Sunday, December 30, 2012

Music Rewind: Pakistani Singers Of Past.

Mahjabeen Qazalbash..PASHTO SONGS

Billy Joel ~ We Didn't Start The Fire

Obama talks about 'worst day of my presidency,' goals for next term

President Barack Obama appeared on NBC's "Meet The Press" on Sunday, talking about the "fiscal cliff" negotiations and priorities for his administration in his second term. The president told host David Gregory that he was optimistic something will be worked out to keep tax rates from rising on Tuesday -- but if not, his first piece of legislation for the next Congress will be a bill to reduce tax rates on most Americans. The president also spoke about his second term and what he wants to accomplish. Here are highlights of what he said:
Gun control after the Newtown killings
"Something fundamental in America has to change," said Obama, who visited on December 16 with families of victims of the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings. The president said Sunday he will put forth a proposal next year to change firearm laws. Among the things the legislation will address are assault-style rifles, high-capacity ammunition magazines and background checks on all firearm sales. His comments echoed those made five days after the shootings in Newtown, where a gunman killed his mother at home, then 20 children and six adults at an elementary school. Obama said he hopes that the Newtown killings spur Americans to take action and not let the shootings feel like "one of those routine episodes," the emotions of which fade with memory. ""It certainly won't feel like that to me. This is something that, you know, that was the worst day of my presidency," he said. The president said he wanted to listen to all the parties involved in the gun control debate but was skeptical about the National Rifle Association's call to put armed guards in every school as the only solution. Obama said December 19 that a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden will have legislative recommendations in January.
Benghazi attack
Obama said the security failures that led to the deaths of four Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, were "severe," but he blamed human mistakes. "There was just some sloppiness -- not intentional -- in terms of how we secure embassies in areas where you essentially don't have governments that have a lot of capacity to protect those embassies," he said. The State Department will implement all of the 29 recommendations by a review board headed by veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering. The FBI also has some "very good leads" into who carried out the September attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others, Obama said. Among the recommendations in the report sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were strengthening security, adding fire-safety precautions and improving intelligence collection in high-threat areas. "But we'll try to do more than that," Obama said.
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice
The president said verbal attacks on Rice for her comments on the Benghazi investigation were "puzzling." "Of all the people in my national security team, she probably had the least to do with anything that happened in Benghazi," he said. Rice said on Sunday news programs in the days following the attack that it was the result of a protest against an online anti-Islam film. She was heavily criticized for those statements, to the point that she withdrew her name from consideration as the next secretary of state to avoid what she called a "lengthy, disruptive, and costly" confirmation process. Critics said Rice's comments were out of line with the true intelligence about the incident and were an attempt by the administration to avoid tying it to terrorism. "Most Americans recognize that these were largely politically motivated attacks as opposed to being justified," Obama said.
Next secretary of defense
He has yet to make a decision as to who to nominate for secretary of defense, Obama said. Sources have said they think the president will pick Chuck Hagel, a Republican, who has met with controversy since his name has been connected with the position. Gay rights groups, which were strong supporters of Obama's election campaigns, have hit Hagel for questioning in 1998 whether a nominee for an ambassadorship was suitable because he was "openly, aggressively gay." Obama, without calling Hagel his preferred candidate for the job, said: "I've served with Chuck Hagel (in the U.S. Senate). I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody
who has done extraordinary work."
Hagel has apologized for those comments, Obama said. He added that he didn't see anything in Hagel's political record that disqualified him as a potential nominee. Hagel currently is the co-chairman of the president's Intelligence Advisory Board. Leon Panetta, who has been secretary of defense since July 2011, has indicated he wants to return to private life next year. Four issues for the next term When asked about his priorities for the next four years, Obama listed immigration, the economy, energy and debt reduction. He will introduce legislation to fix a broken immigration system in 2013, he said. "We have talked about it long enough," He said. "We know how we can fix it." Obama also wants to fix America's infrastructure. "If we are putting people back to work, rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools, in part paid for by some of these broader long-term deficit reduction measures that need to take place, that will grow our economy," he said And he wants to increase further the amount of energy, especially green energy, that America produces. "We are producing more energy and America can become an energy exporter. (The question is) how do we do that in a way that also deals with the environmental challenges that we also have at the same time," Obama said. But the most pressing quandary is the fiscal cliff. "It is going to be very hard for the economy to sustain its current growth trends if suddenly we have a huge bite taken of the average American's paycheck," he said.

Israel must complete peace deal with Abbas: Peres

Israeli President Shimon Peres on Sunday urged Israel to resume peace talks with the Palestinians, saying their president Mahmud Abbas was a willing partner with whom an agreement could be reached. Speaking with Israeli diplomats at his Jerusalem residence, Peres said the only way the Jewish state could positively affect the fluctuating reality in the region was "to complete the peace agreement with the Palestinians." "I know there are different opinions," he said. "This is not a matter of ideology, this is a matter of appraising" the situation. "I have known Abu Mazen for 30 years, and nobody will change my opinion of him," Peres continued, using Abbas's nom de guerre. "I know there is criticism of things Abu Mazen said," Peres continued, but "there is currently no other Arab leader who is saying he is in favour of peace, against terror, in favour of a demilitarised state, and of... the Palestinian consensual right of return." "There is not much time left," he warned. Talks between the Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since September 2010, with the Palestinians insisting on a settlement freeze before returning to the negotiating table and the Israelis insisting on no preconditions. Following last month's historic United Nations vote giving the Palestinians upgraded status in the world body, Israel announced a new spate of settlement building in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. Peres's remarks elicited a harsh response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, which is contesting January 22 elections on a joint list with ex-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman's ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party. "It is very saddening that the president chose to express a personal political opinion that is contrary to the Israeli public's stance on Abu Mazen, the peace refuser," a statement from the party read. "The prime minister has called on Abu Mazen to return to the negotiating table dozens of times," it read, saying the Palestinian leader "prefers to join forces with Hamas and act against Israel in every possible sphere." Netanyahu himself, however, softened his party's line a few hours later. "I respect the president, I value him," he told Channel 2 television. "There is a variety of opinions, we exchange opinions on topics on the agenda." Lieberman, who resigned as Israel's top diplomat earlier this month, following indictments on fraud and breach of trust, has consistently said Abbas is not interested in reaching a peace deal with Israel. He has also described Abbas as an obstacle to negotiations, suggesting it would be better for the president to step down.

Assad won't go soon, Russia warns opposition
The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has said the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, will not quit before his term ends in 2014 and that it is ''impossible to change his position''. The declaration came as Syrian armed forces recaptured a town in the west of the country after days of heavy fighting, Al Jazeera television reported. Government troops had taken control of Deir Balbah, near Homs, the station reported. An opposition coalition said the troops had executed some 220 residents, who were among at least 392 people killed across the country. The figures are unconfirmed. On December 28 Russia, Syria's principal international backer, called on Mr Assad to make efforts towards a political settlement by holding talks, with the opposition, on all options. ''When the opposition says that only Assad's departure would allow for the start of talks on the fate of the country - we think that's incorrect,'' Mr Lavrov said. Maintaining that position was contributing to the rising death toll, he said. Advertisement In the 21 months of violence that has pitted the mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against the Alawite-dominated security forces loyal to Mr Assad, more than 44,000 people have been killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says. On Sunday, Mr Lavrov and the United Nations' envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, said the conflict was becoming increasingly sectarian. ''If Russia has a proposal to stop the bleeding in Syria, it should submit it and we will respond,'' the head of the main bloc of Syrian opposition groups, Moaz al-Khatib, told Al Jazeera by telephone. ''We can't meet the Russians without a clear agenda.'' Russia has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of fuelling the conflict by arming the Syrian opposition. Syrian forces in Deir Balbah found tunnels that rebels were using to smuggle weapons, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported. Mr Brahimi, who met Mr Assad and opposition representatives in Damascus in recent days, is proposing an interim government with full executive powers to prepare for elections in Syria. Russia is prepared to meet the opposition in a ''neutral venue'', Mr Lavrov said on Saturday, adding that it was in the Syrian opposition's interests to hear the Russian position. The talks could be held in Moscow, Geneva or Cairo, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, said last Friday, Russia's international news agency RIA Novosti reported. ''If they feel Russia has a useful role to play in this drama, they should be ready to meet Russian representatives without any preconditions,'' Mr Lavrov said. Sheikh Khatib said that while he would not travel to Moscow, he was open to talks, but he also demanded from Russia a ''clear condemnation of the crimes committed by the Syrian regime'', Al Jazeera reported. A spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, denied media reports that Mr Brahimi had said Mr Assad could stay in power until 2014 under the peace plan. Russia, which has blocked UN sanctions against Syria, has a naval base in the country and arms contracts worth billions of dollars with the state. After the overthrow of Iraq's Saddam Hussein in 2003 and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi last year, Syria is the last big customer in the region for Russian weapons.

Afghanistan Violence Falls In 2012, Insider Attacks Rise Dramatically

Violence in Afghanistan fell in 2012, but more Afghan troops and police who now shoulder most of the combat were killed, according to statistics compiled by The Associated Press. At the same time, insider killings by uniformed Afghans against their foreign allies rose dramatically, eroding confidence between the two sides at a crucial turning point in the war and when NATO troops and Afghan counterparts are in more intimate contact. "The overall situation is improving," said a NATO spokesman, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Lester T. Carroll. He singled out Afghan special forces as "surgically removing insurgent leaders from the battle space." Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said Afghan forces were now charged with 80 percent of security missions and were less equipped to face the most lethal weapon of the militants – roadside bombs. "Our forces are out there in the battlefields and combat areas more than at any other time in the past," he said, citing reasons for the spike in casualties. U.S. troop deaths, overall NATO fatalities and Afghan civilian deaths all dropped as insurgent attacks fell off in their traditional strongholds in the country's south and east. However, insurgent activity was up in the north and west, where the Taliban and other groups have been less active in the past, and overall levels of violence were higher than before a U.S. troop surge more than two years ago. U.S. troop deaths declined overall from 404 last year to 295 as of Saturday. The Defense Department says 1,701 U.S. troops have been killed in action in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion in 2001 until Dec. 26. Of those, 338 died from non-hostile causes. Some 18,154 were wounded. A total of 394 foreign troops, including the Americans, were killed in 2012, down from 543 in 2011. The British, with the second-largest military presence, had 43 killed – the second-highest toll among countries with forces in Afghanistan, by AP's count. The AP keeps daily tallies of casualties and violent incidents across Afghanistan based on reports from NATO and Afghan officials. Most cannot be independently verified, and other incidents may never come to light. The statistics sometimes vary from official counts because of time lags, different criteria and other reasons.Deaths from so-called insider attacks – Afghan police and troops killing foreign allies – surged to 61 in 45 attacks last year compared with 2011, when 35 coalition troops were killed in 21 attacks. The number, provided by the NATO command, does not include the Dec. 24 killing of an American civilian adviser by a female member of the Afghan police because the investigation is ongoing. The focus of NATO's mission has largely veered from the battlefield to training the Afghans ahead of a pullout of most troops by 2014. The U.S plans to maintain a residual force, the size of which is now being determined. A NATO report that tracks violence in the country showed a rise this year compared with the period before the surge of U.S. troops into the country. But the levels were down from last year and a peak in the summer of 2010. Kabul and the country's second-largest city, Kandahar, saw a considerable drop in lethal attacks, but districts in Kandahar province remain among the most restive in Afghanistan. Militant attacks, the report said, decreased countrywide by 7 percent through November compared with the same 11-month period last year. But they were up in the northern and western parts of the country, which previously had been among the most peaceful regions. Although NATO officials frequently credit Afghan troops with successful unilateral operations, a recent U.S. congressional report noted that higher-level Afghan units still need vital air, logistics and other support from foreign forces. More Afghan police and soldiers are dying in the conflict, according to numbers provided by the interior and defense ministries. More than 1,050 Afghan troops died this year, substantially higher than last year, although the ministry could not provide the exact 2011 death toll. Nearly 1,400 police died in the 10 months from March 21 to the end of the year, compared with about the same number for the 12 months beginning March 21, 2011. The Afghan government follows a calendar year starting March 21. NATO says Afghan security forces have grown from 132,000 in March 2011 to 333,000 this month. The AP tally showed that at least 822 Afghan civilians had been killed by the Taliban and other militants this year while another 119 died in NATO airstrikes and other operations. That was a decrease from last year, when 1,151 were killed by insurgents and 283 by NATO. Substantially smaller numbers perish when caught in crossfires. The United Nations reported different casualty figures but also noted that civilian deaths had decreased, reversing a five-year trend of mounting civilian deaths. Its latest report says that during the first six months of the year, 1,145 civilians died in conflict-related violence, compared with 1,510 in the same period of 2011. The U.N. considers insurgent land mines and roadside bombs to be particularly deadly for civilians. Close to 3,000 militants were reported to have been killed by coalition and Afghan forces this year, compared with more than 3,500 last year. The NATO command does not issue reports on the number of insurgents its troops have killed, and Afghan military figures, from which the AP compiles its data, cannot be independently verified.

Bangla Song -Valo lage na

The fragrance in Parveen Shakir's poetry
BY:Syed Badrul Ahsan
My acquaintance with Parveen Shakir's poetry began in late 1995 in Lahore, where I had gone to attend a media conference of journalists from South Asia. At the end of the conference, those of us in the Bangladesh team --- Enayetullah Khan, Badal Rahman, Shakhawat Ali Khan, Matiur Rahman, Syed Kamaluddin and I --- decided to have a tour of a market in Lahore before flying to Karachi on our way back home. At the solitary bookshop in that particular market I was happily surprised to know of Parveen Shakir the poet and immensely sad to be informed that she had died a year previously in a car crash. I asked the salesman to give me a copy each of Parveen Shakir's collections of poetry, Khushboo and Khud Kalami, that I spotted on the shelves. He was happy to oblige. As I was about to pay him, Mintu bhai (our very dear Enayetullah Khan) stepped forward and asked me if I could read Urdu. I said indeed I could. But he would not take my word for it. Asking me to read a few lines from Khud Kalami before the salesman, he told the salesman to confirm if I read correctly. I read, which reading was duly confirmed by the salesman. Mintu bhai was thrilled. I walked off with the books, which after all these years form part of my little library at home. And in all the seasons that have gone by since that December day in Lahore, I have kept in touch with Parveen Shakir through reading, and then re-reading, her poetry. I have watched her recite on youtube and I have wondered why death often comes to the young and the promising at just the point where they are ready to give more of themselves to the world. Shakir, a highly educated Pakistani civil servant and a respected poet in her country, was only forty two when she died in December 1994. Hers was a tragedy that has been hard to ignore by those who have delighted in her poetry. For me, it has been the images and the influences that mark Shakir's poetry which remain an endless source of literary ecstasy. There were all the love poems she composed, together with the ghazals which have given her a prominent berth in Urdu poetry not just in Pakistan but in neighbouring India as well. And knowing as we do of the contributions made by Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmad Faraz to Urdu poetry in South Asia, it is not hard to fathom the niche Parveen Shakir created for herself in a world traditionally dominated by men. Observe the following: Wo to khushboo hai hawa mein bikhar jayega / masla phool ka hai phool kidhar jayega (He is the fragrance that will give himself to the breeze / the problem is the flower's, where will the flower go?) All good poetry is heart-wrenching poetry. And in that simple line, Shakir speaks of the torment a woman in love goes through when her lover turns his back on her and walks away. Shakir gives you a new perspective, that of a woman mourning the departure of the one she loves, which again is in sheer contrast to the poetry of rejection which we are wont to get from men. That the heart breaks in women too, with a crack that is as loud as can be, is what you experience in Parveen Shakir. And yet the poetry of heartbreak does not come raw or prosaic. There is the subtle yet pronounced imagery Shakir employs in her poetry. One keeps coming up against such presences as fragrance, air, flower --- khushboo, hawa, phool --- as also badal (clouds), baarish (rain) and titli (bird) in her verses. And the verses, of course, ranged across a wide expanse, often extending themselves into ghazals exploring the innermost recesses of feeling. Read, again: Chand meri tarah pighalta raha / neend mein saari raat chalta raha / jaane kis dukh se dil girifta tha / muun pe badal ki raakh malta raha / main to paaon ke kaante chunti rahi / aur wo raasta badalta raha . . . (Like me the moon went on melting / all night long it travelled in slumber / who knows in what sadness the heart was imprisoned? / it went on rubbing the ashes of the clouds on its face / I went on choosing thorns for my feet / and he went on changing his path . . .) There was a spirit of the fiercely religious in Shakir's ghazals, as these invocations to the Creator make clear: My heart is fiery, and to reach thee / it shall render my body a canoe and my blood a river . . . And it is then back to romance, in a defiant statement of self-assertion: I will live my life away from you / like an exile . . . Parveen Shakir's poetry rests on a plenitude of similes and metaphors, as her emphasis on fragrance, clouds, birds, et al, demonstrates so clearly. There is too, in her free verse, a free-wheeling, unapologetic use of English terms, a style which often left her verses open to criticism from the purist quarters of Urdu poetry. But for Shakir, the use of English in certain instances was motivated by two factors. In the first place, it was necessary for her to bring to her readers the contemporary trends, however unpalatable, which marked the use of Urdu as a language of the masses. In the second, through employing English words and terms in certain instances, Shakir hits home with the point she tries to make in the poetry. That said, there were in Parveen Shakir certain shades of influence --- of T.S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats --- that came from her reading and assessment of these two predominant poets of the twentieth century. Modernism is what punctuates Parveen Shakir's poetry. Her diction is direct, her attitude is unembarrassed and her approach is one of the no-nonsense kind. Observe, yet once more: Ab kya jo tere paas aaoon / kis maan pe tujh ko aazmaoon / zakhm ab to saamne se khaoon / dushman se na dosti barhaoon / titli ki tarah jo urh chuka hai / wo lamha kahan se khoj laoon . . . (What remains for me now to come to you? / By what standard should I test you? / My wounds strike me from the front / I make no friendship with the enemy / that which has flown like the bird / from where shall I retrieve that moment?). (Parveen Shakir --- Pakistani poet, columnist and civil servant --- was born on 24 November 1952 and died in a road accident on 26 December 1994).
Syed Badrul Ahsan, Executive Editor, The Daily Star, edits Star Literature and Star Books Review.

AFGHANISTAN: ''Not expected from a brother ''

The incidents that saw the Afghan National Army troops first torturing Pakistani labourers and then truck drivers at Torkham border in the last 10 days or so was neither warranted not called for. And this becomes all the more gratuitous when the people of a brotherly country are involved in the ugly incidence. This obviously invited the retaliation of the government of Pakistan to a degree that it summoned Afghanistan ambassador to Pakistan Mohammad Omar Daudzai to the foreign office seeking his explanation. The envoy, however, assured Islamabad that Kabul would investigate the matter and punish those responsible for the mess at the Durand Line’s Pule Charkhi check post. The grotesque incidents was taken so gravely by Pakistani security forces as they closed down the Pak-Afghan border and it was only on Saturday that it was reopened for normal traffic of the people and trucks laden with goods. What poses a threat in the wake of these occurrences is that the people of Afghanistan seem fostering hatred towards Pakistan and Pakistanis for the reasons that can neither be explained nor understood. Given the situation that Afghanistan needs Pakistan direly in the situation that NATO and US forces are planning to leave the Afghan soil towards the end of 2014 and that Pakistan is still hosting about 1.6 million Afghan refugees, such a conduct becomes all the more unexplainable. This is a hard fact that Pakistani industrial workers had gone to Afghanistan to earn their livelihood and possessed all the legitimate traveling documents including passports which were reportedly torn and thrown in River Kabul by Afghan troops. This is also a fact that Pakistani security guards posted at check points on the porous border, treat Afghani nationals nicely and with respect. Pakistan and Afghanistan share much more commonalities than conflicts and their political future is also bound in a common twine. For example, both are members of SAARC and have the same plan for South Asia; both are eying the Shanghai Cooperation Organization membership for regional prosperity; and both have a widespread interest in the gas pipeline coming from Turkmenistan. And above all, they share a common frontier that makes them immediate neighbours. Why then such hostilities that may create a gulf rather than coming closer to each other in the realization of an identical global agenda? President Hamid Karzai has time and again said he longed everlasting friendship with Pakistan and that there could be no peace in Afghanistan without Pakistan. He must also demonstrate that he is sincere in his claim. Now is the time that Kabul take steps to foster fraternity and not enmity with Pakistan.

Killing of 21 Levies Incident serious threat to govt writ: Kausar

The Frontier Post
Governor Barrister Masood Kausar strongly condemned the killing of Levi jawans who were kidnapped from FR Peshawar the other day and said that the elements involved in the heinous crime will be brought to justice. "This is the inhuman act and a serious threat to the writ of the state and the elements involved do not deserve any sympathy or soft corner. The law of the land has to be invoked with full force to nab them at the earliest," he said. Paying rich tribute to the martyrs, the governor said that the sacrifices of the jawans were the greatest asset of the nation and will always be remembered with deepest respect and regards. At the same time, he added, un-warranted killing of the jawans will never go in vain rather the culprits involved will have to pay the cost. He asked the concerned authorities to gear up the arrangements to ensure maintenance of law and order in the area at every cost. The governor expressed his deepest sympathies with the members of the bereaved families and said that the near and dear ones of the martyrs had sacrificed their lives for the security of the country and in this hour of trial they should not feel alone rather proud that the entire nation stood with them. The governor also prayed for the eternal peace of the departed souls and courage to the bereaved families to bear the irreparable loss with patience.

Killing sparks arson attacks in Karachi locality

Killing of a political activist sparked violence in Berzeta Lines locality of the city leading to heavy exchange of fire and arson attacks, Geo News reported Monday. Correspondent says unknown people set fire to a two-storey building, four shops, two vehicles and motorcycles. Police and paramilitary troops were sent to the area to bring the situation under control. However, Geo News reporter Shoib Barni says the law enforces became silent spectators and did nothing except putting a cordon on the entry and exit point of the area located near Karachi’s busiest thoroughfare Shahra-e-Faisal. Later on, a number of women took to the road to protest the killing, suspending traffic and demanding arrest of the culprits.

INDIA: UN chief calls for action to protect women

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon urges Indian government to act urgently following death of 23-year-old Delhi student
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has urged the Indian government to take action to protect women after a 23-year-old student died of injuries sustained during a gang rape in Delhi. "Every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued and protected," Ban said in a statement in which he welcomed efforts by the government but called for "further steps and reforms to deter such crimes and bring perpetrators to justice". The intervention of the UN takes the fallout from the incident two weeks ago to a new level and underlines the damage it has done to India's international image, already battered by corruption scandals, a huge power failure earlier this year, and slowing economic growth. The body of the still unnamed victim was cremated according to Hindu rites in Delhi shortly after dawn on Sunday. More details have emerged about her: the eldest of three children, she was reportedly a bright and funny, independent woman from a humble background who impressed her tutors at medical college and taught schoolchildren in the family home, a one-bedroom flat, to help with finances. Her father is reported to be a loader at Delhi's airport. Friends quoted by local media said she had been planning to marry the 28-year-old male friend she was with when the attack took place. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and Sonia Gandhi, the president of the ruling Congress party, met the plane carrying her body from Singapore, where doctors had tried to save her life after 10 days of treatment in India. Singh and Gandhi, with other senior Indian politicians, have been heavily criticised for their slow and high-handed response to the incident, which has generated outrage, grief and anger across the country. "It's been a huge challenge to all of them. They have seen the whole affair as basically a law and order problem. There has been no conversation," said Swapan Dasgupta, a Delhi-based analyst. "But that style of top-down politics is not going to work any more, particularly with young, aspirational urban people." Figures published on Sunday revealed that despite 635 reported cases of rape and 745 arrests in Delhi this year, there had been only one conviction. A total of 572 rapes were reported to Delhi police in 2011, up from 507 in 2010, 469 in 2009 and 466 in 2008. The government has said it will bring in fast-track courts to accelerate the legal process. The funeral was conducted in secrecy and under heavy police guard, with the media abiding by a collective decision to stay away. Demonstrations calling for reforms and the execution of the six men detained for the attack continued in Delhi and other major cities, as they have done every day for nearly two weeks. Despite a major security operation that kept mourners and protesters away from the centre of the capital, there were some clashes on Sunday afternoon. Local newspapers said more than 18,000 police had been deployed, nearly a quarter of the Delhi force's total strength. India has been plunged into an extraordinary bout of self-analysis following the woman's death. The media have provided blanket coverage of the attack, which took place on a moving bus in south Delhi on 16 December. All of Sunday's front pages and news bulletins were devoted to the incident and its aftermath. High profile new year parties in the capital and elsewhere have been cancelled. Bollywood stars have expressed their shame and anger. One of the biggest, Shahrukh Khan, posted on Twitter: "Rape embodies sexuality as our culture and society has defined it. I am so sorry that I am a part of this society and culture." Bollywood itself has been under fire. One columnist spoke of how plots of often classic films "sanctify pestering and stalking of women". The new interest in sexual crimes has led to reports that would have struggled to make it on air or into newspapers in the normal frenzied Indian news cycle, where often sensationalist TV channels compete ruthlessly. One major newspaper ran a list of sexual crimes against women that have taken place during the ongoing battle between security forces and Maoist guerillas in the centre of the country. Headlined "Women suffer big in India's state vs rebels war", it held both sides responsible. Over the past 24 hours, other reported incidents have included women attempting to take their own lives after being gang raped, the attempted murder of a rape victim in Rajasthan and an infant dying after a rape in Gujarat. In West Bengal, a woman was reportedly raped by three hospital workers after seeking treatment for her baby. A woman was also allegedly assaulted on a bus in Delhi. One man was arrested. India's courts have a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases, which would take decades to clear if all were heard. Facilities for forensic analysis are few and poorly equipped. Healthcare in many of the rural areas where assaults are endemic is often rudimentary. The UN has offered to help India "strengthen critical services for rape victims" with "technical expertise and other support as required," Ban said. The problem is, however, enormously complex. For example, women in rural India are rendered more vulnerable because a lack of sanitation facilities forces them to defecate in woods or fields after dark. Dasgupta said the affair had laid bare the gulf between India's political elite and younger voters. "There's a big demographic factor that we are beginning to see. How parties react to it will determine their political future," he said.

Israel president slams PM, former FM for their stance against Abbas

Israeli President Shimon Peres has slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for their stance against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. At a conference of Israeli ambassadors held here on Sunday, Peres said that Abbas is a true partner for peace. "I've known him for thirty years, no one will change my opinion about Abu Mazen," Peres said. Regarding Lieberman and Netanyahu's criticism against Abbas, Peres said "I know the criticism exists, and he has some for us as well." "For an Arab leader to stand up and publicly state that he supports peace rather than terror takes a lot of courage," Peres added. Peres reiterated an interview Abbas held with the Channel 2 news in November, in which Abbas said that is ready to embark on negotiations based on the two-state solution. The Israeli President strongly criticized Lieberman for the state of Israel's foreign affairs with the international community. "A diplomat is not supposed to scare the world. As a diplomat, it's always better to be a lion in sheep's skin rather than a sheep roaring like a lion, scaring the whole world. The objective of diplomacy is to create friends, not point out enemies," Peres said. Lieberman and Netanyahu have made constant arguments of Abbas not being a real partner for a peace process and Lieberman called upon Abbas to resign as he is an "obstacle for peace" over the weekend. On November 29, the United Nations' General Assembly approved the Palestinian Authority's bid to be accepted as a non-member observing state, the Israeli government responded by announcing the upcoming construction of more than 5000 housing units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. The move has been widely condemned by the international community calling the construction plans an obstacle for peace process based on the two-state solution. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian came to a halt in 2010 due to the growing construction in the West Bank settlements.

Indian police clash with gang-rape protesters in Delhi

Indian police and protesters clashed Sunday at a demonstration zone in central Delhi, while the opposition criticized the government for a secretive and hurried cremation of the body of the victim of the Dec. 16 gang rape. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said India is now a "nation in shock" which is entitled to display its sense of despair, and accused the Congress-led government of resorting to "Emergency- like" restrictions against anti-gang rape protests. The BJP is referring to the Emergency measures taken by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the 1970s. The opposition party also asked for the holding of a special Parliament session on enacting laws to fight rapes and other crimes against women. The 23-year-old medical student's body was cremated early Sunday hours after being flown back home from Singapore on a special plane sent by the Home Ministry. Her mother who is reported to be remaining in a state of shock has been admitted to hospital. Local media said the family of the victim was first asked by police to cremate their daughter in their home town in Uttar Pradesh in northern India rather than in Delhi due to law and order reasons. But the central government intervened and let the family decide the issue by themselves. Protests turned violent at the Janta Mantar in central Delhi as some young men claiming to be members of a student organization associated with the BJP tried to break police barricades and march towards a commercial district. Police have detained five persons after the clash for assaulting police and public properties. India stayed in a state of grief and rage Sunday after widespread demonstrations were held across the country's major cities on Saturday condemning crimes against women and criticizing government and judiciary inaction to crack down on such crimes. Meanwhile, police said they have arrested a bus conductor for molesting a 12-year-old girl on a public bus in the Indian capital Saturday night. Local press have been publishing editorials and comments on the event which rocked the nation over the past two weeks. The daily The Hindu said it is time to look into the "ugly and rotting interior" of the Indian society marked by a patriarch tradition of male dominance and arrogance. The Indian Express published a signed article saying the violence against women should find its roots in the caste system of India. All major English dailies carried headline stories mourning the death of the gang rape victim, who is now widely regarded as a national heroine who sacrificed her life to awake public conscience, while some had before asked for a state funeral for her.

Barack Obama makes 11th hour appeal to avoid fiscal cliff
Barack Obama has made an urgent final appeal to a bitterly divided Congress to steer America away from the “fiscal cliff” as Democrats and Republicans remained locked in tense eleventh-hour negotiations.
At midnight on December 31 the world’s largest economy will topple over the so-called “cliff” - $607 billion (£390 billion) in tax rises and government spending cuts that economists fear could trigger a new recession - unless politicians can agree to a deal. As the Senate and the House of Representatives convened for emergency sessions, hopes of a deal in the upper house appeared to be fading as Harry Reid, the Democrat leader, said the parties remained “apart on some pretty big issues”. His Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, said that he was speaking directly to vice president Joe Biden in an effort to “jump start” the stalled talks. The Senate's session ended last night without a vote but Mr Reid said negotiations would continue throughout the night. Earlier, Mr Obama made a rare appearance on Sunday television to call for immediate action.“What congress needs to do, first and foremost, is to prevent taxes from going up for the vast majority of Americans,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press. Failure to strike a deal would “obviously have an adverse reaction on the markets”, he said. “I think business and investors are going to feel more negative about the economy.” Though he claimed to be “optimistic” that Washington would act in time to stop the politically-created economic crisis, Mr Obama said “certain factions” on the Right of the Republican party were to blame for the gridlock. The president said that Republicans’ “overriding, unifying theme” was preventing tax rises on the wealthy, even at the expense of a compromise that would help the middle class. “The fact that [a deal] is not happening is an indication of how far certain factions inside the Republican Party have gone that they can’t even accept what used to be centrist, mainstream positions on these issues,” he said. John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the house, retorted: “Americans elected President Obama to lead, not cast blame.” If a compromise is agreed by Senate leaders, it would have to be voted on on Monday and approved by the end of the day by the House, where the vote could go either way. The deepest divide between the two sides is over how many Americans should face higher tax rates when cuts originally introduced by George W Bush in 2003 expire at 11.59 tomorrow night. Republicans insist that only households earning more than $1 million (£645 million) a year should see their rate go up. Democrats are instead seeking a threshold of somewhere between $250,000 and $400,000. The last-minute meetings come more than a year after Democrats and Republicans agreed to design the “fiscal cliff” as a way of forcing both sides to compromise on a plan to reduce the $16.4 trillion debt. As well as raising taxes on nearly nine in 10 Americans, the cliff would trigger unemployment benefits stopped for two million people and swingeing cuts to the military budget and domestic spending programmes. Mr Obama said that if no agreement is reached, then the Democrat-controlled Senate would pass emergency legislation to protect unemployment benefits and prevent tax rises on families making less than $250,000 (£160,000) a year. Passing the emergency bill would throw down a political gauntlet to the Republican leaders in the House: they could reject it and face blame for allowing taxes to rise or else accept it and risk a backlash from the Right. "Republicans have to decide if they're going to block it, which would mean middle class taxes do go up," Mr Obama said. "I don't they would want to do that politically but they might end up doing it." Mr Obama added that if “all else fails”, then the new Congress that meets from January 4 would have to act to undo the economic damage caused. However, Mr Obama quoted Winston Churchill as he explained why he still believed that Congress would lurch to a last-moment deal: "Winston Churchill used to say that we Americans, we try every other option before we finally do the right thing." As night fell and no breakthrough had been reached, senior figures began to express their pessimism. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, tweeted. “I'm incredibly disappointed we cannot seem to find common ground. I think we're going over the cliff." Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said the two main parties "are much farther apart than I hoped they'd be." During the wide-ranging NBC interview, Mr Obama admitted that “sloppiness” at the state department was to blame for the lack of security at the US consulate in Benghazi that was overrun by Islamist militants in September. The attack killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The president also defended Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator being considered by the White House as the next secretary of defence. Mr Hagel had come under fire for comments about the power of the “Jewish lobby” in US politics, and for appearing to question in 1998 whether gay people should serve as American ambassadors.

New Indian sad love songs 2012

Rape victim cremated in a rush and away from the public eye
The cremation of the young physiotherapy gang-rape victim was a low-key affair, with the government taking control and ensuring little public participation. Security in the area was beefed up as the woman’s mortal remains were consigned to the flames at Dwarka crematorium within hours of the arrival of the body from Singapore early this morning. Though the body reached the crematorium around 5-45 a.m. and was put on the pyre by 6 a.m., the victim’s father lit it at around 7-30 a.m. as the family members protested against the police rushing them to get the cremation done before sunrise. The area was fortified with a large number of policemen and members of the Rapid Action Force in anti-riot gear guarding the area and keeping a close vigil. Deployment of security personnel had started on Saturday night. The 23-year-old victim had breathed her last at a Singapore hospital on Saturday, after a 13-day battle for life following the brutal assault on her by six persons in a moving bus on December 16. In a recognition of public outrage over the rape and death of the victim, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi were present at the Palam Technical Area of the Indira Gandhi International Airport when the body arrived by a special Air India aircraft around 3-30 a.m. The two leaders interacted with the victim's parents who had accompanied the body. A large number of policemen escorted the body to the victim’s residence and later to the crematorium. Several barricades were put by the police near the victim’s residence to prevent ordinary citizens from joining the mourning. The policemen asked the victim’s neighbours to stay away from her house where rituals were being performed. The restrictions continued after the body was taken to the crematorium. The anger that has gripped the country following the incident resonated in the locality with neighbours joining the chorus demanding “strictest possible punishment” to the accused. “When she left home the last time, little did her father know that she would return here as a corpse. It is not about a girl from our locality who has fallen prey to this barbaric act, it’s about the safety of women in general,” an emotional neighbour said. The neighbour said his younger brother had tutored her while she was in school. “Because she was focussed, her father decided to sell his land and mortgage their house to arrange for her educational expenses.’’ Those present at the crematorium included mostly family members and relatives of the deceased. The electronic media was not present as the Broadcast Editors Association had asked news channels to refrain from covering the funeral. Union Minister R.P.N. Singh, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Mahabal Mishra, MP, and Delhi BJP chief Vijender Gupta were among those present. Keywords: Delhi gang-rape, Rajpath protests, violence against women, death penalty, Indian criminal justice system, rape punishment, political mobilisation, Delhi protests, peace protests, gang-rape victim cremation

India: ''Protests and vigils for India rape victim ''

Bahrain: Tweet Leads Human Rights Activist to Prison

Sayed Yousif Almuhafda is the Vice President and Head of the Documentation Unit at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). He is also a member of rights groups Front Line Defenders and Amnesty International. He was arrested on December 17th as he was monitoring a non violent demonstration in the capital Manama and reporting about it on Twitter. Sayed Yousif was charged with spreading false information on his Twitter account. He is being especially accused, among other things, of posting a photo (link contains graphic content, reader discretion is advised) on Twitter on December 17, of an injured young demonstrator actually taken two days earlier. In a letter sent to Global Voices Advocacy, Sayed Yousif's family says that while he is in good spirit, he believes that his arrest is politically motivated—an attempt to stop him from doing his job as a human rights observer:
Sayed Yousif believes that he was unnecessarily taken [by the police] while performing his job of observing a march in Bahrain […] For such charge he should not be kidnapped by police in civil clothes during the protest and be surrounded by at least 30 riot police. He says that they could have sent him an official request to show in front of a public prosecutor and spare him the jail. Sayed Yousif believes that his detention is a pure revenge for his job of exposing human rights violations during peaceful protests and he feels that it is a message to him to stop reporting the violations in Bahrain.
On December 25, Sayed Yousif appeared before the prosecutor-general in Manama who decided to extend his detention for 15 additional days. A decision condemned by freedom of speech advocates like media watchdog Reporters Without Borders who posted the following statement:
Muhafda is yet again paying for his commitment to the circulation of information about human rights violations in Bahrain […] The authorities must stop their repeated violations of freedom of information and allow news providers to operate freely. The information provided by Bahrain’s human rights activists is all the more important as the authorities limit visits by foreign journalists and often obstruct the reporting of those who are allowed in.
This isn't the first time Sayed Yousif is arrested for his reporting of human rights abuses in Bahrain. On November 2, 2012, he was detained for 12 days after covering a violent police crackdown on a demonstration in Diraz, west of Manama. Sayed Yousif was last visited on December 25 in the Hoora police station, in the northeastern suburb of Manama. According to his family, he is being isolated from other political prisoners, put in a cell along with non-Arabic speaking common-law prisoners. In a message sent to Global Voices Advocacy, his brother Sayed Osama Almuhafda (@OsamaJaleel) writes:
This is another form of punishment to him. He has no one to communicate with. All other freedom of speech and political prisoners are kept together in the “Dry Dock” prison [the Ministry of Interior’s Short-Term Detention Unit in Manama], except for Sayed Yousif. We believe that his case is totally cruel and unjustified!
Sayed Yousif's family calls upon all human rights' advocates to put pressure on the Bahrain government in order to make sure he gets a fair trial and a treatment equal to that of all other freedom of speech prisoners. Ways you can help You can follow Sayed Yousif's Twitter account, @saidyousif, or tweet under the hashtag #FreeSaidYousif and show your support. You can also reach out to the media and human rights organizations and tell Sayed Yousif's story to the world.

Egypt: The Islamists’ political obsession
BY: Ziad Akl
Finally, the Muslim Brotherhood’s newborn is here. The Shura Council is back, alive and kicking. The Council that hung by a thread for months waiting for a court ruling to be dissolved is now the legitimate legislative authority. Once again, the Brotherhood succeeds. With complete disregard to laws, norms, opposition and national interest, the Muslim Brotherhood manages one more time to force its self-consumed political will on Egypt. And according to that will, the president stood one more time to take one more oath (maybe a fourth or a fifth, I lost count) before the new celebrated child of the guidance bureau. Ironically, it now seems that the ones who benefited the most from the court ruling that dissolved the parliament last summer are the Muslim Brotherhood. The attitude and performance of all Islamic political actors in Egypt over the past six months since Morsy took office shows important signs. Islamists, Brotherhood or Salafis or others, seem to have among their many obsessions, an obsession with numerical majority. It’s as if this majority is their own version of a modern day Jihad. Just like any obsessive behaviour, the obsessed can’t stop thinking or talking about their obsession. Islamists in Egypt today are just like that; they somehow bring up the issue of numerical majority in whichever occasion possible. Their obsessive condition became much worse as soon as they started to interpret numbers with their very own logic, which always defied the pure reason behind statistics. For the Islamists, number could mean anything. So a 64 per cent could mean yes to Islamic Shari’a, or it could mean support for the president’s policies, or it could mean down with the revolution; who cares? Numerical majority to the Islamists is an abstract number that could mean whatever they want it to mean. This obsessive relationship with majority is exactly how the laws of Egypt will be drafted under the new constitution. But recently I keep asking myself every time I observe Islamists, do they really believe themselves? I mean, when they are away from television cameras and portable recorders, do they believe that this Council is actually a reflection of the people’s will and an agent of democratic change? It is common for the obsessed to be in denial. The Islamists figure that the Shura Council is assuming responsibilities designated by the new constitution, which the people gave a 64 per cent “Yes” vote. The majority here, according to the Islamists, means that people agree to the new legislative functions that the Council is supposed to fulfill in the absence of a parliament. Indeed the political meaning of the 64 per cent has nothing to do with the Shura Council. However, the real problem is not in the percentage. Even if the constitution was passed with a 90 per cent “Yes” vote, does that change the fact that when people elected the 180 elected members of the Council, they did not elect them to legislate or to replace the parliament? If the function of the institution changes, that means that the citizen will perceive that institution differently and the difference in perception will most likely mean a difference in choice of representation. The person I choose to represent me in consultation is not necessarily the same person I will choose to represent me in legislation. What’s even more striking is the president’s decision to appoint 90 members of the Council, which is one third of the members. If the president is so eager to act according to the new constitution, and the Brotherhood is so keen to have the Shura Council assume its new authorities according to the new constitution, why is it then that the number of the appointed members was not chosen according to the new constitution as well? According to the new constitution, the president is allowed to appoint 10 per cent of the elected members. The obsessive behaviour of the Muslim Brotherhood over the Shura Council proves that what they expect from this Council is a lot. It is indeed a golden opportunity for the Islamists because no election (even rigged or manipulative ones) could have secured that percentage for the Islamists in any legislative Council. This vulgar and non-representative numerical majority will most likely be used to pass an election law that guarantees the presence of Islamists in any parliament with a majority. While debates over election law take place, Islamists are likely to pass other laws like a demonstration and protest law or censorship related laws. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists can celebrate the Shura Council as much as they want. It is likely that a propaganda campaign is coming very soon to show everyone the Brotherhood’s version of democracy. But what Islamists must know is that legitimacy is not gained through parliamentary seats, political offices and tainted elections. Legitimacy is built on principles and national consensus. Having the ability to act does not legitimise authority it simply reinforces it. The struggle against the Islamic power-hungry domination continues, as it is, a struggle of principles vs. political obsession.

Hillary Clinton hospitalized after doctors discover blood clot

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was hospitalized Sunday after doctors discover a blood clot had formed, the State Department said in a statement. Philippe Reines, a State Department senior advisor, said in the statement that the clot stems from a concussion she sustained several weeks ago. Reines said Clinton, 65, is being treated with anti-coagulants at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She will be monitored there for the next 48 hours, he said. “Her doctors will continue to assess her condition, including other issues associated with her concussion," he said. "They will determine if any further action is required.” Clinton sustained the concussion from fainting earlier in December. She had been sick for several days with the flu and had canceled a trip to Morocco where she was to officially recognize the Syrian rebels. Days after she fainted, the State Department said she was at home recovering. Officials also issued a statement from Dr. Lisa Bardack of Mount Kisco Medical Group and Dr. Gigi El-Bayoumi of George Washington University: "Secretary Clinton developed a stomach virus, leading to extreme dehydration, and subsequently fainted. Over the course of this week we evaluated her and ultimately determined she had also sustained a concussion. We recommended that the Secretary continue to rest and avoid any strenuous activity, and strongly advised her to cancel all work events for the coming week. We will continue to monitor her progress as she makes a full recovery." It wasn’t the first time Clinton passed out while infected with a stomach bug. As a U.S. senator representing New York, Clinton fainted in 2005 during a speech in Buffalo after complaining of a stomach virus.

Zardari not visiting India to watch cricket match: spokesman

Reports about Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari visiting India to witness a cricket match between the two countries are "all rumors", the presidential spokesman said on Sunday. "These are all rumors. There is no invitation and I am not aware of any plans to visit without an invitation," presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said this evening. Earlier in the day, media reports had said Zardari would visit India to watch an India-Pakistan match in Kolkata with President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Delhi rape victim cremated, weeks before wedding

It was a quick final goodbye. Just the way she was whisked away to Singapore — for better treatment and to keep an angry Capital calm — the gangrape victim, who died Saturday after valiantly fighting her injuries for 13 days, was cremated away from the public glare within hours of a chartered Air India plane bringing the body back at 3.30 am on Sunday. Her inconsolable father and two brothers lit the funeral pyre at around 8am in a Dwarka crematorium exactly a fortnight after the 23-year-old was savagely beaten up, raped and thrown off a moving bus along with a friend by six men, and only weeks before she was to get married. She was to marry the friend, a software engineer, in February. “They had made all the wedding preparations and had planned a wedding party in Delhi,” said a close friend. She was to get married to the same guy who was attacked on the bus with her,” said another friend she had been shopping with for wedding outfits. Relatives, friends and neighbours barely had two hours to bid farewell when the body was brought to her south-west Delhi home at around 4am under heavy police guard after PM Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi met the grieving family at the IGI airport and extended their condolences. The mother fainted as the ambulance with her daughter’s body was leaving for the cremation ground. “Don’t take my daughter away,” she cried out before collapsing.She was rushed to local hospital and was released two hours later. The funeral procession reached the crematorium at around 6.30am but the family waited for the fog to lift and the sun to rise before lighting the pyre. Reports claimed that the family was under pressure to complete the last rites before sunrise but the father refused. The decision to cremate the young woman away from public glare was that of the family, claimed minister of state for home RPN Singh, who attended the ceremony with Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit. “Everything was done to respect the privacy of the family,” Singh said.

When rapists are also murderers

There are some crimes that are so heinous and despicable that not to speak out against them is a crime in itself. The recent gang rape of a 23-year-old female student on a bus in New Delhi is one such example. The case, which has garnered worldwide attention, has changed dramatically in nature because the victim, after fighting for weeks for her fragile life, has died. We are now not looking at a sex crime — we are looking at murder. The whole of India has been on its feet protesting furiously against the crime, demanding justice for a young girl whose life was cut far too short. So brutally was she raped and assaulted (with iron rods) that she suffered from internal organ and brain damage. She underwent three operations and was flown to Singapore for further surgical treatment but she succumbed a few days later. Her body was cremated in Delhi yesterday. This is the kind of savagery one saw in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, a movie known for its rampant violence in a fractured society. India is one of the most dangerous places for women to live, given the coupling of a thriving, modern India with the traditional, patriarchal India that blames women for dressing provocatively and being too exposed. The modern day has seen many women brave the professional world to work and mingle. They are now more educated and more visible. The ridiculous assertion that this is the reason they are attacked needs to be chucked out along with the mentality that supports it — the patriarchal mentality. The government initially responded indifferently but has gotten its act together after the nationwide uproar. There are now calls for the death penalty and one believes this can be the only true justice. Attitudes in India are deep-rooted and extremely conservative despite free market and fast paced development that has hurried the migration of rural populations to the cities. Men from rural areas do not know how to deal with the modern urban woman and it is this mentality that has seeped into the city streets. One cannot help but think that Pakistan suffers from the same dilemma. In both countries a majority of rape cases go unreported, offering cover and chauvinistic attitudes to men from all classes of society. Both countries have the same kind of mindset when it comes to women and how they should behave. If the Delhi rape case is any measure of this mentality, there is no arguing that rapid and huge changes must occur within the very fabric of both societies and the people, especially men, who live within them.

Misogyny in India: We are all guilty

By Leeza Mangaldas
Misogyny is so deeply rooted in India's collective psychology that even the president's son -- in this case, Congress Parliament member Abhijit Mukherjee -- could entangle himself with a remark against women protesting gang rape. He called them "dented and painted women" who go to discos, have little connection with ground realities and are making candlelight vigils fashionable. After an enormous backlash, he apologized and retracted his comments, but many are not satisfied and want his resignation Misogyny has long permeated our textbooks, our pedagogy and our parenting. In fact, it runs so deep that it reflects itself even in our linguistics. The Hindi phrase most commonly used to describe sexual violence or rape against women is "izzat lootna," which means "to steal the honor of." Another Hindi word used for rape, "balatkar" (or "bad act"), is considered so erudite and technical that it's barely ever used. (Its English equivalent would be "coitus" instead of "sex.") So, for the most part, we're stuck with "izzat lootna" -- and the necessary question: Why should a rapist be given so much credit? Rape is a criminal act of force and perverse subjugation. When a woman is raped, her most fundamental rights as a human being are violated. Yet, she is just as honorable as she ever was. Honor cannot be stolen. It can only be surrendered. Surely in the act of rape, it is the perpetrator, not the victim, who surrenders honor. The brave girl from Delhi died with her honor intact. Her rapists will live in ignominy.Unfortunately, in India rape is inextricably linked by men -- and women -- to shame: the ultimate desecration. Many victims are murdered by their rapists or choose to commit suicide. It is also not uncommon for the parents of rape victims to kill themselves. Thus, most victims don't speak up about what happened to them, lest their families be ostracized, lest they never find a husband or be shunned by their friends. About 10 months ago, I was offered a role of a young, urban woman who gets gang raped. The film explores how she chooses to deal with what happens to her. It is a very powerful script, and most of me wanted to accept the role immediately. But a gnawing part of me worried about how I'd be perceived by the general public were I to perform this role.Female sexuality in Hindi cinema is extremely fraught, especially because audiences seem unable to comprehend the distinction between what a role demands from an actor and that person's conduct offscreen. In the script the woman is attractive, confident and self aware; she'd had several consensual relationships with men and enjoyed her sexuality. Truth be told, her character is not far from me in real life. Still, in patriarchal, judgmental, misogynistic Indian society, these are labels most women are afraid to carry publicly. On top of this, the character gets raped. I was afraid to accept the role. Afraid of whether audiences and the media would think I was promiscuous, desecrated. Embarrassed at the prospect of saying I'm doing a film in which I get raped, lest aspersions be cast on my character. There lay, in my own mind, the seeds of the same misogyny that makes Mr. Mukherjee's remarks in the wake of the student's gang rape so deplorable. Seeds I had to uproot at once. I accepted the role.At the time I was offered the film, rape wasn't getting the sort of national attention it is getting right now. It was still a topic that made most people uncomfortable, a topic that women and men alike were not able to freely express their opinions on. That India's young public is today demanding so vocally the need to address the way we view sexuality and gender equality is empowering. People are sharing their own experiences of sexual violence on blogs and social media. Men and women are collaborating to seek legal reform, to challenge the societal perceptions they have been force-fed. We now understand that to remain silent bystanders of a crime is to collude with the criminal. It is clear to me that as actors, filmmakers, artists, journalists, activists -- people who use a medium that has the potential to reach so many minds -- it is our responsibility to educate and mobilize, while we entertain. For the last 10 months, as we have been rehearsing and shooting, the subject of rape has been my foremost preoccupation. Two points have struck me in particular: First, the director, who is also the scriptwriter, is male. His co-writer, the music composer, is also male. These two artists, Tarun Chopra and Daboo Malik, chose to champion a cause that almost always gets packaged as a women's issue. In India, sexual violence is perpetrated almost entirely by men. Rapists are male. Should men not feel responsible then to prevent the occurrence of this crime? Shouldn't men be disturbed that their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters constantly feel unsafe or feel they have to dress and behave in a particular way to avoid getting raped? Isn't it time men educated other men about consent? Secondly, and this point took me longer to acknowledge, women are as guilty as men for the mindset that breeds the crime. We kill our own infant daughters, we immolate our sons' wives if they bear female children, we disapprove of women who make an effort to be attractive -- and doubt their character. We still look at marriage as if it's the purpose for which we were born. But misogyny is no longer misogyny when expressed by a woman. It's self-loathing. And while it is easy -- and justified -- for women to point fingers at men for the chauvinism in our society, don't we owe it to ourselves to look within?

Fereshta Kazemi takes a risky stand for acting in Afghanistan

Coarse mud was clinging to Fereshta Kazemi's high-heeled boots as she tottered on a slippery footpath. No one noticed. Everyone was staring at her legs.
Her legs! They were exposed! And worse — she wore sheer hosiery that only accented her limbs and emphasized that her tight skirt ended somewhat above her knees. Her hair was uncovered too. It cascaded like a dark blanket across her shoulders. The popcorn peddler stopped filling his soiled bags and ogled her. The vegetable man leered, and so did the security guard. Two women wearing burkas stared hard. A herd of boys and men bird-dogged this exotic figure from America, pointing and scolding in an alleyway in Old Kabul's Shar-e-Kohna neighborhood.One boy was so transfixed that he tumbled into a sewage ditch, drawing howls of laughter from his companions. And still everyone gawked at the Afghan woman from America. Kazemi offered no apology, no explanation. She was born in Kabul 33 years ago and left at age 2. Raised in the U.S., she is back now for the first time, determined to radically alter the way Afghans view women — particularly women who act. If making it in Hollywood, Kazemi's previous endeavor, is demanding, making it in Kabul is brutal. In August, Benafsha, 22, an Afghan actress from a TV satire, was stabbed to death outside a mosque and two fellow actresses were knifed. Witnesses said the women had been threatened by men for "un-Islamic" behavior. The two survivors were taken to a police station for virginity tests — and prostitution charges. Another actress, Sahar Parniyan, received death threats after the stabbings and went into hiding. On this day in Kabul, Kazemi was on her way to a film location. It was a serial, an Afghan soap opera. Kazemi had accepted an ironic role, playing a liberated Afghan American woman who returns home to Kabul; dramatic cultural clashes ensue. On the outdoor set, the director, Mirwais Rakab, greeted her with a startled look. "Fereshta!" he said. "I almost passed out," Rakab said later. "Oh, the way she dresses. The way she walks. I was shocked! I loved it, but I was shocked." Rakab pointed out that he is no prude. He's attended film festivals in Europe and Aspen Filmfest in Colorado. "Ah, but this is Afghanistan," he said. "We are under great stress." Kazemi is violating two Afghan codes — one that demands the submissive, fully covered Afghan woman and another that assumes every actress is a whore. In fact, Kazemi and others say, for many years the only women who could be persuaded to act here were, indeed, prostitutes. While in Kabul, Kazemi is also filming a documentary on the lives of Afghan actors and actresses, focusing on the risks of daring to act in a repressive society. One actress she's following works as a prostitute. Her subjects will not allow her to interview family members, who object to the disreputable craft. Kazemi herself declined to allow her relatives in Kabul to be interviewed for this article because they consider acting shameful — and a threat to their dignity and safety. Kazemi realizes that the way she dresses and acts — literally, that she acts — is a dangerous provocation. Death threats are common. This is a country where censors blur the offending legs or shoulders of actresses in foreign-made dramas. Kissing is scandalous and forbidden, even between actors portraying husband and wife. Kazemi knows too that merely dressing in a way that would be unremarkable in Los Angeles, where she found roles in small independent films, can signal to Afghan men that a woman is, to put it mildly, available — or, worse, soliciting for paid sex. "I want to make sure I'm putting up a big 'No Vacancy' sign," she said.

Obama makes passing gun control measures a priority for 2013

President Obama pledged Sunday to make gun control a top priority in his second term and vowed to put his “full weight” behind such legislation.
“I’d like to get it done in the first year,” the president said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “This is not something that I will be putting off.” Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans have called for immediate action in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 shootings in which 20 first-graders were killed inside a Connecticut elementary school. Obama said Sunday he would not prejudge recommendations. But he said he was skeptical about the only answer being to put armed guards in schools, as the National Rifle Association has suggested. The president instead vowed to rally Americans around an agenda to limit gun violence, adding he still supports increased background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity bullet magazines. "I think there are a vast majority of responsible gun owners out there who recognize that we can't have a situation in which somebody with severe psychological problems is able to get the kind of high capacity weapons that this individual in Newtown obtained and gun down our kids," he said, in the interview taped Saturday. "And, yes, it's going to be hard." Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who sponsored legislation that banned assault-style weapons from 1994 to 2004, said immediately after the tragedy at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that she would introduce similar legislation early next year, which would include bans on the high-capacity clips. Feinstein declined to say on “Fox News Sunday” when she would introduce new legislation, but said it would essentially “strengthen” the 1994 bill. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he supports armed guards over more gun control and would oppose Feinstein’s legislation “You can't take every sharp object out of the reach of people like this,” the South Carolina senator told Fox. “I own an AR-15 and I have done nothing wrong by owning the gun. If you had armed security, with better rules of engagement, that, to me, is a better way to deal with the situation.” Six adult staff members were also killed at the elementary school. Shooter Adam Lanza committed suicide, apparently as police closed in. Earlier, he had killed his mother at the home they shared. The tragedy immediately prompted calls for greater gun controls. But the NRA strongly resisted those efforts, arguing instead that schools should have armed guards for protection. Some gun enthusiasts have rushed to buy semiautomatic rifles of the type used by Lanza, fearing sales may soon be restricted. The president also said Sunday that he intends to press the gun issues with the public. "The question then becomes whether we are actually shook up enough by what happened here that it does not just become another one of these routine episodes where it gets a lot of attention for a couple of weeks and then it drifts away," he said. "It certainly won't feel like that to me. This is something that -- you know, that was the worst day of my presidency. And it's not something that I want to see repeated." In addition, a member of the president's cabinet said Sunday that rural America may be ready to join a national conversation about gun control. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the debate has to start with respect for the Second Amendment right to bear arms and a recognition that hunting is a way of life for millions of Americans. But Vilsack said Newtown has changed the way people see the issue. "I really believe that this is a different circumstance and a different situation and I think the president believes it as well, that this is going to be sustained convention," Vilsack said on CNN. Obama also listed deficit reduction and immigration as top 2013 priorities.

Obama slams GOP 'priority' as fiscal cliff hours away

Congress trooped back to work on Sunday to face a combination of spending cuts and tax increases set to kick in within hours, with President Barack Obama pressuring congressional Republicans to cut a last-minute deal. In an interview broadcast Sunday, Obama told NBC's "Meet the Press" that Republicans are responsible for the stalemate that brought lawmakers back to Capitol Hill on a Sunday afternoon. "They say that the biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way. But the way they're behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected," Obama said. "That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme," If nothing is done before Monday night at midnight, when the new year kicks in, the expiration of the Bush administration's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts will hike tax rates, damaging the economy and costing the average middle-class family about $2,000, he said, repeating the term "middle-class" numerous times throughout the interview. The Senate reconvened at 1 p.m. Sunday, with the House of Representatives scheduled to come back into session at 2 p.m. If a broader deal cannot be reached, Obama said the Senate should vote on legislation to make sure middle-class taxes are not raised and that 2 million people don't lose unemployment benefits . "If we can get that done, that takes a big bite out of the fiscal cliff," he said. "It avoids the worst outcomes." Tough negotiations would then follow on the chief sticking point of the battle: whose taxes should go up. Democrats want them to go up for those making $250,000 or more. Discussions have involved the possibility of raising that figure to a $400,000 threshold, along with a push to keep estate taxes low; Democrats have said they might be open to one such scenario, but not both. At stake in the negotiations, according to numerous economists, is the fate of a still fragile U.S. economy that could be pushed back into a recession by the broad tax hikes and automatic $110 billion cuts to domestic and military spending -- the result of the 2011 standoff over raising the federal debt ceiling. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts the combined effect could dampen economic growth by 0.5% and drive unemployment back to 9.1% by the end of 2013. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, told ABC's "This Week" he thought the chances of a short-term, last-minute deal brokered by Senate leaders were better than 50-50. "I've been a legislator for 37 years, and I've watched how these things work on these big, big agreements," Schumer said. "They almost always happen at the last minute. Neither side likes to give up its position. They eyeball each other till the very end. But then each side, realizing that the alternative is worse, comes to an agreement." And Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, told CNN's "State of the Union" that she expects Congress will vote to extend tax cuts for incomes below $250,000 -- perhaps below $400,000 -- before midnight Monday. "I think it would be horrific for the country if at this time, the final days of this legislative session that already has reached historic proportions of failure, that we would now culminate in failure to extend these tax cuts," said Snowe, who is on her way out of office. A Senate agreement "would build momentum" for the move in the House, she said. Many Republicans have opposed any increase in tax rates. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, suffered a political setback by offering a compromise -- a $1 million threshold for the higher rates to kick in -- that his GOP House colleagues refused to support. After the NBC interview, Boehner said Obama needs to stand up to his own party and insisted it was the president "who has never been able to get to 'yes.'" "The House has passed legislation to avert the entire fiscal cliff, and the president has never called for the Senate to act on those bills in any way. He instead has simply allowed the Democratic-controlled Senate to sit on them and lead our economy to the edge of the fiscal cliff," Boehner said in a statement issued by his office. "I am pleased Senators from both parties are currently working to find a bipartisan solution that can finally pass that chamber. That is the type of leadership America needs, not what they saw from the president this morning." In addition to income-tax rates, extending unemployment insurance was on the table in Senate negotiations under way Sunday, and the estate tax was under debate, according to a source familiar with the talks. Negotiators worked late Saturday night, but not through the night, the source said. Republicans argued Sunday that the resistance to Obama's plan is based on his refusal to adequately limit spending. "The president is doing nothing about the addiction that his administration has to spending. He's the spender in chief," Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming said on CNN's "State of the Union." Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California echoed those remarks. "Even if you put back all the revenue you would get from those higher taxes, you still have a deficit. That's what we're trying to change," he said. Obama rejected such complaints, telling NBC that he has cut more than a trillion dollars in spending. "I offered over $1 trillion in additional spending cuts so that we would have $2 of spending cuts for every $1 of increased revenue," he said on NBC. The president also emphasized that he had campaigned on "a balanced approach" which would increase taxes on the wealthy -- and that the majority of Americans have made clear they support such a plan. The idea of maintaining tax cuts for 98% of Americans, while allowing tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest, was once part of "a pretty mainstream Republican agenda," he argued, adding that opposition "is an indication of how far certain factions inside the Republican Party have gone." The interview, recorded Saturday, marked the president's first appearance on a political talk show in three years. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Sunday, "While the president was taping those discordant remarks yesterday, Sen. McConnell was in the office working to bring Republicans and Democrats together on a solution." Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said the chances are "exceedingly good" that some type of deal will be reached by Monday night. "I think, whatever we accomplish, political victory to the president, hats off to the president. He stood his ground. He's going to get tax rate increases, maybe not (on people making) $250,000, but upper-income Americans," Graham said on "Fox News Sunday." "And the sad news for the country is that we have accomplished little in terms of not becoming Greece or getting out of debt." Obama and Democrats have leverage, based on the president's re-election last month and Democrats' gains in the House and Senate in the new Congress. In addition, polls consistently show majority support for Obama's position on taxes, and Democrats insist the House would pass the president's plan, with Democrats joined by some Republicans, if Boehner allowed a vote on it. "It is time for everybody to be all in," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," calling for the wealthiest to pay higher tax rates. "This is common sense. This is about everybody participating to solve the problem." Conservative activist Grover Norquist has vowed to back primary challenges against Republicans who violate his widely signed pledge not to raise taxes. Even if a deal is reached, Norquist has predicted yet more budget showdowns every time the government needs additional money to operate. The saga has fueled disdain for politicians by many Americans. Such contempt is deserved, said Rep. Steven LaTourette, an Ohio Republican, who is retiring from Congress. "I think America should be embarrassed by its leadership in D.C.," he told CNN on Friday. "The fact that we have been unable to do things, and instead worried about our next elections ... I think it's sinful."