking down events and people with “militants and soldiers” becoming “ghost like presences”(p.206). This marks an extremely traumatic, tumultuous phase of intensely felt emotions, just as we are witness to the paralytic pain that engulfs him in his failed attempt to visit Kunanposhpora where twenty women were raped by armed forces.  

There is also a sense of the tragic especially in the latter half of the narrative, when Basharat poignantly reminds us (repeatedly)of the tremendous human cost brought upon his beloved valley which gradually became a conflict zone before his very own eyes. Whether it is the reference to the ‘Association of the Parents of the Disappeared’ (p.132) or his schoolmate Mubashir’s falling victim to a grenade attack as an innocent bystander, the pain is searing. Even his own grandfather’s brother Nabi suffers from “fear and paranoia” (p.77) after his brush with militants and is resigned to taking anti-depressants in order to cope with the trauma. This psychological distress does not take sides and even an army officer is quoted to say, “I was a different man before I joined the force and came to Kashmir” (p.232). It is no wonder that Basharat writes sub consciously or otherwise about the “violence of a shoe brush” and his aeroplane is seen to execute a “violent sprint on the runway” (p. 235).  

All said and done, whatever one’s political orientation, ‘Curfewed Night’, is undeniably a rich tapestry of reportage, personal experiences, reminiscences while at the same time it works as a social commentary on the Kashmir of our times. Basharat Peer does not always shy away from the unpleasant, though his narrative does shy away from digging deeper in to some uncomfortable truths like the forced migration of 100,000 or more Kashmiri Pandits following the events of the night of January 19,1990 (India Today , 2016). Also brushed aside is the role played by Pakistan when it meddles in matters of the sovereign state of India through its active and complicit involvement in an ongoing state sponsored proxy war(Towle, 1981).

To end on a more positive note, looking to “return, leave, return, leave, and return again” (p.234), an emotional Basharat looks for erasure of the “lines of control” (p.239) and a return to a world where individuals are not just suspects or military targets. He does indeed sum it up so well with his heart rending expression of the hope that the war in his valley “would disappear like footsteps on winter snow”! (p.223)

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Proxy War and the Line of Control in Kashmir

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Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere, with its roses the brightest that earth ever gave.Thomas Moore

The Backdrop

Kashmir has a way of arousing strong emotions, even among those like the Irish poet Thomas Moore, who never set foot on its soil. At the time of partition of British India, Kashmir was one of the largest princely states and like the rest of the princely states, it had the option of joining either of the two dominions of India and Pakistan or else declare independence. Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir had a similar choice to make but unable to take a stand he chose to sign a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan in order to buy time. India delayed signing such an agreement. It was following this agreement, that Pakistan with an eye on taking over Kashmir, started to act up and enforced a virtual economic blockade of this landlocked state, in a bid to force the Maharaja to accede to Pakistan (Singh, 1989).

The Maharaja desperate for supplies turned to India for help and matters soon took a turn for the worse, when Pashtun Tribals funded and equipped by Pakistan, invaded Kashmir, in October 1947(Haque, 2010). Facing imminent takeover of his state, Hari Singh again turned to India for help, but the Indian Government expressed its inability to intervene militarily in the absence of an Instrument of Accession. The Maharaja had dithered for too long to his detriment, he then signed the agreement and Indian troops were airlifted to the valley, immediately. The Indian Army successfully routed the tribal force,code named ‘Operation Gulmarg’,and it was the Pakistani Army which now took up the slack and stepped in continue the battle. 

With winter creeping in, fighting was resumed only in the spring of 1948. It was to be almost a year before a UN sponsored cease fire took effect in January 1949, and the cease fire line became the de facto border pending resolution of the dispute. In retrospect, the Pashtun invasion was in effect the first proxy war waged by Pakistan and the resulting cease fire line was to become the Line of Control in a later ‘avatar’. It is in the context of Kashmir that we shall examine the coming in to being of these twin concepts of ‘Line of Control’ and ‘Proxy War’ and see how they created and shaped the flow of events as they un folded, in the intervening decades. Also examined, will be the role of the two state actors in a bid to identify likely outcomes and possible course corrections.

Proxy War and Kashmir

Proxy wars cannot be understood, unless they are placed in the context of their existence and usage. For Pakistan, the benefit in this manner of engagement, lies not only in its deniability (for political reasons) but also because it minimises the chances that such a conflict could escalate into a full blown act of war (Byman, 2018).

 As an added corollary, there is the added incentive of reduced financial and human costs. Contextually, of even more significance, is the fact that India has military superiority which Pakistan would find hard to counter, if it were to engage in direct combat in a bid to annex Kashmir. Moreover, from a strategic point of view, when Pakistan plays the religion card for motivation, the results exceed expectations as it radicalises Islam in a Kashmir which originally subscribed to Sufi Islam. The incentive of ‘Azaadi’ is just a metaphor for annexation.

In Kashmir, there is a chain of causality, that began when, Major General Akbar Khan, a serving Pakistani Army officer, used Pashtun Tribals to stage an armed insurrection in Kashmir in October 1947 (Haque, THE KASHMIR CONFLICT: WHY IT DEFIES SOLUTION, 2010). The tribals in this operation were the first in a long list of non -state actors used by Pakistan in the relentless proxy war being waged, across the line of control, till today. Praveen Swami chooses to call this an “informal war” and rightfully says it has had a greater impact than both the 1947 and 1965 wars, as it set the stage for a seemingly endless engagement (Talbot, 2007).

Line of Control and Kashmir

In international parlance there was no such term like the line of control, until it was coined in 1972, when the Simla Accord was signed between India and Pakistan, after the post war (1971) negotiations between the two countries. The physical origins of the line of control, date back to the first Indo-Pak war in 1947, an invasion, gone wrong. Pakistan had committed this act of aggression, covert and overt, in spite of having signed a standstill agreement with the Maharaja of Kashmir, and for no identifiable reason except to further Jinnah’s interpretation of the Two Nation Theory. In spite of speculation about the exact timing of the signing of the Instrument of Accession by the Maharaja, the fact remains that Indian troops intervened with this accession instrument in place and the UN mediated a cease fire between the two countries and the cease fire line was formalised in a Karachi agreement signed in July 1949. Approximately one third of Kashmir was now with Pakistan and India had the balance two thirds. In the following years, there were three major wars with Pakistan and out of them it was the 1971 war which metamorphosed the cease fire line in to the Line of Control (LOC), as part of a larger political settlement. This line of control was in effect ‘cordon sanitaire’ based on military realities and political exigencies. Virtually unaffected by the wars of 1965 and 1999, the 742 km LOC still traverses majorly mountainous terrain with the Siachen Glacier as its end point. It has now been fenced over much of its length to discourage infiltration from Pakistan.

Proxy War and Line of Control

 In Juxtaposition

Regardless of nomenclature, with the war of 1947, the matters of proxy war and the line of control, became inextricably linked to the very existence of the countries of India and Pakistan. Just like the first war of 1947, Pakistan, unsuccessfully tried the proxy route again in 1965, with ‘Operation Gibraltar’ but the infiltrators could not garner local support and ‘conventional’ war broke out. The UN then negotiated a cease fire, and the Tashkent Agreement restored the sanctity of the 1949 cease fire line. In subsequent years, the 1971 war mutated the cease fire line, in to the LOC, and this war was more to do with the liberation of East Pakistan, anyway. Finally, it was Zia, who ultimately formalised this bid to “bleed India with a thousand cuts”(Katoch, 2013). The juggernaut he set rolling in 1988, never quite stopped and the Kargil war of 1999, was to see the pattern repeated, in terms of the use of non-state actors.

In the intervening years, since, only the ‘face’ of proxy war has changed and evolved, the heavily militarized LOC is a constant. To start with, in the eighties, it was the pro-independence JKLF with indigenous recruits, which held sway, only to be replaced by a pro-Pakistan, Hizbul-Mujahideen and later the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-Mohammed. Even now, the youth of Kashmir, is being radicalised and trained in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, for ‘Jihad’, but ‘terrorism fatigue’ is setting in. Militants are losing support of the local population, more and more, just as Pakistan uses its Afghan experience to use different nationalities as cannon fodder. Peace talks make no headway in this paradigm and there are no winners in this war, social and economic development is the casualty, damaged goods abound amongst the public and the security forces, alike.   

 In Search of a Settlement

Taking the time of partition as a point of reference, Pakistan was convinced in its mind that given geographical contiguity, and the fact that the state was predominantly Muslim, Kashmir should be its own. Clearly this was a political issue which Pakistan turned in to a military conflict. From thereon, Pakistan’s strategies ensured that the situation was turned in to a regional conflict with international dimensions. So much so Clinton referred to the LOC as the “most dangerous place in the world”(Popham, 2000). Playing its cards well, Pakistan turned a political stalemate in to a militaristic, socio-religious and political quagmire. With no noteworthy democratic institutions to speak of, Pakistan wants to liberate Kashmir, choosing to forget that accession was the instrument of choice when the princely states decided their fate at the time of partition. How was Kashmir’s choice being invalidated if this was so.

Today, the Kashmir Valley is a land transformed. From a paradise of untold natural beauty, it is a landscape of concertina wire fences and concrete bunkers. Its residents are in a state of siege, emotionally scarred, unable to cast off the twin yokes of militancy and counter-insurgency, with the military and militants lurking at every corner (literally). Brutality abounds. Opportunistic politicians, flawed elections, corrupt bureaucrats, a protecting force which behaves like an occupation force, are faces of this brutality that have been  unleashed on the people of Kashmir. This was not always so.

Clearly, somewhere along the way India lost her bearings. It failed to take in to account the aspirations of the people. Kashmirayat, was secular, but it was not taken seriously and it did not take much to ignite the flames of ‘Azaadi’ which almost engulfed the valley. The secular bond was broken with the forced migration of the Kashmiri Pundits out of the valley. Regardless of the prevailing political dispensation, over time, with the growth of militancy, repression was the dominant reaction and the ‘mailed fist’ gained precedence. Radicalised Islam began to replace Sufi Islam((RETD), 2018).  Fear and suspicion ruled the psyche of the people. The youth felt disenfranchised. India had fallen in to the trap of enforcing a siege instigated by Pakistan. Kashmiris felt betrayed. Article 370 which granted unprecedented autonomy, had been diluted until it was just symbolic, when it was abrogated in 2019, by a fiercely nationalistic government which had only just snapped ties with an electoral partner perceived as soft on separatists.

Coming back to the time of independence, Dionisio Anzilotti, former President of the Permanent Court of International Justice, says that Pakistan’s invasion in 1947 was “against all canons of international law” and “a clear violation of the Charter, the Security Council’s resolution of 17 January, 1948” (Pan, 1998).Just as interesting is the fact that, the accession document is deemed to be legal under international law even if it is signed under duress(Ayoob, 1967). As for the oft touted failure to institute a plebiscite, the UNSC resolution signed by both countries, clearly calls for first off withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Kashmir, with India keeping its forces at a minimum. Pakistan will never pull back and the stalemate therefore continues.

Clearly, there is an impasse and an impossibility for either side to blink. In Pakistan, the army cannot possibly abandon a conflict through which it exercises control over the body politic that sustains its economic, political and economic interests. It is almost as if, Kashmir is the very reason for the existence of the army and for the public of Pakistan, Kashmir’s liberation and annihilation of its bête noire, India, is the only national priority. Muhammad Shaffi Qureshi, a Kashmiri politician put it well when he said, that the Pakistan Army has “been feeding the tiger for a long time” for it to just walk away(Kifner, 2001). The danger in proxy warfare being that after a time proxies begin to “act according to their own interest and impulses”(Byman, ORDER FROM CHAOS Why engage in proxy war? A state’s perspective, 2018)(ibid).Pervez Musharraf and others have realized this truth much to their chagrin.

 India, too is riding its own tiger, as it is caught in a ‘low-level equilibrium trap ‘in terms of being, in a state of no war accompanied by no peace(Carciumaru, 2015). The fear being that any let up in military presence will escalate militancy. The abrogation of Article 370 and the division of the state of Jammu & Kashmir in to centrally administered divisions, has destabilized already vulnerable democratic processes, turning Kashmir in to a simmering cauldron. The current political dispensation at the centre is still going ahead andrapidly making changes in domicile laws, in a bid to alter the demographics of the region. Previous state governments had done this for different reasons when they allowed the settling of Rohingya refugees in Jammu and thereabouts, for obvious reasons. Admittedly, matters can take a serious turn from hereon, with resentment boiling over among the populace at large.

Attempting to deal with the abrogation of Article 370, Pakistan is consequently changing its strategy. A leaked policy document from the ‘Green Book 2020’,indicates that the proxy war will now move towards, a‘non kinetic domain’(Osborne, 2020).Cyber warfare and psychological warfare being  used to aid and abet a native uprising, so as to be able to defend Pakistan’s position on international forums. With a defensive and weakened Pakistan,   India, too must move differently and realize that it cannot have a decisive win against militancy, using brute force. With militancy, currently at an ebb, the time is in fact opportune to move towards a ‘negotiated settlement’ as the militants are politically discredited in a scenario where India has the moral high ground as it does not believe in building terror launch pads on its soil.  Its people of Kashmir are decidedly at an advantage economically, when compared to their ‘compatriots’ across the LOC and they have a ‘voice’, in a country where rule of law still prevails. Aberrations like the AFSPA, can surface in any dispensation, you don’t throw the baby with the bath water.

In Conclusion

Bashir Manzar wrote on twitter, “From Geelani to Farooq Abdullah, we have a luxury to say anything and everything against India, ridiculing it for rejecting our right of self-determination,independent Kashmir, autonomy, self-rule etc. But when Pakistan rejects all these things, we turn into non-speaking species. Are we more scared of Pakistan than India?”

Seven decades later, peace is still intractable in the Kashmir Valley.Violations across the line of control continue, by both sides and the proxy war initiated and sustained by Pakistan, has been a constant for long.Kashmir  is ina ‘mutually hurting-stalemate’(Carciumaru, Beyond the ‘Low-Level Equilibrium Trap’: Getting to a ‘Principled Negotiation’ of the Kashmir Conflict, 2015) (ibid).Perhaps, the most elegant solution to this imbroglio would be acceptance of the line of control as an international border with greater autonomy for Kashmir (as suggested by Farooq Abdullah)so that the people of Kashmir couldthen move on with their lives, which in a paradoxical manner seem to be in a state of suspended animation, as long as the conflict continues to play itself out. This is not utopian, all it needs is political will and some give and take(Sharma, 2017).

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