Wednesday, June 13, 2012

India advances, but many women still trapped in dark ages

The birth of a girl, so goes a popular Hindu saying, is akin to the arrival of Lakshmi – the four-armed goddess of wealth, often depicted holding lotus flowers and an overflowing pot of gold. That should assure pride of place for women in Indian society, especially now the country is growing both in global influence and affluence. In reality, India’s women are discriminated against, abused and even killed on a scale unparalleled in the top 19 economies of the world, according to a new poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The survey, polling 370 gender specialists, found Canada to be the best place to be a woman amongst G20 nations, excluding the European Union economic grouping. Saudi Arabia was the second worst, after India.It’s a miracle a woman survives in India. Even before she is born, she is at risk of being aborted due to our obsession for sons,” said Shemeer Padinzjharedil, who runs, a website which maps and documents crimes against women. “As a child, she faces abuse, rape and early marriage and even when she marries, she is killed for dowry. If she survives all of this, as a widow she is discriminated against and given no rights over inheritance or property.” Many of the crimes against women are in India’s heavily populated northern plains, where, in parts, there is a deep-rooted mindset that women are inferior and must be restricted to being homemakers and childbearers. In addition, age-old customs such as payment of hefty dowries at the time of marriage and beliefs linking a female’s sexual behavior to family honor have made girls seem a burden. The poll results – based on parameters such as quality of health services, threat of physical and sexual violence, level of political voice, and access to property and land rights – jars with the modern-day image of India. India had a female prime minister, or head of government, as long ago as 1966. Well-dressed women in Western attire driving scooters or cars to work is now an everyday sight in cities. Women doctors, lawyers, police officers and bureaucrats are common. Millions Aborted But scratch under the surface and the threats in India are manifold – from female foeticide, child marriage, dowry and honor killings to discrimination in health and education and crimes such as rape, domestic violence and human trafficking. Indeed, a girl’s fight for survival begins in the womb due to an overwhelming desire for sons and fear of dowry, which has resulted in 12 million girls being aborted over the last three decades, according to a 2011 study by The Lancet. This has led to a decline in the number of women in proportion to men in many areas, resulting in a rise in rapes, human trafficking and, in certain cases, practices such as “wife-sharing” amongst brothers. In fact, the curse of dowry continues even after marriage. One bride was murdered every hour over dowry demands in 2010, says the National Crime Records Bureau. Some are “stove burnings” where in-laws pour kerosene, the commonly-used cooking fuel of poorer homes; over women and set them alight, making it appear accidental. “The courts are flooded with cases of gender-related crimes,” said retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju. He said honor and dowry murders should be punished with death. “These are not normal crimes. These are social crimes because they disrupt the entire social fabric of the community. When you commit crimes against women, it has a lasting impact.” Experts say child marriage remains among the biggest hurdles to women’s development in India and has a domino effect. Almost 45 percent of Indian girls are married before they turn 18, says the International Center for Research on Women. A child bride will drop out of school and is more likely to have complications during child birth. One in five Indian women, many child mothers, die during pregnancy or child birth, the United Nations says. Their babies, if they survive, are more likely to be underweight and suffer stunting due to poor nourishment. Many will be lucky to survive beyond the age of five. In the narrow, crowded alleyways of Sapara slum on the outskirts of Delhi, 15-year-old newly married Aarti has never been to school and says she was married off because her father has tuberculosis and couldn’t work or afford to look after her. “I said no, but my mother said my father was sick, so I had no choice,” Aarti said, wearing the traditional bright red bangles of new Hindu brides. “I spent my time doing domestic chores. I like to play with dolls … but my grandmother has taken them away now. She says I don’t need them anymore.” TWO INDIAS Indian authorities have also struggled to combat rising crimes against women, including domestic violence, molestation, trafficking and rape. Reports of women being snatched from the streets and gang-raped in moving cars are frequent in Delhi and its neighborhood. Newspaper reports are full of stories of trafficking and sexual exploitation. In many cases, violence against women has a level of social acceptability. A government survey found 51 percent of Indian men and 54 percent of women justified wife beating. India has robust gender laws, but they are hardly enforced, partly because a feudal mindset is as prevalent among bureaucrats, magistrates and the police as it is elsewhere. Politicians are also unwilling to crack down on customary biases against women for fear of losing conservative votes. “The inheritance law was reformed in 2005, bringing women’s legal equality in agricultural land. In reality, however, less than 10 percent women own some kind of land,” said Govind Kelkar from land rights group, Landesa India. “This is starker as 84 percent of rural women are engaged in agricultural production. There is policy silence on the implementation of laws for women’s rights.” Some gains are being made, primarily by instituting gender-sensitive laws and social schemes as well as boosting the number of girls in primary schools, the workforce and village politics, experts say. More than two decades of economic liberalization has also helped empower women, and as India has opened up, Western ideas of equality have permeated towns and cities. The country’s top political positions are held by women, including the head of the main ruling party, Sonia Gandhi, and the country’s outgoing president, Pratibha Patil. “There are two Indias: one where we can see more equality and prosperity for women, but another where the vast majority of women are living with no choice, voice or rights,” said Sushma Kapoor, South Asia deputy director for U.N. Women. Gender experts say the challenges are immense, given India’s vast population of 1.2 billion, its diversity, and geographical spread. But they add they are not insurmountable. Tiny pockets show positive change by giving women opportunities such as access to higher education, vocational training and finance – tools that should transform the perception of women as burdens to assets. A new Oprah Winfrey-style television talk show called “Satyamev Jayate” (Truth alone prevails), hosted by popular Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, has in recent weeks focused on issues such as foeticide, and dowry and honor killings. The shows have won wide acclaim and stirred debate in the media, but experts say the efforts to increase awareness in Indian society as a whole need to be sustained. “Laws alone can only play 20 percent of the role in empowering women in this country,” said judge Katju. “Eighty percent of the role will be played by education, by changing the mindset, the mentality of men who are still to a large extent feudal-minded which means they regard women as inferior.”

Russia defends weapons sales to Syria, says U.S. arming rebels

Russia's foreign minister on Wednesday defended his country's sale of arms to Syria and accused the United States of supplying rebels with weapons to fight against the government. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday Washington was worried Russia may be sending attack helicopters to Syria and described as "patently untrue" Moscow's argument that its arms transfers to Syria are unrelated to the conflict there. "We are not violating any international law in performing these contracts," said Sergei Lavrov, in response to a question about Clinton's comments at a news conference during a visit to Iran. "They are providing arms and weapons to the Syrian opposition that can be used in fighting against the Damascus government," he said on Iranian state television, speaking through an interpreter. Russia is one of Syria's principal defenders on the diplomatic front and, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with the power to veto resolutions, has stymied efforts by Western powers to pressure President Bashar al-Assad into stepping down. Lavrov said Russia's position was based on concern for the Syrian people and the country's integrity, rather than personal preference for Assad. "I have announced time and again that our stance is not based on support for Bashar al-Assad or anyone else ... We don't want to see Syria disintegrate." Russia is resisting Western and Gulf Arab pressure to take a harder line against Assad, rejecting calls for sanctions and proposing a conference bringing together global and regional powers including Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the Syrian crisis could not be resolved by external powers. "The Islamic Republic of Iran has announced many times: the issue of Syria needs to be dealt with in Syria by Syrians, not through the interference of others" The United States says it does not believe Iran, Assad's closest regional ally, is ready to play a constructive role in Syria, where the United Nations says government forces have killed more than 10,000 people since March 2011.

U.S. troops return to Afghanistan's "lost province"

U.S. troops returned to the area in Afghanistan they call the "dark side of the moon" this week, a remote Hindu Kush region that controls several access routes to Kabul and where the coalition suffered one of its biggest reverses in the decade-long war. This part of Nuristan province, in the mountainous far east of Afghanistan, could be the target of a planned Taliban offensive, coalition commanders say. Carrying "speedballs" - black body bags packed with mortars, ammunition and heavy machine guns - a company of U.S. soldiers landed by helicopter on a narrow ridge and trudged up to a tiny Afghan army post overlooking icy peaks and plunging river valleys, as hostile as breathtaking. With U.S. intelligence pointing to a possible attack by as many as 1,800 Taliban, the soldiers set up weapons over a backyard-sized square, while Afghan army soldiers in camouflage and plastic sandals pointed out fires and torchlight in the distance in the chill night air. "We'll get some eyes overhead to check it out. If it's Taliban, we'll get a plane up in the morning and drop a bomb on it," said U.S. Major Jared Bordwell as some of his men from the 1-12 Infantry Regiment dropped down in the dust and tried to get some sleep. American soldiers withdrew from Nuristan, or the "land of light", after around 300 insurgents overran an isolated combat outpost near Kamdesh village - below where Bordwell's men were huddled - on October 3, 2009, killing eight soldiers and wounding 22. The former U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, decided in 2010 to give up remote combat outposts and shift American troops to protect larger population centers. But it was through here that the Taliban shifted men and weapons for a suicide assault on Kabul's diplomatic and government quarter in April, circling beyond the reach of U.S. and Afghan army positions to the south in neighboring Kunar province, coalition commanders say. With Nuristan now a Taliban staging post and haven, the province is a vital pocket for U.S. forces based in Kunar, with only a few hundred Afghan soldiers and police over an area of 5,800 square km. "Nuristan remains for me a challenge, a black hole. My line in the sand stops at the Kunar and Nuristan borders," said Lt-Colonel Scott Green, a wiry former Ranger who oversees Nuristan. But he will not be in the region for long - NATO troops are due to be withdrawn from north Kunar by October. Green and his men, who are based in Kunar and in Nuristan temporarily, will be among those withdrawn. So his reduced-strength 1st battalion has to counter insurgents while simultaneously building Afghan capability and "retrograding" - closing up U.S. bases - all within months. It is one of the most hostile areas in war-torn Afghanistan in a landscape that is equally hostile. Taliban and al Qaeda fighters pass through easily, from either Pakistan or from bases located out of easy NATO reach inside a 4 km-wide border buffer zone. As many as 2,500 Taliban are thought to be in the province, controlling most districts, and around 300 are foreign, mostly Pakistanis or Chechens, Afghan commanders say. The insurgents control what few roads there are and have three ways to move deeper into Afghanistan, through either the Kunar, Waygal or Parun valleys, which then wind down into provinces nearer to Kabul. UP AT DAWN The next day, Bordwell's soldiers were up in their body armor and crouched over guns at 4 a.m. to repel a dawn attack that did not happen. Then, they started to coach Afghan soldiers in everything from weapons care to their own health. The sand-bagged positions became insufferably hot as the sun rose, while the translucent mountain stone underfoot flaked and crumbled to a glittering dust that glued itself to weapons and bodies, as unstable as the province's security. "Tell them to drink water. They will get dehydrated in body armor," said one U.S. officer to a nodding Afghan interpreter. Bordwell's soldiers have come back to Kamdesh under a shift this year in NATO's strategic focus from the Taliban's southern heartlands to target supply routes and havens in the east, and also to back a former enemy turned warlord ally. The fighting season began early this year in what has been called Afghanistan's "lost" province after the Taliban turned against former Hezb-e Islami insurgent and local strongman, Mawlawi Sadeq, who has aligned his militia with the government. Sadeq, still listed on U.S. government 'capture or kill' lists, turned up with seven other local elders to attend a 'shura' meeting with Bordwell and the accompanying U.S. mentor to Afghan forces, Lt-Colonel Rocky Burrell. "We are happy with you guys coming here and listening to our problems. Our government is not doing anything," said the aging warlord. "If you are able to support us with heavy weapons it will be very good. I don't think there would be any bad guys anymore." AIRSTRIKES AND GEMS Burrell, a veteran of years of U.S. special forces operations in Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador and Colombia, says securing Nuristan would probably take thousands of Afghan soldiers that the government does not have, even though it is one of the country's most mineral-rich provinces. An Afghan militia member, Mohammad Ghazi, arrived at the post to have a bullet wound on the back of his head treated by U.S. medics and warned local people were deeply worried about the American pullout from Kunar and the entire country in 2014. "There are a lot of Taliban around. If the (U.S.) supports the Afghan government it will be very good in future. If not, it will be worse," Ghazi said. As the hours passed, Bordwell called air strikes on Taliban fighting positions, with Apache helicopter gunships firing incendiary white phosphorous rockets into caves on a mountainside thought to hide an insurgent gun position. As forest fires continued to burn from the strikes, a U.S. warplane dropped two bombs on a ridge across the valley, while soldiers hurled mortar shells onto river rapids where Afghan troops believe the Taliban like to gather. TALIBAN CONTROL Green acknowledged the Taliban controlled most of the districts within his nominal Nuristan command, which he sees from his north Kunar battalion command at Forward Operating Base Bostick as a line of snow-covered peaks on the horizon. "I would not disagree with that. The hard part is that while you can say they are Taliban-controlled, that's only because there is such a limited (U.S. security) presence up there," he said. Outside, the thump of outgoing 120mm mortar fire shook his headquarters, a low collection of white-washed huts beside a river flanked by vaulting, folded hills known as "rocket ridge". The terrain was proving as difficult for the Taliban as for the NATO-led coalition, Green said. The infamous Nuristan rebel commander Dos Mohammad - who led the attack on Combat Outpost Keating in the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh - had now reportedly moved south into Kunar, he said. "There's good and bad there for us. The good is he's out of Nuristan. The bad is he's a guy who made a name at COP Keating for rallying insurgents and overrunning U.S. bases," Green said. There were signs, though, in northern Kunar - another long-time insurgent supply route and stronghold - that were cause for hope ahead of the American pullback, Green said. Insurgents have been mostly pushed away from the flashpoint Saw Valley in the south, a traditional Taliban supply inroad, and divisions between different militant groups in other areas that led to an insurgent crossfire. Green was confident security by Afghan forces would be possible in parts of his command within the two years before NATO's combat exit, but said securing all of Nuristan would remain difficult. "I think we can transition in Kunar," he said. "But if we were to try and expand without increased combat power there, then yes, I do think that we would be spread so thin that it would start to break."

Pakistan: Fort Monroe rape case

The case of rape of five girls by personnel of Border Military Police during their visit to Fort Monroe, Dera Ghazi. Khan, is a shocking example of prevalence of criminality and indiscipline among those whose duty it is to provide security to the people. It is reflective also of double standards followed by tribal elders and rural jirgas, who are ever so willing to sanction so-called honour killings in the name of tradition and protect rapists. The girls, it may be recalled, had gone from Lahore and Bahawalpur to the resort town last week accompanied by a male relative, who is a DG Khan resident. They were stopped at the resort entrance by border military police (BMP) personnel on the pretext of terrorism related suspicion and taken to a BMP station where three members of the force and two others sexually assaulted the young women. Apparently, the BMP men had expected the victims to disappear quietly next morning for fear of inviting social stigma. But the victims and their male companion insisted on seeking justice. Once again, the BMP personnel misused their authority to force the girls and their relative to sign a statement of reconciliation. Creditably for the victim party, however, they still wouldn't let the heinous crime pass without holding the culprits to account. They lodged a complaint with the BMP Commandant in DG Khan, who after preliminary investigation got the case registered against the five accused. Instead of surrendering, the men fled taking refuge with some tribal elders. In so doing they lent credence to the victims' story. Those men had no reason to flee if the crime hadn't taken place. The BMP men gave in after the Commandant's hectic negotiations with the tribal leaders harbouring them. Two other suspects remained absconding until at least four days after the incident. Since the case was splashed on TV screens and newspapers pages all across the country, the government machinery also spurred into action. Chief Minister's advisor on women affairs Begum Zakia Shah Nawaz met the girls and assured them that they would get justice. Meanwhile, the Home Secretary appointed the BMP Commandant as inquiry officer. The DCO though is quoted as saying that the administration faced difficulties in determining the girls' identity because they did not possess computerised national identity cards. He asked the media for help with identification. Identifying the rape victims so openly is not a good idea. In fact, the administration's concern ought to be protecting their identity. The focus should be on what happened rather than who the victims might be. The perpetrators of this heinous crime deserve and must be given exemplary punishment.

Pakistan chief justice’s son ran judiciary like a don

Let Us Build Pakistan Business tycoon Malik Raiz asked three questions from Chief Justice Iftikar Muhammad during a news conference. Riaz holding the Quran in his right hand asked: 1. Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry should reveal how many times I (Malik Riaz) have met you in the middle of the night? Was Arsalan Iftikhar not a part of these meetings, does he not know me? The sitting Registrar was also present during several of these meetings. 2. How many meetings were held at the residence of Ahmed Khalil between the Chief Justice and Prime Minister and was there not an acting judge of the Supreme Court present during one of the meetings? 3. How long did the Chief Justice know about this case and why did he wait till media reports to take suo moto notice. Malik Riaz said that he was blackmailed and did not pay any bribes. He described Arsalan Iftikhar as ‘Don’ adding that he was the one running the judiciary. SANA Real estate tycoon and the developer of Bahria Town, Malik Riaz, on Tuesday levelled horrendous allegations against Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, in his row with the son of the chief justice, Dr Arsalan Iftikhar. Addressing a crowded news conference with reference to the Dr Arsalan Iftikhar suo moto case, Malik Riaz, while holding a pocket-sized Holy Quran in his right hand, asked three questions from the chief justice. “I have come with Holy Quran just like the chief justice did while taking suo moto notice,” he said, adding he would share more evidence with media in the due course of time. He asked the chief justice to tell the nation on Holy Quran as to how many times they had met during the night and if his son Dr Arsalan Iftikhar did not know about it? Was he and the sitting registrar of the Supreme Court were not present in these meetings? He further asked the chief justice to disclose how many times he and the prime minister met at the residence of his partner Ahmed Khalil. “Place this Holy Quran in front of you and tell the people, for how long have you not known about this? Why did you not take a suo moto then? Why did you take a suo moto only after the media broke the news?” When asked of repercussions that may arise following such a news conference, Malik Riaz replied that he did not care if he was charged with contempt or sent to prison. He said a person putting everything at stake was never afraid of jail or death. “Call me in contempt of court or send me to jail. I’m ready to die. I’m not afraid of the jails,” he added. Terming Dr Arsalan a ‘don’, Malik Riaz said he was running the judiciary, adding he did not go to the Supreme Court to purchase justice but to get justice. “Our cases were not heard in the Supreme Court properly,” he alleged. He said the chief justice knew about the business dealings and should have taken suo moto action before the media broke this news. Answering a question, he maintained that he had been blackmailed as a businessman and said, “I did not bribe anyone but was blackmailed. Blackmailers were assigned to follow me and I did not bribe anyone, my son-in-law did. Answering another question, Malik Riaz said he would not demand judicial reference against the chief justice, adding that he had not accused the chief justice of anything and respected him. He also denied that he had backing of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. “President Zardari had refrained me from doing so,” he added. He said in 2007, he worked for restoration of the judiciary and wrote columns in support of the chief justice during the Musharraf era. He said he even offered a bulletproof car to the chief justice for the safety of his life but he refused. He said he faced investigation of NAB, FIA, MI and other institutions for sixteen years. Malik Riaz had to leave in the middle of press conference amid a hue and cry that he should also disclose names of journalists on Holy Quran who had benefited from him. “I do not need to answer all the questions,” he remarked after keeping mum for minutes and requested his legal counsel to answer questions of the journalists but he also declined. Najam Sethi’s name is being rumoured as one of those journalists who were bribed by Malik Riaz.

Mehdi Hassan biography

Mehdi hasan was born in a small village Luna in Rajasthan India 1927 to a renowned singer of that time, Ustad Azeem Khan. The family migrated to Pakistan after migration and was hit by financial crisis on their arrival. Mehdi hasan had to repair bicycles and work as a mechanic to make ends meet but all the hardships were unable to discourage his love of music. Mehdi Hassan got a chance to sing Ghazals and songs at Radio Pakistan Karachi in 1952, where his uncle Ismael Khan was established as a music director. He also got a chance to sing for some Karachi made movies but failed to make any progress. In 1964 his ghazal for a film Farangi, “Golon mein rand bharay” gave him a major break and he never looked back after that. He gave playback to all the film heros of the 60’s and 70’s. He was acknowledged as the king of Gazals the world over after singing some of the most memorable Ghazals like “golon mein rang bhare” “daikh tu dil ke jan” and “ranjish hi sahi. He was not only bestowed with all the highest civil awards in Pakistan but also received the Saigol Award in India in 1979 and the Gorkha Dakhshin Baho Award in Nepal in 1983. Mehdi Hassan stopped singing in the late 80s due to illness but his world famous Ghazals and evergreen film songs make him immortal in the world of music.

Rich tribute paid to Mehdi Hassan

Celebrities and fans in Pakistan and India were saddened by the death oh of the legendary singer. Renowned musicians, singers, intellectuals and experts in Pakistan and India expressed their views about the life and services of the legendary singer Mehdi Hassan who passed away on Wednesday. The singing community and other celebrities mourned the death of a great singer who enthralled a generation by his inscrutably great voice. Noted artists from both countries including Hariharan, Adnan Sami and Gulzar paid glowing tributes to the departed soul. The others who paid tribute to Mehdi Hassan include Ghulam Ali, Hamid Ali Khan and Talat Aziz.

Mehdi Hassan passes away

Shahensha-e-Ghazal and great singing legend of Pakistan, Mehdi Hassan after a long period of ailment passed away here on Wednesday. A couple of days ago, ailing ghazal legend Mehdi Hassan was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of a private hospital here after suffering from multiple health problems, according to his son Arif Hassan. Hassan had multiple lung, chest and urinary tract ailments which were being treated by specialists. Hassan, 84, was born into a family of traditional musicians at Luna village, Rajasthan, in 1927 before his family migrated to Pakistan after 1947. Hassan, who has a huge following in the subcontinent, cut back on his performances in the late 80s due to illness. Considered one of the most successful ghazal singers of Pakistan, Mehdi Hasasn was trained in classical music by his father Ustad Azeem Khan and his uncle Ustad Ismail Khan who were both well respected classical musicians. Hassan tried different styles of music and there was a time in Pakistan's film industry known as Lollywood when a production was considered incomplete without his voice. Due to his remarkable commercial and artistic success, he was titled Shahenshah-e-Ghazal (The King of Ghazal singing). He also played the role of a cultural ambassador and visited India several times. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani expressed grief and sorrow over the said demise of legendary singer Mehdi Hussan. Prime Minister has said that Mehdi Hassan was an icon who mesmerized the music lovers not only in Pakistan but also in the sub-continent for almost many decades.