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Blasphemy, Pakistan’s New Religion

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By Mohammed Hanif

After spending eight years on death row, Asia Bibi, a Christian, was acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court this week. For many here it seemed like a good day. The country’s highest court had finally delivered justice and released a woman whose life has already been destroyed by years in solitary confinement. The court decision quoted Islamic scriptures, bits of letters by the Prophet Muhammad and a smattering of Shakespeare. A great wrong was righted.

And that’s why Pakistan’s new religious right, which has rebranded itself as the protector of the Prophet’s honor, has threatened to bring the country to a halt.

 

Posters were put up with fatwas against the judges who had issued the Bibi decision. The judges’ guards and cooks were urged to kill them before evening; anyone who did would earn great rewards in the afterlife. Pakistani conservatives, emboldened by gains in the general election this summer, goaded the generals into rebelling against the army chief, whom they accused of being an Ahmadi, a persecuted religious minority. They called Prime Minister Imran Khan a “Jew child.”

Khan, in an impromptu address to the nation, seemed appalled at the language and the implication: He said his government had already done more than any other for Islam and warned protesters not to take on the state. But the mobs will settle for nothing short of Bibi’s public hanging.

Bibi probably didn’t even know what blasphemy was when she was accused of committing it. There are many versions of what led to the charges against her, but all revolve around a verbal altercation with Muslim neighbours in Punjab, an eastern province, about drinking water from the same vessel. Some Muslims won’t share utensils with non-Muslims, a belief that has more to do with (Hindu) casteism than (Islamic) scripture. We can never know what she may or may not have said because repeating blasphemy is also blasphemy, and writing it down may be even greater blasphemy. So let’s not go there.

We do know what happened next. Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and, after what her lawyers called a forced confession, was sentenced to death by one court.

Another court later confirmed the sentence. The governor of Punjab Province, Salman Taseer, visited her in prison and promised to lobby for a presidential pardon. He was assassinated by one of his police bodyguards who believed the governor had committed blasphemy by questioning the country’s blasphemy laws. The Pakistani media was understanding. Of the bodyguard’s feelings.

A federal minister who happened to be Christian and spoke up for Bibi also was assassinated. Although nobody has actually been hanged by the state for blasphemy so far, the mere accusation can be an open invitation to kill the accused. Last year, the university student Mashal Khan was lynched by classmates after he was accused of putting some blasphemous posts on social media. They were nothing more than a campus rebel’s personal thoughts, some revolutionary poetry and musings about the meaning of life.

Also last year, five bloggers were picked up by intelligence agencies in what seemed like coordinated raids. They had all written against the army or its security policies. Some had written in prose, some in poetry; others in Facebook rants. As their disappearance lasted, some people on social media and TV anchors close to the army started accusing them of having committed blasphemy. They were eventually released by their abductors, but so much poison had been spread about them that they had to leave the country.

Ahead of the last election the same people who are now demanding the army chief’s head laid siege to the capital. They were protesting against the government for changing one word in the oath that you are required to take as a member of parliament. This blasphemy brigade was egged on by the media and opposition political parties. Khan, who was the opposition leader at the time, said that his followers were rearing to join the protest. Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army’s top commander, said publicly that it couldn’t be expected to use force against its own people, an honorable sentiment with little precedent in Pakistan’s history.

After a botched police operation, the army triumphantly negotiated with the protesters, and an agreement was signed conceding many of their demands. The law minister was fired. The word change in the law was changed back. A general was seen distributing 1,000-rupee notes to demonstrators and patting them on the back: Are we not with you? Aren’t we all part of the same brotherhood?

Now those brothers have returned to bite our military and civilian establishment. An arm around the shoulder and some petty cash may be a good law-and-order strategy in some potentially explosive situations. But not when you play politics with the Prophet’s honour.

It’s almost certain that Bibi will not be able to live in the country after her acquittal. And a lot of people like her are still languishing in cells waiting to be tried. There’s a literature professor, Junaid Hafeez, who has been in jail for the last five years facing bogus blasphemy charges. After he was arrested, his lawyer was shot dead for defending him. His current lawyer can’t be named. Hafeez has to be kept in solitary confinement to protect him from other prisoners who might take it upon themselves himself to avenge the Prophet’s good name.

Now that the prime minister himself is in the righteous sight — protecting a blasphemer may be even graver blasphemy — and a man even more powerful than him, Bajwa, has been declared kafir, an infidel, one can only hope their respective institutions won’t use the blasphemy card against their perceived enemies. There were about a dozen reported cases of blasphemy between 1927 and 1986, but there have been more than 4,000 since then, when the laws were reinforced.

Pakistani liberals are asking the government and the army to go and crush the mullahs and take the country back. It might be more useful to go after these blasphemy laws that seem to be turning all of us into blasphemers.

(Mohammed Hanif (@mohammedhanif) is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti” and “Red Birds.” He is a contributing opinion writer. Courtesy: New York Times)


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The contours of contest ahead

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By Mahesh Rangarajan

This summer will see a carnival of democracy in the general election. Much has changed in just five years. The elan of Narendra Modi’s party is more muted this time. Last weekend, key opponents, the Samajwadi Party and the BahujanSamaj Party, joined forces in Uttar Pradesh, making the contest real and not a walkover. The Index of Opposition Unity cannot predict outcomes but no one can afford to ignore it.

The Congress’s victories in the Assembly elections in three north Indian States have given it a shot in the arm. Equally important, the older party is firming up alliances in the southern States. The 131 Lok Sabha seats in five States (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana) and two Union Territories (Lakshadweep and Puducherry) have been critical to it in times of trouble.

 

The Telangana poll outcome was sobering for both the large national parties. Regional nationalism is not new to Indian politics: Jammu and Kashmir and Tamil Nadu were precursors. Regional formations have long governed West Bengal, Odisha and now Telangana. They may well hold the keys to power in New Delhi.

In 2014, it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that led in securing allies. Between then and now, BJP president Amit Shah has helped expand its footprint. Not only does it have more MLAs than the Congress, but its cadre fights every election like there is no tomorrow.

The challenge lies elsewhere. The Congress may have lost in 2014 and come down to a historic low of less than one in five votes cast. Yet, only a decade age, in May 2009, the roles had been in reverse. It was Congress that had then polled 29% and the BJP just 19% of the popular vote.

This time is different. It is 1971 that will be the textbook case for the ruling party. When the Grand Alliance said it would oust Indira Gandhi, she replied she wished to banish poverty. She won hands down.

Mrs. Gandhi did not have to contend with a powerful Dalit-led formation in the Ganga valley which commands 20% of the vote. Many of today’s regional parties were yet to be formed. She captured the public imagination. It was a gamble and she won hands down. Mr. Modi too will fight to the last voter. He will try to be the issue. He has sounded the tocsin against dynasty, caste and corruption. Hence the record in getting visible benefits to the individual and the family. The gas cylinder, the light bulb, that rural road: each will, he hopes, add to his appeal.

History has another instance too. The 2004 general election was held early. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was confident that ‘India was Shining’. The dream came apart on counting day. Rather than a unified Opposition (for there was none in the all-important State of Uttar Pradesh), ground-level discontent denied the ruling alliance another chance.

And yet, there is the cloud of the horizon. Even in 2004, the Congress was only a whisker ahead of the BJP — just seven seats more in the Lok Sabha. The Congress had 145 seats to the BJP’s 138. The key was on the ground, where the mood had shifted. The economic upturn began in 2003, but voters did not see gains early enough for the ruling bloc to reap an electoral harvest.

In 2014, the challenger drew on the tiredness with a decade of a Congress-led government and promised a fresh start. Runaway inflation and the spectre of corruption undercut the appeal of the Congress. This time the issues have changed. It is the squeeze on farm incomes and rural debt that are the key poll planks. Similarly, the issue of jobs is more pressing than ever. Cultivators across all strata and young people seeking productive employment want answers.

Two States are key. Maharashtra, a State critical in the histories of both the Congress and the BJP, is not only seeing a coming together of Opposition forces; it is undergoing drought and rural distress. Ominously, key farmer-led allies have walked across. Uttar Pradesh, a bastion of the BJP, has rival Dalit- and Mandal-led parties coalesce for the first time in a quarter century. Both States have something in common. In both, sugarcane cultivation is a determinant of electoral fortunes.

Cane (not caste) and jobs (not community slogans) may hold the key. Ganna and Naukri, not reservations or the emotive Mandir issue. What matters more: bread or identity? Even when both count what takes precedence?

Government policy has had a key role in this denouement. By according priority to consumers in cities (who want low prices for cereals, oil seeds and pulses), the government did not have to pay heed to rural residents who need to earn more. The latter, as producers, are larger in number and percentage than in any other democracy.

India still lives and votes in its villages. Under Mr. Shah, the cadre, organisation and outreach have made the BJP a vastly larger party than any other. But economic policies can strain such organisational gains.

Democracy is about more than development. In a polity where people can throw their rulers out, it is centrally about politics. Since 1999, there has been a bi-nodal system, and the choice is not simply between Mr. Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
We have effectively a one-party government with a firm hand on the wheel (but with the danger of an over-centralisation of power).

Against this, is ranged a looser coalition in which regional forces and rural interests have more play. Needless to add, the latter will be rockier, more contentious and tough to manage in a coherent fashion.

The Modi government is driven by ideology and not pragmatism on a range of issues. This is the first ever BJP government with a view of culture, history and politics that seeks to remake history as much as the future. Is this the party’s agenda or the country’s? This is a question in the background: if the Ram temple issue comes to the fore, it will be a major choice for the voter.

The pluralism and Hindutva debate have another dimension more so than ever, namely the federal question. Across the Northeast (including Sikkim), far more important to the country than its 25 Lok Sabha seats indicate, the idea of citizenship is at variance with the new Citizenship Bill passed by the Lok Sabha. Across the country, State-level parties see an accretion of powers in the federal government unseen since the 1980s.

True, Mr. Modi has a wider mass appeal than any one since Mrs. Gandhi. But history is witness that such appeal can also have limits if voters decide that enough is enough. Has that point been reached? We simply do not know.

More central is the question of questions. Are you better off than you were five years ago, and if not, why not? If so, and even if not, do you think we are moving in the right direction?

In 2014, The Economist observed that if India had the per capita wealth of Gujarat, the country would rank with Spain. Has that dream come true or it is unravelling and fast? How voters answer that will show who they stand with.

(The writer is Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Ashoka University, Haryana. Source: The Hindu)

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Headwinds rock Rahul, Modi

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By Jawed Naqvi

Recent headlines have offered clues about the way the wind is blowing before the general elections in India. A make-or-break element in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid in May lies in Uttar Pradesh. It was here that he swept the 2014 polls on the back of anti-Muslim blood and gore set off in Muzaffarnagar, what some in the prime minister’s choral media have praised as ‘Modi Magic’. Spurring his win in the country’s most populous state was a palpably disharmonious opposition. That may have changed this year — or has it?

Let’s quickly scour the headlines. My first story refers to the Congress party’s bizarre plan to contest all 80 parliamentary seats in UP on its own. What then becomes of the promised coalition?

 

The second story seemed facetious at first but it describes a crippling fallout on the BJP of its ban on slaughter of cattle in UP. The alarmed party must now contain unwanted cattle in their post-productive state when they become a load on the farmers. Will the revered holy cow be artificially inseminated to produce more cows than bulls, as the animal husbandry minister says? How serious is the looming crisis in a political season?

A fourth story is The Hindu’s damning report by a former Indian supreme court judge, which gathered dust in the vaults of the apex court for over a year, on fake encounter deaths in Gujarat. Will it haunt the BJP together with an equally strong concern expressed by UN rights officials about allegations of widespread killings in Yogi Adityanath-ruled Uttar Pradesh?

And finally, the party’s national convention addressed by Modi where he offered himself as the only choice to lead India, which needs a ‘mazbootsarkar’, a strong government. The opposition alliance can only produce a ‘majboorsarkar’, says he, a government weakened by its own political compromises.

Two of the stories should suffice to indicate the headwinds ahead. The Congress party’s announcement of fighting all seats in UP, came not surprisingly a day after the backward caste Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Dalit BahujanSamaj Party (BSP), once bitter rivals,

declared a joint campaign in 76 constituencies, leaving four for Congress, presumably. In the last vote count, BSP (22.23 per cent) and the SP (28.07pc) totalled more than BJP (41.35pc) and Congress put together. Congress is an insignificant player in UP, and its irresponsible claim to contest all seats makes it a laughing stock given the high stakes in May.

What lies behind the absurdity? The fact is that Congress, perennially described a family enterprise of the Gandhis, is actually a coalition of powerful satraps, usually but not always shored up by Mumbai businessmen.

The business clubs have a chronic allergy to the Gandhis, though they are not averse to backing a Narasimha Rao or a Manmohan Singh in Congress. The allergens are old and damning. Nehru had jailed their leading businessman for corruption, Indira Gandhi had shut their banks, and Rajiv Gandhi ordered them to get off the backs of Congress workers. The tycoons came back hard at him with the Bofors smear though.

In the recent elections in Madhya Pradesh, a local Congress chieftain deemed close to a particular business family, opposed and subverted an alliance with Mayawati’s Dalit party. Congress won but not cleanly and it needs the BSP to sustain a majority. In Uttar Pradesh, the SP has strong ties with key business families, including the one that Rahul Gandhi has named in the Rafael warplanes scandal.

Given the state of play, the young Gandhi should ideally decide whether he wants to be a compromised representative of disparate, even contrary interests as prime minister, something his satraps would like him to be. Or should he be nudging the opposition parties, bereft of common ambition, with a Nehruvian vision to forge a truly durable secular polity?

The left had done this successfully with Indira Gandhi. The model can only strengthen Congress and its essentially left-leaning mass base. See it as a Tony Blair-Jeremy Corbyn moment within the Indian equivalent of the Labour Party. Else, the system in India, a tycoon-run deep state, would continue to harness Congress satraps and the BJP in a bind that undermines the constitution’s fair promise.

Signs of disarray in the opposition should comfort the BJP, but evidently the party for the first time is looking mortally afraid of losing. From ‘Congress-free India’, Modi is now talking about ‘a weak opposition government’. There’s more evidence of panic in Omar Rashid’s story in The Hindu about a cattle market that has collapsed, about stray cows raiding UP farms as impoverished farmers abandon their hungry animals.

Explaining the dilemma, BJP’s minister for animal husbandry said: “UP is a state of small and minor farmers, with two crop seasons. For 15 days of ploughing, a farmer no longer wants to feed two bullocks all year round.” To solve the problem the government has started a sex-sorted scheme under which the chances of a cow producing a female calf would be as high as 90pc to 95pc. Simultaneously, the BJP government is imposing a 0.5pc gaukalyan (cow welfare) cess on liquor and road toll collections, besides doubling an existing 1pc levy on the incomes of wholesale produce markets. The proceeds will fund construction and maintenance of new cow pens.

While the kitten entangles itself in the ball of wool, the opposition should be taking control of the narrative. But Congress, far from offering a vision, which only it could, is saddled with its recent promise to make cow urine economically viable while discussing the grade of the Brahminical thread Rahul Gandhi wears, neither of which is part of the winning calculation for the SP and the BSP.

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Opinion

The social fibre is in disarray

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By Tawfeeq Irshad Mir

Kashmir lost its claim to heaven a long time ago but the debate today is not about ‘why’ but ‘who’ caused the paradise to fly away, leaving behind its miserable and yet romantic claimants.Say Kashmir, and the sweet aroma of pine takes over the mind fluttering among images of valley flowers,

While the valley is brewing to shivered cold, resorting to bone ache, and suddenly you get to hear the act, that tender your muscles and your brain starts oscillating in agony. While I was on the way to home, and as usual my phone keeps on beeping with variable feeds, and at a moment my eyes stuck to a feed, mentioning that a baby was thrown outside in a cartoon enveloped in polythene, across the road from the city’s maternity hospital Lal Ded. Not the first time, I got to hear such inhuman act, previously such incidents have filled the social networking sites with tetra byte data.

 

Kashmir, a Conservative populace with rigid religious beliefs, where such incidents dwindle the heart, to the core and ionise in the surroundings within fraction of the second.

,,, “oh foetid soul, you aren’t a burden,
Your cravings, your presence, is sacred,
” unworthy are those, who abandon you,
,,, “you are born to take nap at the realm of GOD,

This mischievous act is on surge in Kashmir citing numerous incidents in the past, Now concerning the aetiology of this social chaos, : over the years there has been a paradigm shift in the psychological, behavioural, living style of the people inhabiting valley, leading to variant changes, pertaining to psychosexual onslaught, Now we see pre-marital sexual relations, a non-serious concern leading to apathy in the ethos of society, the ramifications of this are vivid and perturbing, the couple especially in their teen ages, moved by their sudden hormonal changes engage in sexual relationships, and in certain cases, unaware of its complications, maybe due to lack of knowledge, debarring the use of protective devices, the female counterpart conceives and remains unaware for most of the time, as fear of surroundings, the societal rejection, the client fears to express the event to parents, till she develops such symptoms, and in reaction, either they go for illegal termination of pregnancy or wait for the term to deliver remaining in isolation carried out in privacy, and later the baby is abandoned.

In certain cases, the baby delivered from legal couple, go for termination, if it’s unwanted, or a female,, called female infanticide “in Kashmir such incidents are on record where foetus laden with blood were found in toilets, on the footsteps of shrines, some years back, an abandoned baby, caught by mob of dogs was noticed outside Lal Ded hospital, such incident shocked the consciousness of people,.

Congenital defects :Every single creation of God is not futile, but I can say, a sheer ignorance, the babies who are born with genetic defects have every right to continue life, even Stephen Hawkins was born with hereditary defect, still he rose to prominence, even normal human couldn’t think ever, contributes to the cause of abandoning babies, recently a horrendous incident captivated the conscious minds of valley where a father tried to Bury his live baby, citing the reasons of poverty, that he can’t afford the care of baby born with genetic defect.

Now describing the risk factors, loosening bondages from religious acuity, problems in socialisation, faults in upbringing, difficulties in coping up with puberty, lack of education, accelerate such incidents.

The treatment is more of a belief than literal.The old age adage holds true everywhere, we should focus on preventive strategies, we should be more religious, because not a single religion advocates such horrendous act, be more conscious when you go for such a relationship, we should profoundly act on such incidents, awareness schedule should be set up,
We need to develop legal resolutions for those abandoned, because we have many childless couples, so as to create balance.

Certainly at the end, those who abandon live births, are abandoning the humanity, the moment they opt for such gigantic mischief, they turn into wilds, and their ability to be human seizes.

(The writer is perusing graduation in Nursing at GMC, Srinagar. He can be reached at: [email protected])

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