Monday, March 30, 2015
“Ever since I was a kid, I have been on a look out for platforms to get my voice heard. Be it business conferences, debates or street plays, I jumped into them all. It was the search for such platforms that took me to the Miss India pageant. Though a different platform altogether, it is one place where you are heard even at 18,” said Gurgaon’s Aditi Arya who won the Miss India World-2015 title at a beauty pageant in Mumbai on Saturday.
Working as a business analyst at Ernst and Young, Aditi, 20, studied at Scared Heart School in Chandigarh till Class VIII and later at Amity International here.
Recalling the moment when her name was announced as the winner, Aditi said she almost froze and could not react for a few minutes. “It was indeed the greatest moment of my life. It took me a while for the feeling to sink in. It is unbelievable. I am happy,” said Aditi, speaking to The Hindu over phone from Mumbai.
Aditi, a graduate from Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, Delhi University, said her immediate priority after winning the title was to prepare for the Miss World pageant to happen later this year. Not ruling out her entry in Bollywood, Aditi said she was open to all kinds of opportunities, but was now focussed on the Miss World pageant.
She said that she got a great push from her family and her parents were supportive. “My father, who works in a telecom company, was very supportive. But it was my mother who constantly stood by me. They told me that there was nothing to fear and always encouraged me to do well,” said Aditi.
Belonging to a region notorious for skewed sex-ratio, Aditi said that society’s mindset towards the girl child was changing. She exhorted parents to let their girls explore their talent and then wait for them to make them proud.
Washiqur Rahman, the latest Bangladeshi blogger who has been hacked to death, was not very famous. But Islamists generally consider secular bloggers a big threat due to their growing influence in Bangladeshi society.
Washiqur Rahman was attacked with machetes near his home in the capital Dhaka on Monday, March 30. The 27-year-old blogger was taken to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where the doctors pronounced him dead.
"Blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu was brutally hacked to death this morning… just 460 meters (500 yards) from his home in Dhaka's Begunbari area," deputy police commissioner Wahidul Islam said.
"They hacked him in his head and neck with big knives and once he fell on the ground, they then hacked his body," he added.
Rahman was an atheist blogger who wrote under the pen name Kutshit Hasher Chhana, meaning Ugly Duckling, on Facebook. There he posted his thoughts on religious fundamentalism, fellow writer, Asif Mohiuddin, told news agency AFP via Facebook from Berlin.
Rahman is the fifth writer to be attacked in Bangladesh since 2004. Last month, another Bangladeshi atheist writer, blogger and government critic Avijit Roy was killed in the capital. In early 2013, Rajib Hyder, another liberal blogger, was killed in the same way.
Rahman, however, was not as famous a blogger as US national Roy, therefore it comes as a surprise for many that Babu had been targeted.
As Imran Sarker, head of Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh, told DW: "Washiqur Rahman was not really a very influential blogger. Most of us bloggers did not know him, and he has not done anything spectacular or important, to my knowledge. He was targeted because open-minded and progressive bloggers are being targeted in general. They are killing those who are easy to access, when they get the opportunity... The main attempt is to create fear among bloggers."
Of the three youth who attacked Rahman – all in their twenties – two have been apprehended while the third managed to escape.
Both the suspects who have been arrested are students of Islamic schools, one of them coming from the Hathazari madrassah in the southeastern district of Chittagong. He came to Dhaka only the day before the attack and had spent the night in a mosque, he told the police. He claimed to have stabbed Rahman "because he humiliated my prophet."
Rahman might also have been targeted because his Facebook page carried the sign #Iamavijit in support of the slain blogger Roy.
A threat to fundamentalists
Rahman's death highlights the fact that bloggers are being consciously targeted by certain groups.
"Bloggers are very influential in the Bangladesh society," Sarker told DW. "Sixty percent of the population in Bangladesh are below the age of 35. Among those involved in online activism, the majority are young people. This is also important in the political field, because a major part of the voters are young," he added.
Rahman's murder can also be seen in the context of the struggle between secular and fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh, said Sarker.
"There is a political aspect to that struggle between those who are promoting political Islam to turn Bangladesh into a fundamentalist, religious state and the secular political forces. The more radical branches of the Islamic organizations are gaining strength by the day," underlined the expert.
Islamists consider these young bloggers to be the major hindrance in the struggle to create a fundamentalist Bangladesh as opposed to the secular republic that emerged from the 1971's "War of Independence," according to various observers.
"That is why (the bloggers) have become the main target, and the political parties who are supposed to prevent such attacks and provide security to them seem unable to do so. The main problem is that even mainstream political parties prefer to compromise with these radical groups to remain in power," said Sarker.
Targeted from all sides
Dr. Tazreena Sajjad, Bangladesh expert and Professorial Lecturer at American University, is of the view that this use of extreme targeted violence against individuals with certain expressed religious and philosophical orientations is relatively new in Bangladesh. However, she adds, it is critical to keep in mind this is happening within a hyperpolarized political context where violence is used on a regular basis.
"In recent years, violence has frequently been instrumentalized to intimidate, harass and abuse people with different political affiliations and from different sections of the society who are just trying to go about their lives," Sajjad told DW. "It also exposes the level of political volatility at play, the weakening law and order situation in the country, and a virulent strain of political and pseudo-religiosity that is trying to move from the obscure margins to the mainstream."
Secular writers and bloggers are not only under attack from extremists; Bangladesh's liberal government of Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina too is not very friendly towards them.
In 2013, when four online writers were arrested on charges of "hurting religious sentiment through their writings against Islam," the Islamists took to the streets to demand the death penalty for the bloggers. Instead of defending the bloggers, PM Hasina said her government would take action against anyone defaming Islam. In a meeting with some Islamic scholars who sought action against the bloggers, Hasina said that her government was indeed serious about taking action against people involved in anti-Islam blogging. However, the PM rejected the demands of new blasphemy laws from the opposition.
A number of Bangladeshi and international rights organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, have been critical of the bloggers' intimidation both by Islamists and the government. "The persecution of atheist bloggers is the result of a political desire to restrict freedom of expression and reinforce censorship in the name of combating blasphemy … This is unacceptable and contrary to all the fundamental freedoms we defend," according to a Reporters Without Borders statement.
By David Irfan
The recent tragic event of suicidal bomb blasts in two churches at Youhanabad Lahore has shaken and rocked the world. A wave of terror and fear has run in the Christian Community. The history of brutalities and atrocities upon the Christian Community is not a new thing in Pakistan, rather in the subcontinent, as its traces could be found from the time of dismemberment of subcontinent in 1947. Unfortunately it has become order of day that the Christians are being butchered mercilessly in Indo-Pak. Despite the uproar, raising voice Pro-Christians by the west, particularly by the European Union, the falling of calamities on the Christian folk has not come to an end. Whenever any such untoward incident takes place in Pakistan, no corrective measures are taken rather mere the pronouncement of sympathetic statements are considered suffice just to pacify the Christians sentiments, which is mockery to social equality.
The vulnerability of the Christian Community could be gauged from the oppression being caused by the Muslim extremists and on the other hand codification and wrong implementation of Blasphemy Law provided under section 295-C Pakistan Penal Code. To my humble opinion none should be condemned unheard. In most of the cases the wretched Christians are involved in such like cases by the majority Muslim folk because of deep rooted animosities existing interse the communities, under the color of this alarming and hazardous law of 295-C PPC. In other words the fanatic and staunch Muslims take their personal revenge / grudge under the garb of this Blasphemy Law. The glaring examples of misusage of Blasphemy Law provided under section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code could easily be assessed from the following few similar tragic events:-
1. In all Saints Church situated at Peshawar almost one hundred lives of innocent Christians were taken by the suicidal attackers.
2. In the Bahawalpur incident, 16 Christians were put to death by the Muslim extremists during their worship in Church.
3. In village Shantinagar, District Khanewal the entire monumental ancient Christian village was wiped out from earth by burning.
4. In Gojra District Faisalabad seven Christians of one and the same family were put to death after locking them in a room while burning them alive.
5. In the tragic and alarming event of Joseph Colony Lahore, the entire Christian populated colony was omitted from the earth while burning the same. Although no death toll was reported yet the Christians, dwellings with house hold goods were burnt. The care of burning the Joseph Colony was also the cause of Blasphemy Law.
6. In Kot Radha Kishan Lahore a young Christian couple, including a pregnant woman were burnt alive by Muslim extremists while putting the couple in burning brick-Klin.
My this article would remain incomplete if I do not make mention about the recent most tragic event the plight and miseries of regarding voiceless Pakistani Christians of Youhanabad Lahore, where from the date of occurrence till date 30 innocent Christians who were engaged in offering their prayers / worship in two different Churches, where both the Churches were rocked by simultaneous suicidal attacks resulting into the loss of at least 30 innocent Christians and about one hundred sustained serious injuries.
No Pakistani Ruler specifically could be blamed for the torture and agony suffered by Pakistani Christian Community, yet I have few proposals, suggestions and remedial steps for the eradication of this menace.
a) The betterment of economic condition.
b) Social justice / equality.
c) Christian representation in the National / Provincial legislatures. Proportionate to their strength.
d) Maintenance of the good law and order situation.
e) Establishing a free arms society.
f) The government should ensure the safety of its citizen disregard to any religion, race, colour etc.
g) Provision of skilled and technical training to the police and other personnel of concerned departments responsible for the maintenance of law and order situation as to combat and tackle any untoward situation.
h) The principle of natural justice, fair play and equity to be implemented without discrimination. The state should strictly ensure the safety of its citizens, honour and property of each and every citizen of the state. Congenial and conducive atmosphere should be provided as to create interfaith harmony among the varies segments of the society.
i) The blasphemy law needs its review and particularly its phase of implementation. In brief the incharge of District Police Head should chalk out FIR in case of any arisen situation as to ensure the transparency, moreover sufficient number of reliable and trust worthy witnesses are required before lodging of a criminal case as to prevent and deter the victimization under the colour of section 295-C PPC.
Karachi-based human rights activists and civil society organisations staged a rally on Sunday in the posh-Clifton area near Three Swords Roundabout in Karachi to condemn the Pakistan’s pro-Saudi foreign policy of the PMLN government against the defenseless people of Arab Muslim country Yemen.
The protestors voiced concern over the likely deployment of Pakistan's armed forces in Saudi Arabia at the request of the pro-Israel U.S.-allied Saudi royal family to fight against Yemen.
Civil society organisations have condemned the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government and its allies for considering sending troops to Saudi Arabia.
Those who spoke at the rally said that if Pakistan join Saudi-led coalition, it would be a huge strategic mistake in the long term and could cause political, military, economic and foreign policy losses, whereas the ruling party would gain immediate or short-term financial gains.
They also issued a statement on Saturday that said the "mysterious gift" of $1.5 billion given to Pakistan in 2014 and the government's reluctance to be transparent about it then had become clear now. It added that the government should have the courage to be open and honest.
It also asked the government to not attempt to befool the citizens that "the holy land of Saudi Arabia is under threat of attack" because "it is not".
The statement said: "We have not yet forgotten Black September: Gen. Zia-ul-Haq's bombardment of Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan way back in 1970. We are still paying the diplomatic and political price for that disaster." It added: "Thirdly, we are in the midst of internal military operations against militants and terrorist networks such as the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
This is not a war waged by Sunnis against Shias nor is it the battle between Ajam and Arab – it is simply an act of dynastic self-preservation.
After getting rid of British imperialism, there is a new kind of socio-cultural imperialism that has made inroads into Pakistani society: Arab imperialism
Over the past month, the news about religion in Pakistan has become worse, whether this is measured by the behaviour of officialdom or the horrors suffered by ordinary folk at the hands of terrorists or fanatics. Katrina Lantos Swett, who chairs the USCIRF, visited Pakistan with her fellow commissioner Mary Ann Glendon, who is also a Harvard law professor. Answering a question from Erasmus, Ms Lantos Swett gave a bleak account of what they found:
There is a rising tide of religious persecution by the state and by militants. Pakistan's blasphemy law grossly abuses human rights. The Commission is aware of almost 40 people on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy, a statistic unmatched in the world. The law fosters violence against religious minorities, such as Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis. The legal prohibitions against Ahmadis are deeply problematic as well. In addition the ongoing targeted violence against Shias requires a vigorous state response. [A] Pakistani Supreme Court decision in 2014...mandated the creation of special police to protect religious minorities and a national commission on minorities...[but] the police force has not been created and the minorities commission is buried within the ministry of religious affairs. Greater, not lesser, efforts by the international community are needed to move Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to implement the Supreme Court decision, to arrest perpetrators of violence and to see abusive laws reformed or repealed...The international community must not be silent or Pakistan's religious diversity will be forever lost.
Meanwhile the "perpetrators of violence" have not been idle. On March 15th, two Christian churches in Lahore were attacked by suicide-bombers; at least 17 people were killed and 70 wounded, and the toll would have been far higher had it not been for the bravery of volunteer security guards. This was the worst assault on Christians in Pakistan since the bombing of a church in Peshawar in 2103 which claimed nearly 80 lives. On March 16th, a protest by Christians in Lahore turned violent, and two Muslims were lynched. Christian leaders in the city, while strongly condemning the lynchings, complained that hundreds of innocent members of their community had been arbitrarily arrested. In Youhanabad, the Christian district of Lahore, many Christian families have fled, leaving their homes open to looting; police have reportedly been extorting money from poor Christians as a kind of collective punishment.
These developments pose a dilemma for Western governments. The church bombings were claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, and a central aim of Western policy has been to persuade the Pakistani authorities to crack down firmly, not faint-heartedly, against that terrorist network. Whatever messages Western governments are now sending to the authorities in Pakistan, they will presumably include fresh words of encouragement in the anti-Taliban fight, not just a long list of scoldings. Another problem, some would say, is that if Western governments are seen to advocate the interests of the Christian minority in particular, that might actually make things worse for Pakistan's Christians, by increasing the suspicion among hotheads that followers of that faith are a "fifth column" for Western interests.
At a minimum, Western governments should be thinking seriously about what they can practically do, apart from issuing rebukes. Wilson Chowdhry, who runs the British Pakistani Christian Assocation, says Britain and other European countries should look hard at how aid to Pakistan, and in particular aid to education, is used. At its worst, Pakistani education reinforces militant readings of Islam and prejudice against minorities. Well-targeted aid can help to change that situation; the poorly targeted kind can simply reinforce existing bad practice. Mr Chowdhry also wants Britain to show greater sympathy to asylum-seekers who face religious persecution in Pakistan, as the Netherlands and Canada have recently started doing.
Lisa Curtis, a Pakistan-watcher at the Heritage Foundation, a think-thank in Washington, DC, thinks Western governments should be sending a calibrated mixture of signals to that country. "The recent suicide attacks are part of [a] broader terrorist campaign aimed at...undermining the authority of the state, and they remind the international community of the importance of supporting Pakistan in its fight against terrorists. These terrorist strikes merit a policy response which is different from the response to religious persecution that takes place within society, for instance the use of the blasphemy law against religious minorities...[which] should be condemned in the strongest terms."
Faced with dramatic images of wounded worshippers or police deploying tear gas, it might seem surprising that the USCIRF, which is mandated by Congress to monitor freedom of belief round the world, should focus so much on procedural issues, like the implementation of a Supreme Court decision. But there is also some merit in that approach. For obvious historic reasons, governments in the developing world are resentful of being told what to do by agencies in the rich global North. But it is less provocative to say something like: you say you are committed to upholding the rule of law, and to protecting religious diversity, so in that spirit we respectfully urge you to do what your own institutions (in this case, the Supreme Court) are telling you to do.
For all the travails of its religious minorities, Pakistan does at least accept, in principle, the legal right of different faiths to exist. There are some countries in the world, from the atheist regime in North Korea to the hard-line Muslim one in Saudi Arabia, which don't even go that far. That acceptance provides a basis for discussion, at least, between Pakistan and other countries who wish it and its people, in all their diversity, well.