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Current Affairs ( 4 Dec 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

The myth of Intolerant India: New Age Islam’s Selection From India Press, 5 December 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

December 5, 2015

 

The myth of Intolerant India

By ARVIND P. DATAR

The curse of the law

By Khaled Ahmed

Fighting IS with air strikes alone

By The Hindu

 

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The myth of Intolerant India

By ARVIND P. DATAR

December 4, 2015

Nayantara Sahgal returned her Sahitya Akademi award after the horrific incident in Dadri, which prompted her to complain about the “vanishing space for diversity”, about “people being killed for not agreeing with the ruling ideology” and about the Indian environment getting “worse and worse in the past 15 months”. By implication, the astonishing allegation was that there were far fewer communal incidents before this evil period. Several other artistes suddenly felt perturbed by this “rising intolerance”. It is also perhaps just a coincidence that this avalanche of anguish started and ended with the Bihar elections. Just when one thought this unfortunate trend was over, Aamir Khan made his “quit India” remark because his wife had started feeling “unsafe”. It requires serious consideration: Has India really become intolerant, particularly in the past 15 months? Are religious minorities now unsafe? Are they being systematically targeted and marginalised?

If one swallow does not a summer make, one Dadri does not make a country of 1.24 billion people intolerant. The clamour over banning beef, the disruption of Valentine’s Day celebrations, the chopping-off of a professor’s hand and the banning of the works of Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie are isolated, regrettable incidents and are not indicators of a nation’s intolerance.

A nation is intolerant when its constitution and institutions are intolerant. The Preamble to our Constitution declares India to be a secular republic. In Aruna Roy vs Union of India (2002) and S.R. Bommai vs Union of India (1994), the Supreme Court declared secularism to be part of the basic structure of our Constitution; it held that secularism denoted the positive concept of equal treatment of all religions. In the language of Gandhiji, it meant “sarva dharma samabhava” — equal respect for all religions.

Muslims constitute about 13.4 per cent of India’s population. In several states, Christians constitute a high proportion of the population. Article 25 of our Constitution confers on all persons, including non-citizens, a fundamental right to freely profess, practice and propagate their religion — a right that is exercised effectively to convert people to another faith every day. Articles 29 and 30 constitutionally protect the language, script and culture of minorities and give them the right to establish educational institutions of their choice. Can the same be said of countries that systematically target churches and individuals of other religions? Are we anywhere near Pakistan or Saudi Arabia?

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, requires schools to block 25 per cent of the seats, free of cost, in favour of economically and socially backward students, including Scheduled Castes and Tribes. But this mandatory requirement does not apply to schools run by a minority community. Thus, a Ramakrishna Mission school has to allocate 25 per cent seats to poorer students free of cost but a St Anthony’s school or an Al-Akbar matriculation school need not do so. Such exceptions can be made only in favour of minority educational institutions under Article 15(5) of our Constitution.

And nothing manifests India’s tolerance for the views of the minority community, even if they are contrary to the laws of the land and the prevailing practices and customs of modern societies, more than the famous Shah Bano case. Married in 1932, Shah Bano, a Muslim woman, was thrown out of her home after 43 years of marriage. Three years later, in 1978, her husband divorced her by an irrevocable talaq. In 1979, the magistrate granted her a princely maintenance of Rs 25 per month (yes, that’s correct), which was enhanced to Rs 179.20 by the Madhya Pradesh High Court and later upheld by the Supreme Court in 1985. This triggered a storm of protest by the Muslim community; it was claimed to be an interference with their religion, which did not require the husband to provide for any maintenance beyond the period of iddat after the talaq. Iddat is a period of three menstrual cycles. Both Houses of Parliament then passed the ironically titled Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, which took away the rights of divorced Muslim women to claim maintenance under the Code of Criminal Procedure. Parliament effectively overruled a Supreme Court judgment and restored the law as desired by the spokespersons of the Muslim community. And it is only the tolerance and respect for minorities, particularly Muslims, that has restrained our lawmakers from enacting a Uniform Civil Code for all citizens despite a mandate under Article 44 of the Constitution.

The selective expression of anguish by many Indian intellectuals is distressing. Looking back, not one artist complained about the extreme intolerance in the Kashmir Valley that drove out thousands of Kashmiri Pandits. Did anyone protest against the desecration of temples in the Valley? Is that less worthy of condemnation than the attack on churches?

The outcry against “rising intolerance” is wholly unjustified. Indeed, India has had an unfortunate track record of communal riots before and after Independence. But no one can deny that everything has been done by every Central and state government to protect the rights and privileges of all minorities. The right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by our Constitution does not, unfortunately, impose the duty to carefully examine the facts and the law before saying or doing something that causes serious damage to the reputation of India. The unfortunate existence of a few intolerant Indians does not make India intolerant — a distinction that our highly sensitive artistes, including Aamir Khan, deliberately choose to ignore.

indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/the-myth-of-intolerant-india/99/print/

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The curse of the law

By Khaled Ahmed

December 5, 2015

The Supreme Court of Pakistan delivered a historic “observation” on October 27 when it decided that asking for “improvements” in the country’s blasphemy law was not objectionable. Imagine, it took a court verdict to enable a citizen to criticise what is the most draconian law in Pakistan, snagging innocent citizens to death.

The court actually stated: “Any call for reforming the blasphemy law (Section 295-C Pakistan Penal Code) ought not to be mistaken as a call for doing away with that law; and it ought to be understood as a call for introducing adequate safeguards against malicious application or use of that law by motivated persons.”

The court was hearing the case of a murderer who can’t be hanged despite a conviction because he had killed a man after blaming him for blasphemy in 2011 — then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. There is the street power of conservative lawyers and religious sects favouring him. In the background, there are more powerful elements with outreach, which protect them and scare normal citizens, including the judges — the terrorist organisations Pakistan first gave birth to and now fears.

Taseer’s killer belonged to an “elite force” police commando assigned to him for his protection. Taseer had been speaking out against the biased judicial process prosecuting a poor Christian women, Aasiya Bibi, under the blasphemy law. The Supreme Court defended Taseer by saying that his corrective criticism of the law was fair and that the killer policeman, therefore, had to hang.

In February 2011, in the wake of the murder, Stephen Cohen, author of a number of books on Pakistan, had this to say: “These are symptoms of a deeper problem in Pakistan. There is not going to be any good news from Pakistan for some time, if ever, because the fundamentals of the state are either failing or questionable. This applies to both the idea of Pakistan, the ideology of the state, the purpose of the state, and also to the coherence of the state itself. Pakistan has lost a lot of its stateness, that is, the qualities that make a modern government function effectively. So there’s failure in Pakistan on all counts. I wouldn’t predict a comprehensive failure soon but clearly that’s the direction in which Pakistan is moving.”

Do we finally have the “good news” Cohen was despairing of? If you look at it from the point of view of Aasiya Bibi rotting in jail, it is hardly any news. The Supreme Court has spoken from its Olympian perch, but the factory of unilateral conviction grinds on at the level of the district courts. The court was probably aware of it because it recalled that “434 offenders under blasphemy laws were arrested in Pakistan from 1953 to July 2012; and among them 258 were Muslims, 114 Christians, 57 Ahmadis and 4 Hindus.” The statement could be misleading because it didn’t note that blasphemy cases spiked only after the blasphemy law was imposed by General Zia-ul-Haq in the late 1980s. And if you go by proportion ratios, then  it is not Muslims who have been most entrapped under this law but Christians and Hindus.

One lame excuse is that if you don’t have the law, people will dish out their own justice by killing the accused. Since 1990, much after the legislation, 52 people have been extra-judicially murdered for insulting the Prophet. The fact is that the law has prompted the killers to kill. Many of the killers are not “outraged” but are motivated by the lure of property-grab. Christians are attractive victims because their slums are often located on prime land, much of it leased to them by the British Raj in areas then uninhabited.

In 2013, 15 Christians, five Ahmadis and two Hindus, accused under the law, languished in jail because the alleged offence is non-bailable.

Do the judges let off victims after finding them wrongfully accused? No, they are too scared to do what their conscience might recommend. Only one death sentence was overturned in 2013-14. Today, 17 innocent citizens are waiting for their trial to end while 20 others are consoled that they have to serve life sentences. No one has been hanged for blasphemy so far, but the modus operandi in Pakistan is this — let the price of a bad law be paid by innocent victims by staying indefinitely in jail.

Lawyers and retired judges who indulge in this sick pastime of punishing blasphemy don’t care if the victims are mostly poor people who can’t afford effective professional defence in court. Sadly, if these poor people are defended by a rare lawyer dedicated to human rights, he can be killed too. A Multan lawyer, Rashid Rehman Khan, was killed last year in such a case by a powerful ex-jihadi gang after telling him that he was in their cross hairs. Before his “foretold” death, Rehman said, “Defending a blasphemy accused in Pakistan is like walking into the jaws of death.”

There is no mitigation for blasphemy, since judges are scared of letting the accused walk. They are supposed to spend long periods in jail, roughly calculated at an average of eight years. Of course, no one has been acquitted, but in one case where a Christian was to get foreign asylum, it took that length of time, which means the life of the innocent victim was seriously curtailed.

indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/the-curse-of-the-law/99/print/

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Fighting IS with air strikes alone

By The Hindu

With British jets having started bombing Islamic State locations in Syria, four of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have formally joined the war against the jihadist group. The United States, France and Russia are already in the fray. But despite persistent bombing by these countries over the past few months, IS still holds on to the territories it controls. Will Britain joining the war change the script? Prime Minister David Cameron himself warned against quick expectations. He said it’s a “complex” war and that the country has to be “patient and persistent”. But the real problem that the war against IS faces is not the campaign being less persistent; it’s that there is no coordinated strategy among the nations fighting the jihadists. Syria’s skies are already crowded. The downing of the Russian aircraft by Turkey over the Syrian border last month exposed the faultlines of the anti-IS war. Countries involved in the war are also competitors for geopolitical gains and they have divergent views towards the future of Syria. For example, the Americans want Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to go, while the Russians are the main backers of the regime, saying the only sustainable alternative to IS is restoring the Syrian statehood.

Does Prime Minister Cameron have a strategy to address these complexities? Or is his only plan, as that of his allies in the West, to target the group from the air? He did not lay down a comprehensive strategy in the British Parliament while seeking the support of Members of Parliament for the air strikes. His claim that there are 70,000 rebels ready to fight IS on the ground is far from convincing. Who are these rebels? Syrian rebel groups are hardly united, and in tough battles in the past they fled, leaving the territories and the weapons they got from Mr. Assad’s enemies to the hands of IS. Those who faced down IS on the ground were the Kurds. But Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) that is formally part of the U.S.-led coalition against IS, is bombing the Kurdish rebels on the Syrian border. Besides, how will Mr. Cameron’s government respond to allegations that Turkey was complicit with IS by facilitating the group’s trade in oil? The ground situation is so complicated that it is irrational to believe that sending a few more bomber jets into the Syrian skies would weaken IS. Of course, the war against IS needs air cover. But it should be in a supplementary role. The main fight has to take place on the ground and for that, the coalition needs coordination among the forces fighting IS, including the Syrian and Iraqi national army. Without such a coordinated strategy, air strikes would only play into the hands of the jihadists.

thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/fighting-is-with-air-strikes-alone/article7949573.ece

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